Eric Cantor, much to our surprise, almost just did something we not only would have agreed with, but in fact given our wholehearted support to. Almost.
In the midst of caving in to President Obama on the whole debt ceiling fight, Cantor tossed out a proposal (likely, to distract attention from his giant cave on the debt ceiling) which, at first glance, sounds great.
In a statement released to the media after the annual House Republican retreat, Cantor says the following:
We must pay our bills and responsibly budget for our future. Next week, we will authorize a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget. Furthermore, if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay.
Cantor is then backed up by John Boehner, who also bluntly states: "The principle is simple: no budget, no pay."
Unfortunately, later on in the news article appeared an unattributed statement (from a "leadership aide") that "if the House were to pass a budget and the Senate did not, House members would still get paid but senators would have their pay withheld."
Up until this point, I thought they were serious. This statement, however, means they are not. They are just playing politics, and bad politics at that. Because a House budget that doesn't make it through the Senate does not count, guys. Sorry. A House budget that cannot pass the Senate is, by definition, a political stunt, not "a budget."
But this does open up a wonderful opportunity for Democrats. Instead of this fake "no pay" idea, Democrats should get behind a real bill that would indeed do what Cantor and Boehner are trying to pretend their new idea does. In the last session of Congress, the "No Budget, No Pay Act" was introduced in both the Senate and the House. It got 14 cosponsors in the Senate, and a whopping 80 in the House (search the bill-tracking site at the Library of Congress for "H.R.3603" or "S.1981" from the 112th Congress to see the cosponsor lists).
The NBNPA (as I'm going to call it from now on) fully complies with the Constitution (Cantor's idea does not). It would not go into effect until after the next election, as the XXVIIth Amendment dictates. And it has real teeth -- both houses of Congress would have to pass a budget in order for anyone to get paid. Cantor's idea is no more than a stunt -- so the House Republicans can pass some laughable nonsense they call a "budget," knowing full well the Senate will never agree to it, and then they'll continue getting paid while denying the Senate paychecks. That right there is never going to pass the Senate, much less be signed into law. Any "no budget, no paycheck" law has to address the real problem: the inability of both parties in both houses of Congress to get their act together, negotiate, and hammer out a compromise.
If Democrats were smart, they'd co-opt the slogan at the heart of Cantor's flim-flammery, and make a huge push for enacting a real "no pay" law, instead of this cheap gimmick. It's one of those things which politicians hate, but will be wildly, insanely popular with the American people. If Democrats fail to take up this challenge, they risk Cantor and Boehner scoring political points on the issue with nothing but smoke and mirrors to back them up. Democrats: call their bluff! Revive the NBNPA and push it hard!
This past week saw official reactions to the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut. Two Democrats stood out this week, one on the state level and one on the national.
While President Obama got the spotlight for announcing his list of proposals about what to do about curbing gun violence, he only gets an Honorable Mention for doing so. Instead, the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Vice President Joe Biden, who was in charge of the task force which put together the recommendations. This task force reacted with blinding speed, by Washington's standards. In a single month, they held all their meetings and came up with their list of ideas to present to Obama. Normally, in Washington, any blue-ribbon commission would still be figuring out who will sit where at the table, and be ordering their office supplies. Normal commissions of this type usually take -- at minimum -- six-to-nine months to do anything productive. Taking whole years to do something is not even out of the question.
Biden, instead, ran a tight ship. He got people together, heard ideas, and then put together an incredibly comprehensive list of possible governmental actions. So comprehensive, in fact, that even some critics of gun control had guardedly good things to say about some of the ideas proposed. Nobody knows how effectively the ideas will be implemented (even the ones that don't have to make it through Congress), and nobody knows how effective any one particular idea will turn out to have been, but the list Biden came up with seems to have been based on "let's try a little bit of everything," which probably sounds pretty good to the American public right now.
On the state level, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo also must be awarded his own MIDOTW, for equally-blinding legislative speed. New York passed the most strict gun control laws of pretty much any state, and they did so this week as well. That's not just a commission's report with suggestions, that is actually getting a bill written, passing it through the state legislature, and getting it signed into law -- in the space of one month. For such quick action -- and for such bold action in the law's provisions -- Cuomo also qualifies as Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Remember his name, folks, you may be hearing it in a few years on the presidential campaign trail.
Congratulations are in order for both Governor Cuomo and for Vice President Biden, not only for their actions in dealing with the problem of gun violence, but also for the incredible speed with which they did so.
This week, the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award is given not "in sorrow," but rather "with amusement."
President Barack Obama's White House has been revolutionary for many reasons, one of which is improving online access for the American people. Specifically, the concept that people can propose questions to the White House, and if they get enough support from like-minded folks, the White House is bound to provide an answer. Up until now, this limit has been getting 25,000 digital signatures within a period of 30 days.
This week, however, the White House announced it was considerably upping this bar -- by a factor of four. Henceforth, 100,000 signatures will be necessary to generate an official response.
Boo! What are you trying to do, take away our fun?!?
The story is probably best told as comedy. The White House is (quite likely) tired of wackadoodle questions that a surprising number of Americans want to see officially answered. The most recent example was not the question of secession (which, after all, is a very serious subject), but rather the proposal that America immediately begin constructing a Death Star in space which is capable of blowing up planets, as shown in Star Wars. This question easily got the 25,000 signatures it needed.
The punchline was how the White House began its response: "This isn't the petition response you're looking for." Heh. Jedi mind tricks from the White House -- how cool is that?
But what they obviously meant was: "This is not the sort of petition we are looking for." The online community has always appreciated a good joke -- the geekier the better, in fact -- and there are plenty of hilarious things you can dream up which would be fun to see a White House response to. Because the Obama White House came up with the idea in the first place, it's not surprising that they have had to adjust it slightly over time.
Still, the fact that we won't have as many of these hilarious questions asked of the White House in the future is disappointing, to say the least. There is precious little humor emanating from Washington as it is for a poor pundit to write about, and we'll miss the "Death Star" type questions that never achieve the 100,000-signature threshold in the future.
So for whatever White House office made the decision to up the limit, we award this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Way to spoil our fun, guys.
[Why not propose a question to change the threshold back to 25,000 at the "We The People" White House suggestion page, just to see if it'll get 100,000 responses? It's worth a try....]
Volume 241 (1/18/13)
We've got a special offering this week. We're reaching all the way back to "Friday Talking Points " (originally published January 23, 2009) for our talking points this week, to check in four years later with the ideals President Obama expressed in his first Inaugural Address. Back then, we identified these seven excerpts as those that would stand the test of time and be remembered in the future. Since we're now in that future (wondering, as we always do, futuristically... where the heck are the flying cars we were promised?), we can now revisit what Obama said upon his first swearing-in as our Chief Magistrate (as they called it in the past), and see what holds up and what doesn't.
The first thing you'll notice, reading these, is the overwhelming sense of optimism. Looking back, it's hard to escape the term "naïveté," in fact. Obama really, truly believed he could get the Republicans to work with him. He honestly thought he could change the polarized culture of Washington, almost single-handedly. He was, obviously, completely wrong on that one. In fact, it took him an almost painful amount of time to realize it (until, say, about mid-2011). Over and over again, he tried to compromise with Republicans in an effort to gain some support, and over and over again his proposals were rejected out of hand.
The second thing worth noting here is what a different place America is in economically right now than we were when he gave this speech. We were in the midst of an utter fiscal and economic collapse. Things were getting worse by the day. We were losing an astounding 750,000 jobs per month. Things are not perfect, four years later, but the trends are all good and heading in the right direction now, instead of into the abyss. Just keep in mind the dire straits we faced back then when reading Obama's words.
The last thing is the change in Americans' attitude towards foreign policy. War was a big issue during the 2008 campaign. The "War On Terror" was still at the forefront of the discussion. In 2012, foreign policy was barely even mentioned on the campaign trail. That's a big shift. We're out of Iraq, and we're accelerating our planned withdrawal from Afghanistan -- our nation's longest war, ever.
In any case, in preparation for Obama's second swearing-in ceremony next Monday, here are the excerpts I thought would endure from his first.
The time has come to set aside childish things
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.
But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.
Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.
They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.
We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist
We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.
And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
A man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.
-- Chris Weigant
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground