Friday Talking Points -- A 'Regular Disorder' Rant

Let's see, what happened last week?

Well, of course, there was lots of Obamacare news, but since most Democrats are pretty sick of hearing about it at this point, we're going to once again largely ignore it today. After pointing out one story which was strangely ignored in the pile-on in the media this week, it seems the profits for the company contracted to build the Obamacare site are way up. How nice for them, eh? Sigh.

Seriously, though, if you want to read my thoughts on Obama's presser yesterday, or my warning of a possible upcoming disaster on the website, please feel free to do so. But two columns (in what was essentially a four-day week) is enough on the subject for now, I think. Also, we've devoted a whole lot of talking points to the issue for the past two months, so we're going to instead offer up a rant this week on a different subject.

While it's hard to see, if all your news sources are of the mainstream variety, there were indeed other political stories happening this week.

The most amusing story was a retraction a newspaper printed. A full 150 years after the original editorial ran. The original article contained a paragraph of sneering contempt, not surprising since the paper was a partisan Democratic news outlet (which was more common back then, of course, than it is today), and the speech they snarkily dismissed was from a Republican president. From the original editorial:

We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.

The speech the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot & Union wrote about was the Gettysburg Address, given by President Abraham Lincoln, not too far away from where the paper was located. The Patriot-News (their modern successor) printed an eloquent retraction, full of homage, which began:

Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.

They continue by trashing their own former editors: "Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time..." and they finish with rousing praise for the speech:

By today's words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.

The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution's record -- but we must do as conscience demands.

Which is followed by their official retraction:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln's speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.

OK, so it was a century and a half late, but that's the most rousing retraction I think I've ever read, so you've got to give them points for that, at least.

What else? There's a Secret Service scandal that seems almost irresistible (as media "catnip" stories go), but which has only really been followed in any meaningful way by the Washington Post. The story involves sex in other countries, sexually-suggestive emails sent to female agents, banging on a hotel door, and an agent who seems to have left a bullet cartridge behind in a lady's room. You'd think that with all those enticing details this story would have been given more attention, but so far most are ignoring it (for some inexplicable reason or another).

I guess the heart-warming Batkid story took up too much time, or something.


Nominee to chair the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen gave some stellar testimony this week in her confirmation hearing, but we're really not sure if she's an actual Democrat or not (they're supposed to be sort of non-partisan folks, in theory), so we just mention it briefly in passing.

Also deserving of brief mention, as well as an Honorable Mention is Vice President Joe Biden, but we'll get to the reason why in the rant at the end, so you'll have to wait.

This week, however, we've got six -- count them, six! -- Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out. Here's why:

Following an unprecedented three-year wave of state legislative attacks on abortion and family planning services, a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate plan to go on the offensive Wednesday with a historic bill that would make it illegal for states to chip away at women's reproductive rights.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013, joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). The bill would prohibit states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access.

Blumenthal, speaking in support of his legislation:

In states like Texas and Wisconsin, legislatures are passing bills with the false pretext of protecting health when their only objective is to obstruct and curtail access to safe and legal abortions and reproductive services. These laws are largely unconstitutional, and some measure of certainty and clarity is required to preempt these regulations and laws so women are not deterred in their very personal decisions based on their own values on how they want to use their constitutional rights. The Women's Health Protection Act will provide a clear and certain response to these regulations and laws that impose unnecessary tests, procedures and restrictions -- including requirements for physical layout in clinics -- on reproductive services.

Now that is standing up for what you believe in, and showing other Democrats how to fight back! In fact, no other explanation is really even necessary. For going on the offensive, we hereby award Senators Blumenthal, Boxer, and Baldwin, as well as Representatives Fudge, Chu, and Frankel this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. And we sincerely hope that all other Democrats are standing in line, waiting to sign up to cosponsor this bill.

[Congratulate Senator Tammy Baldwin on her Senate contact page, Senator Richard Blumenthal on his Senate contact page, Senator Barbara Boxer on her Senate contact page, Representative Judy Chu on her House contact page, Representative Lois Frankel on her House contact page, and Representative Marcia Fudge on her House contact page, to let them all know you appreciate their efforts.]


President Obama gave a rather subdued press conference this week, but we don't feel it merits an award here. A vote in the House on an Obamacare fix proposed by Republicans garnered 39 Democratic votes, but that was less than expected (a full list of Democrats who crossed the aisle is available, if you're interested).

But we've got to go local this week -- extremely local -- for our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Because Lafourche Parish (Louisiana) Councilman Lindel Toups won the award hands-down this week. But the astounding thing was that in virtually all the media coverage, his party affiliation wasn't even mentioned. Even searching local news items failed to prove what party Toups hails from (try a web search of his name yourself, if you don't believe this). We had to go back and find an election result story, in fact, to see a party appended to his name ("Democratic incumbent Lindel Toups won"), which pretty much every news outlet ignored (even such stalwarts as the Los Angeles Times, mind you).

Shameful as it is to admit, though, Toups is indeed a Democrat. Which makes him eligible for the MDDOTW award. What won it for him hands-down, though, was the statement he made in support of a measure which would take money from the local libraries and instead use it to build a jail. You just can't make this stuff up, folks. Here's what Toups had to say which got him into so much trouble, after stating that the library fund has "too much money," from the original article which broke the story:

"They're teaching Mexicans how to speak English," the council chairman said in reference to Biblioteca Hispana, a Hispanic-language segment of the Golden Meadow library branch. "Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico. There's just so many things they're doing that I don't agree with. Them junkies and hippies and food stamps [recipients] and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps [on the Internet]. I see them do it."

What's truly ironic is that both the son and grandson of Toups have gotten into trouble with drugs and the law previously.

For his stunning display of ignorance and bigotry, for making the selection of the award inevitable this week, and for shamefully keeping the "Yellow Dog, Democrats-used-to-be-the-racist-ones" tradition alive in the Deep South, we hereby award Lindel Toups this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For shame, Mister Toups, for shame.

[Contact Lafourche Parish Councilman Lindel Toups via his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 282 (11/15/13)

We're pre-empting the talking points this week to go off on a rant. The subjects which inspired this rant? Immigration reform, the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, and an oldie-but-a-goodie: the breathtaking and stunning depths of Republican hypocrisy.

I created a timeline earlier this year, which lays out in excruciating detail (it took two full columns) how Republicans have flipped and flopped on the issue all year long, on the budget negotiations. There is also a comprehensive list of quotes in an exhaustive Senate press release, if that isn't enough fodder for you. I'm putting these links up front, so I won't have to cite every quote used below.

OK, enough attribution, let's get on with it.


A Rant On "Regular Disorder"

I just heard that Speaker of the House John Boehner has now announced he will not move to a conference committee on the subject of immigration, if those uppity senators think they're going to have any sort of say in the matter. I have to say, this is just the last in a series of jaw-dropping insanity from Boehner on the subject of "how a bill becomes law in the United States Congress." Maybe he needs to go back and watch the "I'm Just A Bill" video from Schoolhouse Rock or something. At this point, it certainly couldn't hurt.

A quick review of how we got here is necessary to understand the depths of Boehner's delusional behavior. At the beginning of this calendar year, Boehner actually got a few things done, with bipartisan votes. This absolutely enraged the Tea Party faction of Boehner's own Republicans, and so Boehner started swearing he was going to henceforth start using "regular order" to pass laws.

What this meant (to the Tea Party) was that no more deals would be cut between Boehner, the Senate, or President Obama. Instead, the House would "work its will" in the way it is supposed to do. What this means, for anyone who has forgotten their high school civics lessons, is that bills have a clear path for passage. House committees debate and vote on bills, then they move to the House floor for the final debate and vote. Senate committees do the same thing, and a Senate vote is held. This virtually always results in two different bills, and so the next step in "regular order" is to form a "conference committee" with members from both parties, and members of both houses of Congress. They hash out a compromise bill, and then it returns to both the House and Senate for a final vote. When the same bill is passed by both houses, it goes to the president's desk and awaits his signature or veto. That is "regular order." That is how the process is supposed to work.

This is what Speaker Boehner called for at the beginning of this year. Over and over again. It became a talking point parroted by so many Republicans it's impossible to list them all. Here's just one example, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

A second term presents the opportunity to do things differently, and in the Senate that means a return to regular order. Later this week, the House plans to send the Senate a bill to address the debt limit in a timely manner. Once we get it, the Senate should quickly respond. If the Senate version is different than the one the House sends over, send it off to conference. That's how things are supposed to work around here. We used to call it legislating.

But a funny thing then happened. The House and the Senate actually passed budget bills. And the Republicans then fell all over themselves to torpedo any such conference committee before it even happened. After begging for "regular order" for months, when faced with the possibility that regular order could actually work, they erupted in sheer panic. What, after all, would such a conference committee come up with? An actual compromise?!? Since that struck such fear into the Tea Partiers, Republicans on both sides of the Capitol used every excuse possible to block the formation of such a conference committee.

On the Senate side, individual senators had the power to stop the creation of a conference committee -- which they did nineteen times in the coming months, to block Democrats from even naming a committee. Senator Mike Lee, who personally blocked four of these efforts, summed up his reasoning: "What I strongly object to is any procedural trick that could be used to negotiate behind closed doors, in a back-room deal, an agreement to raise the debt limit or to raise taxes." Got that? The "regular order" Republicans had been noisily begging for all year long had now morphed into a "procedural trick" used to "negotiate behind closed doors, in a back-room deal." How the talking point turns, eh?

To be blunt, the Tea Party senators were terrified that some sort of reasonable deal would be struck which could pass both the House and Senate. Mitch McConnell, who sadly opined "we used to call it legislating" earlier in the year, also personally blocked the formation of the conference committee -- more times (5) than any other senator, in fact. Naked, ugly, blatant hypocrisy is the nicest thing I can think to call this.

Over in the House, John Boehner and his Tea Party brigades decided to rewrite congressional history to suit their views of how the process should now work. No conference committee would be agreed to until the Senate -- in advance, mind you -- agreed not to even talk about the Senate's bill. Boehner seems to have a delusional view of the power of one house of Congress to dictate terms to the other. In an astonishing bit of chutzpah, Boehner even insisted that this was the way it was supposed to work. The Hill reported: "Boehner said he was following 'regular order' by allowing chairmen to hash out an informal framework first. 'The chairmen of the two committees are talking, and as you all know, it's customary that there's no appointment of a formal conference until such time as there's some basic framework worked out from which they can proceed,' Boehner said."

What Boehner meant was that when the Senate agreed to bargain away everything and only consider what the House wanted to talk about, then and only then would he name members to such a committee. This is insane, to be blunt. Republicans blocked the conference committee in both houses because they were terrified an agreement could be reached.

It is worth mentioning that, outside of the Tea Party, even other Republicans were saying how insane this behavior was. From the headlines, Susan Collins: "'Regular Order Is Going To Conference' And The Republican Party's Stance On Conference Is 'Ironic In the Least.'" Senator John McCain: "It's Not The Regular Order For A Number Senators, A Small Number, A Minority Within A Minority Here, To Say They Will Not Agree To Go To Conference." Bob Corker: "For Four Years, We've Been Waiting For A Budget. To Now Keep From Appointing Conferees Is Not Consistent." Jeff Sessions: "I Think The Right Thing To Do Is Get Ourselves To Conference." Lamar Alexander: "I Think It Would Be Better If We Went To Conference On The Budget, And We Have Been Saying For Four Years That That's What We Want To Do, And I Think We Should Do It." This is just a representative sample, there are other such headlines from Tom Coburn, John Boozman, Thad Cochran, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, John Cornyn, Johnny Isakson, among others.

But they were crying in the wilderness. John Boehner refused to budge, and the Tea Party senators refused to budge.

This led to yet another stunning display of hypocrisy, during the government shutdown. The Republicans -- all of a sudden, mind you, when they figured out they were going to lose the political battle -- decided that the face-saving measure they would emerge with was the very conference committee they had been blocking all year long. The media, who seems to have the long-term memory of a hyperactive kitten, went along for the ride and declared the creation of the conference committee some sort of victory for Republicans. Insanity!

But now it seems Republicans' love of regular order (including conference committees) has died on the vine once again. They have flipped, and they have flopped. And then they flipped right back again.

Here is the story, as the Washington Post reported it:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that the House will not enter negotiations with the Senate to hash out differences between its immigration plans and the Senate immigration bill -- dealing a significant blow to the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform this Congress.

"The idea that we're going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House," Boehner said. "And frankly, I'll make clear that we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill."

Conservatives have worried for weeks that passing smaller pieces of immigration reform legislation out of the House -- as Republicans have moved to do -- would lead to a House-Senate conference committee in which the larger Senate immigration bill might win out.

The Senate bill, no matter what its length, passed in June. In June. Boehner is admitting that the House simply has not done its job since then, since Republicans haven't even bothered to read the wildly bipartisan Senate bill. So much for revering "regular order," eh? Boehner is once again trying to dictate terms to the Senate: we will go to conference committee on House bills only, while ignoring the Senate bill.

Who does he think he is? King John Boehner of Capitol Hill?

Once, again, conservatives are quaking in their boots that something might actually be agreed upon -- you know, by the regular order of things. They are afraid they are going to lose the argument, and so they are taking their bat and ball and going home, thank you very much.

What truly makes this laughable is that the House has done nothing at all on immigration all year long, while making a lot of smoke and noise about "how hard they're working on it." While the Senate put together a comprehensive bill, the House was going to break it up into easily-digestible chunks of legislation which could pass the House. They have not managed to pass even one of these. Not one has even made it to the House floor, in fact. Even though they've had roughly twice the time the Senate took. They are sitting on their collective thumbs and hoping the rest of us won't notice. Now they say "there's not enough time," which is just a disgraceful attempt at excusing the fact that they haven't done their jobs all year long.

The really riotously funny (in a gallows humor sort of way) actor in this Kabuki drama is Senator Marco Rubio, who was one of the authors of the Senate bill and who has paid a political price for his reasonableness and his naive belief that Congress is supposed to actually get things done (the Tea Party folks vehemently disagree with this premise, of course). Here is the next paragraph of that story:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who led the comprehensive effort in the Senate, has said any conference committee must promise not to consider the Senate's bill and only consider the House's legislation.

Got that? Rubio led the Republican effort in the Senate to pass the bill. In normal (or, "not through the looking glass") times, this would be a feather in his cap and he'd be bragging about his own bill. However, in this topsy-turvy, loop-the-loop reality Republicans must now inhabit to appease the Tea Party, Rubio is agreeing with Boehner that any conference committee must absolutely ignore the bill which he helped write.

Republicans, in 2013 alone, demanded the pie-in-the-sky of "regular order." Then they fought as hard as they could to block "regular order." Then they claimed that the regular order of setting up a conference committee -- what they had, indeed, been blocking all year long -- was now a Republican victory somehow. Now, on immigration, they are back to denouncing "regular order" as some sort of legislative trickery to be avoided at all costs. The flip-floppery is downright astounding.

Vice President Joe Biden, appropriately speaking at a naturalization ceremony, was one of the few to boldly point out what Boehner was attempting to do:

He will not allow the House to play by fair play -- the American way -- to let the Congress actually vote their conscience to fix a broken system. This is a step backward in the history of the country.

Well, bully for Biden for not mincing words!

If such naked, raw, unconscionable Republican hypocrisy didn't have such far-reaching effects to the country at large, it would be downright laughable and pathetic. That is, if anyone in the media bothered to put these puzzle pieces together. Republicans are not in favor of regular order, in fact they repeatedly demand the continuation of the regular disorder in the halls of Congress.


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