Friday, June 28, 2013

Which 16 Democrats Voted to Give Big Oil a Great Big Hug Today?

Yesterday, I reported on some of the votes the House was taking on the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act.  Of course, the word "jobs" is in the title to make the bill look good and to show that the House Republicans care about something other than legislating women's reproductive processes.  The bill requires the President to develop a new five-year plan allowing offshore oil-and-gas leases off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

To get a better perspective on the potential dangers of this bill, take a look at the testimony given by Michael Conathan, the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.
The fact is, accelerating offshore oil and gas production in an attempt to create more jobs might be a fine idea if nothing else took place in our exclusive economic zone. But the ocean is a busy place, and prioritizing one industry will surely come at the expense of others.

So the first thing I would ask this committee to consider is a revision of perspective. Instead of asking how to create more oil and gas jobs, take a step back and ask how to create more good jobs in industries that rely on the ocean. The options are suddenly far stronger.

Here is the reality of today:

Offshore oil and gas production is already a growth industry. According to The Wall Street Journal, “today … offshore drilling is booming in the Gulf of Mexico.” Every year of the Obama administration, there has been more oil produced on the outer continental shelf than the last year of the previous administration, and every year but 2012 saw more production than any year of George W. Bush’s presidency.

In 2010 the Gulf of Mexico experienced the worst accidental offshore oil spill in the history of the world. Since then, Congress has passed exactly zero laws to strengthen oversight of offshore oil production or increase pathetically low liability limits of $75 million.

Despite this massive quantity of production, this legislation would stomp on the gas pedal, accelerating production even further and forcing the opening of new areas in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf Coast, including areas where local residents resoundingly oppose having their coastlines threatened by oil production.

In many of these regions, the current economy depends on clean, healthy oceans. The increase in industrial activity and the risk of blowouts, spills, and pollution that comes with offshore drilling would threaten oceans.

Instead of creating offshore energy jobs by doubling down on dirty energy policies of the 20th century, we should be investing in the future: renewable energy. Shallow water offshore wind is ready for prime time in U.S. waters, and other offshore renewable technologies are right behind.
The final bill passed the House 235 to 186.  219 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted for the bill.  180 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted against it. 
Which 6 Republicans broke party lines to protect the environment rather than Big Oil?  A bunch of New Jersey Republicans plus (oddly) Mark Sanford.  Unsurprisingly, they are mostly from coastal districts.

Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
Leonard Lance (NJ-07)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02)
Jon Runyan (NJ-03)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
Chris Smith (NJ-04)

Which 16 Democrats gave Big Oil a great big hug? Let us name them and shame them.

John Barrow (GA-12)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Al Green (TX-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)

Let's also take a look at two amendments that unfortunately failed.

Lois Capps (CA-24)'s amendment would have blocked oil-and-gas lease sales in southern California.  It failed 176 to 241. All Republicans voted against it, and 17 Democrats joined them.  Sean Maloney (NY-18) and Mike Michaud (ME-02) voted against the amendment but for the final bill.  Nick Rahall (WV-03), who voted for the final bill, voted for Capps's amendment as well.

Peter DeFazio (OR-04)'s amendment would have prohibited offshore oil-and-gas leases in Bristol Bay off the coast of Alaska.  It was rejected 183 to 235.  180 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted in favor, 220 Republicans and 15 Democrats voted in opposition.

The 3 Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were Michele Bachmann (MN-06) [?????], Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), and Dave Reichert (WA-08).

Jim Cooper, Al Green, Nick Rahall, and Bennie Thompson, who all voted for final passage, voted for this amendment as well.  Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15), Dan Lipinski (IL-03), and Sean Maloney (NY-18), who all voted against final passage, voted against this amendment as well.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grayson Amendment Fails ON A TIE. House Proceeds to Give Big Oil a Great Big Hug.

While you were watching the Senate take the steps toward final passage of its immigration bill, the House was voting on some legislation of its own, in particular H R 1613.  This bill would implement a U.S.-Mexico agreement on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico signed in February of last year by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa.  The deal would allow oil and gas drilling on more than 1.5 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Wall Street Journal described the deal in the following manner:
The U.S. and Mexico have reached an agreement that would allow oil and gas drilling on more than 1.5 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, resolving a dispute that has left those areas in limbo for more than a decade.

The agreement signed Monday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in Los Cabos, Mexico, establishes a legal framework for U.S. companies to develop offshore energy projects with Petroleos Mexicanos, the Mexican state oil company known as Pemex, in areas that straddle the two nations' maritime border. The acreage runs due east from the U.S.-Mexico border to a point more than 200 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and includes areas where the water is almost 11,000 feet deep.

The agreement also allows U.S. and Mexican safety officials to work together to ensure the projects meet the safety standards of both nations and sets the groundwork for more cooperation to develop uniform safety guidelines for offshore energy development.
There were two grounds for opposition to H R 1613 among House Democrats. Environmentalists would obviously (and rightfully) oppose the expansion of offshore drilling. However, some Democrats who supported the agreement in theory opposed the House bill because it would also waive a provision of Dodd-Frank that requires companies to disclose donations made to foreign governments. Damaging the environment while gutting Dodd-Frank at the same time: a Republican dream come true! 
Before I go into the details of the final vote on HR 1613, I want to highlight the fate of the amendment put forth by Alan Grayson that would have ensured that states had the right to prevent offshore drilling in their own coastal waters.

Graysons’s amendment was rejected ON A TIE (213 to 213), a rare occurrence in the House. If the vote is tied in the House, the bill dies.  In the Senate, by contrast, the vice president casts the deciding vote.

191 Democrats and 21 Republicans voted for it. 208 Republicans and 5 Democrats voted against it.
The following Republicans voted FOR the Grayson amendment. They are almost all from either New Jersey or Florida. They should be commended for that vote.

Gus Bilirakis (FL-12)
Vern Buchanan (FL-16)
Kevin Cramer (ND)
RonDeSantis (FL-06)
Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Leonard Lance (NJ-07)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02)
John Mica (FL-07)
Jeff Miller (FL-01)
Rich Nugent (FL-11)
Bill Posey (FL-08)
Trey Radel (FL-19)
Thomas Rooney (FL-17)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27)
Dennis Ross (FL-15)
Chris Smith (NJ-04)
Daniel Webster (FL)
Ted Yoho (FL-03)

The following Democrats voted against the Grayson amendment. None of them should be a surprise.

John Barrow (GA-12)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)

H R 1613 passed easily 256 to 171.  228 Republicans and 28 Democrats supported the bill, and 170 Democrats and 1 Republican opposed the bill.

The lone Republican opponent was Walter Jones (NC-03).

Which 28 Democrats love weakening Dodd-Frank and helping Big Oil at the same time?  These representatives, for the most part, have some of the worst voting records in the Democratic Party this Congress, and many are freshmen. They shall be duly named and shamed.

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Dave Loebsack (IA-02)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Gary Peters (MI-14)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Trey Radel (FL-19)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Krysten Sinema (AZ-09)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)

These bills were considered in the context of the broader H R 2231 (Offshore Energy and Jobs Act), which would require Obama to establish a new, five-year plan for leasing offshore drilling for oil and gas.  The House also voted on several amendments to H R 2331.  One of the most noteworthy, in my opinion, was the Alcee Hastings's amendment, which would have stricken the language in H R 2331 eliminating the necessity for environmental impact assessments.  Her amendment failed on a nearly party line vote of 188 to 233.

185 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted for the amendment. 224 Republicans and 9 Democrats voted against it.

The 3 Republicans were Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Walter Jones (NC-03), and Dave Reichert (WA-08).  They should be duly commended.

Which 9 Democrats love Big Oil and Big Gas so much that they won't let an environmental assessment get in their way?

John Barrow (GA-12)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)

And they should be duly shamed.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Four Years Ago Today, the House Passed a Landmark Climate Bill. Then It Died in the Senate.

On June 26, 2009, four years ago to the day, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey) in a close vote of 219 to 212.  I was somewhat surprised that Obama didn't mention this anniversary in his climate speech yesterday at my alma mater, Georgetown University. The ensuing mess in the Senate and the Republican takeover in 2010 ensured that we'd see no climate bill pass through either house of Congress since.  Unfortunately, we won't likely see one again in the future, leaving pressure for strong executive action and divestment the best near-term options.

It is also fitting that Ed Markey becomes a U.S. Senator four years to the day after the landmark legislation he helped draft passed the House.  He will be a great addition to the Senate.  Massachusetts has an enviable Senate delegation.

The passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a testament to Nancy Pelosi's leadership and the impressive vote counting and whipping skills she learned from growing up in a political family in Baltimore. The House was a much better place when she held the gavel.  The bill was not perfect, and it had gotten watered-down over time to secure votes.  However, since then, we've mainly just gotten inaction, bits of positive incrementalism like the increased fuel standards, and an aggressive assertion of power by Cass Sunstein's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to postpone or delay EPA regulations.

Politico's piece “Chaos, arm-twisting gave Pelosi win" from four days after the ACES vote is really a must-read.  You can read the full text above, but here's the first part:
After lawmakers had devoured the last of the Kalua Pig at last Thursday night’s White House Luau, Nancy Pelosi summoned her team back to the Capitol “” to ensure the climate change bill wasn’t the next thing roasted on the spit.

Pelosi and her top lieutenants would spend the next four hours whipping, cajoling, begging and browbeating undecided Democrats  and triple-checking their whip lists to decide who was a solid “yes” and who was prevaricating on the cap-and-trade legislation.

Yet no matter how many calls they made or how many times they checked and rechecked their list  Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) kept coming up between 12 and 20 votes short of the 216 votes needed to win.
“We didn’t have the votes and we had to have this vote,” said a leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This was the big one for us. [Pelosi] staked her prestige on this one. … This was her flagship issue, and this was a flagship vote for us.”

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed by only 219-212, after an epic day replete with Republican ambushes, petty betrayals, hastily rearranged flights and disappearing acts.

Yet for all the apparent chaos, the action was commanded by a House speaker maneuvering with the urgency of someone who knew her reputation was on the line.
Despite Republican promises to punish battleground state Democrats for supporting a “cap and tax” plan, Pelosi and her fractious caucus passed their most serious test to date.
And whatever the fallout, aides say that both Pelosi and President Barack Obama now know that their majority can hold together barely when placed under withering pressure which may bode well for the equally arduous trials on health care reform.

At the end of it all, Pelosi, who floated in and out of the House cloakroom all day, impossible to miss in an arctic-white linen pantsuit, gambled big and pulled off one of the most important legislative victories of her career, a win she views as a personal vindication, according to those close to the San Francisco Democrat.

“There’s no question about it,” Clyburn said after the vote. “She went back to her whipping days of old. She is an incredibly good whip. I’m trying to learn from her every day.”

Despite the most coordinated push yet between Democrats on the Hill and the Obama White House, the outcome was not certain until the very end, according to two dozen aides and members of Congress interviewed by POLITICO.

“It was really never a solid [216],” one person said afterward.

Party leaders agreed to bring the bill to the floor during a meeting Monday night, even though some of the members present had reservations about forcing vulnerable Democrats to cast votes on a package that may not go anywhere in the Senate.

In the days leading up the vote, the number of Democratic “yes” votes was locked at 200, according to people familiar with the tally. Every time they’d pick up one vote, another would slip. Democratic leaders needed a cushion to help protect the most vulnerable among them, and they didn’t have it.

As the frustration grew, an aide joked in one meeting that White House staff should give fence-sitters the same colored leis so that the president and his Cabinet secretaries would know who to buttonhole. The desperation was such that others in the room paused for a split second to consider the joke before abandoning it as a logistical impossibility.
During the luau, Clyburn set up shop in the Oval Office with Obama to meet with wavering Democrats, like freshmen Reps. Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland and Eric Massa of New York. Members of Clyburn’s whip team patrolled the White House lawn, cornering colleagues and making the case for the bill.

As the week wore on, Pelosi was directing former Vice President Al Gore whom to call, but everyone decided late Wednesday night that the list of undecided members was small enough that he should stay in Nashville, Tenn., to make calls.

On the day of the vote, the bleary-eyed tag team of Pelosi and Clyburn camped out in the cloakroom, just off the House floor, for nearly three hours.
Interestingly, the climate bill and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed the House with the same vote count: 219 to 212.  However, the breakdown of those votes differed.  PPACA passed solely on Democratic votes: 219 Democrats in favor, 34 joining the 178 Republicans against.   ACES, on the other hand, actually required a few Republicans to cross party lines. 211 Democrats voted for it, and 44 voted against it.  168 Republicans voted against it, but 8 Republicans actually voted in favor.  I'm not sure if Pelosi and Clyburn had locked in any of these Republican votes ahead of time, but the since-renamed group Republicans for Environmental Protection did support the bill. Which eight Republicans voted for ACES?

Mary Bono Mack (CA-45): 43% for 2009, 17% lifetime as of 2009
Mike Castle (DE): 57% for 2009, 65% lifetime as of 2009
Mark Kirk (IL-10): 71% for 2009, 68% lifetime as of 2009
Leonard Lance (NJ-07): 71% for 2009, 71% lifetime as of 2009
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02): 79% for 2009, 75% lifetime as of 2009
John McHugh (NY-23): 67% for 2009, 26% lifetime as of 2009
Dave Reichert (WA-08): 64% for 2009, 62% lifetime as of 2009
Chris Smith (NJ-04): 79% for 2009, 74% lifetime as of 2009

Mary Bono Mack lost to Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz last November. Mike Castle lost to Christine O'Donnell (Remember her?) in his bid for the Republican candidacy for Senate in 2010.  John McHugh was appointed by Obama to Secretary of the Navy in September of 2009.  Conservadem Bill Owens now holds his seat. Mark Kirk won a seat in the Senate in 2010  but has not carved out any particularly impressive or, at least, decent environmental record so far.
That leaves us with only four Republicans who voted for ACES and are still in the House.

Unsurprisingly, but depressingly, their environmental voting records (seen through their LCV scores) have worsened significantly.

Leonard Lance (NJ-07): 17% for 2012 (-54%), 34% lifetime as of 2012 (-37%)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02): 40% for 2012 (-39%), 67% lifetime as of 2012 (-8%)
Dave Reichert (WA-08): 37% for 2012 (-27%), 53% lifetime as of 2012 (-9%)
Chris Smith (NJ-04): 40% for 2012 (-39%), 70% lifetime as of 2012 (-4%)

They all seem less likely to support climate legislation now than they were four years ago.  Of all of the new Republicans, the only one who might--and I say that with a weak probability--support a bill would be Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), who beat Patrick Murphy in a rematch in 2010.  Fitzpatrick's 2012 LCV score was 46% and lifetime score 54%.  That's not promising.

Now, let's look at the Democrats who didn't vote for the bill. Alcee Hastings (FL-23) was not there for the vote, and, frankly, I don't know why.

Pete Stark (CA), Peter DeFazio (OR), and Dennis Kucinich (OH) all opposed ACES from the left, believing (like Greenpeace and some other more left-leaning environmental groups) that the design of ACES could threaten the power of the EPA and that the cap-and-trade program would encourage Wall Street speculation.   Pete Stark lost re-election to a more conservative Democrat (Eric Swalwell) in California's non-partisan election system last fall.  Kucinich was redistricted out of his seat.
The remaining 41 anti-ACES Democrats opposed it from the right.  Most of the 41 got wiped out in the great Blue Dog massacre of 2010, some retired or lost last year, and only 8 are still in either house of Congress.

Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is now in the Senate.  His House seat is now held by Republican Jackie Walorski.

The other seven are in the House with their 2009 and 2012 LCV scores:

John Barrow (D-GA): 79% score for 2009, 20% score for 2012
Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ): Lost in 2010, re-elected in 2012
Jim Matheson (D-UT): 64% score for 2009, 17% score for 2012
Mike McIntyre (D-NC): 79% score for 2009, 26% score for 2012
Nick Rahall (D-WV): 86% score for 2009, 51% score for 2012
Mike Ross (D-AR): 71% score for 2009, 11% score for 2012
Pete Visclosky (D-IN): 86% score for 2009, 89% score for 2012

So, in other words, five of them discarded any pro-environment credentials over the following few years, probably after the 2010 election. Visclosky, whose record didn't crash and burn, is from coal country. It is not likely that any of them have warmed up to climate change legislation.

Not to state the obvious, the chances of passing any substantive climate legislation in this Congress are nil.  Sadly, I have little confidence in the Senate, where during the budget "vote-a-rama" significantly more senators voted to support Keystone than to support a carbon tax.  Barbara Boxer plans to bring the climate legislation she and Bernie Sanders drafted  in February (with the backing of CAP, the Sierra Club,, Public Citizen, and others) up in committee next month. However, I'm not sure if it could even make it through committee, and I'm doubtful that the companion Sustainable Energy Act could make it through the Energy Committee if it got a hearing either.  I commend them both, however, for continuing to bring attention to the issue.

I focused mainly on the success of June 26, 2009, and less on the following mess in the Senate.  (And it really was a mess, with even more logrolling or sausage-making than the House bill.)  However, I've included some good links below that discuss what happened, what went wrong, and what lessons we should learn.

Recommended reading

I've included a list of good articles to read about the failure of climate legislation in the 111th Congress.  Lizza's article is a behind-the-scenes piece.  The others debate what went wrong and take contrasting perspectives.

Ryan Lizza, "As the World Burns: How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change," The New Yorker, 11 October 2010

Petra Bartosiewicz and Marisa Miley, "The Too Polite Revolution: Why the Recent Campaign to Pass Comprehensive Climate Legislation in the United States Failed," 14 January 2013 (Report commissioned by the by the Rockefeller Family Fund in conjunction with the Columbia Journalism School)

Bill McKibben, "Beyond Baby Steps: Analyzing the Cap-and-Trade Flop," Grist, 14 January 2013

David Roberts, "What Theda Skocpol gets right about the cap-and-trade fight," Grist, 15 January 2013

Brad Plumer, "Why has climate legislation failed? An interview with Theda Skocpol," Washington Post, 16 January 2013

Joe Romm, "What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About the Climate Fight," Climate Progress, 18 January 2013.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for voting against Penny Pritzker and Obama's other misguided nominees

Today, in a display of bipartisan comity that only ever appears when the Senate is chest-thumping against Iran, enacting austerity policy, or doing something either meaningless or destructive, the Senate confirmed Obama's Commerce nominee Penny Pritzker in a vote of 97 to 1.  That lone dissenter was Bernie Sanders, the best friend working people have in the Senate.

Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for voting against the worst of Obama's nominees.

Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for voting against Jack Lew, who believes that deregulation had no role in the financial collapse. Of course, he would think that because, along with the other Rubinites in the Clinton administration, he worked for Citigroup (birthed by deregulation in 1999), which even gave him a bonus for swinging back through the revolving door.  Jack Lew, that lover of austerity and designer of sequestration, was also a handsomely-paid union-buster when he was COO of NYU a decade ago.  And then there's the cash stored in the Caymans, vacationing along with Romney's fortune.

Bernie explained his opposition by releasing the following statement:
“As a supporter of the president, I remain extremely concerned that virtually all of his key economic advisers have come from Wall Street. In my view, we need a treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person.  

“We don't need a treasury secretary who thinks that Wall Street deregulation was not responsible for the financial crisis.  We need a treasury secretary who will work hard to break up too-big-to-fail financial institutions so that Wall Street cannot cause another massive financial crisis.

“We don’t need another treasury secretary who believes in ‘deficit neutral’ corporate tax reform. We need a treasury secretary willing to fight to make sure that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share in taxes to reduce the deficit and create jobs.

“We don't need a treasury secretary who will advise the president that he should negotiate with the Republicans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We need someone who is going to strengthen these programs.

“We don’t need another treasury secretary who believes that NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China have been good for the American economy. We need someone in the White House who works to fundamentally re-write our trade policy to make sure that we are exporting American goods, not American jobs.
Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders--joined on the left only by Pat Leahy and Jeff Merkley--voted against the confirmation of war criminal John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser and the architect of the administration's drone wars, to head of the CIA.  Back in 2009, Brennan was deemed unconfirmable because of his complicity in the torture regime under George W. Bush.  Brennan is both a militant opponent of transparency and a leaky sieve.

Sanders released the following statement to explain his opposition:

“While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans. With regard to the use of drones and other methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, I am not convinced that Mr. Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security.”
Last week, Bernie Sanders--along with Elizabeth Warren, Joe Manchin, and Carl Levin--voted against Rubinite TPP-negotiator Michael Froman.  I wrote a diary on that, which you can read for more extensive commentary on Froman and reasons why you should be worried about the lack of transparency around the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

And now, Bernie Sanders, who has more integrity than any of his colleagues, voted against Obama's Commerce nominee Penny Pritzker.  Who is Penny Pritzker?  If you want a deeper understanding, I recommend that you read both Part One and Part Two of Rick Perlstein's take on Pritzker in The Nation.  Want a taste?  Well, you have your union-busting, your offshore tax shelters and tax evasion, your predatory lending, and your advocacy for the destruction of the public school system. Gee, what more could you want in a Commerce Secretary?  Connections to organized crime?  Oh, yeah, there's that, too. But Penny's pretty pennies on the campaign give her Obama's full ears and heart.

Bernie released the following statement to explain his opposition:
“We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEOs and large corporations. Ms. Pritzker served on the board one of the most anti-worker hotel chains in this country.  Workers at Hyatt have been unjustly fired for trying to form a union to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Unfortunately, Ms. Pritzker chose not to defend those employees.”
Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for having the independence, the good judgment, and the social conscience to vote against these misguided nominees.  Bernie Sanders, you are a patriot in the best meaning of the word.

The Senate Will Soon Have a Total of Three Carbon Tax Proposals. Why Not Band Behind One?

On Thursday, The Hill reported that Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) plans to introduce a new carbon tax proposal that would entail a $10-per-ton fee on carbon emissions "just for the utility industry."  The timing of such legislation geared at regulating power plants seems to have had the President's upcoming speech on a national climate plan in mind.  However, when reading the article, I could not help wondering why DiFi is introducing another carbon tax bill when there are already two standing proposals:  that designed by Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and that designed by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).  Granted, her bill sets the fee much lower, but that won't foster any more political will.

If the White House has already asserted its lack of interest or, more accurately, initiative in carbon tax legislation, why not band together to put the momentum behind a single proposal?" Jay Carney always says that the White House will not "propose" such legislation.  That indicates a lack of initiative, but not necessarily a lack of interest or future support.

If the White House has already expressed its lack of initiative on the issue and it will be hard enough to push in the Senate, let alone the House, why not band together to put the momentum behind a single proposal?

I want to review the Boxer-Sanders legislation and the Whitehouse-Schatz draft legislation and then offer some closing thoughts.


Back in 2007, Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders drafted the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which would have established a cap-and-trade system. The bill had 17 additional co-sponsors, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, and it had the support of a wide array of environmental groups: Earth Day Network, Earthjustice, Environmental & Energy Study Institute, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and U.S. PIRG.

Although that legislation failed (Remember who was president in 2007?), Boxer and Sanders, two of our biggest climate heroes in the Senate, are at it again with a fee-and-dividend proposal.
Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders released their comprehensive proposal, consisting of the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act, during a press conference on February 14th. With them at the press conference, showing support for the legislation, were representatives from various environmental, consumer, and liberal groups:  Bill McKibben, founder of; Mike Brune, executive director of Sierra Club; Tara McGuiness, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund; Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen’s energy director; and Meg Power of the National Community Action Foundation. Unlike the Whitehouse-Schatz effort or the new DiFi effort (as far as I can tell), this legislation actually has backing from activists and think tanks.  The CAP support, in my opinion, is particularly important because of CAP's close ties to the administration.  (CAP does, however, tend to outflank Obama to the left on environmental and climate issues.)

Pricing Carbon: First, their proposal would enact a carbon fee of $20 per ton of carbon or methane equivalent, set to rise 5.6% each year over a ten year period.  The fee would be applied upstream---at the coal mine, the oil refinery, the natural gas processing point, or the point of importation; it would, consequently, apply to 2,869 of the largest fossil fuel polluters and would cover 85% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The tax would, according to the Congressional Research Office, generate $1.2 trillion in revenue over the next decade.  Additionally, the Climate Protection Act would set a long-term emissions reduction goal of 80% or more by 2050 (as science demands) and would reduce emissions by approximately 20% from 2005 levels by 2025.

Protecting Communities from Fracking: In order to ensure that a carbon fee does not harm communities through increased extraction of natural gas, the Boxer-Sanders legislation would end the "Halliburton exemption" from the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking and would include all the provisions from the FRAC Act to guarantee disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process.

Investment in Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy: The Boxer-Sanders legislation would use some of the revenue gained from the carbon tax to invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies in order to create jobs and further reduce emissions. The bill would provide funds to weatherize 1 million homes and would triple the budget of ARPA-E for energy research and development.  It would create a Sustainable Technologies Financing Program that would leverage $500 billion, through public-private partnerships, in for investments in wind, solar, geothermal, advanced biomass and biofuels, ocean and tidal energy, hydropower, advanced transportation projects, and energy efficiency technologies. It would invest in domestic manufacturing and energy-intensive industries to promote energy efficiency and would fund $1 billion a year in worker training to help transition to a clean energy economy.

Family Clean Energy Rebate Program: The Boxer-Sanders bill would use 3/5th of the revenue from the carbon fee for this program, based on the design of Alaska's oil dividend, to provide a monthly rebate to every U.S. resident in order to offset potential increases in utility bills.

Fair Trade and International Cooperation
: The Boxer-Sanders legislation would levy the same carbon fee on all imported fuels and products unless the exporting nation has a similar program or carbon fee in place. The revenue gained here would help communities make infrastructure more resilient and fund adaptation projects that protect natural resources and wildlife, and it would help the U.S. to meet international commitments to assist in global climate adaptation. The bill intends for the fee to spur other nations to take similar actions and to work towards an international treaty.

Debt Reduction: Part of the revenue raised from the carbon fee, along with that raised by ending fossil fuel subsidies, would contribute approximately $300 billion to debt reduction over the next decade.

During the press conference, Boxer described the legislation as the "gold standard" climate legislation right now, and I think I'd agree.  It is bold and comprehensive and has strong support among progressive and environmental groups, many of whom I greatly trust.

Barbara Boxer has expressed her intention to bring her bill up in committee (Environment and Public Works) this July, with hopes of getting it to a vote on the floor.  We all know that a carbon tax would be DOA in the House and (if it could even muster 50 votes) couldn't break a filibuster in the Senate.  However, unfortunately, I'm not even sure if it could make it out of the EPW Committee.  The committee has 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans.  There used to be 10 Democrats; however, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has sadly passed away.

Those 9 Democrats are the following (in order of rank in committee): Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair; Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).  Of those, we have 7 liberals with solid environmental voting records (90%+ lifetime LCV scores), a centrist Democrat with a mixed-but-still-good environmental record (Carper, LCV score: 80%), and a conservative Democrat (Max Baucus, LCV score: 68%).  All of the Democrats on the EPW Committee except Baucus voted for Sheldon Whitehouse's (symbolic) carbon tax amendment during the budget "vote-a-rama" back in March.  We can safely assume that none of the 8 Republicans would vote for any climate legislation.  That leaves us with a likely vote of 8 to 9, unless Baucus changes his mind and stays with the Democrats.


On March 12th, one month after Boxer and Sanders released their proposal, Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz--along with Representatives Henry Waxman (CA-33) and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)--released draft carbon-pricing legislation.  In doing so, they sought input from various stakeholder groups in order to shape a final proposal. Their draft was much narrower in focus than the Boxer-Sanders legislation as it lacked companion clean energy/EE legislation, emissions reduction goals, a pre-determined price, or a pre-determined use of revenue.

Key differences between Boxer-Sanders and Whitehouse-Schatz

Whereas the Boxer-Sanders legislation targets upstream carbon emitters (coal mines, oil refineries, etc.) with its carbon fee, the Whitehouse-Schatz proposal targets power plants.

The Boxer-Sanders legislation establishes a goal of reducing emissions by at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.The Whitehouse-Schatz proposal does not specify targets or timetables except for for a 90 percent reduction of emissions from HFCs attributed to specified entities.

The Boxer-Sanders legislation sets a carbon fee of $20 per ton, to rise by 5.6% per year. The Whitehouse-Schatz draft proposal contains three alternative carbon prices---$15, $25, and $35 per ton--and a range of potential escalation rates between 2% and 8%.

The Boxer-Sanders proposal has a detailed discussion of the use of revenue to stimulate the transition to a clean energy economy and to provide rebates to homeowners to offset potential increases in utility bills. The Whitehouse-Schatz draft proposal does not designate a use for the revenue raised by the carbon fee, but rather presents four options for discussion: (1) mitigating energy costs for consumers, especially low-income consumers; (2) reduce the federal deficit; (3) protect the jobs of workers at trade-vulnerable, energy intensive industries; (4) reduce the tax liability for individuals and businesses; and (5) invest in other activities to reduce carbon pollution and its impacts.

The EPA would be the regulatory authority tasked with enforcing the Boxer-Sanders legislation. The Whitehouse-Schatz system would be jointly administered by the EPA and the IRS.  The EPA would implement and enforce emissions reporting under EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, and the IRS would assess, collect, and enforce the fee requirements.

For a more detailed side-by-side analysis, see the chart designed by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Although there are substantive differences in the proposals, I don't see why Whitehouse, who also serves on the EPW Committee, wouldn't just co-sponsor the Boxer-Sanders legislation and try to tweak it in committee, where it will likely see changes. As Boxer holds the gavel, she can guarantee that her bill gets a hearing. Joining forces on a single bill puts much more momentum behind the issue. And if there's any issue that could use momentum because of the disconnect between urgency and political will, it's this one.

As I noted earlier, during the Senate's budget "vote-a-rama" back in March, Whitehouse put forth a carbon tax amendment:
"To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring that all revenue from a fee on carbon pollution is returned to the American people."
The phrase "deficit-neutral reserve fund" was standard language for the amendments of the vote-a-rama because they were largely symbolic and had to indicate that they would not affect the total budget itself. The vote-a-rama just offers the members of the Senate to put themselves and their peers on record on various issues. 
The amendment was rejected 41 to 58. 13 members of the Democratic caucus voted against it: Max Baucus (D-MT), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Of those 13, five also voted against Roy Blunt (R-MO)'s amendment requiring a point of order (i.e. required 60 vote threshold) for a tax on carbon: Kay Hagan (D-NC), Tim Johnson, Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA).  I'd say that puts them in a "swing" category.
In other words, as it stands, it is unlikely that more than 46 senators would vote for a climate bill. If you want to create momentum behind a bill, for the sake of generating press attention or support for executive action, then you would want to consolidate the support of as many of those 46 as possible rather than breaking off into competing groups.

Dear Democrats and Republicans, Stop Invoking "Common Sense" to Argue Your Case

In past diaries, I have ranted about the increasing vacuousness of terms like "middle-class," "balance," and "common sense" in political discourse.  This past weekend, Obama's weekly address reminded me of why "common sense" is such a pet peeve of mine.

Obama loves to refer to the Gang of 8 bill (now with added border state pork!) as a "common sense" bill:
Right now, the United States Senate is debating a bipartisan, commonsense bill that would be an important step toward fixing our broken immigration system
And, a few days ago, a report from the Congressional Budget Office definitively showed that this bipartisan, commonsense bill will help the middle class grow our economy and shrink our deficits, by making sure that every worker in America plays by the same set of rules and pays taxes like everyone else.
Now, the bill isn’t perfect. It’s a compromise. Nobody is going to get everything they want – not Democrats, not Republicans, not me. But it’s consistent with the principles that I and others have laid out for commonsense reform.
"Common sense" was Obama's go-to phrase during the gun control debate.  His budget, too, in his own eyes, was a "common sense" budget, which the "common sense" caucus in Congress would apparently lap up.

Obama is not the only abuser of this most vapid of terms.  We all know that Republicans love to use "common sense," too.  Just look at how Texas Republicans speak of SB5 as a "common sense" bill.  The same goes for national Republicans on their recent efforts to undermine reproductive rights.  All in the name of "common sense."

My dearest Democrats and Republicans, everyone in between, and everyone outside, please stop using the term "common sense."

The term "common sense" is no more than a cheap rhetorical trick employed to evade debate.  If a proposal is "commons sense," it is pre-argumentation.  It does not need critical analysis or vigorous, democratic debate because. Why?  Because everyone already agrees. You don't debate "common sense." It just is. To deny "common sense" would be foolish.  The invocation of "common sense" always marks an effort to define the Overton window in your favor, manufacturing a center and a fringe.

Let's pause for a moment and actually look at the definition of "common sense." According to Merriam-Webster, "common sense" refers to "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." In other words, it is inherently simplistic.  No one should be making policy according to a "simple perception" of facts.  Policy calls for complex and critical analysis of the facts and the weighting of priorities. Sound and prudent judgment have a role in policymaking, for sure, but prudence evokes the action of managing a personal checkbook more so than creating a national budget or establishing a domestic agenda.

The Cambridge Dictionary, on the other hand, defines our lexical bête noire as "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way."  Common sense, in other words, refers to our shared cognitive inheritance, the simple life lessons that we all gain by existing in the world and which we need to function in society.  Common sense exists in the aphorism rather than the polemic, or even the essay.

If it's raining, you should carry an umbrella. If it's snowing, you should wear a coat. Don't walk in dangerous areas alone at night. There remains room for interpretation and nuance in all of these (How much rain or snow?  How heavy of a coat?  How dangerous is the area?), but they are lessons we learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others.  And they become what we call "common sense."

Policymaking stems, not from "common sense," but from the interaction of the positive and the normative.  On the one hand are the facts, the data, the raw numbers.  On the other hand are the priorities, the principles, and the moral vision.  Policymaking, then, is (forgive the slight simplicity here) morality + spreadsheets + a budget.

The problems with the two major parties today stem from an imbalance between these two factors, between the empirical and the prescriptive.

Republicans tend to emphasize priorities and a specific moral vision at the expense of facts. When the facts do not comply with the moral vision of today's Republicans, they simply choose to discard the facts.  The Republican response to climate change perhaps exemplifies this lack of intellectual integrity, but the dynamic is also evident in issues like sexual assault, reproductive health, poverty, and that laughable mantra that we have "the best health care system in the world."

Democrats, because of an unfortunately strong technocratic streak, have a tendency to reduce policymaking to a numbers game at the expense of moral vision. Numbers themselves cannot prescribe, and the cold mind of the technocrat does not dabble in questions of justice. Hence, we see chained CPI dressed up as a "technical fix"--tweaking the way to perpetual solvency regardless of the lived reality of its effects on seniors.  $4 billion in cuts to SNAP?  It's simply a matters of numbers.  The stock market's success,  the housing boom, and a slight tick downwards in the unemployment rate show the economy is rebounding greatly.  Polls bear an inordinate influence on policy, and there is a faith in technology and data for solving problems (like climate change and education, for example) that fails to grapple with human behavior and which frankly borders on hubris.

Let's go back to the "bipartisan," "common sense" immigration proposal with which we began this discussion.

Is a 13-year "path" to citizenship more commonsensical than a 5-year or 10-year?  Was it "common sense" that drove the Gang of 8 to decide on a 10-year provisional status and then 3 years permanent residency rather than an 8-year provisional status followed by the 5 years of permanent residency, as the 2007 bill prescribed?

Was it "common sense" that drove the Gang of 8 to leave out LGBT couples from the bill?

Does "common sense" demand that we demote family reunification as a factor for consideration?

Does "common sense" prescribe 20,000 additional border guards?  Rather than even more? Rather than none?

Does "common sense" demand an additional 350 miles of border fencing?  Rather than even more?  Rather than none?

Does "common sense" tell us to implement drones and other surveillance technologies along the border?

Frankly, it does not.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Victory for Hemp: House Votes to Authorize Industrial Hemp Cultivation and Research

The House version of the farm bill certainly had a lot of bad (the $20.5 billion in SNAP cuts) and a lot of ugly (drug testing SNAP recipients and workfare); however, there were some bits of good in it that I hope a future bill will include.  A great example from today was the passage of the hemp cultivation amendment introduced by Jared Polis (CO-02).

The amendment, co-sponsored by Democrat Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Republican Tom Massie (KY-04), would allow institutions of higher education to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research in states that already permit industrial hemp growth and cultivation.  Seventeen states--including Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia, among others--have passed measures that either permit controlled cultivation or authorize research of industrial hemp. Those who seek to grow or research industrial hemp in these states face significant red tape from the Drug Enforcement Administration because the DEA classifies all cannabis plants as marijuana despite the fact that industrial hemp has a much lower THC content and, thus, lacks the psychoactive components of marijuana.

The United States is an outlier among industrialized nations in its policy on industrial hemp cultivation, and current policy also breaks with the country's history.  When the Puritans settled here, they brought hemp with them to cultivate, and the American colonies were, in fact, compelled by the British government to grow hemp.  In the early age of the American Republic, farmers were allowed to pay taxes with their hemp harvest, and past presidents like Washington and Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations.  Hemp was a key crop in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia throughout the 19th century.  In the 1930s, states began to regulate all cannabis as a drug; however, during World War II, the USDA had a Hemp for Victory campaign to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort.  You can watch a video from the campaign here.  I highly recommend it.

Why should the U.S. support hemp cultivation and research?  Here are some of the environmental benefits of industrial hemp:
Hemp seed is nutritious and contains more essential fatty acids than any other source, is second only to soybeans in complete protein (but is more digestible by humans), is high in B-vitamins, and is a good source of dietary fiber.
According to the Department of Energy, hemp as a biomass fuel producer requires the least specialized growing and processing procedures of all hemp products. The hydrocarbons in hemp can be processed into a wide range of biomass energy sources, from fuel pellets to liquid fuels and gas.
Hemp can be grown organically. Only eight, out of about one hundred known pests, cause problems, and hemp is most often grown without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. Hemp is also a natural weed suppressor due to the fast growth of the canopy.
Hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber on a sustainable basis, and can be used for every quality of paper. Hemp paper manufacturing can reduce wastewater contamination. Hemp's low lignin content reduces the need for acids used in pulping, and its creamy color lends itself to environmentally-friendly bleaching instead of harsh chlorine compounds. Less bleaching results in less dioxin and fewer chemical by-products.
Eco-friendly hemp can replace most toxic petrochemical products. Research is being done to use hemp in manufacturing biodegradable plastic products: plant-based cellophane, recycled plastic mixed with hemp for injection-molded products, and resins made from the oil, to name a  few examples. Over two million cars on the road today have hemp composite parts for door panels, dashboards, luggage racks, etc.
Industrial hemlp should appeal to environmentalists, nutrition advocates, farmers, and free marketeers, and the results of the vote largely reflected such an attraction.

The Polis amendment passed 225 to 200.  162 Democrats and 63 Republicans voted in favor, and 168 Republicans and 32 Democrats voted against.  As is always the case, it is most interesting to observe which members of Congress vote against the majority of their party.

Which 32 Democrats voted against hemp cultivation and research?

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Joyce Beatty (OH-03)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
Tammy Duckworth (IL-08)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Sander Levin (MI-09)
John Lewis (GA-05)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-05)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
David Scott (GA-13)
Krysten Sinema (AZ-09)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)

And which 62 Republicans contributed to the victory for hemp?

Justin Amash (MI-03)
Spencer Bachus (AL-06)
Andy Barr (KY-06)
Dan Benishek (MI-01)
Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11)
Paul Broun (GA-10)
John Campbell (CA-45)
Jason Chaffetz (UT-03)
Mike Coffman (CO-06)
Kevin Cramer (ND)
John Culberson (TX-07)
Steve Daines (MT)
Rodney Davis (IL-13
Ron DeSantis (FL-06)
Sean Duffy (WI-07)
Renee Ellmers (NC-02)
Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01)
Cory Gardner (CO-04)
Scott Garrett (NJ-05)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Trey Gowdy (SC-04)
Tom Graves (GA-14)
Morgan Griffith (VA-09)
Brett Guthrie (KY-02)
Richard Hanna (NY-22)
Andy Harris (MD-01)
Doc Hastings (WA-04)
Tim Huelskamp (KS-01)
Duncan Hunter (CA-50)
Robert Hurt (VA-05)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
John Kline (MN-02)
Raul Labrador (ID-01)
Cynthia Lummis (WY)
Tom Massie (KY-04)
Tom McClintock (CA-04)
Pat Meehan (PA-07)
Mick Mulvaney (SC-05)
Erik Paulsen (MN-03)
Tom Petri (WI-06)
Ted Poe (TX-02)
Trey Radel (FL-19)
Tom Reed (NY-23)
Reid Ribble (WI-08)
Tom Rice (SC-07)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48)
Todd Rokita (IN-04)
Matt Salmon (AZ-05)
Mark Sanford (SC-01)
David Schweikert (AZ-06)
Chris Stewart (UT-02)
Steve Stivers (OH-15)
Steve Stockman (TX-36)
Marlin Stutzman (IN-03)
Scott Tipton (CO-03)
David Valadao (CA-21)
Greg Walden (OR-02)
Brad Wenstrup (OH-02)
Lynn Westmoreland (GA-03)
Ed Whitfield (KY-01)
Rob Woodall (GA-07)
Young (AK)
Young (IN-09)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had introduced hemp legislation to the Senate farm bill, with the co-sponsorship of Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The amendment was never brought to a vote.  Wyden, however, remains optimistic about the potential of the legislation, making the following statement earlier today:
“I firmly believe that American farmers should not be denied an opportunity to grow and sell a legitimate crop simply because it resembles an illegal one.  I fought for an amendment that would have recognized industrial hemp as a legitimate crop, but since doing so requires amending the Controlled Substances Act it was considered non-germane to the current debate and could not be brought up for a vote.  Raising this issue has sparked a growing awareness of exactly how ridiculous the U.S.’s ban on industrial hemp is.  I’m confident that if grassroots support continues to grow and Members of Congress continue to hear from voters then common sense hemp legislation can move through Congress in the near future.”
Here's to hoping that the eventual farm bill marks a victory for hemp!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thank you, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, for opposing Obama's neoliberal Trade nominee

Last night, the Senate voted to confirm Obama's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, a man that the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute described as an "excellent choice" for the position. The Senate showed him some bipartisan love with a vote of 93 to 4 to 1.  Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voted aginst him.  Why do I have three parts to the vote, you ask?  Barbara Boxer (D-CA) merely voted present, which (to me) implies an uneasiness with the nominee but an unwillingness to vote against the president.

Why should we care about the U.S. Trade Representative, a position that gets less attention in the news than many other cabinet appointments?  Well, we should because Froman, the current Assistant to the President of the United States and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, has been actively involved in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal ("NAFTA on steroids") and will become its chief negotiator. To understand the significance, we need to learn a bit about Froman's background and a bit about the TPP.

Froman was the Chief of Staff to Robert Rubin at the U.S. Treasury under Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1999.  Robert Rubin, the force behind Clinton's neoliberal economic agenda, presided over the deregulation of the financial industry in the late 1990s.  The Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin has described "Rubinomics" as the "combination of deregulatory zeal, deficit obsession, free tradeism and general coziness with fat-cat Wall Street bankers" epitomized by Rubin. Over the past few years, Robert Rubin has been shilling for austerity as well, bringing his influence to Brookings's Hamilton Project and the Center for American Progress, the latter which only abandoned its austerity crusade this past month.

Rubin's push for deregulation under Clinton culminated in the passage of the Financial Services Act of 1999, which entailed the repeal of Glass-Steagall. This act allowed banks to "affiliate with financial services" and allowed a financial holding company to operate several different subsidiaries relating to financial services.  It also enabled Citibank and Travelers to finalize their 1998 merger and officially become Citigroup Corporation; the bill was, for all practical purposes, designed with Citi in mind. Having created his own new source of lucre, Rubin left the Treasury to work for the newly-created Citigroup, and Froman followed. Froman served as a managing director at Citigroup, President and Chief Executive Officer of CitiInsurance, and head of Emerging Markets Strategy at Citigroup. You may remember Citigroup from such recent events such as the global financial crisis and the lack of accountability that followed.

Even more troubling is the aforementioned Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal the Obama administration has been negotiating in closed-door talks with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam--and perhaps soon Japan and China. The only publicly available information about the TPP has come through leaks, and the administration has kept members of Congress minimally informed as well.  The administration has prohibited Congressional staffers from reviewing the full text and from discussing its specific terms with trade experts and reporters.  The corporations that would benefit from the TPP have been, of course, embraced with open arms into the negotiations, and labor and civil society groups have been allowed into talks only if they promise to keep all negotiations confidential and not publicly speak out against them.

Here's a taste of what we know so far about the TPP (courtesy of Public Citizen):

•    Foreign corporations would be able to attack member nations’ health and environmental laws before foreign tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation for policies they believe undermine their future profits.
•    Large pharmaceutical companies would have longer monopoly control on drugs, effectively cutting off access from millions in developing countries and raising prices here at home.
•    No more Buy America or Buy Local preferences.
•    Member countries would have to accept food that does not meet national safety standards and would have to limit food labeling (such as for GMOs).
•    Internet service providers would be required to “police” user-activity (Think SOPA/PIPA), and individual violators would be treated the same as large-scale for-profit violators.
•    The TPP would entail backdoor financial regulation, prohibiting bans on risky financial services and undermining efforts to end “too big to fail.”

Last month, during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned the head of the Export-Import Bank about the backdoor financial deregulation that appears to be in the TPP.  Last week, she sent a letter to Froman demanding more transparency in the negotiating process.  Froman denied the request.

Earlier today, Warren announced that she would oppose Froman's confirmation, referencing his rejection of her calls for greater transparency:
For months, the Trade Representative who negotiates on our behalf has been unwilling to provide any public access to the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations.  The composite bracketed text includes proposed language from the United States and also other countries, and it serves as the focal point for negotiations.  The Trade Representative has allowed Members of Congress to access the text, and I appreciate that.  But that is no substitute for public transparency.

I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.  This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.

I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too.

I asked the President’s nominee to be Trade Representative — Michael Froman – three questions:  First, would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text?  Or second, if not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision.  (Note: Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.)

Third, I asked Mr. Froman if he would provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office’s outside advisors.  Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information, and the roster includes a wide diversity of industry representatives and some labor and NGO representatives too.  But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see the same things, and I think that’s a real problem.

Mr. Froman’s response was clear:  No, no, no.  He will not commit to make this information available so the public can track what is going on.
As Warren notes, even the Bush administration provided more transparency in its trade negotiations than the Most Transparent Administration Ever has. 

I thank Warren--along with Levin, Manchin, and Sanders--for voting against Froman and for transparency and democratic accountability instead.  Sanders, in particular, has been the only senator to take a stand from the left against the worst of Obama's nominees like Jacob Lew and John Brennan.  We need more like him--and like Warren--in the Senate.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Are There No Women in the Gang of Eight?

When I was reading Joan Walsh's article on Marco Rubio's split personality on immigration in Salon, one passage really struck me:
Before the flap over Rubio’s aide’s comment, what I thought was most interesting about Lizza’s piece was the length Rubio’s fellow gang members have gone to placate him. On the record, Sen. Chuck Schumer told Lizza: “[Rubio’s] the real deal. He is smart, he is substantive. He knows when to compromise and when to hold. And he’s personable.’” Wow, Chuck, you left out handsome! But wait: According to Lizza, an aide to New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said, “If the Gang were a group of high-school students, Rubio would be the cool jock and the captain of the football team, with whom everyone wanted to hang out.”

Um, OK, I guess that underscores that the Gang of Eight is all male.
Although she noted this in somewhat of an aside, I think it's noteworthy and frequently overlooked that the Gang of Eight is all male.  We now have a record 20 women serving in the Senate.  If we were going for Senate proportionality (rather than population proportionality), then there would be 1.6 women in the Gang of 8.  So, we might expect one or two female senators to be a part of the group working on what the President often frames as perhaps the biggest priority for his second term agenda. Such senators could bring a different perspective as well as stronger ties to different stakeholders like women's advocacy groups (or even children's advocacy groups) and could be, through experience, more attuned to the needs of working immigrant women and mothers. Do we see one, maybe two women in the Gang?  Nope.  Nadie.

California, the state with the largest number of unauthorized immigrants and the second highest percentage of unauthorized immigrants (by population), has two female senators: Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.  Back in the 2007 immigration debates, Boxer was an outspoken opponent of the "guest worker" provision that would have enabled employers to exploit low-wage workers.  She has been a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, co-sponsoring the AgJOBS Act of 2009 and calling on Obama back in 2010 to push for a comprehensive immigration bill that year.  She would have been a valuable addition to any "gang" working on immigration reform.

The Gang of 8 consists of the two Cuban-American Senators: Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL)---who both hail from states with large foreign-born populations.  We have Democrat Michael Bennet from Colorado, the state with the 7th largest Hispanic population (by %).  Rounding out the Democratic side, we have Obama's right-hand man and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate (after Reid and Durbin) who hails from a state with large Hispanic and foreign-born populations.  Rounding out the Republican side, we have Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, a state with a relatively small but very rapidly growing Hispanic population.  We have John McCain (R-AZ), the co-architect (along with Ted Kennedy) of the 2007 attempt at immigration reform.  Arizona, a border state, has the fourth largest Hispanic population.  We then have the junior senator from Arizona, too, freshman Jeff Flake.  It seems strange to me that both of Arizona's senators are part of the gang when California, which has larger Hispanic and foreign-born populations (by total and by percentage, has no one in the gang.
If the Gang of 8 was willing to invite freshman into its clique, then why not Mazie Hirono instead of Jeff Flake?  Hirono, for one, is an immigrant herself.  She was born in Fukushima, Japan, and came to Hawaii with her mother and older brother at age eight in 1955.  Although politicians and pundits discuss CIR only through the lens of the Hispanic population, Asians  recently surpassed Hispanics as the largest wave of new immigrants to the United States. An Asian-born female senator who dealt with immigration as a young child would bring a valuable perspective to the discussion and would also likely have the strongest ties to Asian-American stakeholder groups. We saw her sense of family and compassion at work when she offered an amendment to the bill that would have expanded family visas so that people in extreme hardship could petition for green cards for their adult children or siblings.  However, Schumer and Durbin shot it down just as they did with Pat Leahy's amendment to extend protections to gay and lesbian couples.

As comprehensive immigration reform will have far-reaching effects on women and families, one would think that the "gang" in charge of drafting the bill could have found at least one woman.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The GOP Still Doesn't Care About Secular Humanists. But Then Again, Neither Do These 44 Democrats

As we've all seen, the Republicans are currently attempting (unsuccessfully) to orchestrate a (doomed) re-branding effort.  However, there's at least one group about whom the Republicans still don't care and don't pretend to care: secular humanists.

Over the past few days, I've highlighted some of the good, the bad, and the ugly among the amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act on which the House has voted.  This diary will continue with another good amendment and bad vote.

Jared Polis (CO-02) put forth an amendment that would have allowed non-theistic organizations to appoint military chaplains to serve non-religious soldiers.  Polis explained, "What my amendment would simply do is allow chaplains who are certified or ordained, secular humanists and ethical culturalists or atheists, to also be able to support the brave men and women who serve in our military."  Currently, a number of universities have Humanist chaplains.  For instance, I can think of Greg Epstein and Chris Stedman at Harvard and Anne Klaesyen (the Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture) at Columbia.  A quick online search reveals that Stanford, Rutgers, and American have Humanist chaplains as well.

According to the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, more members of the military self-identify as atheist than 88 different religious preferences, including 73 Christian denominations, but they have endorsed chaplains.

The amendment was rejected by the House on a vote of of 274 to 150.  Every single Republican voted against the bill, and 44 Democrats joined them.  The 150 supporters were all Democrats, the majority of the caucus.

Who are the 44 Democrats who don't believe that humanists, ethical culturalists, atheists, and freethinkers don't deserve the same respect as the traditionally religious?

John Barrow (GA-12) –Blue Dog
Sanford Bishop (GA-02) – Blue Dog
Timothy Bishop (NY-01)
Mike Capuano (MA-07) – Progressive Caucus
Tony Cárdenas (CA-29)
Kathy Castor (FL-20)
Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
Jim Cooper (TN-05) – Blue Dog
Jim Costa (CA-16) – Blue Dog
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – Blue Dog
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
Pete Gallego (TX-23) – Blue Dog
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
Alan Grayson (FL-09) – Progressive Caucus
Gene Green (TX-29)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15)
Hank Johnson (GA-04) – Progressive Caucus
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) – Progressive Caucus
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Dan Maffei (NY-24)
Jim Matheson (UT-02) – Blue Dog
Mike McIntyre (NC-07) –Blue Dog
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
Mike Michaud (ME-02) – Blue Dog
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Gary Peters (MI-14) – Michigan Senate candidate
Collin Peterson (MN-07) – Blue Dog
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)
Juan Vargas (CA-51)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Maxine Waters (CA-43) –Progressive Caucus

I was not surprised at all to see so many Blue Dogs on the list, but I was particularly surprised to see progressives like Mike Capuano, Alan Grayson, and Maxine Waters.  I can see no legitimate rationale for voting against this amendment.  Claims of extraneous costs prove risible when the NDAA is always the most pork-filled bill of the year, and the costs of additional chaplains would be far less than the cost of additional weapons programs that the Pentagon doesn't even want.

Reading this reminded me of a Gallup poll from last year on the ethnic, racial, gender, and religious identities of presidential candidates.  Survey respondents were asked, "Between now and the 2012 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates--their education, race, religion, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ___, would you vote for that person?"

Out of all of the groups included, atheists fared the worst. Only 54% would vote for a well-qualified atheist candidate of their party whereas 43% would not.  Atheists fared worse than Muslims (58% - 40%) and gays/lesbians (68% - 30%).  Since the 2007 poll, however, both atheists and gays/lesbians gained in potential support.  In the 2007 poll, only 45% of survey respondents would have voted for a qualified atheist candidate, and only 55% would have voted for a qualified homosexual candidate.  (Note: The wording differed.  The 2007 poll used "homosexual" whereas the 2012 poll used "gay or lesbian."  I don't know to what extent such changes in wording have any actual effect.)

Which Nine Democrats Love the War in Afghanistan So Much They Don't Want It To End?

Over the past few days, I have written a few diaries about the NDAA voting in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, I wrote about the House's vote against closing Gitmo.
However, over the course of the two long days of voting on amendments for the NDAA, a few good amendments did manage to make it through.  I'd like to highlight an amendment put forth by progressive Democrat Jim McGovern (MA-02).  The following is the official description of the amendment offered by the Library of Congress's archive.
An amendment numbered 10 printed in Part B of House Report 113-108 to require the President to complete the accelerated transition of combat operations from U.S. Armed Forces to the Government of Afghanistan no later than by the end of 2013; the accelerated transition of military and security operations by the end of 2014, including the redeployment of U.S. troops; and to pursue robust negotiations to address Afghanistan's and the region's security and stability. The amendment establishes the sense of Congress that should the President determine the necessity for post 2014 deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Congress should vote to authorize such a presence and mission by no later than June 2014.
To summarize, there are three main parts:
(1) requiring Obama to complete the transition of combat operations to the government of Afghanistan by the end of this year,
(2) requiring Obama to complete the transition of military and security and military operations by the end of next year, and
(3) requiring Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any post-2014 deployment.  More succinctly, the amendment says to the President, "End the war already, and you have to consult Congress first (unlike you did in Libya)."

The amendment passed by a large margin: 305 to 121.  185 Democrats and 120 Republicans supported it, and 112 Republicans and 9 Democrats opposed it.

That's right 9 Democrats and 112 Republicans love the war in Afghanistan so much that they can't bear to see it end.   To put this in perspective, these 9 Democrats were so conservative that they voted against a bill that even a majority of Republicans supported.  At least on this bill, these 9 Democrats were more conservative than Paul Ryan, who supported it.

Let's name and shame those nine warmongers:

John Barrow (GA-12)
Corrine Brown (FL-05)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Bill Enyart (IL-12)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)

If you are in any of their districts, give them a call, and let them know what you think of their vote.
If I have time later, I might list the Republican opponents of the bill as well.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Which Democrats Just Voted Against Closing Gitmo?

Yesterday, I wrote a diary about the vote on the Smith-Gibson amendment to the NDAA, which would have banned indefinite detention.  Banning this practice is necessary to end the moral, economic, and constitutional atrocity of Guantanamo Bay Prison, in which 166 inmates are being held without trial at an annual cost of $900,000 per inmate.  Over half of the inmates have been cleared for release but remain in a Kafkaesque state in which they are not permitted to leave.  103 of the inmates are currently on a hunger strike, and 41 of them are being force-fed in clear violation of medical ethics and international law.

Rep. Adam Smith proposed a set of amendments to close Guantanamo Bay prison.  The first, which the House voted down yesterday 200 to 226, would have banned indefinite detention.  The second amendment, co-sponsored by Jerry Nadler and Jim Moran, eases the restrictions on transferring prisoners for release and provides a framework to close the detention facility by December 31, 2014.  The House Armed Services Committee Democrats described the plan as follows:
1.  Enhances the authority of a senior official in the Pentagon (pursuant to Section 1037 of HR 1960, the FY14 NDAA), who will be appointed by the President, by granting the authority to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The underlying bill provides authority only to coordinate detainee transfers. This official must work with the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of State, and other interested Departments.

2.  All current limitations on the transfer of GTMO detainees in HR 1960 or existing statutes are removed. Sections 1032-34 of HR 1960, which ban the use of funds for the construction or modification of facilities in the United States for GTMO detainees, require certifications by the Secretary of Defense for transfer to foreign countries, and a ban on the transfer of GTMO detainees to the United States, are removed. Parallel restrictions in appropriations statutes and the current Continuing Resolution are also removed.
3.  Strikes the request for $247 million for military construction at GTMO in Section 2901 of HR 1960.

4.  Requires 30-day notice to Congress and a comprehensive report prior to any transfer of a GTMO detainee to a foreign country or to the United States for prosecution or continued law-of-war detention. The report includes an assessment by the Secretary of Defense and the intelligence community of security concerns about the individual. No transfer notice will be sent to Congress unless it is the consensus opinion of the military and intelligence communities that transfer of the detainee is appropriate.

5.  Eliminates all funding for the GTMO detention facility by December 31, 2014.

6.  Expedites requirements for a comprehensive plan from the President and the Department of Defense on how to close GTMO (within 60 days of enactment).
This amendment, which received a vote earlier today, was rejected by a vote of 174 to 249.  172 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and 228 Republicans and 21 Democrats voted against it. 
The two Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were Justin Amash (MI-03) and Jimmy Duncan (TN-02).  Duncan voted against the Iraq War and, along with Ron Paul, was one of the only two Republicans to vote against funding the war in 2007.  Amash is a committed civil libertarian.

Name and shame time: Who are the 21 Democrats that cried, "Long Live Guantanamo Bay Prison"?
First, of all, we have 10 of the 13 Democrats who voted against prohibiting indefinite detention:

John Barrow (GA-12) –Blue Dog
Henry Cuellar (TX-28) – Blue Dog
Pete Gallego (TX-23) – Blue Dog
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Sean Maloney (NY-18) – New Democrat
Jim Matheson (UT-02) – Blue Dog
Mike McIntyre (NC-07) –Blue Dog
Bill Owens (NY-21) – New Democrat
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46) –Blue Dog
Filemon Vela (TX-34) – New Democrat
And then we have the other 11:
Ron Barber (AZ-02) – New Democrat
Bill Foster (IL-11) – New Democrat
Joe Garcia (FL-26) – New Democrat
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Dan Maffei (NY-24) – New Democrat
Patrick Murphy (FL-18) – New Democrat
Gary Peters (MI-14) – New Democrat; Vice Chair of DCCC’s Recruitment Committee; Michigan Senate candidate
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Brad Schneider (IL-10) – New Democrat
Krysten Sinema (AZ-09) – New Democrat

You might remember these names from a diary of mine a few days ago because they all voted to gut Dodd-Frank, too.

If you are from Michigan, I highly recommend trying to find a better Democrat than Gary Peters to run for Carl Levin's Senate seat when he retires next year.

Eleven representatives (Bachmann, Campbell, Chu, Edwards, Fudge, Kuster, Markey, Carolyn McCarthy, Neal, Poe, and Shea-Porter) were not there to vote.  Those aside, all Democrats not listed above voted for the bill, and all Republicans not noted above voted against it.

The House also voted on an amendment by Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN-02) that would prohibit using funds to transfer detainees to Yemen.  56 of the 86 detainees cleared for release are from Yemen.  The House passed this amendment by a vote of 236 to 188.  225 Republicans and 11 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and 183 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted against it.

The five Republicans who honorably broke party lines were the following:

Justin Amash (MI-03)
Joe Heck (NV-03)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Doug Lamborn (CO-05)
Thomas Massie (KY-04)

Four out of those five (all but Lamborn) voted yesterday to ban indefinite detention as well.

The 11 Democrats who shamefully crossed party lines were the following:

Ron Barber (AZ-02)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Jim Matheson (UT-02)
Jerry McNerney (CA-09)
Gary Peters (MI-14)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Krysten Sinema (AZ-09)
Ten representatives were not there to vote (basically the same ones noted above).  All other Democrats voted against the bill, and all other Republicans voted for it.

Feel free to call your representatives to express your thanks (if they voted YEA on Smith and NAY on Walorski) or displeasure/disgust (if they voted NAY on Smith and/or YEA on Walorski).

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including the aforementioned ban on funding transfers to Yemen, passed the House 315 to 108.  212 Republicans and 103 Democrats voted for the NDAA, and 18 Republicans and 90 Democrats voted against it.  I view all of those 103 Democrats as complicit, even if they voted against the Walorski amendment itself.  If you look at the roll call vote, most progressive Democrats and libertarian-esque (economic, civil, or both) Republicans rightfully voted against the NDAA.