Reporting on Politics and Policy
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 7:37 PM
Once Washington started to realize that immigration reform could happen, it considered the many poison pills that might kill it. Chief among them: An amendment that would allow same-sex couples to sponsor foreign partners for green cards. Republicans in the "Gang of Eight" were constantly asked whether they'd let the amendment in. They wouldn't. "I'll do everything in my power to see that it's not there," said John McCain. Adding in LGBT language would kill the bill.
The debate continued until roughly 7 p.m. tonight, when, during the Senate Judiciary Committee's mark-up of the bill, Chairman Pat Leahy was asked to let the amendment fall. Sen. Dick Durbin, the party's whip and a key member of the Gang, had been asked about the amendment earlier and stayed circumspect. "I'm gonna leave this to Sen. Leahy," he'd said. "In a few hours, you'll know what he's gonna do."
A few hours passed, and Leahy was still talking up his amendment, as much as he could. Durbin announced that it "wasn't the time" to attach the amendment. Sen. Al Franken chimed in, comparing the need to kill the amendment to "Hobson's choice," but raising the specter of the whole bill collapsing.
That was the death knell. "With a heavy heart," Leahy let the amendment go.
"I want people who are at home listening to this debate understand that this debate isn't over," said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. "It's happening in every state in our country."
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 5:31 PM
At the moment, on the Senate floor, a Republican-Democratic coalition is blowing up at a rump of conservative senators for trying to pose extra conditions on the budget process. What Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Mike Lee want -- and have wanted -- is a guarantee that a debt limit increase cannot be included in the budget agreement that comes out of the House and Senate conference. It only takes 51 votes to pass a budget. Cruz, on the floor, has asked the Senate to preserve the "traditional 60-vote threshold" for raising the debt limit.
This is a strange definition of "tradition." Nobody likes to have a pro-debt limit vote on the record, so votes to raise it are usually pretty limited and partisan. In 2012, the last time the Senate gave the thumbs-up to a debt limit hike, it got only 52 votes. So the Cruz/Paul/Lee gambit will fail, it's in the interest of most Republicans that it fail, and the rebels get to say they, the proud and lonely few, stood and fought for the right for supermajority debt limit votes.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 4:32 PM
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Richard Simon and Joseph Tanfani scoop that Lois Lener, current head of the IRS's tax-exempt division, "won’t answer questions about what she knew about the improper screening – or why she didn’t reveal it to Congress" whens he finally faces the inquisitors. She's pleading the Fifth, which is one of the nice privileges granted to people who screw up so badly that the FBI opens an investigation into their work.
We may look back at this decision, coupled with the Friday grilling of outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller, as the event that re-centered the IRS scandal on the IRS. There's still an effort, sure, to pin down the timeline of which official in the White House knew what when from who, but at the end of every line of questioning, like gold at the end of the rainbow, you find an apologetic IRS that takes the blame for screwing this up.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 2:53 PM
At noon, at various IRS offices around the country, Tea Party activists gathered and expressed some disagreements. Over what? I don't think we need to explain that, at this point. I was working on Capitol Hill in the morning, so the protest closest to me happened to be outside the main IRS HQ downtown.
Slightly less than a hundred people, well covered by the press, gathered in a tight sidewalk area and decried the abuses, known and unknown, of the IRS. In the center of that photo: Phil Kerpen, who worked with Americans for Prosperity during most of the months when Barack Obama was decrying the group by name. "Don't let the media spread the false narrative that there was a surge of 501 applications!" said Kerpen, in one of the most strategic speeches.
There was more fretting about the media, in general, then I'd seen in four years of observing the Tea Party. The big DHS report on "right-wing extremists" being recruited thanks to the down economy came out a few days before the April 15, 2009 Tea Parties, and the activists had a laugh at the insult. Today, most of the activists I talked to declined to give full names, and two shielded their faces from cameras -- one with a bag over his head. But some things don't change.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 1:46 PM
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
In the frenzied days that followed the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, BP's leadership protrasted itself before Congress to be shamed. At the time, while several Republicans were irritated at how the disaster had put a stop to discussion of new drilling, only Texas Rep. Joe Barton had the chutzpah to apologize for the scrunity.
I'd forgotten all about that until Sen. Rand Paul said this at the start of the Senate investigations committee's grilling of Apple CEO Tim Cook.
"Tell me one of these politicians up here who doesn't minimize their taxes," said Paul. "Tell me what Apple's done that's illegal... I'm offended by the spectacle of dragging in American companies for doing something that isn't illegal."
There's a sweet little angle in that video; you can see John McCain staring daggers at Paul, a while before he'd return to the mic to admonish the junior senator. But Paul's on a #realkeeping kick these days. Skip to 7:30 or so in this video of his speech to the New Hampshire GOP.
About an hour's drive from Boston, here's Paul asking Republicans to consider the wise mercy of America's judicial system. "We sent the subject to a hospital," he said. "He's going to be tried in a court of law. He's going to have an attorney... it's going through the process that makes us different than them."
No applause, but at least no boos from senators.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 1:06 PM
The DOJ's investigation into leaks, and the subsequent secret wave of subpoenas for reporters' phone records, fit awkwardly into the narrative of "Obama scandals." Oh, they're scandals all right. But Republicans prefer to lump them into a list than to propose some legislative fix or condemn the process. Their questions about the story to Eric Holder last week were largely designed to trap him in a lie about the chain of command for subpoenas, not whether the subpoenas should have been issued.
This might be why. From the new WaPo/ABC poll:
The wording's a little loaded ("anti-terrorism efforts!" Booga booga!) but there you have it -- only one in three people are dead-on opposed to subpoenas of reporters' phone records. This question went out before the much more intriguing discussion of whether a reporter (i.e. James Rosen) could be labeled a "co-conspirator" to get his information, but how much would that really skew the opinion?
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 11:10 AM
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Moore, OK tornado is the first devastating natural disaster since budget sequestration went into place two months ago. At that time, Democrats warned that NOAA and the National Weather Service were already falling behind and could hardly put up with a round of cuts or furloughs. Happily, though, neither agency has cut back yet—there wasn't any real-time cutback that affected the outlook before the tornado hit Oklahoma.
"There are currently no furloughs in place at the National Weather Service—or anywhere within NOAA," said Ciaran Clayton, a spokesman for the agency, via email. "We are still in good faith negotiations with our unions on our proposal—which is for four furlough days across NOAA—some 12,000 employees (due to sequestration, the NWS was facing up to 10 days of furloughs, and other offices within NOAA were facing up to 20—in order to mitigate that on our employees and operations, we have proposed 4 furlough days across the organization). Employees are entitled to a 30-day furlough notice as well—and as of today those have not been issued."
But no one's really discussing upping the agencies' budgets. Oklahoma's senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both opposed aid after Hurricane Sandy; today, Inhofe was still seething that Sandy money went to some other states that weren't affected. Coburn wants to offset any aid to Oklahoma with cuts elsewhere.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 9:44 AM
In my latest piece I try to make sense of E.W. Jackson, the decidedly fringe black Republican activist and pastor who turned a failed bid for Senate (he got 5 percent of the GOP primary vote) into this year's lieutenant governor nomination. Out of nowhere, Republicans in the year's most competitive state election* have to answer for a guy who links homosexuality and pedophilia, aims to liberate blacks from the Democratic "plantation," says that Planned Parenthood has a higher black death toll than the KKK. That last item, depending on your view of when life begins, is true, but Republicans have tried to avoid saying it when running for office.
Bill Bolling is the outgoing lieutenant governor, a moderate-ish politician who was boxed out of a potential race for governor when the state party opted for a convention instead of a primary. (Bolling probably would have lost to the red-hot Ken Cuccinelli anyway.) He's lovin' it.
“These kinds of comments are simply not appropriate, especially not from someone who wants to be a standard bearer for our party and hold the second highest elected office in our state,” Bolling said in a statement to POLITICO. “They feed the image of extremism, and that’s not where the Republican Party needs to be.”
*Low bar -- the only other race for statewide leadership is in New Jersey, where Chris Christie is making the rubble bounce.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 8:32 AM
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images
With the nation's eyes on Oklahoma, sooner or later people will need to remember that Washington handles the money for the response. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has consistently asked for disaster relief to be be paid for with cuts from other lines of the budget. Progressives (led, oddly enough, by BusinessWeek) used Hurricane Sandy to argue for new seriousness on climate change, and they'll eventually do the same for Oklahoma. Count me out of the sanctimonious whining about the shame of "politicizing" disasters. Reporters are paid to be clear-minded about this stuff, not to tweet the lastest numbers of the dead and wag their chins thoughtfully.
Jonathan Martin gets outgoing Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to toss the GOP's new nominee under the treads of a speeding 18-wheeler.
Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ben Smith reveal the Bain connections of American Bridge, the other liberal Super PAC. Remember the middle stretch of 2012, when liberals were deeply angry about Bain?
On October 28, American Bridge released the sort of searing public attack that many had expected from the start, an a Priorities USA Action ad featuring an interview with a worker who begins, “Romney and Bain Capital shut this place down.” The American Bridge version uses a portion of the interview that does not include the words “Bain Capital.”
Dana Milbank appreciates Jeff Sessions and his role ineffectively slowing immigration reform in the Senate.
“I’m highly offended!” Sessions shouted in his trademark twang. “This is why the American people are upset about this! They don’t trust their government! . . . Now, that’s the truth. And I’m getting dad gum tired of it.”
James Taranto offers real talk on the meaning of the IRS's bumbling.
[T]his will be a scandal like Watergate if it turns out that the IRS was acting under orders from Barack Obama or Valerie Jarrett. If the White House's conduct turns out to be unimpeachable, then it is something far worse: a sign that the government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.
And Jason Richwine defends himself, with minimal humility. One question: If his dissertation and subsequent research were so solid, why does nobody cite them?
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 5:35 PM
Tomorrow's major tax story -- the Senate tax story, actually -- was supposed to be the IRS. The Senate Finance Committee, led by Montana's Max Baucus, is conducting the next hearing into the "targeting" of Tea Party groups that applied for tax exemptions. But now comes the Senate Committee on Investigations and its report on how Apple skirted tax law for decades.
According to figures supplied by Apple, over a four year period from 2009 to 2012, as explained further below, Apple used a number of those tax loopholes to avoid Subpart F taxation of offshore income totaling $44 billion. During that time period, Apple generated two types of offshore income that should have been immediately taxed under Subpart F: (1) foreign base company sales (FBCS) income, which involves the sales income Apple directed to Ireland for no reason other than to concentrate profits there, and (2) foreign personal holding company (FPHC) income, which involves passive foreign income such as dividends, royalties, fees, and interest. Apple avoided U.S. taxation for the entire $44 billion through a combination of regulatory and statutory tax loopholes known as the check-the-box and look-through rules.
I've posted the whole memo on the Senate's findings, and Nelson Schwartz has a preview of what Tim Cook will say.
Every other topic in Congress is bleeding into the conversation about tax reform. Throw this report onto that pile.