The Chuck and Huck Show

Say, have you noticed how often Chuck Schumer has been nuzzling up to Lindsey “Huckleberry” Graham lately?

There’s their plan on immigration reform which, among other things, calls for a national biometric ID card.

And there’s a bill to pressure China on currency manipulation.

I raise this for two reasons. First, Huck’s efforts to institutionalize indefinite detention thus far lack a real legislative champion. At the same time, Chuck’s flip-flop on 9/11 trials in NYC was one of the key reasons that plan failed. So I worry that Chuck will be the guy who gives Huck’s Constitution shredding a liberal face (and why not, if you’re already instituting national ID cards).

Of course, this is all happening against the background of a potential Majority Leader fight next year if Harry Reid loses his re-election bid. Chuck seems to be prepping a run on bipartisan effectiveness. With an eye at least partially on the Majority Leader run, after all, Chuck negotiated a deal with Orrin Hatch that ended up being the only jobs bill passed this year (though of course it won’t really do squat for jobs because it is far too small, and it may well endanger social security in the long run.

I have long thought Chuck would make a badly flawed (because Wall Street owns him, and because his moral compass blows with the wind) but effective (because a significant proportion of Senators owe their seat to him, and because he has the ability to throw big fundraising dollars to Senators) Majority Leader. Moreover, no matter whether I like it or not, I do think he’s the most likely person to replace Reid, if it comes to that.

Which is why I think it all the more important to start cataloging the way that Chuck’s efforts to rack up a quick record of bipartisan success compromise on bedrock Democratic principles.

You know … things like the Constitution.

Did Evan Bayh Quit Because Reid Refused to Give Paris Hilton a Tax Break?

In his statement explaining why he was quitting, Evan Bayh named the Harry Reid’s decision not to let MaxTax Baucus and Chuck Grassley hold the jobs bill hostage as one of the reasons he does not like Congress.

Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create jobs — the public’s top priority — fell apart amid complaints from both the left and right.

Marc Ambinder expands on poor Evan’s pique that centrists weren’t allowed to hold a jobs bill hostage.

Bayh is an anomaly of sorts; he really grew to dislike the influence of liberal activists on his Senate colleagues. To him, these activists increased the cost of doing business. Reaching out to the other side became more risky than rallying around an ideological pole, even though that rallying around contributed to stasis. When it became clear to Bayh that the White House wasn’t going to play his game — wasn’t going to sell out liberals at every turn — Bayh decided he had had enough.

As it happens, one effect of Reid’s refusal to give into MaxTax Baucus’ demands is that it screwed up ConservaDem and Republican efforts to extend estate tax breaks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to move a scaled-back job bills has thrown a bipartisan deal to reduce the impact of the estate tax into doubt.

Senate leaders discussed moving an estate tax bill through their chamber that would prevent a huge hike in the tax from taking effect in 2011.

In exchange, Republicans would agree to support the jobs bill created by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

As Matt Yglesias pointed out last year, extending the Paris Hilton tax has been a favorite project of Bayh’s and Blanche Lincoln’s. (Here’s Ezra on the same issue.)

Particularly given the way Bayh decided to leave without warning Reid, was that the final straw? Poor Evan Bayh won’t suffer through another term as Senator if he’s not going to be allowed to be a budget hypocrite while calling for cuts in entitlements while pushing to give the super-rich big tax breaks?

Republicans Prepare to Kill Jobs; Democrats Angle for Majority Leader

Brian Beutler reports that the Republicans are prepping to make sure no additional support for jobs gets passed next week.

Senate Democrats want to vote on the first installment of a jobs package as early as Monday, amping up the pressure on Republicans to get aboard. But for the moment, they’re not biting.

“We’ll have a vote on a jobs bill on Monday,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a press conference today.

There’s just one wrinkle: According to the Senate’s top vote counter, there is currently no Republican support for the proposal Democrats are putting forth–and with Scott Brown to be seated today as the 41st Republican Senator, they’ll need at least one member of the minority to come aboard.

“You need two to tango. And you need Republicans for bipartisanship,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Now, there’s an interesting subplot to this.

Current Majority Leader (and very endangered incumbent) Harry Reid says no Republicans currently support the bill.

Majority Whip and second-most senior Democratic Senator Dick Durbin suggests there are no Republicans supporting the bill.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman and third-most senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has been working on a deal–at least for tax credits for businesses that create jobs–with Republican Orrin Hatch.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) released a plan Wednesday to give tax breaks to companies that add new workers, a proposal that is likely to become a key component of the jobs bill Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to unveil this week.President Obama has called for employers to receive a $5,000 tax credit for each new employee they hire, while other lawmakers have floated different proposals for a job tax credit. The Schumer-Hatch plan, which would allow companies to avoid paying Social Security taxes for the duration of 2010 on each unemployed worker they hire, appears to have the most momentum in the Senate.

“Our payroll tax cut is a simple, cost-effective and bipartisan solution. It will help put more Americans to work right away,” Schumer said in a press release. Hatch added: “While Senator Schumer and I disagree on most issues, we’ve been able to come together on an affordable, effective and targeted proposal to get the American people back to work.”

Democratic leaders emphasize that they haven’t yet settled on an exact combination of items that will go in the Senate’s jobs package, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested Wednesday that he was taking a close look at the Schumer-Hatch bill.

Mind you, the Schumer-Hatch deal only deals with one aspect of the deal, not with things like COBRA subsidy extension. And I’ve got concerns about any plan that defunds social security.

Nevertheless, it seems that the drama over whether Democrats will squabble themselves into irrelevance–and/or whether Republicans will sacrifice the interests of their constituents for partisan gain is playing out large on the jobs front.

Whatever is happening, it is preventing Americans from getting back to work.

Obama Had 60 Votes For Dawn Johnsen's Confirmation Last Year; Johnsen Stalled Again This Year

3855The Obama Administration’s confounding unwillingness and/or inability to move the nomination of Dawn Johnsen as head of OLC has manifested itself yet again. The renomination of Johnsen was set to be voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, but somehow they just “ran out of time” before they could get to it, even though they found time to muse about a couple of far less significant district court judges and other lesser nominees.* It is a continuing and puzzling pattern of delay and diversion that has kept Dawn Johnsen’s nomination in limbo for better than a year.

I previously wrote about the failure of the Obama Administration to support the Dawn Johnsen nomination, a far less than good faith effort that finally resulted in Johnsen’s nomination being killed by operation of Senate Rule XXXI when they adjourned on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2009. It turns out what I wrote has been borne out and, as lawyers are wont to say, proved up pretty well.

As I will detail below, there is now crystal clear evidence that Barack Obama and Harry Reid had the sixty (60) votes for cloture on the confirmation of Dawn Johnsen all along last year, at least subsequent to July 7, the day Senator Al Franken was sworn in, and despite that fact refused to call a vote and get Johnsen installed in her critical post at OLC. Here is what I wrote immediately following the Christmas Eve death of her nomination:

Moreover, the bleating by Harry Reid and the Obama Administration that it is all the fault of mean old Republican obstructionism simply does not hold water. The Democrats hold a 60 seat caucus block, sufficient to overcome Republican obstruction. Of those, the Main Justice article is quite clear there were only two Democratic problem children, former Republican Arlen Specter and the ever whiny Ben Nelson, who never passes up an opportunity to betray his party. That means there were potentially only 58 Democratic votes for Johnsen’s nomination. But Republican Richard Lugar firmly supported Dawn Johnsen, so that makes 59 votes, only one shy of confirmation.

In addition to Lugar, both Republican Senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, have refused to rule out voting for Johnsen and were being lobbied hard by extremely influential women’s groups and liberal constituents. Both Collins and Snowe have a history of agreeing, when pressured, to allow up or down votes on Presidential nominees, even from Democrats.

Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel had 59 votes in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination, a distinct possibility of picking up Collins, Snowe or both, and are more than aware Arlen Specter needs big help in his reelection campaign in Pennsylvania and that Ben Nelson can always be bought. And despite all of the above, the Obama White House did not ever request Harry Reid to call a vote. The only rational conclusion from this is the Obama White House did not want Dawn Johnsen, their own nominee, to be confirmed.

My calculations on the 60 votes being available were confirmed upon Obama re-nominating Johnsen when it was immediately announced to much ballyhoo that Arlen Specter would be the 60th vote for cloture on the re-nomination; albeit apparently only after Johnsen has been again dragged through the committee process and other vagaries of prolonged confirmation procedure. The TPM report of Specter’s intention to support Johnsen’s confirmation confirms exactly what I stated, Specter was the 60th vote (there were always 58 Dems plus Richard Lugar) and was there all along; all Obama and Harry Reid had to do was call the vote. Read more

The Jobs Bills: The Battle for COBRA

Congress has not yet seen fit to give Americans health care. But there’s a new health care battle heating up right in the middle of the jobs bills that will be the next focus of Congress.

The jobs bill the House passed in December extended subsidies to help laid off workers pay for COBRA that were originally enacted as part of the Stimulus bill. The subsidy pays 65% of COBRA for those laid off, ensuring that families don’t have to spend the bulk of their unemployment insurance check to pay for health coverage. At a cost of $12.3 billion, the bill extended the subsidy from 9 to 15 months, and made it available for those laid off through June 30, 2010.

Obama has said he supports such a measure. And, a bunch of Democrats in the Senate have written to Harry Reid and Max Baucus urging that he pass the same legislation through the Senate. They write:

… recent employment numbers are an indication that we must immediately extend jobless benefits and health assistance for individuals and families squeezed in this tighter economy. Nearly 40 percent of the unemployed – more than 6.1 million people – have been out of work for six months or longer. The average duration of unemployment is now at 29.1 weeks.What is more, many of those individuals and their families lost their health coverage when they lost their jobs. On average, a monthly healthcare premium payment to cover a family costs $1,111, which represents 83.4% of the average unemployment check. In some states, the average unemployment check is less than the cost of a monthly healthcare plan premium.

Based on these figures, Congress must extend unemployment benefits and eligibility for the COBRA Premium Assistance Program through the end of the year. Short term extensions, while still helpful to families, only add strain to state agencies that must constantly re-tool their computer systems, and at the same time, continue to assist the millions still searching for work. As our economy continues on a path to recovery, we need a robust extension of safety net programs that have provided a lifeline to families since the recession began.

We urge quick action on the extension of the unemployment insurance provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through December 31, 2010, including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, full federal funding of the Extended Benefit program, an increase of $25 per week in state and federal benefits, and the suspension of the federal income tax on an individual’s first $2,400 of unemployment benefits. In addition, we must also extend the eligibility period of the COBRA Premium Assistance Program through December 31, 2010.

Due to the importance of these issues, we respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss how we can provide for an extension of both programs. We thank you for your consideration of our request. All of our offices are committed to ensuring our constituents are able to properly provide for their families during this difficult time. [my emphasis]

The list of signers is interesting for those it includes–as well as those missing.

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)

Edward E. Kaufman (D-DE)

Daniel Akaka (D-HI)

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Roland W. Burris (D-IL)

John F. Kerry (D-MA)

Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Carl Levin (D-MI)

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Al Franken (D-MN)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Tom Udall (D-NM)

Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Bob Casey (D-PA)

Arlen Specter (D-PA)

Jack Reed (D-RI)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Bernard Sanders (I-VT)

Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT)

Herb Kohl (D-WI)

Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)

Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Aside from the usual ConservaDems (and Harry Reid himself) and a number of western Senators, even Chuck Schumer appears not to have signed the letter yet.

Granted, I live in the Clusterfuck state. But I know a ton of people for whom the COBRA subsidy has been the single thing that has kept them from panicking as they face long months with no job. Let’s make sure the Democrats come together–with at least one Republican–to include this COBRA subsidy extension in the jobs bill.

Why Did Obama Kill The Dawn Johnsen Nomination?

imagesYesterday, when I wrote about 34 Obama Nominees Not Named Dawn Johnsen being confirmed by the Senate on the heels of the healthcare vote, and before they left town, I was not aware, in addition (h/t earlofhuntingdon), the nomination was now completely dead. From Main Justice:

The Senate approved a unanimous consent request today to hold over several nominees for the second session of the 111th Congress, which begins in January.

But nominees to head three DOJ offices: Dawn Johnsen, for the Office of Legal Counsel, Mary L. Smith, for the Tax Division, and Christopher Schroeder, for the Office of Legal Policy, were returned to the White House before the Senate recessed for the holidays.

Johnsen, who was nominated in February, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in March on a party line vote.

Several Senate Republicans, joined by Democratic Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), have voiced concerns about Johnsen’s vocal opposition to the Bush administration’s national security policies and her past work for an abortion rights group.

The nomination of Dawn Johnsen to be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at DOJ, a critical post, is now truly dead. If Ms. Johnsen is to serve, she will have to be renominated by Barack Obama and start over. She never got the up or down vote promised as soon as the Senate had done healthcare, she never got an ounce of support from the Administration that nominated her, and a year of her life was taken in what certainly appears to be a cowardly and demeaning Read more

34 Obama Nominees Not Named Dawn Johnsen Confirmed

imagesBarack Obama first announced his intention to nominate Dawn Johnsen, a distinguished lawyer, professor of Constitutional law and former AAG in the Office of Legal Counsel for the DOJ, to be his head of the supremely critical Office of Legal Counsel nearly one year ago on January 5, 2009. Ms. Johnsen is eminently qualified and one of the best selections Obama has made for any position in his administration. In spite of that fact, Barack Obama and Harry Reid have callously and shamelessly left her twisting in the wind and have refused to put any emphasis or effort in forcing her confirmation. It is one of the greatest unpublicized scandals of an increasingly feckless Obama Presidency.

As recently as the end of November, there were promises that the Senate would take up Dawn Johnsen’s confirmation as soon as they were done with the healthcare bill. Well today, after patting themselves on the back for passage of the Bailout For Health Insurance Corporations Bill, the United States Senate managed to confirm thirty four (34) Obama nominees. None of them, of course, are Dawn Johnsen. Still she waits.

Here is a list of nominees that Hanoi Harry Reid, and without any question Barack Obama himself, since he will not lift a finger to help, think are more important than installing the head of the Office Legal Counsel, to oversee reformation of the rotting festering hole that produced the torture and wiretapping crimes of the previous administration: Read more

Rahm’s Making the White House Look Terrible

Picture 166This morning, the Politico made news by reporting that someone at the White House had ordered Harry Reid to cut a deal with Joe Lieberman on health care.

The White House denied the report.

“The White House is not pushing Senator Reid in any direction,” spokesman Dan Pfeiffer says. “We are working hand in hand with the Senate Leadership to work through the various issues and pass health reform as soon as possible.”

But since, then, two more reoprters have confirmed Politico’s account: TNR’s Jonathan Cohn and HuffPo’s Ryan Grim. In fact both Cohn and Grim pass on the ID of this anonymous White House figure: Rahm Emanuel. (Yeah, I know, gambling in the casino, even.) Here’s Ryan’s report.

Rahm Emanuel visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his Capitol office on Sunday evening and personally urged him to cut a deal with recalcitrant Sen. Joe Lieberman, two Democratic sources familiar with the situation said.

Now, aside from the fact that the White House looks stupid to us, as they try to insist Reid wasn’t visited by the Ghost of Health Care past, consider how they look to those close to the negotiations, who not only are being jerked around by Lieberman and Rahm, but who also risk losing their job as Senator and Majority Leader over this legislative failure. Here’s how that frustration sounds.

The report, however, according to the two sources, was entirely accurate. “We’re long past time for these kinds of games,” one source said.

But as bad as Rahm is making the White House look right now, consider how bad he’s going to make the White House look, if Lieberman refuses to deal. After all, Lieberman has taken just days to refuse the last compromise, based on claims of opposing a policy he supported three months ago. Lieberman doesn’t give a shit about health care, Obama, or Rahm Emanuel. (Or Harry Reid, for that matter.) So after forcing the White House to lie repeatedly about his strong-arm tactics, Rahm is going to make the White House look still worse after the Lieberman refuses the next deal he makes.

Chuck Schumer for Majority Leader

Update: I’ve been reliably informed that Schumer made the comments to the NYT on Thursday, before his Friday meeting with POTUS.

Since I’ve been obsessing about all the excess brush in TX now that we have a President who insists on working in August, I’ve been tracking Obama’s schedule very closely. And so I noticed on Friday that Chuck Schumer had a late afternoon meeting in the Oval Office that was closed to the Press.

Just Chuck Schumer.

I found that rather odd, since Schumer’s Chairmanship–of Rules–isn’t necessarily one that would be of interest to the President. Unlike the House, for example, the Senate Rules Committee isn’t going to have significant say over how a bill–health care, for example–comes up for a vote. [Update: I’m increasingly convinced this is wrong: Rules might be critical if they tried to do health care in reconciliation.]

And while there are a number of things buzzing in NY–notably, the confirmation of NY’s Sonia Sotomayor and US Attorney and former Schumer aide Preet Bharara–that might concern both the White House and NY’s senior Senator. But on a lot of those issues, some other Committee Chair would be involved (such as Pat Leahy for judiciary issues), which make it less likely that’s what the White House wanted to chat to Schumer and just Schumer about. Furthermore, some issues (such as Carolyn Maloney’s decision not to challenge Kristen Gillibrand) would be more appropriate in a non-official venue.

So I’ve been assuming that Schumer got called to the White House because he has a unique ability to get things done in the Senate. That’s partly by virtue of his past tenure as DSCC Chair; thirteen Senators owe their position to Schumer, including a number of moderates (Sheehan, Warner, Hagen, Franken, Udall, Udall, Merkley, Begich, McCaskill, Webb, Tester, Brown, Casey, and Whitehouse). He’s the kind of guy who, if he were majority leader, would be tremendously effective and would have a lot of chits to call in on key legistlative battles. Oh, and he’s also on the Finance Committee–the committee on which six totally unrepresentative Senators are holding healthcare hostage.

Which is why I’m curious to see these comments from Schumer. (h/t Americablog)

“If they can’t do it by Sept. 15th, I think the overwhelming view on the Democratic side is going to be, then, they’re never going to get it done,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, observed in a separate interview. “And there’s always a worry that, you know, delay, delay, delay, you lose any momentum whatsoever.”

Read more

Pat Leahy Calls for Truth Commission

I want prosecutions. But seeing as how it looks increasingly likely we won’t get that, I want some accounting for the crimes of the Bush Administration. Today, Pat Leahy joined his counter-part in the House, John Conyers, as well as the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, in calling for a committee to examine the wrong-doing of the Bush Administration. 

The President is right that we need to focus on fixing the problems that exist and improving the future for hardworking Americans. I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Judiciary Committee and the Senate to act accordingly. But that does not mean that we should abandon seeking ways to provide accountability for what has been a dangerous and disastrous diversion from American law and values. Many Americans feel we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong. We need to be able to read the page before we turn it.

We will work with the Obama administration to fix those parts of our government that went off course. The Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department is one of those institutions that was hijacked and must be restored. There must be review and revision of that office’s legal work of the last eight years, when so much of that work was kept secret.

We have succeeded over the last two years in revitalizing our Committee’s oversight capabilities. The periodic oversight hearings with the Attorney General, the FBI Director, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and others will continue. The past can be prologue unless we set things right.

As to the best course of action for bringing a reckoning for the actions of the past eight years, there has been heated disagreement. There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past. Indeed, some Republican Senators tried to extract a devil’s bargain from the Attorney General nominee in exchange for their votes, a commitment that he would not prosecute for anything that happened on President Bush’s watch. That is a pledge no prosecutor should give, and Eric Holder did not, but because he did not, it accounts for many of the partisan votes against him.

There are others who say that, even if it takes all of the next eight years, divides this country, and distracts from the necessary priority Read more