We’re hours away from Republicans shutting down most of the federal government, other than “essential” services like the military, due to the Tea Party faction that controls the GOP demanding that the President defund Obamacare, “or else.”
What we’re witnessing is part of a larger Republican strategy to take down President Obama. Call it the Republicans’ “slow motion impeachment” of the President.
Republicans are afraid of an actual impeachment
Despite the grandstanding of the more extreme members of the House GOP majority, they know full well that any actual attempt (currently) to impeach President Barack Obama is doomed to failure and would be a political disaster for the party.
If nothing else, they’d never collect enough Senate Democrats for the required 2/3 super-majority for conviction under the Constitution’s rules governing impeachment proceedings.
So the House Republicans will talk about it. Stroke their chins and nod thoughtfully when uneducated wild-eyed constituents bring it up during town hall meetings. Right-wing loonies and rodeo clown has-beens like Glenn Beck will advocate for it.
But it’s not going to happen. House Republicans know that actually voting on impeachment charges would harm them far more than help. If nothing else, they have the Clinton impeachment debacle as an object lesson.
For those who don’t remember the history, Independent Counsel Ken Starr was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in response to GOP demands that alleged White House misdeeds be investigated. It was essentially a years-long inquisition. A combination open-ended fishing expedition and witch hunt. Starr investigated — and found no evidence of wrongdoing — in a wide variety of supposed Clinton ‘crimes,’ including improper firing of White House travel agents (permitted), alleged misuse of FBI files (didn’t happen), alleged misconduct by Bill Clinton during a sexual harassment case filed by Paula Jones (settled out of court), Whitewater land deals (the Clintons lost money), Troopergate (unfounded), and the suicide of Vince Foster (which was just the tragic suicide of a clinically depressed man).
Unfortunately for Clinton, it was the Paula Jones matter that got him in trouble, because in the course of giving depositions on the case, he lied about having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Lying to investigators is a serious matter. Technically, it’s a crime. However, as we’ve learned, a Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) can lie under oath to Congress about a vital matter of national security and illegal surveillance, and nothing comes of it. Why? Politics.
Republicans have never accepted the legitimacy of the Obama presidency
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of AMERICAblog that many Republicans have never accepted the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. They’ve been cooking polls to make themselves and their policies seem more popular than they are. When the overwhelming majority of legitimate mainstream polls say their GOP candidates are going to get trounced, they deny the polls are accurate. When they lose elections, they cry fraud, and if there’s any way to tie up the election results in court, they’ll do so.
The Democrats, whatever their many and manifest flaws, don’t do this. Crooked Democratic ballot box shenanigans pretty much ended with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Democrats don’t need to cheat. Republican candidates and policies are unpopular enough, all the Dems really need to do is turn out enough legitimate voters.
Which is, of course, why the Republicans are pulling out all the stops to prevent Democrat-voting demographics from being able to cast a ballot. Their claims it’s because there’s rampant fraud are absolutely bogus.
Everyone is familiar with the ridiculous “birther” conspiracy theories about Barack Obama. Anybody who isn’t as loony as Orly Taitz or ego-maniacal as Donald Trump knows those allegations are total rubbish. Unfounded. Ridiculous. Would not last ten seconds in a legitimate court of law. Nevertheless, the persistence of this meme is an important insight into the psyche of the political opposition.
Birtherism, along with other lies — such as referring to Obama as a Nazi/Communist/Socialist and/or secret Muslim — plus the constant lies about Obamacare “death panels” and the like are how the GOP leaders and their wingnut media lackeys keep the rubes both afraid and entertained. While Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachman and Sarah Whatshername might actually believe the nonsense crossing their pouty, poxy lips, some ‘serious’ Republicans will dance around with birther language, but they don’t buy the snake oil they’re peddling.
The House GOP’s “Christmas List” revealed
While I was researching the post, “Is the GOP finally imploding?“, I tracked down what was referred to in some stories as the House GOP’s “Christmas List” of demands for allowing a debt ceiling and continuing resolution bill to pass. The National Review obtained a leaked copy of the GOP’s demands, in outline form. I’m going to list it here in its entirety, with particular emphasis and formatting, plus a few links and in-line comments, so you can see if the same things jump out at you as they did for me:
- One Year Debt Limit Increase: Not a dollar amount increase, but suspending the debt limit until the end of December 2014. Similar to what we did earlier this year. Want the year long to align with the year delay of Obamacare. (Because the hostages need to be back on schedule to be retaken, of course.)
- One Year Obamacare delay. (Just like the Bush tax cut extension, a delay fully intended to become permanent. Meanwhile, millions go without health insurance. Plus pre-existing condition people like me currently getting subsidized insurance through the temporary high-risk pool end up uninsured again, because there’s no provision to keep funding it.)
- Tax Reform Instructions: Similar to a bill we passed last fall, laying out from Ryan Budget broad principles for what tax reform should look like. Gives fast track authority for tax reform legislation. (In other words, use the debt ceiling and continuing resolution bills to force enactment of a GOP dream-budget which never would make it past the Senate, much less avoid an Obama veto.)
- Energy and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth: Includes pretty much every jobs bill we have passed this year and last Congress. All of these policies have important positive economic effects. (‘Every jobs bill’? That would be NONE. The only thing resembling a jobs bill passing Congress since 2009 was the stimulus — which the GOP opposed.)
- Energy provisions: Keystone Pipeline, Coal Ash regulations, Offshore drilling, Energy production on federal lands, EPA Carbon regulations
- Regulatory reform: REINS Act, Regulatory process reform, Consent decree reform, Blocking Net Neutrality (Okay, I’ll give you all a hint: These last two bullet items are the big ones.)
- Mandatory Spending Reforms:
- Mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year (Translation: Make all of the non-defense sequester cuts permanent.)
- Federal Employee retirement reform (They want to privatize the entire Federal pension program.)
- Ending the Dodd Frank bailout fund (Because who doesn’t want a repeat of the last economic crash?)
- Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations (Another important one in the point I’m about to make.)
- Child Tax Credit Reform to prevent fraud (Gotta punish the poor.)
- Repealing the Social Services Block grant (More GOP hate-the-poor-families meanness.)
- Health Spending Reforms:
- Means testing Medicare (Another line item from the Ryan “Zombie-eyed Granny Starver” budget.)
- Repealing a Medicaid Provider tax gimmick (A ‘gimmick’ that has been used by many states to enable them to help fund Medicaid — the elimination of which would result in millions of people being kicked off the program.)
- Tort reform (Because it can’t be a GOP bill without this in it.)
- Altering Disproportion Share Hospitals (More GOP nastiness, in that this is the program where the Feds help with funding for hospitals that receive a disproportionate number of indigent patients)
- Repealing the Public Health trust fund (Again, if it’s something that helps people stay healthy, apparently the GOP must eliminate it.)
Another measure the House Republicans want to add, of course, is to give employers the right to refuse contraceptive medication insurance coverage for their female employees if the employer believes that God, Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster has told them personally that women are oversexed whores with only the risk of unwanted pregnancy keeping us from sleeping with every man in sight. I’m sure it’s in the Bible somewhere. “And yea, I say verily unto thee: Women are not to be trusted to operate their own loins, for they are foolish and prone to sin. As with the cloven-hoofed and creatures that live in the water but do not have scales, hormone-based contraceptive pills, patches, and creams are an Abomination. But Viagra and Cialis are blessed and totally righteous. — Book of Pfizer 10:23-25”
Okay, quiz time: Those list items I marked with bold and italics above, what do they have in common? Add to it the GOP demand for a ‘conscience exemption’ for following PPACA regulations regarding contraceptive treatment. And what the heck, let’s also add the House GOP’s demand last year to be allowed to defend DOMA before the Supreme Court, even though that is supposed to be entirely up to the Department of Justice to do.
This is all about stripping the Executive of power
What they all represent are moves by House Republicans to strip the Executive of power. Not just any president, but this one in particular. I’ll take them in reverse order.
The Public Health Trust Fund is run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which chooses from a number of prevention and outreach programs for funding to the tune of about $1 billion last year. Eliminating the funding cancels the programs.
“Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations” refers to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the GOP absolutely loathes. It’s currently an independent agency under the Federal Reserve System — which means it’s part of the Treasury Department, which means it’s part of the Executive branch. Pulling its funding back to House Appropriations means, for now, that the GOP could completely gut the entire thing with the stroke of a budgetary pen. Or, if not total gutting, they could direct money to be used only for certain purposes, such as banning funds from being used to protect consumers.
Now I’m going to lump “Energy Provisions” and “Regulatory Reform” together, because in this context they really are the same thing. The energy provisions are obvious: The House Republicans want those decisions to be removed from the President’s desk and given to them. “EPA carbon regulations” means they want the EPA to be stripped of the ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Keystone XL, off-shore drilling, ‘energy production’ on Federal lands — same thing. Republicans want the decision to be theirs (and to be ‘yes’, obviously).
The REINS Act and ‘regulatory process reform’ go together. I’ll be honest and admit I’d never heard of the REINS Act before now, nor did I know it had been floating around for several years now…and was first proposed by Senator Rand Paul in January 2011. (Surprise!? Not.) House Republicans, joined by four Democrats, even passed it in December 2011 — although of course the Senate never took it up.
Nearly every law passed that doesn’t involve changing a post office building name needs regulations for enactment and enforcement. For example, a law mandating a tax on something will usually need accompanying regulations to determine how and when it’s calculated, reported, collected, what penalties are appropriate for failure to pay, and so on. Or for another example, it’s up to the FDA to write regulations to govern when certain medications can be moved from prescription to over-the-counter.
The 1996 Congressional Review Act granted Congress the ability to override a proposed regulation through joint resolution. (Technically not really a necessary bill, because Congress has had that power all along. But Gingrich and House Republicans wanted to score political points against Clinton. Again.)
Admittedly, one problem — from the Congressional point of view — is that any such regulation-repealing resolution could be vetoed by the President. As a consequence (and also due to Congressional inertia), it’s only been successfully used once, in 2001 when a Department of Labor regulation regarding ergonomics was overruled.
The REINS Act, as written, doesn’t just eliminate the Presidential veto power over regulation-reversing bills. It changes the entire regulatory process so that Congress affirmatively has to approve any major new regulations. And if both the House and Senate do not vote “AYE,” the regulation does not go into effect, period. As bill sponsor Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) explains it:
“It’s very simple,” he said. “When a rule is scored as a major rule — $100 million or more in cumulative economic impact — instead of it being forced on the American people at the end of the 60-day comment period, it comes back up to Capitol Hill under joint resolution for a stand-alone vote in the House, a stand-alone vote in the Senate, and then must be signed by the president before it can be enforced on the American people.”
As Kristina Costa wrote for the Center for American Progress, there are five terrible details about this proposal (summarizing her points, not entirely quoting):
- It threatens our Constitutional system of checks and balances.
- Congress doesn’t have the expertise to evaluate the implementation of every bill it passes.
- Congress doesn’t have the time to evaluate the implementation of every bill it passes — after all, consider how little work it gets done in a good year, when not completely gridlocked.
- The REINS Act confuses economic costs with economic effects — for example, an FDA regulation saying GMO food has to be labeled would cross the threshold, even though we’re not talking about something that costs $100m to implement. It merely effects a huge market. Even a change in passport fees would have to receive pro-active Congressional approval.
- Congress already has the power to oversee and overturn regulations it doesn’t like — it’s just that the bar is set fairly high, and doesn’t require pro-active Congressional action for a regulation to go into effect.
All this isn’t to say I’m totally against Congress taking back some of the power it has let slip over to the Executive, especially in the last century. The power to declare war — or to engage our military forces in conflicts tantamount to war — is one I’d rather see back in Congress, where the Constitution says it belongs.
Why I call this a “slow-motion impeachment”
However, one reason I’m referring to this strategy on the part of the Republicans as a “slow-motion impeachment” is because none of what they’re proposing for this president came up during the last one’s tenure. When Dubya wanted to go to war, the GOP said, “Of course! And anybody who says otherwise is a cheese-eating traitorous surrender monkey. Now who wants some Freedom Fries?”
I’m also not really a fan of this current President, who I feel often doesn’t exercise the power he does have — legitimately, under the law. But stripping regulatory powers from the Executive would cripple the entire supposedly co-equal branch in ways that would make our system of government all but impossible to continue.
Now couple this with the other measures being proposed: De-funding or delaying the PPACA, and wherever possible, stymie its implementation. Giving Congress direct budgetary control over the CFPB. De-funding programs run by Executive branch agencies and departments. Constantly using the continuing resolution process and the debt ceiling to force the President to accept budgetary priorities he would otherwise veto.
(Okay, don’t get me started on the Simpson-Bowles Cat-food Commission recommendations…that’s grist for a future post, where I’ll demonstrate I don’t have ire just for one of our major parties and its leaders.)
The more important reason for calling this “slow-motion impeachment” is because, thwarted in their other attempts to delegitimize and actually impeach a sitting Democratic president, the GOP’s actions over the last five years have been an unrelenting attempt to make it impossible for this President to do his job. To render him essentially — and actually — powerless.
Everything would, in the GOP’s perfect world, devolve back to them as the House majority party, and to a lesser extent, as a Senate minority capable of stopping anything with just 41 votes. Budgets, continuing resolutions, and the debt ceiling would guarantee frequent bites at the apple, and enable them to force enactment of policies that would otherwise never get past a Dem-majority Senate nor Obama’s veto pen. Executive agencies the Republicans don’t like would have their lawfully granted powers stripped — such as with the EPA being banned from regulating greenhouse gases.
Through budgets and the requirement for Congressional approval for all regulations, Republicans would control the Executive branch, even when not holding the office of President.
Again, I go back to the big picture, and do some comparing and contrasting with the behavior of the Republicans during the last administration. With George W. Bush, they wanted him to be able to go to war at will, to have ‘fast-track’ authority on just about everything, and the GOP never would’ve dreamed of denying the Executive branch the ability to enact regulations.
Now they do. And it’s entirely because they want to take power away from the guy currently occupying the White House, by any means necessary. Because in the eyes of the Republicans, there is no such thing as a legitimately elected Democratic Party President.
If they can’t impeach Obama in actuality, they’ll do it the slow way.