Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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The GOP “pledge” is a ridiculous stunt and means nothing

Do you see anything binding about this "pledge?" I sure don't... (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

Do you see anything binding about this “pledge?” I sure don’t… (Photo credit: The Associated Press)

The headline sounds like a Trump-ism and it probably resembles what Trump will say when he announces his run as an independent around July 2016. Here’s the thing, without a binding agreement, the pledge is nothing more than a great way for the GOP to earn media and for GOP chair Reince Priebus to look like he’s leading the party, but he’s missing a crucial element: Trump’s supporters aren’t necessarily ardent Republicans, they are just conservatives.

Confusing partisanship and ideology is fairly commonplace in American politics and it remains confusing for some studying political behavior at the graduate level. Yes, partisanship and ideology are closely related, with most liberals identifying as Democrats and most conservatives identifying as Republicans, but one’s ideology doesn’t mean they are “party people.” Yes, they may tell a pollster they are a “Republican,” but that may have more to do with their ideology lining up with one particular party than the strength of their partisanship. (Essentially, the Republicans better represent a conservative ideology, therefore a conservative identifies as a Republican.) Trump attract ideologues on the right. Conservatives who fully agree that we need to kick out the “illegals” and build a gigantic wall along both the Mexican AND Canadian borders don’t necessarily rock elephant lapel pins and pendants, but they do support the tea party and other movements associated with the Republican party, but more explicitly tied to the conservative ideology.

This is an important point for Priebus and other Republican bigwigs worried about the Trump-effect. Trump can sign the loyalty pledge now, in early-September 2015 when the stakes are high for both Trump and the Republican Party, but if Trump’s support among Republican party elites starts to wane, but his support among those identifying as very conservative remains high, the likelihood Trump bucks the pledge and runs as an independent strengthens.

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A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

Political Terrorism

The House of Representatives isn’t terribly fond of the ACA/Obamacare.  They have voted 42 times to repeal it. Many of the most outspoken members of the House regarding the health care law happily identify as Tea Party members/supporters, even when Tea Party support is at an all-time low.

Now, some members of the House are actively committing what Al Gore labeled best: political terrorism.  (More on this below.)

I live in an incredibly liberal college-town. The county I call home is always a blue dot in the red seas when looking at electoral maps. Over the past years, gerrymandering and dividing the blue to ensure far more red has created, shall we say—interesting–districts for House, on a State and Federal level.

Consequently, someone who proudly identifies with the Tea Party is my representative.

Surely you’ve heard of him. His name is Ted Yoho. Prior to this, he was a veterinarian and I have heard wonderful things about his veterinarian skills.

Sadly, those skills haven’t carried over to governing.  Representative Yoho believes, among other things, that the ACA’s implementation of a tax on tanning at a tanning salon is racist against white people.

This is my Representative.

It seems Rep. Yoho, with his fatuous remarks on tanning, was just warming up. It was all foreshadowing to what’s happening now in Washington DC.

Let me just pause here and note that I have never been a fan of the ACA, which is a modified draft of a conservative solution to the fact Americans really do pay too much for their a la carte medical care. (Single-payer would be best but that’s a different blog post to come.)

The Senate has provided the funds to get the ACA going. The Supreme Court upheld (most) of the ACA as Constitutional. The President is pushing for it.

The judicial branch supports it. The executive branch supports it. Half the legislative branch supports it, but the other half–?

C’mon, this is America, we’ll risk our credit rating among other things to prove a point, dammit!

“So what if others suffer? I got mine.”

Yesterday, I visited Rep. Yoho’s facebook page. He has made some rather bold claims on the page, including:

Capture
Too bad the job claim is patently false in his district, as numerous people in the thread have noted. It also seems fiscally irresponsible and IS unconstitutional (14th Amendment) to not raise the debt ceiling to pay for debts already incurred.

I’m a citizen and I know this.

Yoho is my district’s representative and either:
1. Knows this (it’s fiscally irresponsible/violates the Constitution)  and doesn’t care
2. Doesn’t know it, and that’s terrifying too.

Later yesterday, *my* representative in the House of Representatives proudly boasted about a solution while strategizing to keep the blame off of himself and his fellow House members for a possible impending government shutdown:

Look, it's not *my* fault . . .

Look, it’s not *my* fault . . .

I am a person who can’t obtain affordable health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The ACA has caused insurance estimates for me to drop from over $600 a month (with riders to not have to cover what care I need most),  to below $200 a month. And the ACA hasn’t even been implemented yet!

I have been forced to feel miserable and suffer because I can’t afford over $500 for one medicine that I would only take for about 2 weeks.  Instead, I’m spacing one medication out (every other day instead of every day because it’s between $200-$300 a month) and hoping that works well enough until the exchange opens and I can sign up.

I’m annoyed, to put it mildly, so I leave you with Mr. Gore’s spot-on words concerning this (transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

Preach it, Gore.
Stop the terrorists in the House.

(And please, feel free to let Rep. Yoho know how you feel.)

Darrell Issa’s Folly

English: , member of the United States House o...

English: , member of the United States House of Representatives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congressman Darrell Issa’s folly is becoming clearer every day, especially related to the IRS investigation. It is ironic that someone with Issa’s questionable past, who is no stranger to scandal himself, is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and spearheading this and other investigations. Mr. Issa’s rabid obsession of trying to tie the IRS ‘scandal’ to the Obama administration has spawned allegations of wrongdoing by the President without actual evidence to back them up. So how has Issa been dishonest you may ask?

Now that this is looking less like a scandal and more like IRS leadership incompetence, Senator Issa is being criticized for his handling of the investigation, so he is walking back his allegations that Obama is directly connected, saying he never said that about the President. He did. “Washington” equals “Obama” in Issaspeak. He and some of his fellow Republicans have been accusing the President of having an “enemies list” to target his political opponents via the IRS. These partisans feel that if they repeat this accusation enough times, even if they are proven wrong, the assertion will stick in people’s minds.

We have discovered that the Inspector General’s report only focused on Tea Party and conservative groups because that was what Issa asked them to focus on. Guess what? Progressive groups were on the BOLO (be-on-the-lookout) lists too. Granted there were far less of them, but then again most progressive groups aren’t belligerently anti-tax. It makes sense that conservative organizations might be scrutinized mroe closely. That being said, all new 501(c)(4)s applying for tax exemption should’ve been scrutinized, regardless of political affiliation.

Interestingly, these groups aren’t even required to have IRS approval to operate as tax-exempt entities, as are 501(c)(3) organizations. One can only assume these groups wanted to make their secretive donors feel more confident about their contributions by having the tax-exempt status set in writing. Furthermore, the only group denied tax-exempt status was a liberal group, Emerge America.

Congressman Issa has also been cherry-picking information from the IG report and leaking testimony with the media that supports his narrative implying White House malfeasance. Congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Committee, threatened to release all the transcripts because he believed that Issa was manipulating evidence. Mr. Issa refused, only releasing small portions of testimony at a time, and claimed that opening the transcripts to public scrutiny would allow others testifying to prepare their answers in advance and jeopardize the investigation. However, on June 18, Cummings succeeded in releasing the full transcript of the Cincinnati IRS manager’s testimony. 

Cummings

Cummings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The IRS investigation should continue because it remains unclear what really transpired, but the members of the House Oversight Comittee are so partisan that getting to the truth may be impossible. Christopher Bergin at Tax Analysts is correct that it needs to be an independent investigation:

“We need a deliberate, independent investigation of the IRS. Last I checked conclusion-jumping is still not an Olympic sport, and it’s not an investigation either. American taxpayers need to know they can trust the IRS, and they are owed an explanation of what is going on—what is really going on.”

The truth will continue to elude Americans as long as partisans from both sides are involved in shaping the conclusion of the investigation to their liking. Darrell Issa has repeatedly tried to tie the Obama administration to one scandal after another—Fast & Furious, Solyndra, Benghazi, and now the IRS investigation, among others—and each time, there have been no nefarious connections found. Mr. Issa is doing himself no favors by continuing this folly. If he wants to uncover the truth and redeem his already tarnished reputation (at least in some circles), he should appoint an independent investigator.

Cross-Posted at The Feisty Liberal

IRS Scandal Revisited

IRS Building

IRS Building (Photo credit: afagen)

Since I last wrote about the IRS’s improper targeting of Tea Party groups for scrutiny of their tax-exemption applications, it appears the situation is less nefarious than originally thought. The culprit appears to be incompetence, lack of guidance, and an absence of clear guidelines as opposed to outright partisan targeting of political opponents.

What we have learned since May 14:

To play Devil’s advocate, one can make an argument that the IRS was doing their job. Groups that have the words “anti-government” and “anti-tax” in their names or in their mission statements could be red flags for abusing/ignoring IRS tax-exemption rules, so they were profiled. This is similar to law enforcement profiling of Muslims (FBI and CIA searching for terrorists) and other minority groups (New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk program), which many conservatives support. Still, progressives would be outraged if IRS officials were targeting liberal groups, so they must be just as concerned when it is done to conservative groups.

photo

The bigger issue is that while there are real social welfare groups, some political groups are without doubt hiding behind the 501(c)(4) designation so that they can raise money without being subject to disclosure. That needs to change. If they want to be involved in politics, they should organize as a 527, where they will still receive tax-exempt status but have to reveal their contributors.

Republicans in Congress continue to search for a connection between the IRS and the White House in this scandal. We’ll see how it all transpires… Our leaders still need to be focusing on jobs, but sadly, that seems to be much less of a priority for them at the moment. Scandals are so much more fun.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal

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The IRS should review all 501(c)(4) organizations

“The IRS should be treating all these groups equally and appropriately — which would mean much more harshly. Instead, the IRS has permitted 501(c)4s to grow into something monstrous. And if they cower in the aftermath of this embarrassment, it might make matters even worse.”    ~ Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

The IRS has recently come under intense criticism for its scrutiny of conservative 501(c)(4) organizations over the past three years. Media reported last Friday that in Cincinnati the IRS has been targeting tax-exempt groups with “Tea Party,” “patriot,” and “9/12” in their names as well as those “critical of the government.” I have written about 501(c)(4) organizations previously. These tax-exempt social welfare organizations are forbidden to promote political candidates or actively campaign. In addition, operating under the 501(c)(4) designation allows them to raise money without requiring them to release their donors’ names.

Since 2010, the number of social welfare organizations has more than doubled, from 1500 to 3400 in 2012. Conservative groups are responsible for most of this proliferation. The increase is no accident. The January 2010 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Citizens United unleashed a tsunami of political fundraising and spending, as Super PACs and 501(c)(4)s organized. It is worth noting that nonprofits outspent Super PACs in the 2010 midterm election cycle. In 2012, conservative groups outspent liberal ones by $451.9 million.*

In light of the increased number of 501(c)(4)s and given the above spending totals, one can understand why they might have been on the IRS’ radar. Still, targeting specific groups reeks of partisanship and politics and degrades trust in government. The IRS is supposed to be a nonpartisan, apolitical agency. Sadly, this debacle provides congressional Republicans another excuse to hold hearings—rightly so in this case—as opposed to legislating.

300 social welfare groups were reviewed and 25% singled out using keywords, but none of these groups’ tax-exempt status was revoked. Opensecrets.org provides a chart for 2012, revealing that “none of the top ten biggest spending politically active nonprofits would’ve been identified by IRS keywords targeting Tea Party groups. The eleventh biggest — Patriot Majority — would have, but it is a liberal group with close union affiliations.” Peruse the 2012 data for yourself here.

Talk show radio host Michael Smerconish tweeted yesterday:

Just imagine if IRS provided NO scrutiny of any group with Tea Party or 9/12 in title, and just conferred tax exempt status? =ly problematic.”

Yes, that would be problematic. Anyone who has been paying attention suspects that many 501(c)(4)s crossed, or are very close to crossing, the line of social awareness into electioneering. Furthermore, keeping donor lists secret sparks suspicion that these groups may be operating outside the rules their tax-exempt status dictates.

Watch-dog groups have been advocating that the IRS more closely scrutinize 501(c)(4)s, particularly the larger ones and those that were established/run by former political operatives and former elected officials. Karl Rove, Dick Armey, and Jim Messina all head up, or headed up, social welfare organizations: Crossroads GPS, FreedomWorks (Armey severed ties in November 2012), and Organizing for Action, respectively.

The current rules for these organizations are vague. The IRS’s major mistake was failure to establish clearer guidelines for reviewing tax-exemption applications once the rapid proliferation of 501(c)(4)s began. If social welfare groups want to focus on political activity, they must relinquish their tax-exempt status, or auditors must reject it. Moreover, if these groups go beyond educating the public about  issues or lobbying legislators and inject their influence into elections, we the people have the right to know who is funding them.

There will be congressional hearings to uncover the full story. Guidelines for reviewing tax-exemption applications must be more clearly stated. Americans need reassurance that government oversight is applied equally. Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum make excellent arguments here and here as to why scrutiny should be increased for all social welfare groups. Klein also warns that this incident, and the associated attacks against the IRS and its employees, could result in IRS auditors becoming more hesitant to perform their oversight jobs. In this age of secret money groups, that would be a shame.

* The total includes political spending from all groups, irrespective of tax designation.

Listen to the NPR report this morning on Morning Edition.

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