Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gridlock Eric Cantor

A conservative friend of mine, who remains an avid Herman Cain supporter, recently bemoaned via Twitter, “Conservatives seem to be lost. We throw Cain over the cliff, embrace Newt. Something is wrong.” My response tweet came quickly. “Conservatives aren't lost. They got mugged by Bush/Cheney and let the Tea Party phonies in the House. It's tough.” It is also cynical and two-faced, epitomized by the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia.

According to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, since the 19th Century the majority leader is the officer “charged with scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party.” The purpose of having such an officer is to “expedite legislative business and to keep their parties united.”

Cantor has done little to expedite legislative business and even less to keep his party united.

In 2010 the House Majority Leader went about recruiting most of the Tea Party backed freshmen who claim to be conservatives. Although Cantor is attempting humanize his image and present himself as more reasonable, such as the recent fluff piece on 60 Minutes, it does not change the fact that he has lead the obstructionism in the House and fractured its leadership.

Cantor told Politico, “the most important issue facing the people that sent us to Washington, and that is how do we help small businesses create jobs.” That is not what the record shows. Creating jobs has been House Republicans’ last priority. Here is the short version of the 112th Congress’ numbers for their 2011 agenda:
14        Votes to repeal patient health care protections
10        Anti-Consumer votes
7          Votes to keep unnecessary subsidies for Big Oil companies
4          Votes to restrict women’s access to health care
3          Votes to end Medicare
3          Votes to roll back workers’ rights
0          Comprehensive jobs bills

So it should come as no surprise, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with almost two-thirds saying they “disapprove strongly.” Just 13 percent of Americans approve of how things are going after the 112th Congress’s first year of action, “solidifying an unprecedented level of public disgust that has both sides worried about their positions less than 10 months before voters decide their fates.”

“I think last year showed us where sort of the differences lie between the two sides and hopefully we could use the knowledge gained there to focus on progress that we can make over the next 10 months leading up to the election,” Cantor said in his recent Politico interview. The problem is that during most of those 10 months House members will not be in Washington since they will be at home trying to woo their constituents.

In the latest New York Times-CBS News poll, Mr. Cantor’s party gets the blame for Washington gridlock. Curiously enough, the poll also found that “nearly half of the Republicans surveyed do agree with Democrats and independents on one thing: Congressional Republicans are not working with the president to make progress on the legislative agenda.”

In GQ Magazine’s “The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington,” Eric Cantor tops the list. GQ questions whether Cantor will wait for the retirement of Speaker of the House John Boehner, ranked number 12, or shove the Ohio Republican out of the way. “The Virginia Congressman masterminded, and then masterfully carried out, the GOP's strategy of legislative intransigence that has stymied the White House these past three years,” the article says. “In the process, he imposed his will on all of Washington, refashioning the city into a hyperpartisan capital of gridlock.” GQ notes, "People with the last names Obama and Biden not included."

However, running on such a record could be problematic for Republicans. Just in case the country forgets about the political theatre of last year’s gridlock, the House started off 2012 with a protest vote against raising the debt ceiling.  The 239-176 vote suggests that GOP members, especially the Tea Party freshmen, still think that a default on US obligations is an acceptable goal of the Republican Party. It also demonstrates the schism in the party orchestrated by Majority Leader Cantor, who has demonstrated disinterest in party unity.

Such high school political posturing explains why conservatives such as my friend feel somewhat lost. Intransigence and obstructionism are neither conservative nor progressive traits. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson practiced the art of compromise, something presently absent in Washington. They articulated an American ideology and eschewed the bumper sticker rhetoric that poses for it today. But from time to time the country suffers a bad decade. That explains gridlock Eric Cantor’s perceived power, such as it is. 

Originally published as Gridlock Eric Cantor on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tea Party: A Koch Industry

Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s call the Tea Party the Koch Party. The Koch Party is the tail that is wagging the GOP’s lead dog, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch bankrolled Tea Party groups from their beginning in addition to funding FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs have been referred to as “the financial engine of the Tea Party.” Their agenda opposes the extension of unemployment benefits, opposes a federal deficit, and calls for a freeze on federal regulations regarding oil, mining, and financial concerns. 

As the New Yorker reported, “In Washington, [David] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government and on the Obama Administration in particular.” 

Just before Christmas Boehner’s song was that the Keystone XL pipeline was the keystone of the payroll tax cut bill. “We will make changes,” Speaker Boehner said. “I will guarantee you the Keystone pipeline will be in the bill when it goes back to the Senate.” Increasing Canadian oil imports benefits Koch Industries, which is responsible for close to a quarter of the oil sands crude that is imported into the United States. Pipeline approval would be a windfall for Koch, with its deep involvement in the Canadian petroleum industry.

The Senate gave the Speaker the song he wanted to sing, a payroll tax extension with the Pipeline project rider. It then adjourned and left Washington. But the Koch Party House members rebelled and the Speakers’ tune changed to another piece of brinkmanship, for which the 112th Congress has become renowned. At stake this time were 2 million Americans losing their long-term unemployment benefits and 160 million workers seeing their taxes rise by 2-percentage points.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) slammed the GOP. “The public has to be concerned and wondering why on Earth are we not getting a payroll tax cut when everybody says they're for it?" The answer to her question is the Koch Party, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who opposed the Senate bill and urged his caucus to reject it.

Job creation is just the lip service that Speaker Boehner gave to the Keystone XL pipeline project. Blocking the middle class tax cut could cost between 400,000 and 1 million American jobs. Jobs are not on the Koch Party agenda. Its Tea Party surrogates do not understand who creates jobs or how a tax increase would impact consumer spending. Koch Industries is big business concerned about regulations and corporate tax loop-holes.  

Big business does not create jobs: it eliminates jobs. Small business creates jobs, but it can only create jobs when consumer spending goes up.

Well-funded Republicans do not grasp the concept that taking $40 a month away from the average US households is hardly a way to increase consumer spending. The non-partisan National Federation of Independent Business says, “It is going to take a rebound in consumer spending, particularly in the service sector to make a significant dent in the number of unemployed. The manufacturing sector is doing very well, but it does not create many jobs.”  

The Koch Party has had a strategy for the 2012 election. In order to thwart the re-election of President Barack Obama, it has exercised considerable effort to keep unemployment high and to restrain economic growth. The effect has been for the House of Representatives to abdicate its legislative responsibilities to the Senate and to foment a split between the two chambers.

However, the Koch Party strategy is flawed. Its usual Rupert Murdoch ally, the Wall Street Journal, critiqued, “After a year of the tea party House, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years. Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago.”

The Republican Party has not necessarily sold out to big business such as Koch Industries. The GOP has been traditionally regarded as the party of business. But it is difficult and expensive to be elected to congress, let alone to the presidency. So Mitt Romney, who has been courting a Koch endorsement, took no sides on the payroll tax standoff. Nor has the Koch Party endorsed his candidacy. They do not trust him.

Koch money funded and organized its surrogate Tea Party wing of the GOP. However, the Koch Party has yet to produce anything other than obstruction of the legislative process, record low congressional approval ratings, and a downgrade of the US credit rating. The Koch Party assertion that such an achievement record is what voters sent them to do in 2010 is dubious. The Speaker and his party are going to take a hit. A big hit.

Originally published as Tea Party: A Koch Industry on Blogcritics.