This Document Reveals Why The House Of Representatives Is In Complete Chaos

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MANUEL BALCE CENETA Congressman David Brat, a key member of the House Freedom Caucus

The House of Representative is in chaos. John Boehner announced his intention to step down as Speaker at the end of the month. There doesn’t appear to be anyone to take his place. The leading candidate, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abruptly withdrew from the race yesterday. Another popular choice, Paul Ryan, says he’s not interested.What happened? How did we get to this point? One document, produced by the House Freedom Caucus, holds all the answers. Framed as a “questionnaire” the document effectively makes it impossible for any candidate to both: (1) Get elected speaker, and (2) Not send the entire country (and maybe the world) over a cliff.

Why the Freedom Caucus has so much power

The House Freedom Caucus, a relatively new group of about 40 Republicans loosely associated with the Tea Party, has an extraordinary amount of power in this process. Any potential speaker needs the support of 218 Republicans on the floor of the House. There are currently 247 Republicans in the House. That’s a large majority but without the Freedom Caucus, no candidate can get to 218.

What the Freedom Caucus says they want

The Freedom Caucus says they are just fighting for arcane rule changes that will enhance “democracy” in the House. On CNN yesterday, David Brat, a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus outlined his criteria for a new speaker. (You may remember Brat for his surprise victory over Eric Cantor, the man many assumed would replace Boehner as speaker.)

Anyone that ensures a fair process for all sides. That’s what we are all looking for, right… We’ve shown principle. We are waiting for leadership candidates to put in writing moves that ensure you have a democratic process within our own conference. That is what everyone is waiting to see. And it’s got to be in writing, ahead of time for that to be credible.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?

What the Freedom Caucus actually wants

Yesterday, Politico published the House Freedom Caucus “questionnairewhich it described as pushing for “House rule changes.” The document does do that. But it also does a lot more. It seeks substantive commitments from the next speaker that would effectively send the entire country into a tailspin.

For example, the document seeks a commitment from the next speaker to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

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The United States will reach the debt limit on November 5. If the limit is not raised prior to that point, the United States could default on its obligations. This could have disasterous effects on the economy of the United States and the entire world. In 2013, a Treasury Department report found “default could result in recession comparable to or worse than 2008 financial crisis.”

Cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is extremely unpopular, even among Republicans. These programs are sacrosanct to most Democratic members of Congress. There is effectively no chance that President Obama or Senate Democrats — both of whom would need to support such legislation — would agree to “structural entitlement reforms” in the next month under these kind of conditions.

The House Freedom Caucus essentially wants to make it impossible for the next speaker to raise the debt ceiling. But that is just the beginning.

The House Freedom Caucus also wants the next speaker to commit to numerous conditions on any agreement to avoid a government shutdown:

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The government will run out of money on December 11. Unless additional funding is approved before that date, the government will shut down.

The House Freedom Caucus wants the next speaker to commit to not funding the government at all unless President Obama (and Senate Democrats) agree to defund Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and a host of other priorities. This is essentially the Ted Cruz strategy which prompted at 16-day shutdown in 2013. They’re demanding to have this now be enshrined as the official policy of the Speaker of The House.

The House Freedom Caucus wants the next speaker to commit to oppose any “omnibus” bill that would keep the government running. Rather, funding for each aspect of government could only be approved by separate bills. This would allow the Republicans to attempt to finance certain favored aspects of government (the military), while shuttering ones they view as largely unnecessary (education, health).

Why McCarthy thinks the House might be ungovernable

For McCarthy, the document helps explain why he dropped out of the race. If he doesn’t agree to the demands of the House Freedom Caucus, he cannot secure enough votes to become speaker. But if he does agree to their demands, he will unable to pass legislation that is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences for the country.

McCarthy said that, even if he managed to get elected speaker, he doesn’t see how he would be able to have enough votes to extend the debt ceiling and keep the government open.

Asked by the National Review if he thought the House was governable, McCarthy said, “I don’t know. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom.”

Why no one wants to be speaker

Top Republicans are calling Paul Ryan and begging him to be speaker. But thus far, he hasn’t agreed to run. None of the candidates currently running appear to have substantial support.

The agenda of the House Freedom Caucus makes a difficult job effectively impossible. Agreeing to their demands means presiding over a period of unprecedented dysfunction in the United States.

Even if a candidate was able to become speaker without formally agreeing to the Freedom Caucus’ most extreme requirements, one would still have to deal with the group — and a larger group of House Republicans sympathetic to them — in order to get anything done.

This is why Boehner wanted out and why no one really wants to take his place.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Cleaning Up Campaign Finance to Save the Environment

The assault on our democracy is a bigger problem than the temporary closure of national parks.

By Michael Brune

Michael Brune

America’s best idea is in trouble, and I don’t mean our national parks. Yes, our parks were closed, which was a crushing disappointment for millions of would-be visitors and an economic gut-punch for neighboring communities — to the tune of $76 million dollars a day.

But what’s really under attack is something even older than our national park system: our democracy.

Image courtesy of Oil Change International

How did we reach a point where one fraction of one party that controls one chamber of Congress would drive our government into the ground if it doesn’t get everything its members want? ‘This shutdown is like a firefighter standing on the hose to stop the rest of the company from putting out a blaze until he gets a million-dollar raise — all while the building burns.

We didn’t get here by accident. It’s the result of a systematic attack on basic democratic principles by a handful of people who have no interest in a functioning democracy. While there is no excuse, there is an explanation.

It starts with big money. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for a tidal wave of corrupting corporate money into our system. But where is the money coming from and where is it going?

Huge amounts are from polluter-backed groups, which spent more than $270 million on television ads in just two months of the 2012 election — and that explains why Congress has taken more than 300 votes attacking clean air and water. The same people who are poisoning our democracy are also determined to poison our environment. It’s no surprise that 80 percent of Americans agree that political money is preventing our most important challenges from being addressed.

At the same time, special interest groups are spending millions to keep anyone who disagrees with them away from the polls and out of office. No sooner did the Supreme Court gut a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that state houses with Republican majorities pushed through suppressive legislation to keep young people, seniors, students, and people of color away from the polls. It’s no coincidence that those are the same citizens who have voted against them.

These challenges have led the Sierra Club to team up with the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, and Greenpeace to form the Democracy Initiative. Our goal is to build a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform.

Challenges to our democracy might get even worse. We’re fighting a frightening Supreme Court challenge to campaign finance limits that would allow individuals to write million dollar checks to buy influence, brought to the court by Shaun McCutcheon — a coal company CEO.

Only about 1,200 people came close to reaching the spending limits McCutcheon wants overturned — and a good number of them are oil, gas, and coal executives, from the sectors that directly contributed $40 million in 2012. Give them free rein to write whatever size of a check they want, and we’ll see that number skyrocket.

The faster that money pours in, the quicker the voices of ordinary Americans are drowned out. We can’t let that happen. And we won’t. They may have millions of dollars, but we have millions of people. And, thanks to efforts like the Democracy Initiative, we are organizing and coming together to make sure our voices are heard.

If we want to see more shutdowns and debt crises, then we should maintain the status quo. If we want more attacks on our air, water, and climate, then all we need to do is turn away in disgust at the political posturing. But if we want to restore a democracy that works for Americans and will preserve a healthy planet for future generations, it’s time to stand up and fight back.


Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. SierraClub.org. Image courtesy of Oil Change International. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Dina Titus — Notes from the Hill

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993
079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

An extreme faction of the Republican Party forced a shutdown of the entire federal government. In Nevada and across the country, we’re already seeing the dire consequences of this manufactured crisis.

Brave members of our National Guard have been furloughed. Critical medical research has been halted; access to federal student loans and Pell grants has been delayed; and small business loans for women entrepreneurs have been cut off.

If this shutdown continues, WIC programs across the country will run dry and 9 million women, including over 74,000 in Nevada, will lose access to the nutrition assistance they rely on to survive. As many as 19,000 at-risk kids will be kicked out of their Head Start classrooms – and that is on top of the 57,000 kicked out by sequestration. This hurts children who deserve a leg up and working mothers who struggle to find adequate childcare at a cost they can afford. The list of negative impacts goes on and on.

But instead of working to find a commonsense solution to end the shutdown, some lawmakers are playing reckless, political games at the expense of the American people.

Americans are fed up with the political obstructionism and dysfunction that have led our country to this unnecessary government shutdown. And there’s an easy way to stop it.

Right now, there is a clean funding bill (a C.R. or continuing resolution) on the table that would end this madness. All it takes is 15 minutes and one vote.

Congressional members in both parties and houses of Congress support it. If it were brought to a vote, it would surely pass. The President would sign it into law and the government would reopen. Congress could refocus and start having a reasonable debate about how to reduce the deficit, grow our middle class, and create new jobs.

Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House refuses to bring this clean funding bill to a vote. Instead, the Republicans have pushed a series of piecemeal measures that neglect essential services for veterans, vital nutrition assistance for low-income families, and countless other programs that help seniors, children, and small businesses.

Cherry-picking parts of our government is irresponsible and unfair. The best way to take care of the needs of all Americans is to pass a single, simple, clean continuing resolution that would immediately reopen the entire government.

It’s time to put aside politics, call a vote on the clean funding bill to reopen the government, and end this harmful brinkmanship.

Surely taking 15 minutes and one vote is not too much to ask to reopen the government, end the uncertainty threatening our economy, and give the American people confidence in knowing their elected officials are working for their best interests.

Oklahoma Woman Tells GOP Lawmakers: Without Obamacare, ‘I Will Be Dead Before My 27th Birthday’

BY TARA CULP-RESSLER ON OCTOBER 7, 2013

26-year-old Kendall Brown

26-year-old Kendall Brown [CREDIT: COURTESY OF KENDALL BROWN]

As the deadline approached for Congress to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, Republicans refused to strike a deal unless it defunded or delayed Obamacare. Now, a week later, GOP lawmakers still seem unwilling to compromise unless they are able to dismantle some of the health reform law. One Oklahoma resident wants them to understand the human impact of that political position.

On the eve of the looming government shutdown, 26-year-old Kendall Brown published an open letter to the lawmakers who wanted to delay Obamacare for one year before agreeing to pass a funding bill. Brown didn’t mince words. “I am dying, because of the political games you are playing right now,” her op-ed began.

The Oklahoma resident explained that she was born with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that has no cure. When Brown was in college, she was removed from her mother’s health care coverage. Since her illness prevented her from being able to take a full course load, she couldn’t meet the credit requirements to qualify as a student to remain on the plan. During that time, she could only afford a limited student health plan, and she accumulated thousands of dollars in medical debt.

Once Obamacare allowed young adults to remain on their parents’ plans regardless of their academic status, Brown was able to return to her mother’s insurance. That provision of the health law was enacted at a crucial time — not long afterward, Brown needed to undergo emergency surgery to remove two feet of her intestine that had swollen shut. She wouldn’t have been able to afford the procedure otherwise.

But Brown is now 26 years old, and no longer qualifies for coverage under that Obamacare provision. Although she’s currently employed full-time at a nonprofit, the small organization can’t offer her any health benefits. She’s tried to apply for insurance plans on her own, but she’s been denied because of her pre-existing condition. She cannot currently afford the lifesaving treatment to manage her illness, a form of chemotherapy that costs $15,000 for each infusion. She is desperate to enroll in the health law’s new marketplaces so she can have the coverage she needs.

“I tell you this because I am tired of being reduced to a number, a statistic or, even worse, being described as a freeloader that wants to live off of the government health care teat,” Brown explains in her open letter. “I tell you this because if you defund Obamacare, or delay it even for one year, as you are debating today, then this will be my last letter to you. I will be dead before my 27th birthday.”

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Brown explained that she had been following the political drama in the lead-up to the current shutdown, and she decided to write her letter “out of incredible hurt and anger.”

“I don’t think that our elected officials are willfully terrible people — I think they are just so caught up in the game, so dead set on doing whatever it takes to get those votes next re-election season, that they forget that they’re talking about actual people,” the Oklahoma resident explained. “That’s what I wanted them to remember from reading my letter.”

Brown believes that Obamacare has already saved her life, because it allowed her to receive surgery while she was covered under her mother’s plan as a young adult. “Without that surgery I would have died a very painful death,” she noted. And with the law’s state-level insurance marketplaces opening to the public, Brown says her life will be saved all over again. She’ll be able to afford her medications and her regular chemotherapy treatments. She’ll hopefully be able to avoid another surgery.

But she’s still disappointed in her lawmakers. Congress ultimately failed to delay Obamacare’s marketplaces from opening for enrollment, but the federal government has still ground to a halt. And in Brown’s home state of Oklahoma, politicians are still resistant to health reform. Some Republicans continue to fight against the health law’s optional Medicaid expansion, which would help extend coverage to the state’s considerable uninsured population. Seventeen percent of Oklahoma adults don’t have health coverage.

“I am a very proud Oklahoman, and I plan to make my career and raise a family here, but I do not feel that our state elected officials are serving our best interests,” Brown told ThinkProgress, saying she’s “baffled and saddened” that her elected officials have dug in their heels against health reform.

“That, to me, is not in the spirit of being an Oklahoman,” she continued. “I grew up in a small western Oklahoma town, where you took sick neighbors casseroles and you offered to watch each other’s children. In short — you helped out your fellow man. And that’s what Obamacare is about, for me.”


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Boehner: The Nation Will Be On ‘The Path’ To Default If Obama Doesn’t Accept GOP Demands

— BY IGOR VOLSKY ON OCTOBER 6, 2013

boehner_debtHouse Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the nation would default on its debt later this month if President Obama does not agree to GOP’s demands to cut spending and change parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Appearance on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Boehner agreed that the risks of defaulting would be “catastrophic,” leading credit markets to freeze, the dollar to lose its value, and interest rates to skyrocket, precipitating another financial crisis. But, he insisted that “the president is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to have a conversation”:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (HOST): Let me press that. There have been some reports that you have told your own members that you would be willing to put a debt limit on the floor that would pass with democratic votes, even if it didn’t get a majority of the republican caucus. Is that no longer true?

BOEHNER: My goal here is not to have the United States default on its debt. My goal is to have a serious conversation about those things that are driving the deficit and the debt up and the president’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation about this is putting our nation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He continues to refuse to negotiate, the country is going to default?

BOEHNER: That’s the path we’re on. The president canceled his trip to Asia. I assume — he wants to have a conversation. I decided to stay here in washington this weekend. He knows what my phone number is. All he has to do is call.

Since walking away from two so-called grand bargains in 2011 — which would have reduced the deficit by increasing revenue and lowering spending on certain entitlement programs — Boehner and other Congressional leaders met with Obama to discuss the standoff on Wednesday, though no deal was reached.

As Obama continues to insist that he will only negotiate with Republicans after they re-open the federal government by passing a clean continuing resolution and raise the debt ceiling, GOP lawmakers in battleground states are seeing their poll numbers drop and veteran Republican donors are becoming “increasingly alarmed by the defiant stance of hard-line conservatives.”


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.