• June 27, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While the Senate’s passage of a comprehensive immigration bill may or may not be historic, it’s certainly remarkable. In an era of hyper-partisanship, it is far easier for the Senate to block action -- unless it’s approval of secret surveillance measures -- than it is to pass meaningful legislation or save the nation from outrageous cuts to social safety net and educational programs.

    But for today 14 Republican senators joined 54 Democrats to pass the expansive measure that provides a 13-year long path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people in the country, provided stringent enforcement mechanisms are in place. The New York Times provides some highlights of the Senate measure that was approved 68 – 32 late this afternoon. Tens of millions are allotted for enforcement measures, such as 20,000 more Border Patrol agents and “700 miles of fencing along the southern border.” Only after the enforcement measures are in place will undocumented immigrants be allowed to start on the lengthy path to citizenship.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) lauded the immigration bill, saying it honors “our American values.” He said the immigration measure would help “address a complex problem that is hurting our families, stifling our economy and threatening our security.”

    The National Council of La Raza also praised the Senate measure and called today’s vote a “milestone.” But the group’s President and CEO Janet Murguia also noted that like many compromise measures this one “included painful concessions and certainly puts our enforcement-heavy immigration policy into overdrive. But it finally acknowledges that restoring the rule of law requires a legal immigration system that takes the legitimate traffic out of the black market, allows immigrants to arrive with visas rather than with smugglers and enables immigrants who are working and raising families in the U.S. to come forward, go through criminal background checks, get in the system and get on the books.”

    But the bill is nowhere near President Obama’s desk. The House of Representatives controlled by a Republican Party devoted largely to gridlock is unlikely to prove helpful. Reporting for TPM, Brian Beutler noted that House Speaker John Boehner said the House has no interest in passing a comprehensive measure, let alone the one the Senate just approved. “The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” Boehner said. “We’re going to do our own bill through regular order, and there’ll be legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people. For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, it’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of a majority of our members.”

  • January 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The momentum for serious reform to the filibuster picked up steam last year after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed great frustration over Republicans abuse of the legislative tool. Reid had faced nearly 400 filibusters since leading the Senate and admitted he was slow to embrace filibuster reform. Reid claimed he was finally ready to support serious reform proposals championed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

    But it now appears Reid is ready to suffer ongoing Republican obstructionism in the Senate. TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that Reid is nearing a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “to enact minor changes to the filibuster.”

    The deal, Kapur reports would make “very modest changes,” such as permitting the “majority to bypass a filibuster on the motion to proceed to debate – if a group of senators on each side agree or if there’s a guarantee that both sides will bet to offer amendments ….”

    According to Kapur, however, the only “meaningful upside” of the agreement centers on nominations – apparently part of the deal would include “an expedited process for some nominations ….”

    The filibuster has been used to scuttle dozens of judicial nominations, which have helped lead to a high vacancy rate on the federal bench. The filibuster, however, has also been used to shut down consideration of an array of progressive measures, such as ones addressing pay inequity, immigration reform and climate change.

    In a Jan. 21 editorial, The New York Times raised concerns that on the cusp “an opportunity to end much of this delay and abuse, Democrats are instead considering only a few half-measures.” The Times highlighted reform proposals advanced by Merkley and Udall, which would require senators to take action to mount and sustain a filibuster. It would require senators bent on slowing consideration of legislation or nominations to actually announce their reason for doing so, and then continue explaining those reasons. As the newspaper noted the proposal would kill the “current practice of routinely requiring a 60-vote majority for a bill through a silent objection ….”

  • June 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    We likely shouldn’t be surprised by Justice Antonin Scalia’s “flip-flop,” as TPM puts it, on precedent supporting modern understanding of the Constitution’s commerce clause.

    TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports that in his forthcoming book, Scalia says the Supreme Court’s 1942 opinion in Wickard v. Filburn wrongly construed the scope of the commerce clause. As Kapur and many others have noted, including the Obama administration, Scalia cited Wickard in a 2005 opinion concluding that a law barring personal cultivation of marijuana for medical use was not beyond the scope of the commerce clause.

    In that case, Gonzales v. Raich, Scalia lodged a concurring opinion, citing precedent in holding, “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, ‘it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.’”

    In an e-mail to TPM, constitutional law expert Adam Winkler wrote, “This is typical Scalia.”

    Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, continued:

    He respects precedents when they fit his conservative ideology and disregards them when they don’t. He claims that history should guide judges. But nothing about the history of the commerce clause has changed. What’s changed is the political implications of the commerce clause. When it’s being invoked for law and order conservatives, he favors Wickard. When invoked by liberals to support healthcare reform, he thinks Wickard is bad law.

    Once again, we see that Scalia’s orginalism is a charade.

    There is also the spectacle of oral argument, where Scalia not only revealed a wobbly understanding of the health care insurance system but affinity for the simplistic, but radically libertarian arguments lobbed against the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision. The minimum coverage provision is integral to the health care reform law, requiring those who can afford to do so to obtain a minimum amount of the health care coverage starting in 2014.

  • May 2, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If one really needs another example of how out of touch or clueless some of the nation’s super wealthy are, Adam Davidson’s piece on a retired multimillionaire for The New York Times Magazine provides it.

    As Davidson notes the retired former partner of Bain Capital, the outfit that excelled in tearing down other businesses for a profit, is plumping a forthcoming book that extols alleged virtues of the filthy rich. Davidson writes that the “spectacularly wealthy guy” believes the “wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large,” to spur slackers or “art-history majors” into pursuing outlandish wealth.

    Economist Paul Krugman, in his Times’ blog, says the former Bain Capital partner’s argument “might have some plausibility if the era when America didn’t have such overweening plutocracy – the 50s and 60s, when the top 0.01% received only about a fifth the share of income that it commands today – were a time of economic stagnation and low innovation. In fact, the postwar generation experienced the best economic growth – and the fastest productivity growth – of any era in the past century.”  

    Since discussion of the nation’s growing economic inequality, right-wing pundits have attacked or belittled studies showing that the middle class is dwindling, while a tiny few continue to become wealthier. In a widely cited article for Vanity Fair, Columbia University Business School Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz noted that the “upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.”

    While the former Bain Capital multimillionaire, Edward Conard, is no innovator, he’s not invented anything that has enriched the lives of Americans; he has invested in a company that uses less aluminum for soda cans. “It saves a fraction of a penny on every can,” he told The Times. “There are a lot of soda cans in the world. That means the economy can produce more cans with the same amount of resources. It makes every American who buys a soda can a little richer because their paycheck buys more.”

    This is the gibberish that passes for an argument that investors should be celebrated and indeed helped by economic policies?

    Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is unlikely to be persuaded. Last fall Baker scored economic policies that have catered to the super wealthy for far too long, and noted that those policies do redistribute the wealth – to the super wealthy.

  • March 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Confronting Texas’ stringent voter ID law, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said today in slowing implementation of the law that it would disproportionately hinder Latino voters.

    Reporting for TPM, Ryan J. Reilly cites Perez’s letter to state officials, saying the assistant AG had concluded, in part, that Texas officials failed to provide any “explanation” for the voter ID’s disparate impact on Latino voters.

    Texas is one of several states, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, that must obtain “preclearance” from the DOJ before implementing new voter election laws. Originally section 5 of the VRA covered African Americans in Southern. Later, that VRA provision was expanded to also cover states with histories of making it difficult, if not impossible, for Latinos and other minorities to vote.

    The DOJ has also taken action against other restrictive state voter identification laws, such as the one in South Carolina. Last fall during a Senate Judiciary Committee on the numerous state laws to hamper voting Attorney General Eric Holder said “techniques to discourage people from coming to the polls – that’s inconsistent with what we say we are as a nation.”

    Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Virginia law school professor Risa L. Goluboff blasted the slew of restrictive voter ID laws, writing that they represented "ugly parallels between Jim Crow and modern vote-suppression laws."