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Friday, March 14, 2014

Cruising the Web

So now they're using nudity to try to get young people signed up for health care in Maine. But that will probably be more successful than using a scowling mother to encourage sign-ups.

So now we know what it will take for Democrats to be upset about Obama's executive overreach. As Kevin Williamson writes,
Senator Dianne Feinstein, God bless her, is throwing a very public fit over findings that the CIA spied on Congress — on her Select Senate Intelligence Committee, specifically — as part of a campaign to undermine the committee’s investigation into an interrogation program that the agency does not much want to see investigated.

It’s a strange contradiction: Senators do not want for self-respect. If anything, the individual members of that august collection of a hundred self-identified future presidents and vice presidents suffer from excessive self-regard at levels that are frequently embarrassing and occasionally delusional. Look into the eyes of John Kerry or Joe Biden and consider for a moment the political incubator that hatched such specimens of Miltonic-Luciferian self-importance. But the Senate, and Congress as a whole, have been experiencing something of a crisis of confidence in recent decades. Our constitutional order makes Congress the effective seat of domestic governance: Only Congress can appropriate funds; only Congress can tax. Spending bills must originate in the House, presidential appointments are subject to Senate approval. Only Congress can coin money. And while the Constitution entrusts the president with some important powers regarding such outward-directed issues as military engagements, only Congress can declare war or ratify a treaty.

In theory, only Congress can make a law. But Congress of late has eroded its own legislative monopoly. The Affordable Care Act, to take one example, is not so much a legislative program as an enabling act, a vast collection of “the secretary shall”s that amounts to the legislative branch’s asking the executive branch to come up with a law so that Congress does not have to. Congress sometimes delegates its legislative powers intentionally, and sometimes it sits quietly while the executive branch simply arrogates congressional powers to itself, as the Environmental Protection Agency has done under the Clean Air Act. This happens in part because Congress is timid and lazy, disinclined to do the hard work of legislating — especially when there is no political incentive to do so. It also happens because Congress frequently likes the results: If the EPA enacts policies that congressional Democrats want to see enacted and saves them the difficulty of facing voters who disapprove of such policies, so much the better. The EPA is not up for reelection every two years. Or ever.
Members of the legislative branch understand that voters have limited spans of attention, a fact that may equal presidential ambition as a force behind our ever-more-imperial and ever-more-imperious executive. The presidency is relatively easy to follow: There’s just the one guy (how many Americans could name the complete Cabinet?), whereas there are hundreds of people in Congress, and all those committees and subcommittees, reconciliation, procedural votes, etc. In a sense, all eyes are on the presidency for the same reason that the Twilight books outsell the works of William Shakespeare or James Joyce: Compared to the 535 members of Congress and the seemingly endless permutations of them, one man is a neurologically bite-sized morsel. Thus our political discourse features such imaginary entities as the “Reagan deficits” and the “Clinton surplus,” even though the production of deficits and surpluses is a congressional matter rather than a presidential one. (O’Neill deficits and Gingrich surplus would be closer to the truth.) It is this dynamic that allowed Democratic senators to lead a pitiless campaign against George W. Bush based on an Iraq War that most of them voted for — in the public imagination, it’s “Iraq War = George W. Bush,” not “Iraq War = George W. Bush + Joe Biden + John Kerry + Hillary Clinton + Tom Daschle + Chuck Schumer + Mary Landrieu + Max Cleland + . . . ”

Which is to say, delegating its power and its place at the center of our constitutional order to a conveniently power-hungry executive is Congress’s way of avoiding responsibility for its actions and, in some cases, of getting done through executive action that which its members could not accomplish through legislative action.

Willing subservience to the presidency is not the mark of a legislative branch that has any meaningful sense of self-respect, or any real understanding of its constitutional role.

And while some Republicans have taken up the issue with admirable vigor, Congress as a whole cannot seem to get itself very much excited about such executive-branch abuses as using the IRS to harass and suppress the president’s political opponents. But spying on Senator Feinstein’s committee computers? That may be enough to get Congress’s attention. After all, we’re not talking about leaning on some obscure tea-party peons in Houston — we’re talking about members of Congress, i.e., the sort of people who are very important to members of Congress.

This story about voter registration in two Florida counties should be eye-opening for all those people who claim that there is such little voter fraud that requiring voter IDs or proof of citizenship to register to vote is a result of racist Republican paranoia.

Democrats may try to campaign, as Alex Sink did, on a promise to fix Obamacare, but they're not getting much help from Kathleen Sebelius or their own party.
When asked how she would fix Obamacare, Sink offered small suggestions that would not have addressed the higher premiums, higher deductibles, and narrower choices the law has imposed on millions of Americans. Other Democrats who have also pledged to fix Obamacare have offered even fewer ways to actually do it.

And they're not getting any help from the administration. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, she was asked by Republican Rep. Tom Reed for "any suggestions … in areas that you want to fix the Affordable Care Act."

"Has there been any legislation from the administration sent up to Congress in regards to those fixes?" Reed asked.

"I have not sent legislation to Congress, no sir," Sebelius answered.

Sebelius noted that the administration has made unilateral changes in implementation. Republicans are well aware of that. But in terms of proposing legislation to fix or improve the president's landmark achievement, Democrats have offered next to nothing.

So it's come to this - a Democratic senator tells a hearing witness to just ignore questions from a Republican senator.

The 7 most ridiculous things about the Ban Bossy campaign. I'm just so glad that we've solved all the other problems in the country and can now take on offensive adjectives.

Putin's actions in Ukraine should be an eye-opener about what our strategic approach should be towards foreign policy. And Obama's way is not the answer. As Peggy Noonan writes,
The most obvious Ukraine point has to do with American foreign policy in the sixth year of the Obama era.

Not being George W. Bush is not a foreign policy. Not invading countries is not a foreign policy. Wishing to demonstrate your sophistication by announcing you are unencumbered by the false historical narratives of the past is not a foreign policy. Assuming the world will be nice if we're not militarist is not a foreign policy.

What is our foreign policy? Disliking global warming?
Yup. That's about it.

Kimberley Strassel details how there are many lessons that Republicans can take from David Jolly's victory in Florida on Tuesday.

Burt Stupak now complains that his fellow Democrats had lied to him about how Obamacare would not require people opposed to abortion to violate their consciences. It was such a promise plus an executive order from Barack Obama that convinced Representative Stupak to vote in favor of the bill. Gee, with all the lies involved in the passage of Obamacare, Stupak is so surpised that he was lied to? Get in line pal. As Ed Morrissey writes,
Democrats from Obama on down promised that people could keep their current plans, keep their preferred doctors, pay lower premiums, and have a website that works. Sorry to see former Rep. Stupak shocked, shocked about being betrayed, but that’s the way most of us felt about Rep. Stupak when he caved on his principles in the first place.

Also, how long does Stupak expect that EO to remain in effect after this? Just asking…

Guy Benson links to more stories of those whom Harry Reid has called Koch-funded liars.

On the other hand, pundits are celebrating a move to return to having regular debate in the Senate. Imagine this - each side will get equal time and the opportunity to offer amendments for one small bipartisan proposal. This is what Harry Reid's Senate has come to - cheers for the Senate performing according to its own rules and traditions.

A moment of common sense - the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that money is not the only or even the best way to measure equity among schools.


Pat Patterson said...

I don't understand why the CIA even wasted any manpower spying on the Foreign Relations Committee. Just go to a Redskins game and buy beers for the senators or the aides and they tell everything

tfhr said...

Pat Patterson,

Spying might not be the right term. If you use an agency's systems - any of them - you give them the right to monitor your activities. Whether it is a phone, a fax, or a classified or unclassified network, your use is consent to monitoring.

I do not know the particulars of the arrangement but I do know that it was a CIA system that the staff was given access to in order to do their research. There is no way in the world they would be given unmonitored access. Whether they were allowed the access needed to do their job is critical and if it was not provided, then that would justifiably raise an alarm. That the CIA was careful to prevent theft or compromise of the data should be without question; they are required to safeguard all sensitive and classified materials in their possession. Here is a scenario - an attempt is made to remove or corrupt data on the system used in this case. The CIA is responsible for protecting that information and could not do so without monitoring the very system in use by the Congressional staff.

There may be more to the story than I've seen in the papers and I seldom see them report intelligence issues accurately but the coming IG report should be interesting.