The GOP plots the next round of hostage takings and ransom demands

Greg Sargent noted in his column on Friday, Chaos in Congress is about to get a lot crazier:

The quote of the week, one that will likely reverberate through the halls of Congress for many months to come, is this one from GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, lamenting the inability of the House GOP caucus to unite behind, well, anything at all:

We really don’t have 218 votes to determine a bathroom break over here on our side. So how are we going to get 218 votes on transportation, or trade, or whatever the issue?

If you thought that the GOP clusterfuck over the Department of Homeland Security funding fiasco was fun, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The GOP is plotting the next round of hostage takings and is sending more ransom demands to the White House. This week, McConnell will delay Lynch unless Dems cooperate on trafficking bill:

hostageSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Sunday said Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general, will not move until Democrats cooperate surrender on a human trafficking bill.

Democrats have threatened to [filibuster] the bipartisan trafficking measure because Republicans included a provision that would prohibit restitution funds from paying for abortions.

McConnell told Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Lynch’s nomination will remain in a holding pattern until Democrats allow the trafficking bill to move forward.

“This will have an impact on the timing of considering the new attorney general. Now, I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can’t finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again,” he said.

He argued it was a non-controversial bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously. He noted the language Democrats are objecting to was part of the legislation from the beginning of its consideration.

* * *

“If they want to have time to turn to the attorney general next week, we need to finish up this human trafficking bill. It’s extremely important to the country,” McConnell added.

There is no nexus between these two matters. Both can be voted upon this week. The Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle is binding the two matters together as a tactic to extort Democratic acquiescence to the trafficking bill, which can be amended from the floor. The Turtle also has a problem with Teabagger senators opposed to Lynch not on the basis of her qualifications, but because she testified that President Obama is on sound legal ground for his executive orders on immigration.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, slammed McConnell for further delaying Lynch.

For months and months, Republicans have failed to move forward with‎ her nomination using any excuse they can, except for any credible objection to her nomination itself. It’s time for Republicans to stop dragging their feet on Loretta Lynch,” he said in a statement Sunday morning. ‎

Adam Jentleson, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) spokesman, accused McConnell of backtracking on his pledge to schedule Lynch for a vote.

“Senator McConnell should keep his word and bring Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch up for a vote this week. By continuing to stall Lynch’s nomination Republicans are failing yet another basic test of their ability to govern,” he said.

President Obama nominated her in November.

A Democratic aide argued that deliberation of the human trafficking bill is not a valid excuse to hold up Lynch. The Senate approved four executive nominees last Thursday and will consider two more on Monday while the bill is on the floor.

Lynch’s nomination has been awaiting confirmation for 128 days, longer than the past five attorneys general. Holder, by comparison, had to wait only 64 days before receiving Senate confirmation.

 Next up, the federal Highway Trust Fund is about to run out of money, which means that vital transportation projects will grind to a halt. The next looming funding shutdown: Highway programs:

HighwayTransportation funding is running on empty, forcing Congress to scramble to meet its next major deadline before the tank runs dry on May 31.

Both parties say they want to avoid a repeat of last month’s tense standoff over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.  But the likelihood of an impasse increases with each day that passes without an infrastructure reauthorization bill, and transportation advocates warn that more brinkmanship would be disastrous.

“With just 80 days remaining until a partial government shutdown of highway programs, it’s time for tax writers in the House and Senate to put their cards on the table,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers spokesman Michael O’Brien said. “They would be well served to consider the many emerging proposals, which are proving to be both financially and politically viable.”

While all sides back passage of a long-term transportation funding measure this year, there is little consensus about how to pay for the new round of infrastructure spending.

The Equipment Manufacturers and other transportation groups have come out in favor of an increase in the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax, but many in Congress oppose asking drivers to pay more at the pump to help pay for road projects.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) issued a proposal Thursday to nearly double the gas tax.

* * *

The federal government typically spends approximately $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to make up the difference, but the short-term solutions have resulted in Congress approving only a series of temporary infrastructure funding patches since a 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009, including an $11 billion 2014 measure that is now scheduled to expire on May 31.

The idea of increasing the gas tax to help pay for construction projects has been discussed but hasn’t found traction.

Additional proposals from the White House and lawmakers like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) rely instead on the idea of taxing overseas corporate revenue to pay for a new round of road projects.

The proposal, which is known as “repatriation,” has also been supported by the Obama administration, which included a $478 billion transportation bill he sent to Capitol Hill last month.

The Obama transportation bill has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled chambers of Congress, however.

AEM’s O’Brien said it was time for lawmakers to get in the game of figuring out a way to pay for a transportation funding extension.

“We’re now 80 days away from the Highway Trust Fund running out of both money and congressional authority,” he said. “That’s why the proposal from our friends at ARTBA should prompt renewed — and urgent — discussion of how Congress can avoid another artificial disaster.”

O’Brien said recent votes by Republican-led state legislatures to increase local gas taxes have shown it is safe for Republicans to support such an increase at the federal level now.

“Republicans can vote to increase the gas tax. We’ve seen that repeatedly this spring as GOP legislatures in Iowa, South Dakota, Utah and more have voted to do so,” he said.

The next hostage taking is the annual GOP abuse of the federal debt ceiling, because too many Tea-Publicans are too effin’ stupid to understand that this is money they have already spent and the U.S. is simply telling its creditors that it is good for the debt. The alternative is to call into question the full faith and credit of the United States, and to do damage to our credit rating — something Tea-Publicans have already done with their stupidity in the past.

The Treasury Department is warning that we are close to hitting the debt limit, and is asking Congress rather laughably to “address this mater without controversy or brinksmanship.” Like that is ever going to happen with this Congress. Debt fight to dominate:

Debt-celing-hostage-crisis-2-what-now-468The United States has yet again reached its borrowing limit, setting the stage for a broad fiscal debate that could be the defining issue of the 114th Congress.

The nation will again reach its statutory debt limit on Monday. Its return has sent the Treasury Department hunting for funds to continue paying the bills, as lawmakers begin strategizing over the issue behind some of the most pitched battles of President Obama’s tenure.

[On Friday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers he was beginning to use “extraordinary measures” to free up space under the nation’s borrowing limit so it can continue to pay bills due, and urged Congress to maximize speed and minimize drama when it comes to another boost.

Lew also warned Congress not to view the borrowing cap as a “bargaining chip,” indicating that the White House will again be looking for a “clean” debt limit increase, free of other policy prescriptions from GOP lawmakers.]

[E]xperts believe the nation will be in danger of a catastrophic default sometime this fall — roughly overlapping with the deadline Congress needs to hit to avoid another government shutdown.

The upcoming debt limit battle marks the first with a GOP-controlled Congress, handing Republicans more power as Obama again looks to hold a hard line against any efforts to use the threat of a catastrophic default as bargaining leverage.

Exactly what Republicans could pair with a borrowing boost, and how hard they would push those demands, is the major question in and out of the party.

* * *

Aware of his party’s rocky record during previous standoffs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said he has no designs on a government shutdown or debt default. He reiterated that message earlier this month but also noted that some “other important legislation” could accompany a limit increase.

Some GOP lawmakers appear to be growing tired of high dramatics, especially after the party failed to halt the president’s immigration executive action by delaying funding to the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Thursday that the nation needed to come up with a long-term fiscal plan. But noting the GOP’s failed effort on immigration, he openly questioned using the debt limit to advance that debate.

“The last high-wire act didn’t turn out too well,” he said. “It’s a tough hostage to take…I’m always for anything that gives us a discussion on what to do long term, but I just don’t know if this is going to be the place.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also seemed unenthused about another pitched debt limit battle, echoing Lew’s argument that a borrowing boost does not curtail spending already authorized.

“The debt ceiling is kind of a phony issue anyways,” he said. “Whatever it takes to not shut the place down, I’m all for.”

But other Republicans still view the need to raise the limit as a critical juncture to push fiscal priorities, and make the administration pay attention to their priorities.

“I’ve consistently been one of those who’ve felt that we should use the debt ceiling as a vehicle to drive further reforms. I would like to see that,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

And House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has raised the idea of reviving the “Boehner Rule,” demanding a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in extra borrowing.

A McConnell spokesman said discussions over the limit are ongoing, but did not offer specifics.

* * *

How much success Republicans find in agreeing on a budget could be a key indicator for the debt limit fight. Both chambers are preparing to unveil their budget plans in the coming days, and if Congress can unify around a single budget, it opens the door to a debt limit plan exclusively backed by Republicans.

If Congress agrees on a budget, that opens the door to handling the limit via budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority in the Senate.

That means that Republicans in the House and Senate could theoretically send their own debt limit package to the president, and dare the White House to reject it.

Phillips said such a move would be uncharted territory for markets.

“How do outside observers react to a veto of a debt limit increase?” he said. “That might add some unpredictability to it.”

Congress agreed to suspend the nation’s borrowing limit until March 16 at the beginning of 2014. Under that agreement, all government borrowing that occurred during the suspension period would automatically be included in the new limit.

The end result is that as of Monday, the nation’s borrowing limit is roughly $18 trillion. And the government is already at that cap.

The good news for lawmakers is that they will have plenty of time to debate the issue. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the nation will not be in danger of missing any payments until October or November.

Yeah, another October government shutdown; somehow this is “good news” to Beltway media villagers.

Also looming this year is re-authorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) program. Will Congress play politics by killing healthcare for 2 million children?:

Pedi_ExamCHIP funding is scheduled to expire on September 30. Congressional action is required to extend it. If your guess is that the Republican Congressional majority is plotting to cut the program back–if it extends funding at all–you guessed right.

Governors and their CHIP administrators are starting to panic, because the real deadline for Congressional action comes much sooner than Sept. 30. That’s because many states are crafting their budgets now for the coming fiscal year, and without assurances that CHIP funding will continue, the programs will have to be cut back or eliminated.

According to Jesse Cross-Call of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 20 states must enact budgets for fiscal 2016 by May 1; in Virginia, the budget deadline has already passed. As the budget deadlines approach, Cross-Call observes, CHIP officials will have to make contingency plans for “moving enrollees out of state CHIP programs if federal funding runs out” or ending contracts with health plans providing CHIP coverage.

[T]he National Governors Assn., warned Congressional leaders last month that without prompt action, “more than two million children could lose access to the services they need to thrive and lead healthy, productive lives.”

Democrats have a straightforward solution: continue CHIP funding for another four years, as measures introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Gene Greene, D-Texas, would do. President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal would do the same.

Republicans are balking. A draft proposal by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., would put millions of children at “very serious risk” of becoming uninsured, according to Joan Alker of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Here are some of the ways the Hatch-Upton plan unwinds the achievements of the last 18 years in child health.

First, it knocks children in families with incomes above 300% of the federal poverty line out of CHIP entirely. (For a family with two kids, that’s $72,750.) The change would force a cutback in 18 states and the District of Columbia that cover children to that level.

The measure also would reduce CHIP funding for children in families earning 250-300% of the poverty line. In the 27 states and DC that cover those children (including California), the federal share of CHIP funding would drop from the 70% of all CHIP costs now covered by the feds to the Medicaid standard of 57%. By raising the cost of CHIP for state budgets, the change obviously would prompt some of them to throw those kids off. “When states have the option to limit eligibility for kids,” Alker writes, “history shows some of them will take it.”

Hatch and Upton would repeal a rule allowing states to streamline enrollments in CHIP by using eligibility determinations already made for other programs, such as food stamps. They would complicate enrollments by repealing provisions of the Affordable Care Act that made enrollments easier, that forbid states to reduce services provided under CHIP, and kept states from imposing waiting periods on enrollments.

Waiting periods have been abolished in 32 states and Washington, D.C., a step recommended by the Childrens Hospital Assn. and other advocates; the GOP proposal would allow states to impose waiting periods as long as one year.

* * *

The sponsors’ defense of these unnecessary cutbacks are, as one would expect, nebulous and mealy-mouthed. Hatch in January called for extending CHIP funding “in a responsible way.”  (In GOP-speak, that usually means “cheaper.”)

* * *

This sort of rhetoric suggests that children’s health is about to join disability funding as a football in Washington’s partisan political game. As usual, it’s the most vulnerable Americans who are about to get kicked around.

You will recall that Tea-Publicans set up the social security disability fund to run out of money next year when they enacted their budget rules in the first week of this Congress, so that Tea-Publicans can pit the elderly against the disabled in a manufactured “crisis” to extort “entitlement reforms.”

Government by hostage taking to extort ransom demands is un-American, and should properly be considered a criminal act by a political party that is unable to govern in any reasonable, rational, mature way.

3 responses to “The GOP plots the next round of hostage takings and ransom demands

  1. I’m glad to see the Republicans have changed their evaluation of Attorney General Holder and now wish him to continue.

  2. Koch Industries for Pres, 2016!

    “manufactured “crisis” to extort…”
    Our motto: Never let an opportunity to create a Good Crisis go to waste.

  3. Koch Industries for Pres, 2016!

    McConnell: “Now, I had hoped to turn to [on] her next week, but if we can’t finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again”
    Translation from McConnellese: “i can’t get this done, so i won’t be able to get that done. (help me. i can’t get up.)”