Yesterday’s Congressional Embarrassments, Explained
Let’s recap one of the more pathetic days in a pathetic Congressional session.
In the House, voting concluded on the GOP version of the Violence Against Women Act, a real marker into the rightward shift of that party. On previous occasions with GOP control of Congress, VAWA was reauthorized without incident. This time around, however, while the Senate passed a reauthorization with bipartisan support, 31 Republicans still voted against it. And in the House, the Republicans deleted key measures that would weaken the status quo of the law, eliminating protections for Native Americans, LGBT couples and undocumented immigrants. This drew a veto threat from the White House, and enough negative criticism that the House GOP, with a “manager’s amendment,” pretended to “fix” the bill. The revealing data point here is that hundreds of women’s groups objected to the House version of the bill, but a misogynistic group called the National Coalition for Men endorsed it. Even Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski wrote to House Republicans to implore them to just pass the Senate version of the bill, to no avail.
The bill narrowly passed, with 22 Republicans opposing it. Unbelievably, six Democrats voted for the bill, some to avoid the stigma of “voting against the Violence Against Women Act,” I presume. (Nevada Senate hopeful Shelley Berkley was one of them; the others were ConservaDems John Barrow, David Boren, Jim Matheson, Mike McIntyre and Collin Peterson.)
Over in the Senate, the entire day was taken up by a series of votes on budget measures, none of which had any chance of passing. The Democratic position is that last year’s debt limit deal effectively locked in place the spending targets you would see in a budget resolution, meaning there’s no need to pass one right now. But Republicans forced the issue to embarrass the opposition. And while they succeeded in getting a 0-99 vote for what they called the “President’s budget,” Republicans also voted in large majorities on two occasions for budgets by Paul Ryan and Pat Toomey, which not only end Medicare as we know it and make a number of other unpopular cuts to social programs, but which also allow student loan interest rates to double, after Senate Republicans said specifically they wanted to avoid that outcome.
The budget votes were largely a Republican effort to embarrass President Obama and Democrats for failing to coalesce around a long-term fiscal vision. But it also presented an opportunity for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) to needle the GOP on a contradiction.
“Does this budget permit the interest rates on student loans to double on July 1?” Harkin asked of the Ryan budget, which has already passed the House.
“It does,” Conrad replied.
“Thank you, senator,” Harkin said.
So there you have it; ideological crusades, unproductive vote-a-ramas, massive contradictions – there’s your 2011-2012 Congress.
Today should be a bit better; the Senate will probably confirm two nominees to vacancies at the Federal Reserve after having rejected other nominees for these positions previously.