three_card_monte

By ZioDave – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ziodave/25510393, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2664281

In a congress so one-sided, legislation is guaranteed to pass so quickly that it will be difficult for even the most vigilant among us to keep our eye on the ball. Recently, we covered the House’s attempt to strip away the independence of the watchdog that polices congressional ethics. The GOP backed off that one after their office lines began ringing off the hook. There were a few sleights of hand that slid past mainstream view, despite the fact that they did get some coverage.

The defeated rules package left behind a provision hampering ethics investigations

OpenSecrets reported on the fact that after the defeated House of Representatives rules package was edited, the version that eventually passed contained a portion that made any record produced, recorded, or received by a congressional office the property of the member and not public property.  While this may seem innocuous at first, there are implications that OpenSecrets expertly laid out.

Essentially, it boils down to a situation wherein a member of congress could potentially claim Fifth Amendment protection against an order from a court or investigation when compelled to produce them. This protection would extend to things like congressional office budget documents and other records.

In the current political climate, transparency is more important than ever. Moves like this, providing protection to elected officials by giving them ownership and the ability to hide documents from the public, will do nothing but fan the flames of our current divisive politics at best and protect criminal activity in our legislators at worst. If a common citizen can’t reasonably expect to make a private phone call, congress shouldn’t be able to grant themselves private ownership of documents produced by a public office. If law abiding citizens no longer have the protection of the fourth amendment, why should congress be given an extension of the fifth?

Doesn’t seem like anything bad could come from this move, does it?

House Rules do provide strict rules on cost estimation for new measures, except one

The rules package that did pass in the House did contain measures requiring the Congressional Budget Office to automatically perform a cost estimate for any measure taken that would raise the debt by more than $5B over the next 40 years. The rule applies for everything except for the measures from the Committee on Appropriations. That is a high degree of fiscal accountability that should make any conservative proud.

However, if you bother to read down to page 25 where the CBO provision is, and then manage to read one more page, you’ll find the punchline.

The CBO is required to automatically create cost estimates for everything except the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. The GOP wants to be able to dismantle the ACA without having to deal with any cumbersome non-partisan estimates of the fiscal cost of doing so.

Part of the reason is that the CBO already published a report showing a stiff climb in deficits that will result from the repeal of the ACA. Another part of the reason is grounded in a more general disdain for the CBO among some Republicans. The CBO refuses to automatically accept the assumption that tax cuts produce increases in revenue, which is an idea that any respectable supply-sider mutters in their sleep every night.

The fact remains that if the GOP led congress wishes to repeal the ACA, we deserve a clear accounting of the costs, both fiscal and human.

Raising the Debt Ceiling seems more Palatable when you do it

The Senate managed to pass a budget resolution, a feat that alluded them for years during President Obama’s two terms. The resolution is on the floor for debate now, and presumably, it will be passed soon. The fact that a resolution is likely to be passed is remarkable enough, but the most remarkable fact about the budget resolution is the fact that it raises the debt ceiling, an act that was sacrilege to the GOP for the last eight years.

Many of the same people who would not allow the debt ceiling to raise at all have put a budget resolution to the floor that allows the debt to climb to $29 trillion. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) cast the lone dissenting Republican vote, proving to be the only member of the GOP who stood by his earlier stance.

GOP Senators say the step is part of the process needed to repeal the ACA. When the multi-billion dollar cost of the 2013 government shutdown and the first ever downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, both directly attributable to staunch refusal to raise the debt ceiling, are taken into account the full view of this move is clear. It is okay  and perhaps even necessary to raise the debt ceiling, but it is only okay to do so when your party is the one doing it.

 

It will be interesting to see how the votes play out during the reconciliation process, but for now, this vote gives a small window into the depravity of modern congressional politics. The 115th Congress is off to a quick start.

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