Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2013 > USA > Politics > House of Representatives (I)



Congress’s Temerity on Gun Safety


December 22, 2013
The New York Times


Despite lawmakers’ copious sympathy for the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, all members of Congress were able to manage in the way of gun safety as they left town was renewal of the ban on the manufacture of plastic firearms. This is a type of arcane weapon that figured not at all in the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage in 2012, nor in the mass shootings featuring adapted weapons of war that have occurred on average every two weeks somewhere in America.

The measure is needed because guns made of plastic could render metal gun detectors ineffective. But it does nothing to control metal guns, and little to confront the awful challenge of Newtown and the nation’s ongoing history of gun carnage. In a politically safe gesture, both the House and the Senate voted by voice so members could duck individual accountability.

The process was a sad reminder of this Congress’s determined avoidance of meaningful laws controlling the lethal (metal) weapons regularly scourging the land.

An analysis of mass killings by USA Today found that the youngsters murdered in Newtown in rapid sprays of rifle fire were not alone. Nearly one-third of the victims of mass killings since 2006 have been children younger than 18 — 363 of them shot dead at an average age of 8 years old.

The grieving parents of Newtown were armed with facts like these when they visited Congress last summer to plead for gun safety. Their ghastly losses repeatedly drew tears from lawmakers but no determined action. Congress’s failure is part of the tragedy of Newtown.

    Congress’s Temerity on Gun Safety, NYT, 22.12.2013,






House Approves

Bill That Allows Policy Renewals


November 15, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House approved legislation on Friday that would allow insurance companies to renew individual health insurance policies and sell similar ones to new customers next year even if the coverage does not provide all the benefits and consumer protections required by the new health care law.

The vote was 261 to 157, with 39 Democrats bucking their party leadership and the White House to vote in favor of the bill. Hours after the vote, Mr. Obama and top aides met for over an hour with insurance executives after industry leaders complained Thursday that they had been blindsided by a White House reversal on canceled policies. The president described the meeting as a “brainstorming” session about how to ensure changes to the health care law go smoothly.

The insurance representatives, from more than a dozen companies, said they would work with the administration to protect the financial viability of the new marketplaces, but did not say how. Afterward, Karen Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said it was a “very productive” meeting, but would not go into detail.

The legislation approved by the House would go further than the fix announced on Thursday by Mr. Obama, who said he would temporarily waive some requirements of the law and allow insurers to renew “current policies for current enrollees” for a year.

Many of the Democrats who supported the bill are facing tough re-election fights back home, and expressed deep frustration with how the administration had handled the early carrying out of Mr. Obama’s signature health care law. Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia, who voted for the legislation, said that the White House deserved an “F-minus” for its botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m disgusted about it,” Mr. Rahall said. “I think heads should roll downtown. Whoever was responsible or may have known that this was going to occur should no longer be employed.”

Representative Ron Barber, Democrat of Arizona, who also joined Republicans in voting for the bill, was equally scathing, calling the rollout “a disaster.”

“My constituents are pretty upset,” he said, “and so am I.”

Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and the chief sponsor of the House bill, said it would fulfill a promise that Mr. Obama had made to the American people and then broken.

“In the last three years,” Mr. Upton said, “the president personally promised that if people liked their current health care plan, they could keep it ‘no matter what.’ But cancellation notices are now arriving in millions of mailboxes across the country. It’s cancellation today, sticker shock tomorrow.”

Mr. Upton, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, belittled Mr. Obama’s proposal, saying it was offered at the last minute, “as the administration’s allies in Congress panicked.”

Senior Democrats criticized the Upton legislation as a ploy that could unravel the entire health care law.

“Don’t pretend you care about the American people’s health care here,” said Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania. “You just want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are not going to let you do that.”

And Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said insurers, in discussing the bill, had had “significant concerns on how it would work operationally.”

The outlook for the legislation is unclear in the Senate, where Democrats running for re-election in 2014 are looking for a way to help consumers facing the loss of insurance policies that do not meet requirements of the 2010 law.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, was one of the first Democrats to break with the White House and offer her own proposal, which would allow people to keep their current plans indefinitely.

However, after the president’s turnabout on Thursday, many Senate Democrats said they were waiting to see if additional legislation was necessary, and quick action in the Senate is not expected.

House Democrats on Friday used a procedural maneuver to offer a plan of their own called “Landrieu lite.” It was similar to the president’s proposal in its approach, and it gave Democrats some political cover in that it showed them taking action on the issue.

The Democratic proposal, which was rejected by Republicans, would have allowed people who like their current plans to retain them for a year. Under the Democratic proposal, unlike with Mr. Upton’s bill, insurers would not be allowed to sell plans that previously faced cancellation to new customers.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, said insurers should be allowed to sell new policies like those now in force because it was extremely difficult for consumers to obtain coverage through the federal website, HealthCare.gov.

But Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, said Mr. Upton’s bill was an attempt to “drag us back to the bad old days of the American health care system.”

It would, he said, allow insurers to sell “cut-rate shoddy policies that lack the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act.”

The House vote came as Mr. Obama struggles to extricate himself from a political crisis of his own making. Opinion polls indicate that he is losing the trust of many Americans because of his handling of the health law rollout and the debut of the insurance website, which has been paralyzed by technological failures.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, said the Upton bill would provide relief to some people hurt by the president’s health care overhaul.

“The American people have grown weary of this administration spending money that it does not have on programs the American people do not want,” she said. “The president’s health care law is a great example.”

The White House said Mr. Obama would veto the House bill if it got to him. The bill, the administration said, would reverse progress made in extending coverage to the uninsured.

The House bill says that if an insurer was providing coverage in the individual market on Jan. 1 of this year, it “may continue” to offer such coverage for sale next year in the market outside the new insurance exchanges.

People who choose to buy or renew these policies in 2014 would be deemed to be in compliance with the requirement to have insurance, so they would not be subject to tax penalties for violating the individual mandate.

Insurance executives say that the premiums in the new federal and state marketplaces were based on the assumption that younger and generally healthy people who had been enrolled in cheaper plans would move into the new marketplaces. Their presence would help keep prices lower for everyone.

If those healthier people stick with their current plans, insurers say, then the new marketplaces could be filled with older, sicker people, and premiums could rise.

    House Approves Bill That Allows Policy Renewals, NYT, 16.11.2013,






Major Owens, 77,

Education Advocate in Congress,



October 22, 2013
The New York Times


Major R. Owens, a former librarian who went to Congress from Brooklyn and remained there for 24 years, fighting for more federal aid for education and other liberal causes, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 77.

His death, at NYU Langone Medical Center, was caused by renal and heart failure, his son Chris said. Mr. Owens lived in Brooklyn.

Mr. Owens, as a state senator and a former chief administrator of New York City’s antipoverty program, was a prominent figure in Brooklyn when he won the House seat vacated by the retiring Shirley Chisholm in 1982. Fourteen years earlier, she became the first black woman elected to Congress.

Mr. Owens represented an overwhelmingly Democratic swath of the borough that included Crown Heights and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Flatbush and Park Slope. The district encompassed stretches of severe blight and poverty, along with areas of middle-class stability and pockets of affluence.

He viewed education as “the kingpin issue,” as he put it in an article he wrote for the publication Black Issues in Higher Education. “We have to believe that all power and progress really begins with education,” he wrote.

As a member of the House committee that dealt with education, Mr. Owens spent much time sponsoring and shaping measures to put more federal money into reducing high school dropout rates, hiring more teachers and improving library services. Many of his provisions became parts of wider education bills.

In 1985, he wrote parts of a successful bill that authorized a $100 million fund to strengthen historically black colleges. In a hearing on the legislation, he said the fund was needed because “most of the historically black colleges are struggling.” He recalled his own days at one of those institutions, Morehouse College in Atlanta, from which he graduated in 1956.

“Most of the youngsters there were poor, from very poor backgrounds,” he said, and Morehouse “played a vital role of nurturing.”

Mr. Owens, who was considered one of the most liberal members of the House, opposed an agreement between President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republicans to give states more flexibility in how they spent billions in federal school aid.

“We cannot leave it up to the states,” he said. “They have not done a good job.”

On other fronts, Mr. Owens was a floor manager of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, aimed at curbing discrimination against handicapped people. He defended organized labor and supported proposals to prohibit the deportation of illegal immigrants who fell into various categories.

Mr. Owens, whose first wife, the former Ethel Werfel, was white and Jewish, frequently urged blacks and Jews to bridge their differences.

He condemned the Nation of Islam as a “hate-mongering fringe group” after anti-Semitic remarks by its leader, Louis Farrakhan. Even before tensions between blacks and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights erupted into riots in summer 1991, he denounced the “Rambo types on both sides” who, he said, only poured oil on the strife.

Mr. Owens was a low-key politician, but he had a colorful streak; he wrote and even performed rap lyrics, for example. He titled one number, about male sexuality, “The Viagra Monologues,” a takeoff on the name of Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues.”

Other lyrics, which he performed in open-mike sessions at cafes and entered into the Congressional Record, dealt with goings-on in Washington. One rap number commented on a 1990 budget accord between Congress and the White House. Here is how it began:

At the big white D.C. mansion

There’s a meeting of the mob

And the question on the table

Is which beggars will they rob.

Major Robert Odell Owens was born in Collierville, Tenn., on June 28, 1936, to Ezekiel and Edna Owens. His father worked in a furniture factory.

In 1956, the year he graduated from Morehouse, Mr. Owens married Ms. Werfel. The marriage ended in divorce. He later married the former Maria Cuprill.

After earning a master’s degree in library science in 1957 from Atlanta University (which later became Clark Atlanta), Mr. Owens moved to New York City and worked as a librarian in Brooklyn from 1958 to the mid-1960s.

He was executive director of the Brownsville Community Council, an antipoverty group, until Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed him to oversee the city’s antipoverty program in 1968 as commissioner of the Community Development Agency, a post he held until 1973.

Mr. Owens was a state senator from Brooklyn from 1975 until 1982, when he won the Democratic primary for Ms. Chisholm’s House seat. In a district so heavily Democratic, the primary victory was tantamount to election.

His opponent in the primary, Vander L. Beatty, also a state senator from Brooklyn, was later convicted of forgery and conspiracy in seeking to get the result overturned.

In his 11 campaigns for re-election Mr. Owens faced significant opposition only twice, in 2000 and 2004, when his primary opponents contended, to no avail, that he was no longer attentive to the needs of his constituents, especially the many of Caribbean origin.

He retired from Congress in 2006. His son Chris lost in a four-way primary race to succeed him.

Afterward Mr. Owens taught public administration at Medgar Evers College, a Brooklyn branch of the City University of New York. His book “The Peacock Elite: A Case Study of the Congressional Black Caucus” was published in 2011.

Besides his son Chris, from his first marriage, Mr. Owens is survived by his wife; two other sons from his first marriage, Millard and Geoffrey, an actor who appeared on television as the son-in-law Elvin on “The Cosby Show”; three brothers, Ezekiel Jr., Mack and Bobby; a sister, Edna Owens; a stepson, Carlos Cuprill; a stepdaughter, Cecilia Cuprill-Nunez; four grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.

    Major Owens, 77, Education Advocate in Congress, Dies, NYT, 22.10.2013,






Thomas Foley,

House Speaker,

Dies at 84;

Democrat Urged Parties

to Collaborate


October 18, 2013
The New York Times


Thomas S. Foley, a courtly congressman from Washington State who as speaker of the House sought to still the chamber’s rising tide of partisan combat before it swept the Democratic majority, and Mr. Foley himself, out of office in 1994, died on Friday at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 84.

His wife, Heather, said the cause was complications of strokes. He had a stroke last December, was hospitalized with pneumonia in May and had been under hospice care at his home virtually since then, she said.

In a statement, President Obama called Mr. Foley “a legend of the United States Congress” whose “straightforward approach helped him find common ground with members of both parties.”

Mr. Foley — well read, impeccably dressed and quite tall (he stood 6-foot-4) — had been the House majority leader when he took the speaker’s chair on June 6, 1989. His rise came in the wake of a bitter, though successful, fight led by Representative Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, to oust Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat from Texas, over allegations of ethics violations; one was that he had improperly accepted gifts from a Fort Worth developer. Mr. Wright resigned before an ethics inquiry was completed.

Mr. Foley immediately appealed to “our friends on the Republican side to come together and put away bitterness and division and hostility.” He promised to treat “each and every member” fairly, regardless of party, and by most estimations he lived up to that promise to a degree unmatched by his successors. For a time, he succeeded in making the House a more civil place, winning praise from many Republicans for his fairness.

But by 1994, Republicans had hardened, painting the Democratic-controlled House as out of touch and corrupt.

Their strategy worked. That year, Republicans won their first majority in the House in 40 years, and Mr. Foley became the first speaker since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election in his own district. (Speaker Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania lost his seat in 1862.)

Mr. Foley had gotten a taste of that partisanship a few days before becoming speaker, when the Republican National Committee and an aide to Mr. Gingrich sought to portray him as homosexual. The committee put out a memo labeled “Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet,” equating his voting record with that of Barney Frank, the gay representative from Massachusetts, and the Gingrich aide urged reporters to investigate Mr. Foley’s sexuality. Mr. Foley denied he was gay.

President George Bush said he was “disgusted at the memo,” but he also said he believed the R.N.C. chairman, Lee Atwater, who had been Mr. Bush’s presidential campaign strategist, when Mr. Atwater said he did not know where the memo had originated. Because of Mr. Atwater’s own reputation for attack-dog politics, the president’s belief was not widely shared.

Mr. Foley’s five and a half years as speaker were marked by a successful effort to force President Bush to accept tax increases as part of a 1990 deficit-reduction deal, and by unsuccessful opposition to the president’s plans to invade Iraq in 1991.

When Mr. Bush was succeeded by Bill Clinton, a Democrat, Mr. Foley played a central role in winning passage of Mr. Clinton’s 1993 budget plan, which also included tax increases. The measure passed the House, 218 to 216, without a single Republican vote.

And despite a long history of opposing any gun control measures, Mr. Foley helped win House passage of a 1994 ban on assault weapons, which played a major role in the Republican victory that fall. He had been shaken when a troubled Air Force enlisted man went on a shooting rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Wash., killing 5 people and wounding 22.

He also bucked a majority of House Democrats in supporting Mr. Clinton’s successful effort to win ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But he did not cite any of those measures in reflecting on his record in his last news conference, on Nov. 19, 1994.

“If I had one compelling concern in the time that I have been speaker, but previous to that as well,” he said, “it is that we not idly tamper with the Constitution of the United States.”

He had been a fierce opponent of proposed constitutional amendments that would have required a balanced federal budget, term limits for members of Congress and a ban on flag burning, all championed by Republicans. Of the flag-burning measure, he said, “If it is not conservative to protect the Bill of Rights, then I don’t know what conservatism is today.”

Despite sharp differences on issues, he got along better with members of the other party than any of the speakers who followed him. In that final news conference, asked to offer advice to the next speaker, Mr. Gingrich, he urged him to remember, “You are the speaker of the whole House and not just one party.”

Robert H. Michel of Illinois, the minority leader whom Mr. Foley allowed to preside at the closing of the 103rd Congress, said Mr. Foley had attained that bipartisan goal himself. Mr. Foley, he said, “just felt it was a significant step from being majority leader” and that as speaker, “you submerge” partisan impulses.

But his good relations with Mr. Michel did not stop Republicans from taking aim at Mr. Foley, whose rural district in and around Spokane leaned Republican.

George Nethercutt, a lawyer backed not only by the national Republican apparatus but also by the National Rifle Association and supporters of term limits, ran against Mr. Foley in 1994, saying he had lost touch with the district. Mr. Nethercutt promised to serve only three terms (though he changed his mind and served five) and won narrowly. Mr. Gingrich later called Washington State “ground zero” of the Republican onslaught that year.

The Nethercutt victory brought an end to a 30-year House career that was a textbook example of a traditional rise to power.

Thomas Stephen Foley was born on March 6, 1929, in Spokane, the only son of Ralph E. Foley, a county prosecutor and judge, and the former Helen Marie Higgins, a teacher whose family had been pioneers in Lincoln County, Wash.

He attended Gonzaga Preparatory School and Gonzaga University in Spokane before transferring to the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1957. Afterward, he joined the Spokane County prosecutor’s office, taught constitutional law at Gonzaga’s law school and worked in the office of the Washington State attorney general.

In 1960, he joined the staff of Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington as chief counsel and worked with him on the staff of the Senate Committee on the Interior. Senator Jackson, who was known as Scoop, was a mentor: Mr. Foley had known him since he was young, when Mr. Jackson would come for dinner at his parents’ house.

It was Senator Jackson who urged Mr. Foley to run against an 11-term Republican incumbent, Walt Horan, in 1964. He won in what was a great year for Democrats, who captured both houses of Congress as President Lyndon B. Johnson earned a full term in a landslide.

In 1968, Mr. Foley married Heather Strachan, a lawyer who became an unofficial chief of staff for her husband. In 1992, The New York Times wrote of her, “In contrast to her husband, a gentle, friendly man whose success was built on his congeniality, Mrs. Foley is blunt-spoken and strong-minded and has become increasingly resented and feared as her power has grown.”

Besides his wife, Mr. Foley is survived by a sister, Maureen Latimer.

Vacancies enabled Mr. Foley to rise quickly on the Agriculture Committee, a post of importance to his grain-growing constituents in eastern Washington. He was also an important figure in the reform movement in the House, leading the Democratic Study Group in 1974. Its key achievement was a rule enabling the Democratic caucus to elect committee chairmen.

Mr. Foley nominated the incumbent chairman of the Agriculture Committee, W. R. Poage of Texas, to continue in that post. But the caucus, spurred by 75 change-oriented freshmen elected in the wake of Watergate, rejected him and elected Mr. Foley instead. Two years later, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

He gave up both posts in 1981 when Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill and the majority leader, Mr. Wright, asked him to serve as Democratic whip, a rung on the leadership ladder that Mr. O’Neill had climbed. Another reason he took the job was that it offered him a chance to involve himself in broader issues, especially foreign policy.

After Mr. O’Neill retired and Mr. Wright became speaker in 1987, Mr. Foley advanced to majority leader, and to speaker on Mr. Wright’s resignation.

After leaving Congress, Mr. Foley was chairman of President Clinton’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1995 to 1997. He then served for three years as ambassador to Japan, a nation he had studied and frequently visited, in part to promote his district’s farm products.

Rather than retire, Mr. Foley remained in Washington, where he and his wife had built a house, and practiced law there at the blue chip firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He and Jeffrey R. Biggs, his former press secretary, collaborated on a biographical book published in 1999, titling it “Honor in the House.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

    Thomas Foley, House Speaker, Dies at 84;
    Democrat Urged Parties to Collaborate, NYT, 18.10.2013,






The Republican Surrender


October 16, 2013
The New York Times


The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc. Hours away from an inevitable market crash, it approved a deal that could have been achieved months ago had a few more lawmakers set aside their animus. After President Obama signs the bill, the government will reopen after more than two weeks of shutdown, and the threat of a default will be lifted.

The health care reform law will not be defunded or delayed. No taxes will be cut, and the deal calls for no new cuts to federal spending or limits to social welfare programs. The only things Republicans achieved were billions of dollars in damage to the economy, harm to the nation’s reputation and a rock-bottom public approval rating.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” Speaker John Boehner said, utterly failing to grasp the destruction his battle caused. It has hurt federal employees and needy people dependent on government programs, and it threatened to alter Washington’s balance permanently by giving a fringe group outsize power over the executive branch and the normal functions of government.

The deal, unfortunately, does include one minor health care provision that requires the administration to certify that procedures are in place to verify the incomes of those seeking insurance subsidies. (By the middle of next year, an inspector general will have to audit those procedures.) A White House official said the provision was virtually meaningless and would have no effect on the rollout of insurance exchanges, but the requirement was unnecessary and adds a tarnish to the president’s vow not to pay the slightest bit of ransom to Republicans.

Nonetheless, the outcome vindicates the strong stance taken by Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats against the Republicans’ extortionate demands. Two years ago, when he was first confronted with the Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling, Mr. Obama blinked and agreed to a budget control law that severely slashed domestic spending and will continue to do so for years through the sequester.

Determined not to give in this time, he refused all of the most outrageous demands. The Republicans pushed the nation to the brink of default, and pulled back at the last minute when it was clear the White House would not capitulate.

But this doesn’t mean the brinkmanship is over. The continuing resolution that pays for the government to reopen lasts only until Jan. 15. Democrats won a formal budget negotiation that Republicans had resisted for months, giving them a chance to relieve some of the sequester cuts. Republicans have already vowed to use the budget negotiations to keep up their attacks on the health law. “Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president’s health care law will continue,” Mr. Boehner said in his surrender statement.

Then, on Feb. 7, the Treasury will again hit the debt ceiling. That will be closer to the midterm political season, and the futility of trying to use default as a weapon should be a fresh memory for Republicans. But many in the party remain defiant, opposing this week’s deal and vowing to keep waging their crusade. Those who refused to submit to blackmail in Washington need to remain vigilant.

    The Republican Surrender, NYT, 16.10.2013,






Government Shutting Down in Impasse


September 30, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A flurry of last-minute moves by the House, Senate and White House late Monday failed to break a bitter budget standoff over President Obama’s health care law, setting in motion the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.

After a series of rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers, leaders of the House and Senate acknowledged there would not be a resolution in time to stop a shutdown before a midnight deadline, even as the House took steps to open talks. But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, dismissed as game-playing the House proposal to begin conference committee negotiations.

“We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads,” he said, demanding that the House accept the Senate’s six-week stopgap spending bill, which has no policy prescriptions, before negotiations begin.

The impasse meant that 800,000 federal workers were to be furloughed and more than a million others would be asked to work without pay. The Office of Management and Budget issued orders that “agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations” because Congress had failed to act.

In the hours leading up the deadline, House Republican leaders won approval, in a vote of 228 to 201, of a new plan to tie further government spending to a one-year delay in a requirement that individuals buy health insurance. The House proposal would deny federal subsidies to members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, executive branch political appointees, White House staff, and the president and vice president, who would be forced to buy their health coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance exchanges.

But 57 minutes later, and with almost no debate, the Senate killed the House health care provisions and sent the stopgap spending bill right back, free of policy prescriptions. Earlier in the day, the Senate had taken less than 25 minutes to convene and dispose of a weekend budget proposal by the House Republicans.

“They’ve lost their minds,” Mr. Reid said, before disposing of the House bill. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again.”

The federal government was then left essentially to run out of money at midnight, the end of the fiscal year, although the president signed a measure late Monday that would allow members of the military to continue to be paid.

“One faction in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” Mr. Obama said in the White House briefing room as the clock ticked to midnight. “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”

Mr. Obama called House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, but they spoke for less than 10 minutes, without any sign of progress.

“I talked to the president tonight,” the speaker said on the House floor. He summed up Mr. Obama’s remarks as: “I’m not going to negotiate. I’m not going to negotiate.”

The House’s most ardent conservatives were resigned to seeing through their war on the health care law to its inevitable conclusion, a shutdown that could test voters’ patience with Republican brinkmanship.

“The fear shouldn’t be what’s going to happen at 12 o’clock tonight,” Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, said Monday night. “The fear needs to be on the future, what’s going to happen with jobs, what’s going to happen with health insurance for the American people.”

But cracks in the party were opening into fissures of frustration.

“You have this group that keeps saying somehow if you’re not with them, you’re for Obamacare,” said Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “If you’re not with exactly their plan, exactly what they want to do, then you’re somehow for Obamacare, and it’s just getting a little old.”

“It’s moronic to shut down the government over this,” he continued.

It was far from certain that Republicans could remain unified on their insistence on health care concessions if a shutdown lasted for some time. Asked whether Republicans could hold together through the end of the week, Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia, one of the more conservative members, answered: “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Earlier Monday, the Senate voted 54 to 46 along party lines to kill the previous House plan immediately after ending a weekend break. Senators then sent the House a bill to finance the government through Nov. 15 without policy prescriptions.

But House leaders would have none of it, again demanding a significant hit to the health law as a price for keeping the government open.

Mr. Reid laid into Mr. Boehner and put the blame for a shutdown solely on his shoulders. “Our negotiation is over with,” he said.

“You know with a bully you cannot let them slap you around, because they slap you around today, they slap you five or six times tomorrow,” Mr. Reid, a former boxer, continued. “We are not going to be bullied.”

In addition to criticizing Mr. Boehner, Mr. Reid excoriated what he called the “banana Republican mind-set” of the House. He called on the speaker to put the Senate bill up for a vote, which would almost certainly pass in the House because of overwhelming Democratic support and backing from moderate Republicans.

In one of their final moves, House Republicans attached language to a government funding bill that would delay the mandate that individuals obtain health insurance and would force members of Congress, their staffs and White House staff members to buy their health insurance on the new exchanges without any government subsidies.

Conservative activists have portrayed the language as ensuring that Congress and the White House would be held to the same strictures that apply to ordinary Americans under the health care law. In fact, the language would put poorly paid junior staff members at a disadvantage.

Most people buying coverage on the exchanges will receive subsidies through generous tax credits. Most Americans will still get their insurance from their employers, who will continue to receive a tax deduction for the cost of that care. Under the House language, lawmakers and their staffs, executive branch political appointees, the White House staff, and the president and vice president would have to pay the entire cost of health insurance out of pocket.

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said junior staff members were “being used as a sacrifice” for a political gambit, driven by Republican hard-liners in the Senate like Ted Cruz of Texas, that will go nowhere.

“They locked themselves into this situation, the dead end that Ted Cruz created,” Mr. King said.

The budget confrontation — which threatened to close federal offices and facilities, idling thousands of workers around the country — stemmed from an unusual push by Republicans to undo a law that has been on the books for three years, through a presidential election, and that the Supreme Court largely upheld in 2012. A major part of the law is set to take effect Tuesday: the opening of insurance exchanges, where people without insurance will be able to obtain coverage.

Republicans argue that the administration has itself delayed elements of the law. They say it should be postponed for at least a year.

Democrats say Republicans are being driven by the most extreme elements of their party. “The scary thing about the period we’re in right now is there is no clear end,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.


Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

    Government Shutting Down in Impasse, NYT, 30.9.2013,






The House Rushes to a Shutdown


September 29, 2013
The New York Times


This time, it wasn’t just a few Tea Party hotheads who drove the United States government to the brink of shutting down. Early Sunday morning, all 231 House Republicans (along with 17 Democrats) decided that crippling health care reform was more important than keeping the government’s doors open. It was one of the most irresponsible votes since the last shutdown in 1996.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Harold Rogers of Kentucky — a 32-year veteran who should know better — stood on the House floor and disingenuously claimed that the Republicans were not trying to provoke a shutdown. He called their amendments to the temporary spending resolution, which would put the health reform law on hold for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices, “a peaceable offer” to the Senate, a helpful compromise.

In fact, they know that these outrageous conditions for keeping the government open stand no chance in the Senate when it reconvenes on Monday just hours before government funding runs out at midnight.

Delaying the health law by a year, supported by all but two House Republicans, would prevent 11 million uninsured people from getting coverage in 2014 and raise premiums for those buying coverage in the individual insurance market. The real goal is not to delay but to destroy health reform by making it appear unworkable, in hopes that the public will not see the affordable premiums that will be available on the new health insurance exchanges where people can shop for plans starting Tuesday.

Repealing the tax on medical devices, supported by all House Republicans, would add $30 billion to the deficit over 10 years and reduce the revenues needed to pay for coverage for low-income people. This vote was nothing but a capitulation to the medical device industry and its lobbyists, though the industry stands to gain from a larger population of insured patients.

The House even included in its spending bill a provision allowing employers to opt out of covering women’s preventive health care, including contraception. When they should have been thinking about the damage to the economy from a shutdown, Republicans decided to go to the brink with this hugely unpopular right-wing demand.

A few hours before midnight is the worst possible time to reignite the culture wars, but House members are too delirious with ideology to care. John Culberson of Texas described his reaction at a meeting of Republican lawmakers: “I said, like 9/11, ‘let’s roll,’ ” as if his partisan antics were somehow on a par with the ultimate sacrifices of ordinary citizens 12 years ago.

The comparison was nauseating, and when the Senate returns on Monday, it needs to reject the entire House package immediately. It may be impossible to prevent a shutdown at this point if the House continues to prefer dueling to governing, but at least the public will clearly see the source of the nation’s wounds.

    The House Rushes to a Shutdown, NYT, 29.9.2013,






Another Insult to the Poor


September 19, 2013
The New York Times


In what can be seen only as an act of supreme indifference, House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday that would drastically cut federal food stamps and throw 3.8 million Americans out of the program in 2014.

The vote came two weeks after the Agriculture Department reported that 17.6 million households did not have enough to eat at some point in 2012 because they lacked the resources to put food on the table. It came two days after the Census Bureau reported that 15 percent of Americans, or 46.5 million people, live in poverty.

These numbers were basically unchanged from 2011, but in a growing economy steady rates of hunger and poverty amount, in effect, to backsliding. Cutting food stamps would accelerate the slide. Food stamps kept four million people out of poverty last year and kept millions more from falling deeper into poverty. Under the House Republican bill, many of these people would be impoverished.

The struggling middle class is also faring poorly. Though the unemployment rate dropped to a low of 7.8 percent last year from a high of 9.1 percent in 2011, median household income was virtually unchanged, at $51,017. In a healthy economy, income would rise when unemployment falls. But in today’s weak economy, much of the decline in the jobless rate is not due to new hiring, but to a shrinking work force — the very definition of a feeble labor market in which employed people work for years without raises and unemployed job seekers routinely end up in new jobs that pay less than their previous ones.

Even so, congressional Republicans have shown no inclination to end the automatic budget cuts that, if left in place, will lead to an estimated loss of 900,000 jobs in the coming year, keeping poverty high and incomes stagnant. In addition, there seems to be little Republican appetite for renewing federal unemployment benefits — a lifeline for millions of unemployed Americans — when they expire at the end of 2013.

It is nothing new that poor people are stuck and those in the middle class are struggling. The poverty rate, though steady last year, has worsened or failed to improve in 11 of the last 12 years. The latest numbers would have been worse but for “doubling up.” There are currently 10.1 million adults age 25 to 34 who are not in school and who live with parents or others who are not spouses of cohabitating partners. If they were on their own, 43 percent of them would fall below the poverty line, which last year was $11,945 for someone under age 65.

Similarly, while median household income held steady last year, it was still lower by 8.3 percent, or $4,600, (measured in 2012 dollars) than in 2007, before the recession. And the longer the historical perspective, the more dire the situation. From 2000 to 2012, median income for working-age households headed by someone under age 65 (again in 2012 dollars) fell almost $7,500, from nearly $65,000 to just under $57,500, a decline of 11.6 percent.

Against that backdrop, there is no justification for savaging the safety net and decimating the budget.

    Another Insult to the Poor, NYT, 19.9.2013,






Obama’s Battle for Syria Votes,

Taut and Uphill


September 7, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Each morning for the last week, at 7:45, more than a dozen White House aides have mustered in the corner office of President Obama’s chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, to get their marching orders for what has become the most intense, uphill lobbying campaign of the Obama presidency.

The White House’s goal is to persuade Congress to authorize a limited military strike against Syria to punish it for a deadly chemical weapons attack. But after a frenetic week of wall-to-wall intelligence briefings, dozens of phone calls and hours of hearings with senior members of Mr. Obama’s war council, more and more lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, are lining up to vote against the president.

Officials are guardedly optimistic about the Senate, but the blows keep coming. On Saturday, Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, perhaps the most endangered incumbent up for re-election, came out against the authorization to use force.

In the House, the number of rank-and-file members who have declared that they will oppose or are leaning against military action is approaching 218, the point of no return for the White House. Getting them to reverse their positions will be extremely difficult.

Administration officials say publicly that they are not rattled by such grim vote counts. The debate, they say, will only be fully engaged this week, when Congress returns from recess and Mr. Obama is back from his trip to Sweden and Russia. On Tuesday night, he will lay out his case for a strike to the nation in a speech from the White House.

“It’s too early to jump to any conclusions on where the House or Senate is,” Mr. McDonough said in an interview on Friday. “The effort will only intensify next week.”

To improve its odds, the White House is enlisting virtually every senior official from the president on down. In addition to members of Congress, it is reaching out to Jewish groups, Arab-Americans, left-leaning think tanks and even officials from the George W. Bush administration, some of whom are acting as surrogates. It is also getting help from the nation’s most powerful pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is mounting its own campaign for military action.

The White House and its allies in Congress differ on how the administration handled the first week of the campaign. Administration officials said they succeeded in dispelling doubts about whether the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, carried out the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21 that they say left more than 1,400 people dead.

“We set a goal this week of making sure people understood the facts of the case,” Mr. McDonough said Friday. “No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence. We’re not really debating the veracity of the central charge.”

But people on Capitol Hill said the White House’s initial case for action proved unpersuasive, particularly in the hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

Lawmakers came away believing that General Dempsey projected an image of military reluctance, that Mr. Hagel seemed occasionally unsure of himself, and that Mr. Kerry exuded a characteristic air of confidence that some members appreciated and others chafed at.

Aides to Congressional Democratic leaders said Saturday that videos of the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, showing civilians lying on the ground in convulsions, have been shown to lawmakers in classified briefings open only to members of Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, posted the videos on the committee’s Web site on Saturday for the public to see.

The next phase of the campaign will be more individualized, and more from Mr. Obama himself. Democrats who are balking are being asked at least to vote against Republican procedural moves meant to delay or derail an up-or-down vote. After all the arguments are exhausted, aides said, it will come down to a personal pitch: the president needs you to save him from a debilitating public defeat.

But first, advisers said, the president needs to explain to the public in his speech on Tuesday why Syria is not another Iraq.

“Right now, to most of the country, this seems like a simple question of, ‘Is Congress going to vote to start another war?’ ” said David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama who, like other veterans of his 2008 campaign, was back in the West Wing last week. “Tuesday night and other opportunities can help fill in the picture for people about both the rationale and limited nature of the response.”

On the day the president is speaking, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee plans to blanket Capitol Hill with 250 advocates, having already contacted dozens of lawmakers to urge them to support a strike.

The advocates will carry a simple message, according to a person involved in the effort: Syria is a proxy for Iran, and the failure to enforce Mr. Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad will be interpreted in Tehran as a sign that he will not enforce a red line against the production of nuclear weapons by the Iranian government.

Israel itself is staying out of what it regards as a domestic American political debate. But Michael B. Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said he was telling any lawmaker who expressed fears that Syria would attack Israel in retaliation for an American missile strike: “Don’t worry about us. We can defend ourselves.”

Among the most visible surrogates could be Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s former secretary of state, who aides say is likely to address Syria at one or both of two events this week: a previously scheduled visit to the White House on Monday to promote wildlife conservation, and a speech the next day in Philadelphia.

The White House is also putting officials, including the president, before audiences and television cameras. Mr. Obama will tape interviews on Monday with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and CNN. Mr. McDonough will appear on all five Sunday news programs, and on Monday the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, will address the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute.

The last time the White House lobbied this intensively on a single issue was the 2009 health care law. But unlike that battle, which was largely pitched to the Democratic ranks, the White House this time is also appealing to Republicans. Administration officials note that in private conversations, lawmakers repeatedly asked to have their voices heard on Syria.

The administration’s shift began taking shape late last week at briefings for Congressional chiefs of staff and legislative directors. At a bipartisan briefing that was well attended, Robert S. Ford, the senior American envoy to the Syrian opposition, offered a frightening picture of a Middle East with uncontrolled weapons of mass destruction, aides who attended said.

Tailoring the pitch, the White House and Republican Congressional leaders organized another briefing just for Republican staff members to hear from Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to Mr. Bush, and Eric S. Edelman, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Edelman, in particular, focused on what Republican leaders have been emphasizing: a broader context for the Syrian conflict that includes Iran, loose weapons of mass destruction and the threat to Israel, according to Republican aides.

On the Democratic side, Mr. McDonough met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, while Ms. Rice met with the Congressional Black Caucus, whose loyalty might be crucial.

On Friday, Mr. McDonough and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, held a conference call with Democratic freshmen. Some Democrats have been invited to the Situation Room to meet with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Leaders in both parties say that there is a narrow window to win over or change enough votes to secure passage of the authorization, but that window may close before Mr. Obama’s speech.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, wrote an opinion article for The Richmond Times-Dispatch explaining his support for a strike in terms that could sway other Republicans — namely that it could combat the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.

But aides say there was a reason Mr. Cantor chose his hometown newspaper: He had to reach his own constituents, who, like most Americans, are opposed to military action.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, called on Mr. Cantor to hear his position but emerged leaning toward no. “I don’t see how they do that now,” he said of winning authorization. “They may be able to squeak it out. But at best it’s going to be razor thin.”


Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

    Obama’s Battle for Syria Votes, Taut and Uphill, NYT, 7.9.2013,






House Leaders Express Their Support

for Syria Strike


September 3, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama won the support on Tuesday of Republican and Democratic leaders in the House for an attack on Syria, giving him a foundation to win broader approval for military action from a Congress that still harbors deep reservations.

Speaker John A. Boehner, who with other Congressional leaders met Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, said afterward that he would “support the president’s call to action,” an endorsement quickly echoed by the House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia.

On Tuesday evening, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on the wording of a resolution that would give Mr. Obama the authority to carry out a strike against Syria, for a period of 60 days, with one 30-day extension. A committee vote on the measure could come as early as Wednesday.

Uncertainties abound, particularly in the House, where the imprimatur of the Republican leadership does not guarantee approval by rebellious rank and file, and where vocal factions in both parties are opposed to anything that could entangle the nation in another messy conflict in the Middle East.

Still, the expressions of support from top Republicans who rarely agree with Mr. Obama on anything suggest the White House may be on firmer footing than seemed the case on Saturday, when the president abruptly halted his plans for action in the face of growing protests from Congress.

Mr. Obama is now headed to Sweden and Russia, where he will try to shore up an international coalition to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack and will probably encounter some of the same debates that are cleaving the Capitol.

Before his departure, the White House intensified what has become the most extraordinary lobbying campaign of Mr. Obama’s presidency as it deployed members of his war council and enlisted political alumni of his 2008 campaign to press the argument with the public.

“This is not the time for armchair isolationism,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, who answered sharp questions and defended the administration’s strategy for Syria in nearly four hours of sometimes sharp exchanges before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Kerry stirred some confusion about the potential scope of American military involvement when he tried to carve out an exception to a proposed Congressional prohibition on the use of ground troops in Syria — something Mr. Obama and other officials have long ruled out as a general principle.

If Syria were to fall into complete chaos and if the chemical weapons of President Bashar al-Assad’s government there were at risk of falling into the hands of a militant group like Al Nusra, Mr. Kerry said, “I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”

Later, under questioning by Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican, Mr. Kerry walked back his comment, insisting that he had only been speaking about a hypothetical case. “Let’s shut that door now as tight as we can,” Mr. Kerry said, without quite doing so. “There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”

The Senate resolution — released on Tuesday night by Mr. Corker and the committee’s chairman, Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey — would limit the president’s options and prohibit the use of ground forces. Any strike, it says, should be “tailored” to only deter Syria from using chemical weapons again and to cripple its capacity to do so.

The resolution would prohibit “boots on the ground” and require “the Obama administration to submit their broader plan for Syria,” Mr. Corker said in a statement.

Mr. Menendez added, “We have an obligation to act.”

In one of the most heated moments of the hearing earlier, Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, said that Mr. Obama might go through with an attack if Congress failed to authorize it. Mr. Kerry said that he did not know what Mr. Obama would decide but that the president had the authority to do so under the Constitution.

It was a vivid tableau: Mr. Kerry — the former senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2003, then turned against it — imploring his ex-colleagues to authorize an act of war.

Although he appeared alongside Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — another former senator — and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Mr. Kerry dominated the hearing. He seemed keenly aware of the echoes of Iraq.

“We were here for that vote,” Mr. Kerry said. “We voted. So we are especially sensitive — Chuck and I — to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence. And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and rescrubbed the evidence.”

Mr. Kerry said the intelligence proved that the “Assad regime prepared for this attack, issued instructions to prepare for this attack, warned its own forces to use gas masks,” and the intelligence included “physical evidence of where the rockets came from and when.”

Mr. Hagel, who, like Mr. Kerry, is a veteran of the Vietnam War, used another argument used by previous administrations: a warning that authoritarian governments with arsenals of unconventional weapons could transfer them to terrorist groups.

Casting the issue as one of self-defense, the defense secretary also underscored the threat to American military personnel across the region. He said other dictators around the world and militant groups like Hezbollah might be emboldened if the United States did not punish the Assad government. “The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only an assault on humanity,” Mr. Hagel said. “It is a serious threat to America’s national security interests and those of our closest allies.”

Before the hearing began, and again after Mr. Kerry spoke, protesters from the antiwar group Code Pink jumped up and shouted against military action. “Kerry, no more war in Syria!” one demonstrator exclaimed, adding that America needed health care and education more than military action.

Although the declared goal of a strike on Syria would be to degrade its ability to launch a chemical weapons attack and deter any future use, General Dempsey was asked whether such an attack would also diminish to a broader extent the Assad military’s abilities.

“Yes,” he replied.

General Dempsey was a subdued presence in the hearing. Although he, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel sought to present a unified front, they have had differences over how to respond to the conflict in Syria in recent months. Mr. Kerry has pushed to provide military support to the rebels and consider deeper military involvement, and General Dempsey has repeatedly highlighted the risks of intervention.

Similar differences were on display among lawmakers who spoke during the Senate hearing or after the meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, said she supported the president and sent a letter to fellow Democrats urging that they fall into line. But she conceded, “In my district, I don’t think people are convinced that military action is necessary.”

Ms. Pelosi’s comments reflected her dilemma as a leader of the president’s party, which still has a strong liberal antiwar wing. “The American people need to hear more about the intelligence,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said that despite his support for Mr. Obama, the Republican leadership would not lean on other Republicans to vote for military action and would leave that lobbying to the White House. Mr. Boehner’s stance will ease the pressure on him from members of his party, who believe the United States has no business in Syria. It will increase the pressure on Ms. Pelosi.

The calendar is Mr. Obama’s enemy: Many members from both parties are still back in their districts hearing from constituents, and the feedback, based on numerous interviews, is overwhelmingly negative.

On Tuesday, however, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, threw its support behind military action in Syria, citing the need to send a strong message to Iran and the militant group Hezbollah, both of which support Mr. Assad.

“Iran is watching us very carefully,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and a staunch defender of Israel.


Jennifer Steinhauer, Ashley Parker

and Jeremy Peters contributed reporting.

    House Leaders Express Their Support for Syria Strike, NYT, 3.9.2013,






An Unusual Feat in Congress:

Student Loan Bill Breezes On


July 31, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Something pretty rare happened in Congress on Wednesday: it approved and sent to President Obama a major piece of public policy by an overwhelming bipartisan margin.

The feat was even more notable because the legislation, which created a new set of rates for federal student loans, is entwined with many of the issues that often divide Republicans and Democrats: the economy, the financial markets and the government’s role in lending. It passed by a vote of 392 to 31 in the House.

Representative Luke Messer, Republican of Indiana, praised the student loan deal as a triumph of both policy and politics.

“It’s a great victory for taxpayers, because taxpayers won’t be forced to subsidize student loan rates that are arbitrarily set by politicians,” Mr. Messer said. “This, I hope, opens the door to potential compromises on some of the other big issues that we have before us that we have to deal with in the next several months. This proves Washington can work.”

Despite such optimism, lawmakers had little choice but to find a path to a deal. Student loan rates doubled on July 1 because Congress could not come up with a plan to replace student lending laws that had expired.

Failing to act on a compromise before the end of this week would have left legislators heading home for a monthlong recess to face constituents already disillusioned over dysfunction and inaction in the Capitol. None wanted to face criticism that they were so inept that they could not protect middle-class families from paying double what they used to pay to borrow money for college.

Yet the vote, as encouraging as it was on the surface, raised the question of why Congress cannot find consensus on big issues more often. An overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which passed the Senate in June, is stymied as House Republicans struggle to come up with a plan that unites the disparate views in their caucus. Though some believe that revamping the immigration system is crucial to the future of their party, others denounce any pathway to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country as amnesty.

Efforts to overhaul the tax code seem similarly stuck as Democrats demand more revenue, an idea that Republicans portray as unacceptable. And the parties have found even less common ground on the budget, as many conservatives insist that any new spending resolution not include financing for Mr. Obama’s health care law.

“They don’t trust each other,” said Steve LaTourette, a former Republican congressman from Ohio and a close ally of Speaker John A. Boehner who decided to retire last year in large part because of his frustration with the dynamics on Capitol Hill. “Boehner doesn’t trust the president. The president doesn’t trust Boehner. And until they do trust each other, you’re not going to see anything big getting done.”

Passage of the student loan bill came the same day that House Republican leaders were forced to abruptly pull from the floor a $44.1 billion spending bill on transportation and housing because of a lack of votes. The bill had steep cuts that Republican moderates opposed. Community development block grants would have been cut in the coming fiscal year to $1.6 billion from $3.3 billion, a level lower than when the program began under President Gerald R. Ford.

Representative Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who leads the Appropriations Committee, issued an unusual broadside after the bill was pulled, saying it was now clear that the House could not pass spending bills that complied with overall financing levels set in its own austere budget plan. That suggested tough times ahead for passing required spending bills, and some pointed out that even the student loan deal almost fell victim to the same fate that has doomed other big-ticket items in Congress.

“A few months ago, at least, it seemed like everybody expected a bill that connected student loan rates to Treasury rates would move ahead without any kind of trouble,” said Neal P. McCluskey, an education analyst at the Cato Institute. “And it was surprising when there was.”

The House passed a student loan plan in May. But Senate Democrats balked, saying that the borrowing rates it set were too high and would leave students and their families with too little protection from inflation and fluctuations in the financial markets. Then a coalition of liberal Democrats resisted any plan that linked rates to the financial markets, keeping a deal at bay for weeks.

Under the old federal student loan program, borrowers were offered a fixed rate. Under the new rate structure, which still drew opposition from nearly one-third of Senate Democrats when it passed last week, loans to undergraduates and graduate students, along with parents in the PLUS program, would be subject to a fixed rate plus the yield on the 10-year Treasury note.

Rates for loans taken out after July 1 of this year would be 3.9 percent for undergraduates, 5.4 percent for graduate students and 6.4 percent for those receiving PLUS loans. The rates are fixed over the life of the loan but would change for new borrowers each year.

In a compromise that pleased many Democrats who had initially been wary of using a rate that was subject to inflation and fluctuated with the markets, Congress set a cap on all loans: 8.25 percent for undergraduates, 9.5 for graduate students and 10.5 for PLUS recipients.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said that while she was “disappointed it took as long as it did for us to get to this place on student loans,” she hoped that the legislation was a harbinger.

“I hope this is setting the stage for more bipartisanship and success on other issues,” she said.

    An Unusual Feat in Congress: Student Loan Bill Breezes On, NYT, 31.7.2013,






Lindy Boggs,

Longtime Representative

And Champion of Women,

Is Dead at 97


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in the House of Representatives after his plane crashed in Alaska and who went on to serve nine terms on Capitol Hill, notably as a champion of women’s rights, died on Saturday at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 97.

Her daughter Cokie Roberts, an ABC News commentator, confirmed the death.

In 1976, Mrs. Boggs became the first woman to preside over a Democratic National Convention. Three years earlier, she had become the first woman from Louisiana elected to the House.

Her victory came in a special election in which she campaigned to succeed her husband, Hale, a powerful member of the House who had served there for 28 years, the last two as majority leader. He was presumed dead when a plane in which he was a passenger disappeared while he was campaigning with Representative Nick Begich in Alaska in the fall of 1972.

Mrs. Boggs gained her husband’s seat in no small part on the strength of his name. The special election was held in March 1973; Mr. Boggs had been re-elected the previous November, even though he was presumed dead.

But Mrs. Boggs’s own experience did not hurt. She knew the ways of the capital as an astute political wife from a family whose political lineage reached back to George Washington’s time and included governors of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Her own children found public renown in their own right: her daughter, Ms. Roberts, as a Washington journalist for ABC and National Public Radio; her son, Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., as an influential Washington lawyer and lobbyist; and another daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who died in office as the mayor of Princeton, N.J.

In her 1994 memoir, “Washington Through a Purple Veil: Memoirs of a Southern Woman,” written with Katherine Hatch, Mrs. Boggs wrote that she had learned an important lesson as a political wife and as a politician herself: “You played the Washington game with confidence and authority and graciousness.”

The velvet Southern charm she had absorbed growing up on two Louisiana plantations was her not-so-secret weapon.

She displayed it early in her first term when the House banking committee was composing an amendment to a lending bill banning discrimination on the basis of race, age or veteran status. She added the words “sex or marital status,” ran to a copying machine and made a copy for each member.

In her memoir she recalled saying: “Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I’m sure it was just an oversight that we didn’t have ‘sex’ or ‘marital status’ included. I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee’s approval.”

Thus was sex discrimination prohibited by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

Mrs. Boggs used her membership on the Appropriations Committee to push for other women’s economic concerns, like equal pay for government jobs and equal access to government business contracts. She became a champion of historic preservation and port development, flood control and housing in her New Orleans district.

She also fought for higher pay for senators and representatives, a politically unpopular cause, because she thought it would raise the quality of legislators and reduce turnover.

Mrs. Boggs hated offending anyone, she wrote in her memoir, and so taking strong stands did not come easily. But “maybe” was not a voting option, she added; only “aye” or “nay.”

Mrs. Boggs championed racial justice at a time when doing so invited the resentment if not hostility of most Southern whites. She saw the growing civil rights movement as necessary to the political reform movement of the 1940s and ’50s.

“You couldn’t want to reverse the injustices of the political system and not include the blacks and the poor; it was just obvious,” she said in 1990.

While her husband was in office, she supported civil rights legislation as well as Head Start and antipoverty programs. As the president of two organizations of Congressional wives, she saw to it that each group was racially integrated.

After her district was redrawn in 1983, giving blacks a majority, Mrs. Boggs was re-elected three times. In the first of these victories, in 1984, she captured more than a third of the black vote in defeating a popular black politician, Israel M. Augustine Jr., a former state judge, who was backed by black political organizations. When she announced her retirement from Congress in 1990, she was the only white member of Congress representing a black-majority district.

Her national profile was raised in 1976 when Robert S. Strauss, the chairman of the Democratic Party, chose her to preside over the party’s 1976 national convention in Manhattan, where Jimmy Carter became the presidential nominee. In 1984 she was often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, but she was ultimately passed over by the presidential nominee, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, in favor of Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro. Mrs. Boggs believed that her strong stand against abortion had hurt her chances.

In 1991, a room that had been used as the House speaker’s office in the 19th century was named the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room.

Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne was born on March 13, 1916, on a sugar plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, La., the only child of Roland Philemon Claiborne, a lawyer, and the former Corinne Morrison. The name Lindy was a shortening of Rolindy, the nickname she was given by a nurse, who thought she looked more like her father than her mother.

Beginning with Thomas Claiborne, a Virginia congressman when George Washington was president, every generation of Mrs. Boggs’s family had at least one public officeholder.

Lindy’s father died when she was 2. Her mother remarried when Lindy was 7, and the newly constituted family moved to a prosperous cotton plantation.

After attending Roman Catholic schools, Lindy Claiborne entered Sophie Newcomb College, the women’s branch of Tulane University, at 15. At a dance in 1934, she once said in an interview, a young man cut in while she was dancing. As they made their way around the floor, Thomas Hale Boggs said, “I’m going to marry you someday.”

She and Mr. Boggs both worked on the Tulane newspaper, The Hullabaloo, she as the women’s editor and he as the editor in chief. After graduation, he went to Tulane Law School, and she taught history and English in Romeville, La. They married in New Roads on Jan. 22, 1938, in a ceremony with 15 bridesmaids and 15 groomsmen.

In 1940, Mr. Boggs, at 26, was elected to Congress as a reform candidate. He lost a re-election effort in 1942 but regained the seat in 1946, the beginning of 22 consecutive victories by him or his wife.

Mrs. Boggs quickly learned to navigate Washington. She managed her husband’s campaigns and oversaw his Capitol Hill office. She also organized voter registration efforts and various events for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign. She was the first woman to manage two inaugural balls — for John F. Kennedy in 1961 and for Mr. Johnson four years later. She was also known for hosting more than 1,000 guests at Washington garden parties and, remarkably, doing the cooking herself.

Mrs. Boggs left Congress in 1990 to help her daughter Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the Princeton mayor, deal with eye cancer, an ocular melanoma, which had spread to other parts of her body. Mrs. Sigmund died that year.

Besides her son and Ms. Roberts, Mrs. Boggs is survived by eight grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Mrs. Boggs ambassador to the Vatican. The post was known for its sober decorum, but Mrs. Boggs would have none of that. The morning after she arrived to take up the job, she was informed that she was to be seated that night at a table filled with nothing but cardinals. She mulled that over and said, “I think I’ll wear red.”

At another point, she exchanged three phone calls in one day with an Italian archbishop on a minor piece of Vatican diplomacy. Picking up the receiver for the last time, she said, “Dahlin’, does this mean we’re going steady?”


Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting.

    Lindy Boggs, Longtime Representative And Champion of Women, Is Dead at 97,
    NYT, 27.7.2013,






The House Just Wants to Snack


July 12, 2013
The New York Times


And, now, the Tasty Bites theory of government.

You may have heard that the House of Representatives passed a farm bill this week. Or possibly not. I have found that many Americans can go for a very long time without mentioning the farm bill. But we are going to talk about it today, and it will be absolutely fascinating.

For decades, Congress has merged food stamps — which help poor people pay for their groceries — with agricultural subsidies in one big, messy, bipartisan farm bill that made everybody happy. Well, not euphoric. There was definitely that messy factor. But it did merge the interests/needs of urban and rural lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans.

Lately, the House has begun chopping up big, complicated bills into what Speaker John Boehner once described as “bite-sized chunks that members can digest.” No more legislative sausage-making. No more bipartisan trading. The House was going to stick to clean, simple ideas, more along the lines of Liver Snaps.

So the farm bill got divided. The two parts were not equally tidy. As Ron Nixon reported in The Times, the rate of error and fraud in the agricultural crop insurance program is significantly higher than in the food stamp program. Also, the agriculture part has a lot of eyebrow-raising provisions, like the $147 million a year in reparations we send to Brazil to make up for the fact that it won a World Trade Organization complaint about the market-distorting effects of our cotton subsidies.

And while food stamps go to poor people, most of the farm aid goes to wealthy corporations.

So House Republicans passed the farm part and left food stamps hanging.

Say what?

Tea Party conservatives have an all-purpose disdain for anything that smacks of redistribution of wealth, and food stamps are a prime target. “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity, is to take care of each other. But not for Washington to steal money from those in the country and give to others in the country,” said Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee during a speech in Memphis.

So the food stamp program was the total opposite of a Tasty Bite to House Republicans. More like that Scottish thing with sheep stomach and oatmeal. But the agriculture part was billed as delicious restraint. They rallied behind the just-farm-stuff bill in a party line 216-to-208 vote.

“This is a victory for farmers and conservatives who desired desperately needed reforms to these programs,” said Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader.

The House bill actually spent more money on subsidies for farmers than the bipartisan Senate version the Republicans scorned. It also dropped the Senate’s limit on aid to farmers with incomes of more than $750,000 a year. And while it mimicked the Senate in dropping most of the much-derided direct payments to farmers, the House gave cotton farmers a two-year extension.

Let’s take a special look at cotton, which is a particularly good example of the tendency of agricultural benefits to flow uphill. “Some of these guys — and they’re all guys — are getting more than $1 million in support. The bottom 80 percent are getting $5,000 on average,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group.

Faber’s organization, which keeps careful track of these things, says direct payments to cotton farmers since 1995 have totaled $3.8 billion. That does not count the annual $147 million the United States has been sending to Brazil in hush money.

Crop insurance gets bigger under the new plan. Here’s how: You, the taxpayer, fork over the majority of the cost of the farmers’ policy premiums. (Up to 80 percent in the case of cotton.) Also, you spend about $1.3 billion a year to compensate the insurance agents for the fact that they have to sell coverage to any eligible farmer, whatever his prospects for success. Plus, if yields actually do drop, you have to compensate the insurance companies for part of the cost of claims.

Is this beginning to sound a little like Obamacare? No! No way! The House Republicans hatehatehate Obamacare! They vote to repeal it as often as they change their socks! Because Obamacare will, you know, distort the natural operation of the markets.

The larding of benefits to farmers didn’t come up during the House debate. It was all about food stamps, and Democrats asking to know why their colleagues wanted to cut aid to hungry children and old people. During an Agriculture Committee meeting on the bill, Representative Juan Vargas of California quoted Jesus’ lesson that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

That raised Representative Fincher’s hackles. “Man, I really got bent out of shape,” he told that Memphis audience, proudly reporting that he countered with Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

By now, you must be wondering why I keep bringing up this guy. Fincher is a farmer who has, over the years, received $3.5 million in federal agricultural subsidies, much of it for — yes! — cotton.


Joe Nocera is off today.

    The House Just Wants to Snack, NYT, 12.7.2013,






As the Cuts Hit Home


March 1, 2013
The New York Times


House Republicans were elated this week when their leader, John Boehner, made it clear that deep, automatic spending cuts would begin as scheduled on Friday. Incredibly, some consider the decision a victory.

As the cuts take effect, they will inflict widespread hardship. But some Americans will be hurt more than others, and the people who will be hurt the most are those who are already struggling. In the months ahead, an estimated 3.8 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months face a cut in federal jobless benefits of nearly 11 percent — or about $32 a week — all from the recent average weekly benefit of $292. And an estimated 600,000 low-income women and toddlers will be turned away from the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC.

It should not be this way. Deficit reduction should not occur on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. At the insistence of Democrats, most major programs that help the needy have been exempted from the cuts, including food stamps and Medicaid. Democrats also won exemptions for beneficiaries of programs that are not explicitly aimed at low-income Americans but that are crucial to keeping many retirees out of poverty or near-poverty, notably veterans’ pensions, Social Security and Medicare. Still, smaller, vital programs will fall under the knife, in part because they are in spending categories deemed dispensable under the unthinking rules for across-the-board cuts.


FEDERAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS By the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30, the Labor Department estimates that $2.3 billion will be cut from federal jobless benefits. Those benefits provide 14 to 47 weeks of aid after state-provided benefits run out, generally after 26 weeks. The support is critical. The share of unemployed workers who have been out of work for more than six months was 38.1 percent in January, with the worst levels of long-term unemployment occurring among workers 45 or older. That group is likely to have substantial family and financial obligations, even as it is often shunned by employers. According to an Urban Institute survey last year, workers in their 50s are about 20 percent less likely to be rehired than workers ages 25 to 34.

It will probably take the states, which administer the benefits, at least until April to make the program changes. While that will postpone the immediate pain, it means that the cuts, when they come, will be concentrated over an even shorter period.


NUTRITION AID The federal government has yet to issue specific guidance on how states should handle an estimated cut to the WIC program of $340 million this fiscal year. Little will happen until April, but, after that, priority is likely to be given increasingly to pregnant and breast-feeding women and to infants, while women not breast-feeding are put on an indefinite wait list, along with many children over 1 year old. The cutbacks to mothers would affect African-Americans disproportionately, because their breast-feeding rates are lower than other groups’. The cuts in aid to children will fall disproportionately on Hispanic families, who tend to have more children.

Why are the Republicans are so happy when they should be ashamed?

    As the Cuts Hit Home, NYT, 1.3.2012,






House Vote Sidesteps an Ultimatum on Debt


January 23, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Avoiding an economic showdown with President Obama, the House on Wednesday passed legislation to eliminate the nation’s statutory borrowing limit until May, without including the dollar-for-dollar spending cuts that Republicans once insisted would have to be part of any debt limit bill.

The 285-144 vote staved off an impasse that could have put the full faith and credit of the United States government into doubt and potentially set off an economic disaster. Instead, the next Republican showdown with the president will come in March, when the subject will be across-the-board spending cuts first and a possible government shutdown by the end of the month.

“We know with certainty that a debt crisis is coming to America. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans’ vice-presidential nominee last year and current Budget Committee chairman, said as he vowed to press ahead with deep spending cuts.

To give House Republicans a rationale for giving in on the debt ceiling after dropping demands for offsetting cuts, the House legislation included a provision that would withhold the pay of lawmakers in a chamber of Congress that fails to pass a budget blueprint by April 15.

That allowed House Republicans to turn a spotlight on Senate Democrats, who have not passed a detailed budget blueprint since 2009.

“It took one week in which their paychecks were on the line, and now the Senate is going to step up and do the right thing,” Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, said after the vote.

Senate Democratic leaders shrugged off the dictate as an insignificant gimmick and claimed victory.

“The president stared down the Republicans. They blinked,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, thanked Speaker John A. Boehner for reversing course and said he would take up and pass the House bill without changes as soon as next week, possibly by unanimous consent. He said he would then move quickly on a budget plan for the first time since 2009.

“Democrats are eager to contrast our pro-growth, pro-middle-class budget priorities with the House Republicans’ Ryan budget that would end Medicare as we know it, gut investments in jobs and programs middle-class families depend on, and cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

House Republicans appeared eager for that fight. For two years, the House has passed detailed but nonbinding budget plans that would cut domestic programs to levels not seen since World War II, enact changes to Medicare that would offer older people fixed subsidies to buy private health insurance, and mandate a much-simplified tax code. Democrats have criticized those plans, declined to produce an alternative, and instead demanded what they called a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction.

Now, Republicans said, the debate will be over numbers.

“We have a budget that’s described as draconian, that decimates this program or that. They have a phrase, ‘balanced approach,’ ” said Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina. “I’m tired of debating against a phrase.”

The debt ceiling legislation — devised with awareness of the constitutional hurdles imposed by the 27th Amendment on Congressional pay — would impound lawmaker salaries until a budget is passed or the 113th Congress ends, whichever comes first. And it would not require the House and the Senate to come to a compromise on the two spending and tax blueprints, which are likely to be very different. That will be the really difficult task.

House Democratic leaders tried to persuade their members to vote against the deal, so as to force as many Republicans as possible to vote to do something most said they would never do: lift the debt ceiling. But 86 Democrats voted yes, more than enough to let 33 Republicans vote no without bringing the bill down and handing Republican leaders an embarrassing defeat.

House Republicans say punting the debt ceiling to May 18 is not so much a retreat as a “re-sequencing” of the coming budget showdowns. House Republicans now take for granted that the first deadline, March 1, will come and go, and $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs — known as a sequester — will go into force.

“The sequester is going to go into effect on March 1 unless there are cuts and reforms that get us on a plan to balance the budget over the next 10 years. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Boehner said.

The next real showdown will come by March 27, when the stopgap measure financing the government expires. Republicans have made clear that they are willing to let the government shut down at that time to force deep spending cuts or changes to Medicare and Social Security that would bring down deficits in the long run.

Such continuing brinkmanship brought a rebuke from Ms. Murray, who said Republicans were trying to have it both ways, forcing Senate Democrats to move forward in an orderly way with a budget plan by mid-April, but threatening the next budget crisis weeks before that.

The pay provision brought its own protests. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, called it “institutionalized bribery,” since it effectively says, do what Republicans want or do not get paid. That was why the nation passed the 27th Amendment, which says Congressional pay cannot be varied within a single Congress.

    House Vote Sidesteps an Ultimatum on Debt, NYT, 23.1.2013,






A Debt Crisis Averted, for Now


January 23, 2013
The New York Times


In an unusual recognition of reality, House Republicans backed away on Wednesday from a chaotic default crisis and dropped their ruinous demand that spending be cut on an equal basis with a rise in the debt ceiling. On a vote of 285 to 144, the House agreed to suspend the debt ceiling for three months, adding the puerile condition that the Senate’s pay should be delayed until it passes a budget. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said the extension would pass his chamber and promised to come up with a budget, four years late.

For the moment, at least, the vote vindicates President Obama’s strategy not to negotiate in any way over the debt ceiling. After the debacle of the 2011 debt crisis, which damaged the nation’s credit rating and its standing in the world of global finance, Speaker John Boehner knew that his demand for equal cuts in spending was no longer sustainable. If the hostage that Republicans wanted to take — the economy of the United States — couldn’t be used as a bargaining chip, it might as well be released.

Nonetheless, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, was right to call the measure “a gimmick unworthy of the fiscal and economic challenges that we face.” Postponing a crisis for 90 days does nothing to reassure markets, or businesses, or ordinary bondholders worried about their investments. It does nothing to inspire confidence in voters that their elected officials are grappling with the budget in a serious way, even if, in the end, Republicans are quietly planning on raising the debt ceiling anyway as part of further spending negotiations. (The stopgap resolution that currently pays for the government runs out at the end of March, and if Republicans think they can use the debt ceiling as a cudgel in that fight, they will find a solid wall of opposition.)

Wednesday’s bill doesn’t even raise the ceiling; it simply suspends its enforcement, showing how meaningless the mechanism is. Now that it is clear that the ceiling can be easily eliminated, both parties should agree to do so, averting not just this crisis but all those in the future.

The issue will have to be revisited in May, but the bill at least moves the budget debate closer to where it should be: the annual appropriations process. Let each chamber put its policy priorities on the table for public examination and then hash out the differences in the full glare of the C-Span cameras.

If the House actually wants to put forth a balanced budget over the next 10 years, as Mr. Boehner vowed to do on Wednesday, let the public see what that really means: unimaginable cuts and changes to Medicare and Medicaid, and the elimination of scores of popular and vital programs that benefit both the poor and the middle class. Up to now, Republicans have been understandably wary of specifying how that would be done without raising taxes. Mitt Romney wouldn’t do it, and even Representative Paul Ryan’s budgets up to now wouldn’t balance the budget until 2040.

Similarly, the Senate should finally go on the record with its own budget, one that combines further tax increases on the wealthy, investments in education, energy and public works, and sensible spending cuts. (It should have done so for the last four years, but too many Democrats were afraid of publicly agreeing with Mr. Obama’s proposals.) Despite the grandstanding coming from the House, Mr. Reid’s agreement to do so on Wednesday had nothing to do with threat of missed paychecks and everything to do with correctly reading the public mood.

Last year’s election showed where voters stand in this debate. They want deficits reduced in a balanced way, without irresponsible reductions in the role of government. Dropping extortionate demands for cuts is a good first step for the House, but it still has a long way to go.

    A Debt Crisis Averted, for Now, NYT, 23.1.2013,






House Approves $50.7 Billion

in Emergency Aid for Storm Victims


January 15, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After fierce lobbying by political leaders in states across the Northeast, the House of Representatives on Tuesday night approved a long-awaited $50.7 billion emergency bill to provide help to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The aid package passed 241 to 180, with 49 Republicans joining 192 Democrats. The Senate is expected to pass the measure, and President Obama has expressed support for it.

The $50.7 billion — along with a nearly $10 billion aid package that Congress approved earlier this month — seeks to provide for the huge needs that have arisen in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states since the hurricane struck in late October.

The emergency aid measure would help homeowners whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, provide assistance to business owners who experienced losses as well as reinforce shorelines, repair subway and commuter rail systems, fix bridges and tunnels, and reimburse local governments for emergency expenditures.

Though the package does not cover the entire $82 billion in damage identified by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, leaders from the storm-ravaged region expressed relief over the action in the Republican-controlled House, where storm aid had become ensnared in the larger debate over spending and deficits.

Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island who helped press his party’s leadership into holding the vote, hailed the package’s passage as a victory for storm victims but expressed disappointment over the House’s failure to act earlier.

“It is unfortunate that we had to fight so hard to be treated the same as every other state has been treated,” Mr. King said.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is part of the chamber’s leadership, said he would urge the Senate to approve the House bill even though he believed it fell short of what the Senate approved last year. “It is certainly close enough,” he said, comparing the bills.

The developments in the House settle, at least for now, an issue that had become an embarrassment for the chamber’s Republican leadership and had pitted Northeastern Republicans eager to help their constituents against fiscal conservatives bent on taming the nation’s deficits.

The vote was scheduled over a week ago by Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, after he came under intense criticism for concluding the business of the previous Congress without taking up a $60.4 billion hurricane-aid bill that the Senate had approved.

His critics included influential Republicans in and out of Congress, including Mr. King and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

In a statement, Mr. Christie joined with Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, both Democrats, to express gratitude to the Congress for providing the relief to hurricane victims.

The $50.7 billion package was presented on the floor in a carefully structured legislative approach that reflected the political sensitivities surrounding the issue. House leaders first offered a $17 billion bill and then a $33.7 billion amendment that was written by New Jersey and New York Republicans. The approach allowed House conservatives to vote for some of the assistance while lowering the total cost. Most of the money, included in the amendment, ultimately needed Democratic votes to be added to the final package and then passed.

In the debate leading up to passage of the aid package, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York, argued that House should have acted sooner. “Residents have been suffering for two-and-a-half months,” she said. “We need the aid. We need it now.”

As the debate unfolded through the afternoon and into the evening, lawmakers from the region found themselves on the defensive at times, forced to beat back a barrage of amendments that sought to cut items out of the overall package or that demanded cuts in other programs to pay for the package.

The most controversial of the amendments was offered by a group of conservative lawmakers who sought to pay for the aid package with across-the-board spending cuts to various programs in the 2013 federal budget.

Critics called the amendment a poison pill, given that it would almost certainly doom the overall package’s prospects of passage in the Senate, controlled by Democrats. But the amendment’s backers said it was merely meant to clamp down on runaway spending and deficits.

“This amendment is not about offering a poison pill,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, a Republican from South Carolina and the amendment’s author. “I want the money to go where it needs to go.”

The amendment was defeated 258 to 162, with 70 Republicans joining 188 Democrats to beat it back.

    House Approves $50.7 Billion in Emergency Aid for Storm Victims, NYT, 15.1.2013,






Democracy in the House


January 9, 2013
The New York Times


The only reason that income taxes on 99 percent of Americans did not go up this month was that Speaker John Boehner briefly broke with an iron rule of Republican control over the House. He allowed the fiscal-cliff deal to be put to a full vote of the House even though a strong majority of Republicans opposed it.

That informal rule, which bars a vote on legislation unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans, has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to progress and consensus in Congress, and, in its own way, is even more pernicious than the filibuster abuse that often ties up the Senate. Under the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster, at least, coalitions can occasionally be formed between the Democratic majority and enough Republicans to reach the three-fifths threshold.

But under the majority-of-the-majority rule in the House, Democrats are completely cut out of the governing process, not even given a chance to vote unless Republicans have decided to pass something. Since 2010, there have been enough extremist Republicans in the caucus to block consideration of most of the bills requested by the White House or sent over from the Senate. If President Obama is for something, it’s a safe bet that most House Republicans are against it, and thus won’t bring it up.

That’s why the House never took a vote on the Senate’s latest five-year farm bill. Or the Violence Against Women Act. Or a full six-year transportation bill. Republican opposition prevented consideration in the last term of the Senate’s $60 billion in providing relief from Hurricane Sandy; so far, the House has been willing to approve only a measly $9.7 billion after members claimed the Senate’s bill was full of (nonexistent) pork.

The House has always been a sprawling, unruly chamber, and its leaders have long used some form of control to choose which bills reach the floor and to push their party’s policies. The majority-of-the-majority requirement, however, is relatively new and entirely a Republican creation. Newt Gingrich occasionally used it when he was speaker, but it was institutionalized in 2004 by Speaker Dennis Hastert (and Tom DeLay, the power behind the throne).

This anti-democratic tactic, now known as the “Hastert rule,” helped turn the chamber into a one-party institution that utterly silenced the minority. A post-9/11 intelligence reform bill, urgently sought by President George W. Bush, was bottled up by Mr. Hastert and his allies, who knew it would pass if Democrats were allowed to vote.

This was not a rule used by Democrats. Speaker Tom Foley allowed the North American Free Trade Agreement to pass in 1993 on mostly Republican votes, and when Nancy Pelosi took the job in 2007, she repudiated the Hastert rule, allowing both parties to vote together on legislation. For example, she allowed a bill to pass paying for the Iraq war over the objections of most Democrats.

“I’m the speaker of the House,” she said at the time. “I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority in the Democratic caucus.”

That’s an attitude rarely expressed by Mr. Boehner. But if the country is to move forward on issues with widespread support — getting past the debt limit, immigration reform, gun control, and investments in education and infrastructure — he will have to let the two parties vote together on a solution.

    Democracy in the House, NYT, 9.1.2013,






Congress Passes a $9.7 Billion Storm Relief Measure


January 4, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, Congress adopted legislation on Friday that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15.

The House passed the insurance measure 354 to 67; it then cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.

In the House, all of the votes against the aid came from Republicans, who have objected that no cuts in other programs had been identified to pay for the measure despite the nation’s long-term deficit problem. The 67 Republicans who voted against the measure included 17 freshman lawmakers, suggesting that the new class will provide support to the sizable group of anti-spending conservatives already in the House.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, brought the bill to the House floor after he drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for adjourning the previous Congress earlier this week without taking up a $60.4 billion aid bill that the Senate had passed to finance recovery efforts in the hurricane-battered states. Among those most critical of Mr. Boehner were several leading Republicans, including Representative Peter T. King of Long Island, who is a senior member of Congress, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is a possible presidential contender in 2016.

The bill adopted on Friday would give the National Flood Insurance Program the authority to borrow $9.7 billion to fill claims stemming from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the flood insurance program, recently notified Congress that it would run out of money within the next week to cover claims filed by individuals.

“The administration is pleased that Congress has taken action to ensure that FEMA continues to have the funds to cover flood insurance claims, including over 100,000 claims from Hurricane Sandy the agency has already received,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “We continue to urge Congress to take up and pass the full supplemental request submitted last year to ensure affected communities have the support they need for longer term recovery.”

Congress’s action did not fully mollify lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states struck by the storm. Some officials continued to criticize the chamber’s leadership for failing to act more quickly on the larger aid package, saying it provided the necessary financing to help the region rebuild.

“I am optimistic and worried,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “Optimistic because there is pressure on the House to produce. Worried because I know how difficult it is to get things through the Congress.”

Mr. Christie and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, issued a similarly cautious statement.

“Today’s action by the House was a necessary and critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York,” they said. “While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment, and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill.”

The overall measure would provide money to help homeowners and small-business owners rebuild; to repair bridges, tunnels and transportation systems; to reimburse local governments for overtime costs of police, fire and other emergency services; and to replenish shorelines. It also would finance an assortment of longer-term projects that would help the region prepare for future storms.

Some Republicans have been critical of the size of the proposed aid package, and have suggested that it includes unnecessary spending on items that are not directly related to the hurricane, like $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and $2 million for museum roofs in Washington. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo, Republican of New Jersey, said Friday that the measure going before the House later this month would “strip out the extraneous spending directed to states not affected by the storm.”

“Today’s vote is a key step in getting critical federal assistance to the residents, businesses and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy,” Mr. LoBiondo said in a statement. “I hope my colleagues recognize politics has no place when dealing with a disaster and that the overwhelming bipartisan support demonstrated today is present as the remaining federal aid is considered.”

In the House debate leading up to the vote on Friday, several lawmakers said it had taken too long for Congress to provide federal aid to the region and urged the speaker to make good on his pledge to bring the $51 billion aid package to the floor later this month.

“We have been waiting for 11 weeks,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York City. “It is long overdue.”

    Congress Passes a $9.7 Billion Storm Relief Measure, NYT, 4.1.2013,






Day of Records and Firsts as 113th Congress Opens


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As the 113th Congress opens, the Senate and the House are starting to look a little bit more like the people they represent.

The new Congress includes a record number of women (101 across both chambers, counting three nonvoting members), as well as various firsts for the numbers of Latinos and Asians as well as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. But it was the rise of the female legislator — 20 in the Senate and 81 in the House — that had the Capitol thrumming with excited potential on Thursday.

The first serious display of XX-chromosome strength occurred well before noon, when the female members of the House Democratic Caucus gathered on the Capitol steps for a group photo.

With many of the women dressed in vibrant hues, they assembled in the chilly January air, waving to old friends and greeting the new. They laughed and joked, inviting Representative Barney Frank, the Democrat from Massachusetts who retired this week, to hop in the picture. (He politely demurred.) A young aide to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader from California, scurried to grab some of the members’ coats, juggling the fur and wool in his left hand while trying to snap iPhone photos with his right.

“Here comes Rosa! Here comes Rosa!” the women cheered, referring to Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, who came jogging up from the left side moments before the photo was taken.

“I think women bring a slightly different perspective,” said Representative Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who is one of the first female combat veterans elected to Congress, as is Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii. “The women, I think, are going to reach across the aisle a lot more. We’re a lot more pragmatic, but we do come from all different backgrounds.”

This Congress promises to be more diverse than its predecessors in several ways. On hand at the Capitol were Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, the first openly gay senator; the first Hindu representative, Ms. Gabbard; and Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, the first Buddhist senator. Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona. also became the first openly bisexual member to serve in Congress.

Although the number of black legislators remained at 43, Tim Scott, previously a Republican House member from South Carolina, became the first black senator from his state, as well as the first black Republican in the Senate since 1979.

After she was sworn in for her second term, Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, said women were making progress in the Senate. “I don’t think we should be satisfied until we have the same number of women in the Senate that represent the percentage of the population that are women, so we still have a long way to go,” she said.

The day began on a touching note, when Senator Mark Steven Kirk, the Illinois Republican who was returning to Congress after a stroke last January, climbed the steps to the Senate chamber with the help of a cane and the moral support of his colleagues. He was met by the Illinois delegation, most of the Senate, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who greeted him with a hug. Mr. Kirk may also have some explaining to do to Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and vice-presidential rival to Mr. Biden, after Mr. Kirk told the vice president, “It was a good debate. I was rooting for you.”

When Mr. Kirk, his face contorted in concentration, slowed near the top of the steps, his colleagues called out “Almost there!” and “A few more!” and then erupted in applause when he reached the landing, triumphant.

On the House side, the first day was filled with familiar ritual — the children romping in the well of the House, the speaker’s roll call vote — but there were also some sweet notes.

Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who is recovering from treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sat in the chamber with his children beside him. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington wandered the aisles with her daughter on her hip.

The opening of the 113th Congress had a decidedly first day of school feeling, with many of the members flanked by proud parents, as well as children of their own. Some freshman members wandered around, half awe-struck and half bewildered, and many aides did not yet have business cards.

“We just moved in,” they said apologetically, over and over.

As the afternoon darkened to evening, House members lined up to have their mock swearing-in picture taken with John A. Boehner of Ohio, narrowly and newly re-elected speaker of the House. Representative Andy Barr, a freshman Republican from Kentucky, stood with his wife, Carol, and their 21-month-old daughter, Eleanor, whom Mr. Boehner kissed on the cheek. Eleanor promptly wiped it away.

“Oh, she’s a big fan of the speaker,” Mr. Barr said later. “She just hasn’t had a nap today!”

Representative Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat and the newest elected member of the Kennedy clan, was fending off rumors that he had higher office on his mind on his first day in the House. After Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who will vacate his Senate seat if he is confirmed as President Obama’s next secretary of state, pulled Mr. Kennedy aside for a chat, a reporter jokingly asked if Mr. Kennedy was considering a run for Mr. Kerry’s seat.

“I’m definitely not, so let’s get that as the very first thing,” Mr. Kennedy replied, with a laugh. “I’m very happy where I am right now.”

Over at the member photo check-in table, aides were offering lessons in Congress 101: Remember, they warned, when you go before cameras to have your picture taken with Mr. Boehner, be careful what you say.

The microphones will pick everything up, and members would be well advised to avoid a gaffe on opening day. There will be plenty of time for that later.


Emmarie Huetteman, Ashley Southall

and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

    Day of Records and Firsts as 113th Congress Opens, NYT, 3.1.2013,






Liked but Not Feared,

Boehner Keeps a Job

Some Might Ask Why He Wants


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — “Public service was never meant to be an easy living,” Representative John A. Boehner lamented Thursday, moments after he overcame a Republican insurrection to win re-election as speaker of the House. For Mr. Boehner, it may only get tougher from here.

After a tumultuous two years in which he struggled to maintain a grip on his fractious caucus, Mr. Boehner — who won the unanimous backing of his party when he was first elected speaker in 2011 — suffered the indignity of 12 Republican defections on the opening day of the 113th Congress. Nine cast their ballots for other people; two remained silent rather than vote, and one simply declared, “Present.”

For Mr. Boehner, 63, of Ohio, it was a warning shot from conservatives, a sobering reminder that while he may hold one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, his power is greatly diminished. His Republican ranks are thinner in the new Congress, and many of those who retired or were defeated are moderates who ordinarily backed him.

“He takes things in stride; he tries not to let it be personal,” said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, the new chairman of the committee charged with electing Congressional Republicans. “You can see it’s eating on him. He’s got the toughest job in the city, if not the country. He’s having to be a one-man band right now in a very, very high-pressure situation.”

In the last several weeks alone, Mr. Boehner has watched, in humiliation, as his so-called Plan B, an alternative to tax cuts adopted by Congress on Tuesday, collapsed for lack of Republican support. He was sidelined in fiscal negotiations between Republicans and the White House, and then forced to accept a package many of his members opposed. Then Republicans from New York and New Jersey turned against him when he delayed a vote on $60 billion in aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

And in the next few months, he will face new confrontations with President Obama over automatic spending cuts set to go into effect in March, and the so-called debt ceiling, which must be raised so that the government can borrow more money. Once again, Mr. Boehner will have to contend with the conservatives in his party, who remain furious over the recent tax legislation because it did not include spending cuts.

Among them are several freshmen whose first act on Thursday was to vote against Mr. Boehner.

“The challenge is no one is running against” Mr. Boehner for speaker, one of those newcomers, Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, told his hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman. “So what does a guy like me do?”

Mr. Bridenstine cast his ballot for Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. Another freshman, Steve Stockman of Texas (who served one term in the mid-1990s), explained his decision to vote “present” by complaining that Mr. Boehner had “signed our country onto a fiscal suicide pact.”

All of which might lead a person to ask: Why does Mr. Boehner want this job, anyway?

“He wants to do something big,” said his communications director, Kevin Smith. “He’s been here for 22 years, and becoming speaker is the first time he’s had a real serious opportunity himself to lead an effort to do something big for this country in terms of getting spending under control. He wants to do something big on entitlements, and he wants to do something big on tax reform. That’s why he’s here.”

Despite the discontent, Mr. Boehner seemed confident of his re-election; even before Thursday’s vote, which took place shortly after noon, his office announced that he would hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony and picture-taking session later in the day. He did, smiling unfailingly and raising his right hand time and again for the cameras.

Mr. Boehner is an unlikely person to have become speaker of the House. The son of a bar owner, Mr. Boehner grew up in a big Roman Catholic family — he was the second oldest of 12 children — that was not especially political. He put himself through college and went to work for a plastics distribution company, which he eventually wound up running.

His interest in politics blossomed after he became active in the local homeowners association; eventually, he ran for the Ohio legislature. His experience in business gave him a keen interest in regulatory issues and other business concerns, which have been his signature issues.

With his genial manner — and prodigious fund-raising efforts on behalf of fellow Republicans — Mr. Boehner has engendered considerable good will within his party. Though he lost the support of some of his fellow Republicans on Thursday, no one formally rose to challenge him.

“He’s personally well liked, and I think that’s important,” said Ross K. Baker, an expert in Congress at Rutgers University. “There haven’t been any coups mounted against Boehner, and I think that tells you something.”

But Mr. Boehner’s good-natured demeanor can sometimes work against him. As one House Democrat said, insisting on anonymity to avoid angering a leader, Republicans like him, but they do not fear him. The most difficult task for any speaker is to keep his party in line, a lesson that Mr. Boehner has learned the hard way.

“It’s a little bit like being the head caretaker of the cemetery,” said Representative Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican, describing the challenge Mr. Boehner faces. “There are a lot of people under you, but nobody listens.”

    Liked but Not Feared, Boehner Keeps a Job Some Might Ask Why He Wants, NYT, 3.1.2012,






Tax Deal Shows Possible Path Around House G.O.P.

in Fiscal Fights to Come


January 2, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With the contentious 112th Congress coming to a close, the talks between the White House, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats that secured a path around a looming fiscal crisis on Tuesday may point the way forward for President Obama as he tries to navigate his second term around House Republicans intent on blocking his agenda in the 113th.

For two years, the president has seen House Republican leaders as the key to legislative progress, and he has pursued direct talks with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader. That avenue of negotiation proved fruitless, in large part because House Republicans were deeply divided about any compromise that Mr. Obama would accept. The failure led Mr. Boehner to tell his colleagues this week that he would not be engaging in any more one-on-one negotiations with the president.

But negotiations over the fiscal impasse pointed to a new and unlikely path as more fiscal deadlines approach. In this case, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a veteran legislative dealmaker, initiated negotiations with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., which instigated talks between them and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. That produced sweeping tax legislation that averted large tax increases for most Americans and across-the-board spending cuts.

Then both Senate leaders worked hard to deliver the votes of a vast majority of their reluctant members, isolating House Republican leaders, who found themselves with no way forward other than to put the bill before the House and let Democrats push it over the finish line.

“I think this is the fourth time that we’ve seen this play out, where Boehner finally relents and lets the House consider a measure, and Democrats provide the votes to pass it,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat. “When they reach the point where their hand is forced, where there’s no other place to turn, they’ll do the right thing.”

That realization may lead to a more formalized process to begin bipartisan negotiations in the Senate to put pressure on the House. The deal that passed on Tuesday lifted the threat of tax increases that could have crippled the economy, but in other ways it compounded near-term fiscal threats. The government reached its statutory borrowing limit on Monday, giving Congress at best two to three months to raise the debt ceiling or risk a debilitating default on federal debt.

Around the same time, a two-month delay in the institution of across-the-board military and domestic spending cuts will lapse. Then, by the end of March, the current stopgap spending law financing the federal government will end, raising the specter of another government shutdown.

If House Republicans believe they can use those deadlines to extract concessions from the president on spending cuts, the White House may go elsewhere for a deal, Democrats say.

An official knowledgeable about the last negotiations said on Wednesday that the president would use such a strategy only if he was convinced that House Republican leaders would not or could not compromise. But in meeting with Senate Democrats on Monday and House Democrats on Tuesday, Mr. Biden labored to convince lawmakers that the White House had a way forward that would avoid last-minute theatrics and would not entail a stream of compromises on party principles, according to lawmakers who were there.

“One of the main concerns is, where do we go from here?” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, adding that Democrats feared that compromises on tax increases for the rich in the deal approved on Tuesday would lead to cuts in Social Security and Medicare in the next round of talks. “He has a game plan for that.”

A senior Democrat said that game plan would start in the coming weeks, when Mr. Obama addresses his agenda in his State of the Union address and lays out his budget for the 2014 fiscal year, due in early February.

That opening bid should restart talks with Congress on an overarching agreement that would lock in deficit reduction through additional revenue, changes to entitlement programs and more spending cuts, to be worked out by the relevant committees in Congress. But this time, those talks might start in the Senate.

House Republican aides said the past few weeks were unique and not indicative of anything going forward. The president won re-election on a pledge to raise taxes on income over $250,000. His mandate does not extend beyond that, one aide said. Besides, officials in both parties warn, neither Mr. Reid nor Mr. McConnell will want to lead on the difficult issues now in view. Mr. Reid was reluctant, at best, about joining the Biden-McConnell talks.

And Mr. McConnell has made it clear that future deficit deals should be done through “regular order” — Congressional committees, Senate and House debates and open negotiations, not private talks. Officials in both parties worry that as his 2014 re-election campaign gets closer, Mr. McConnell will be increasingly reluctant to have his fingerprints on deals with the president.

Even if a Senate route can be institutionalized, Mr. Durbin said he doubted that it would smooth the passage of bipartisan deals, given the difficulties Mr. Boehner has getting his troops in line. “His anguish has a timetable. It goes through phases and places that I don’t understand,” Mr. Durbin said of the speaker. “And I am afraid every scary chapter has to play out every step of the way before anything is resolved.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said the last-minute crunch that produced the tax accord was necessary only because the Senate refused to act earlier. The House passed legislation months ago to extend all the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and to stop automatic military cuts by shifting them to domestic programs.

    Tax Deal Shows Possible Path Around House G.O.P. in Fiscal Fights to Come, NYT, 2.1.2013,






Amid Pressure, House Passes Fiscal Deal


January 1, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Ending a climactic fiscal showdown in the final hours of the 112th Congress, the House late Tuesday passed and sent to President Obama legislation to avert big income tax increases on most Americans and prevent large cuts in spending for the Pentagon and other government programs.

The measure, brought to the House floor less than 24 hours after its passage in the Senate, was approved 257 to 167, with 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in voting to allow income taxes to rise for the first time in two decades, in this case for the highest-earning Americans. Voting no were 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

The bill was expected to be signed quickly by Mr. Obama, who won re-election on a promise to increase taxes on the wealthy.

Mr. Obama strode into the White House briefing room shortly after the vote, less to hail the end of the fiscal crisis than to lay out a marker for the next one. “The one thing that I think, hopefully, the new year will focus on,” he said, “is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinkmanship, and not scare the heck out of folks quite as much.”

In approving the measure after days of legislative intrigue, Congress concluded its final and most pitched fight over fiscal policy, the culmination of two years of battles over taxes, the federal debt, spending and what to do to slow the growth in popular social programs like Medicare.

The decision by Republican leaders to allow the vote came despite widespread scorn among House Republicans for the bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate in the early hours of New Year’s Day. They were unhappy that it did not include significant spending cuts in health and other social programs, which they say are essential to any long-term solution to the nation’s debt.

Democrats, while hardly placated by the compromise, celebrated Mr. Obama’s nominal victory in his final showdown with House Republicans in the 112th Congress, who began their term emboldened by scores of new, conservative members whose reach to the right ultimately tipped them over.

“The American people are the real winners tonight,” Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said on the House floor, “not anyone who navigates these halls.”

Not a single leader among House Republicans came to the floor to speak in favor of the bill, though Speaker John A. Boehner, who rarely takes part in roll calls, voted in favor. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, voted no. Representative Paul D. Ryan, the budget chairman who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate, supported the bill.

Despite the party divisions, many Republicans in their remarks characterized the measure, which allows taxes to go up on household income over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples but makes permanent tax cuts for income below that level, as a victory of sorts, even as so many of them declined to vote for it.

“After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts,” said Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, “Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent. Republicans and the American people are getting something really important, permanent tax relief.”

The dynamic with the House was a near replay of a fight at the end of 2011 over a payroll tax break extension. In that showdown, Senate Democrats and Republicans passed legislation, and while House Republicans fulminated, they were eventually forced to swallow it.

On Tuesday, as they got a detailed look at the Senate’s fiscal legislation, House Republicans ranging from Midwest pragmatists to Tea Party-blessed conservatives voiced serious reservations about the measure, emerging from a lunchtime New Year’s Day meeting with their leaders, eyes flashing and faces grim, insisting they would not accept a bill without substantial savings from cuts.

The unrest reached to the highest levels as Mr. Cantor told members in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol that he could not support the legislation in its current form.

Mr. Boehner, who faces a re-election vote on his post on Thursday when the 113th Congress convenes, had grave concerns as well, but he had pledged to allow the House to consider any legislation that cleared the Senate. And he was not eager to have such a major piece of legislation pass with mainly opposition votes, and the outcome could be seen as undermining his authority.

Adding to the pressure on the House, the fiscal agreement was reached by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, and had deep Republican support in the Senate, isolating the House Republicans in their opposition. Some of the Senate Republicans who backed the bill are staunch conservatives, like Senators Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, with deep credibility among House Republicans.

The options before the House Republicans were fraught with risks. Senate Democrats said they would not brook any serious amendments to their bill — one that was hard fought and passed in the dark of night with many clenched teeth on either side of the aisle. Senate Democratic leaders planned no more votes before the new Congress convenes Thursday afternoon.

An up-or-down House vote on the Senate measure presented many Republicans with a nearly impossible choice: to prolong the standoff that most Americans wished to see cease, or to vote to allow taxes to go up on wealthy Americans without any of the changes to spending and benefit programs they had fought for vigorously for the better part of two years.

“I have read the bill and can’t find the spending cuts — even with an electron magnifying glass,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. “It’s part medicinal, part placebo, and part treating the symptoms but not the underlying pathology.”

But with their options shrinking just two days before the beginning of a new Congress, the House leadership made one of the biggest concessions of their rebellious two years and let the measure move forward to avoid being seen as the chief obstacle to legislation that Mr. Obama and a bipartisan Senate majority said was necessary to prevent the nation from slipping back into a recession.

The measure, while less reflective of Mr. Obama’s fiscal agenda than Senate Democrats had wished, still provided fewer concessions than the president initially offered in a, tentative agreement with Mr. Boehner last month, and it was a far cry from what was on the table in 2011 when negotiators tried to reach a so-called grand bargain. “I thank all of you who will vote for it,” said Representative Darrell Issa of California. “I cannot bring myself to vote for it.”

Still, many Republicans, in light of the broad party support for the bill in the Senate and the unwavering, rare discipline they faced from Democrats, concluded that they had little room to maneuver. They decided they would save their fire for the coming rounds — the effort to increase the nation’s debt ceiling again in another month or two and an expiring governmentwide spending bill.

“We can and will pursue comprehensive tax reform,” Representative Camp said.

Republicans hope to fight for more spending cuts in the debt-ceiling vote, but Mr. Obama warned against that tactic.

“While I will negotiate over many things,” he said, “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up through the laws they have passed. Let me repeat: we can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”

The last time the House voted on New Year’s Day, according to Congressional staff members on the Rules Committee, was in 1951, on a measure concerning money for the Korean War.


Robert Pear and Peter Baker contributed reporting.

    Amid Pressure, House Passes Fiscal Deal, NYT,1.1.2013,




home Up