Center for American Progress

Saving the Constitution From the Tea Party

What if our federal government didn’t have the power to provide for emergency disaster relief? To prevent children from being put to work at an early age…without even the protection of a minimum wage? To prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and public schools? To help struggling states fund public education?

These are the logical ends of the radical, regressive vision of the Constitution that has become popular among the Tea Party -- and that for the first time is enjoying serious consideration in the halls of Congress and in federal court rooms.

The Center For American Progress’s Ian Millhiser released a paper today outlining some of the ways the Tea Party’s selective worship of parts of the Constitution threatens to derail the success of the hard-won protections contained in the whole Constitution. Millhiser brainstorms a list of some of the things that would be unconstitutional under the Tea Party’s Constitution:

  • Social Security and Medicare
  • Medicaid, children's health insurance, and other health care programs
  • All federal education programs
  • All federal antipoverty programs
  • Federal disaster relief
  • Federal food safety inspections and other food safety programs
  • Child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor protections
  • Federal civil rights laws

 

You can add to that the basic definition of citizenship and the concept of separation of church and state. And that doesn’t even include the progressive amendments to the Constitution that Tea Party activists want to roll back, such as the amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators.

PFAW examined the Tea Party’s dangerous cherry-picked Constitution in a report last year, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America , which demonstrates that the Tea Party’s supposed allegiance to the Constitution deliberately ignores the text and history of the original document and the progressive amendments that have extended its freedoms to more and more Americans.

Earlier this week, PFAW Foundation, CAP and the Constitutional Accountability Center launched an effort called “Constitutional Progressives,” aimed at protecting and defending the whole Constitution – it’s its text, history and more than 200 years of amendments. You can sign a pledge to support the whole Constitution at constitutionalprogressives.org.

 

PFAW

Oversight Committee to Look to Vulnerable Targets for Budget Cuts, Avoid Tough Scrutiny

The House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is planning two hearings today, providing an interesting one-two punch against favorite Republican debt scapegoats: public workers and the poor.

The first hearing of the day, Official Time: Good Value for the Taxpayer? will likely discuss how we need to shrink the size of the federal workforce. The second, Duplication, Overlap and Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs will likely discuss how our social safety net is somehow unsustainable.

My predictions as to the take-away messages of these hearings are based on Chairman Issa’s predictable witness list. As we’ve noted with great frequency, Issa calls industry and think-tank “experts” to the stand who will tell him what he wants to hear, and today’s lineup is no exception. The Heritage Foundation will be featured prominently this afternoon, as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, both of these very conservative think tanks have received large amounts of funding from the Koch brothers – to the tune of $4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009. Yes, these are the very same Koch brothers who quietly fund the tea party and a plethora of right wing politicians and organizations. Check out the Center for American Progress’ report and PFAW’s Koch Brothers Fact Sheet for many, many more details.

John Mashburn, executive director of the Carleson Center for Public Policy, will be testifying in the welfare hearing. His organization, which might as well be the Ronald Reagan fan club, wants to reduce federal assistance programs to a series of block grants administered by the states:

The first order of business for the CCPP will be to help reverse the damage done to the 1996 welfare reform. Then, it will concentrate on extending the successful design of returning power and responsibility to the states for other welfare programs, specifically Medicaid and Food Stamps. 

Agenda items:

  • Restore the integrity of the 1996 welfare reform. 
  • Develop a plan to emulate the 1996 model to block grant Medicaid to the states.
  • Develop a plan to block grant the Food Stamp program to the states.
  • Develop a plan to consolidate the 180+ additional categorical federal means-tested programs and replace them with finite block grants to the states.

As many Republicans are discovering back home in their districts, applying this goal to Medicare is proving to be rather unpopular. It’s concerning that other important social programs could face the same treatment, especially since the beneficiaries of these programs don’t carry the same political clout as senior citizens.

PFAW

LA County Sheriff Calls Peter King’s Bluff on American Muslims

Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca—who heads the nation’s seventh largest law enforcement agency, overseeing the safety of ten million people — is calling Rep. Peter King’s bluff on the congressman’s claim that the American Muslim community “does not cooperate” with law enforcement:

"If he has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward," said Baca at a forum held today by Muslim-American groups in advance of King's hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community. "We have as much cooperation as we are capable of acquiring through public trust relationships."

"I sit on the Major City chiefs association as one of three chairs," said Baca. "I also sit on the Major County Sheriff's Association and I'm on the national board of directors of the international association for the sheriffs departments. Here's the thing: I don't know what Mr. King is hearing or who he's hearing it from."

King has said that active law enforcement offiicials are often afraid to complain publicly that Muslim leaders don't cooperate with law enforcement, but that he hears the complaint often privately and from retired law enforcement officials.

"Muslim Americans in the county of Los Angeles have been overwhelmingly astounded by terrorist attacks -- like everyone else -- and overwhelmingly concerned about a non-repeat performance of that kind - and are willing to get involved and help," said Baca.

Rep. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, plans to hold hearings this year on the “radicalization” of American Muslims, a plan that has come under fire from non-discrimination groups, especially given King’s history of demonizing Muslims. People For President Michael Keegan wrote last month that the hearings risk “stir[ring] up further resentment against Muslim Americans,” adding, “We’ve seen the consequences of high-profile government investigations that target Americans because of their identities, not their actions. American’s don’t want to return to the fear and resentment of the McCarthy era.”

Think Progress observed last fall that, contrary to claims by King and others on the Right, American Muslims “have been integral in combating terrorism”:

As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) said at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, “About a third of all foiled al-Qaida-related plots in the U.S. relied on support or information provided by members of the Muslim community.” Indeed, a Senagalese Muslim immigrant who works as a vendor in Times Square was the first to bring the smoking car that was part of the failed Times Square bombing plot to the police’s attention. And the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — who failed in his attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit last year — alerted U.S. authorities of his son’s “extreme radical views” months before he tried to carry out the attack.

Moreover, a recent academic study found that American contemporary mosques are serving as a deterrent to the spread of extremism and terrorism. The New York Times noted that the study found that “many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring antiviolence forums and scrutinizing teachers and texts.” “Muslim-American communities have been active in preventing radicalization,” said study co- author David Kurzman. “This is one reason that Muslim-American terrorism has resulted in fewer than three dozen of the 136,000 murders committed in the United States since 9/11.”

PFAW

Yesterday’s Big Wins for Young Progressive Candidates

Gustavo Rivera, a young progressive candidate endorsed by the PFAW Action Fund, won a big victory yesterday in a New York state senate district in the Bronx, ousting the current Senate Majority Leader in the Democratic primary. Rivera won a decisive victory over Pedro Espada, who threw the state senate into a dysfunctional mess last year when he briefly switched over to the Republican Party.

Rivera, 34, is a strong progressive—he’s pro-choice, supports marriage equality, and is a leader on ethics reform and fair wages. In a heavily Democratic district, he’s a solid bet to head to Albany next year, where he’ll bring some much-needed new ideas.

Several other PFAW Action Fund-endorsed candidates are also bringing a progressive agenda to November’s elections after making it through yesterday’s primaries. In New York, Clarkstown Town Clerk David Carlucci, who has focused his campaign on campaign finance and ethics reform became the Democratic nominee for an open state senate seat, and Aravella Simotas of Astoria, who is a staunch advocate of LGBT equality, health care access, and public education, also won a Democratic primary for a seat in the State Assembly.

In Maryland, eight PFAW Action Fund candidates won primaries, including Victor Ramirez, who ousted a less progressive incumbent incumbent in the race for a state senate seat in Prince George’s County. Judd Legum of Maryland—a progressive activist who founded the Center for American Progress’s Think Progress blog—won a spot as a Democratic nominee for a state House seat. He’ll face off against a Republican incumbent with a history of fighting marriage equality. In Bethesda, Ariana Kelly, a longtime advocate for equal pay, the right to choose, marriage equality, public education, and environmental conservation, won a competitive Democratic primary for a seat in the House of Delegates.

The PFAW Action fund supports progressive candidates under the age of 35.
 

PFAW

The Party of No Lives Up to Its Name

Last night, in the latest episode of their passive-aggressive crusade to keep President Obama’s judicial nominees off the bench, the Senate GOP put on a mind-boggling display of obstruction.

As the Senate confirmed Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, 21 other judicial nominees were waiting for Senate votes. More than half of these nominees had been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and all had been waiting more than 100 days for confirmation.

After the Kagan vote, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell agreed to hold voice votes on four of the stalled nominees, and promised to agree to a vote on another—Jane Stranch, a Tennessee attorney who has been waiting more than a year for confirmation, despite having the support of both of her home state’s Republican senators-- in September.

The GOP sent five nominees back to the White House—meaning that the President will have to renominate them and start the process again.

That left eleven nominees in Senate limbo. Nine of them had received absolutely no opposition from either party in their Judiciary Committee hearings.

In an interview Monday, the National Journal asked McConnell about his party’s obstructionism. “Is the Senate broken?” the interviewer asked. McConnell answered:

No. Members frequently on both sides hold up a nominee because of some concern they have. It is more likely to be done if you are in the minority because the administration is not of your party and less likely to address your concern. This kind of give-and-take I have seen go on before. It is not any more dramatic now than it has been in the past, and this president has not been treated worse than the last one was. But it is always maddening to the majority and maddening to every president.

I must say the president even made it worse by recessing a guy like [Craig] Becker [to the National Labor Relations Board], who was defeated in the Senate. We had a vote. He was defeated on a bipartisan basis. And recessing a guy like [Donald] Berwick [to oversee Medicare and Medicaid] without any hearings at all and with the chairman of the Finance Committee [Max Baucus, D-Mont.] saying he didn't think he should have been recessed. That is not the kind of action that is designed to, shall I say, engender a cooperative reaction on the part of the minority. I think we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama. He hasn't been singled out more for shoddy treatment than it has been in the past.

It’s unclear what “concern” McConnell is referring to in the case of the nine blocked nominees who have received absolutely no Republican opposition. The concern seems to have nothing to do with the nominees at all—but rather with unrelated executive branch nominations that the GOP is seeking revenge for.

And as for McConnell’s claim that “we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama,” the Center for American Progress has a chart for that:


PFAW

Republicans Waiting It Out On Judicial Nominations

In the wake of Citizens United and other rulings that put corporate bank accounts ahead of individual rights, it has become increasingly clear where the priorities of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority lie. Republicans in Congress, unlike most Americans, like what they’re seeing—and are doing everything in their power to make sure the Roberts Court’s philosophy is reflected in lower courts throughout the country.

Apparently not satisfied with the current conservative bent of the nation’s entire judicial system (nearly 40% of federal judges nationwide were appointed by George W. Bush), Republican Senators are trying to stall district and circuit court judicial nominations until they are in a position to appoint federal judges once again, packing the court even more firmly for corporate interests.

A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that the current Republican obstruction of judicial nominations is truly unprecedented. The graph below pretty much says it all:

The current Republican obstructionism is unprecedented. Even George H.W. Bush, whose party never controlled the Senate during his term, enjoyed a confirmation rate nearly double that of President Obama and the current solidly Democratic Senate.

Yesterday, several senators put a much-needed spotlight on the GOP’s obstruction of judicial nominations. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island spoke about the special interests that are preventing public interest lawyer John McConnell, an extremely qualified nominee who enjoys bipartisan support, from serving his home state:

Why is it that nominees of President Obama are being held to a different, new standard than applied to the nominees of President Bush? Why have we departed from the longstanding tradition of respect to the views of home State Senators who know the nominees best and who best understand their home districts? … I ask this because we have a highly qualified nominee in Rhode Island, Jack McConnell, who was reported by the Judiciary Committee on June 17. It was a bipartisan vote, 13 to 6, with the support of Senator Lindsey Graham. Jack McConnell is a pillar of the legal community in Rhode Island…The Providence Chamber of Commerce has praised Jack McConnell as a well-respected member of the local community. Political figures from across our political spectrum have called for his confirmation, one of them being my predecessor as Rhode Island attorney general, Republican Jeffrey Pine.

…Notwithstanding the support of Senator Reed and myself, the two Senators from Rhode Island, notwithstanding that this is a district court nomination, notwithstanding the powerful support across Rhode Island from those who know Jack McConnell best, special interests from outside the State have interfered in his nomination. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not the Rhode Island chapter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked Jack for having the temerity to stand up to big business, to the asbestos to representing the rights of the powerless. In doing so, the U.S. Chamber has created a cartoon image of Jack McConnell that bears no relation to the man Senator Reed and I know as a great lawyer, as a great Rhode Islander, and somebody who will be a great judge.

I ask my colleagues…do we want to let powerful out-of-State interests trump the better informed views of home State Senators about district court nominees?

This is not just a political question-- the GOP is so concerned about keeping the courts corporate-friendly in the long-term that they’re ignoring the very urgent short-term needs of the federal court system. While judicial positions around the country remain vacant, many Americans are forced to wait for inexcusably long periods to have their day in court as current judges struggle with an impossible workload. The Judicial Conference has declared 42 of the 99 current judicial vacancies “judicial emergencies.” Carolyn Lamm, President of the non-partisan American Bar Association, calls the current dearth of federal judges “urgent.” But the GOP clearly cares more about protecting their allies in the corporate world than allowing the lower court system to function.

PFAW

Upcoming Progressive Book Club Events

Book Talk Radio: a weekly online radio show hosted by columnist Joe Conason on the Blog Talk Radio platform.

February 3 -- 8pm (EST)
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Americans are learning the wrong lessons about the use and abuse of military force. Join Joe Conason and author Andrew Bacevich for a discussion about the use of America's military might.

RSVP and get The Limits of Power for free when you join the Progressive Book Club:

http://www.progressivebookclub.com/pbc2/emailSignUp.pbc?splash_id=252&srcKey=211aac

Moving Forward: Foundations of a New Progressive Era

Once a month, PBC holds an online discussion about the history and future of the progressive movement with our partners at the Center for American Progress.

February 10 -- 6pm (EST)
Interesting Times: George Packer and Todd Gitlin on the Future of American Foreign Policy.  In his new collection of essays, New Yorker journalist George Packer turns a critical eye on the Bush years.  Join us for a look back at the past, and ahead to the future, of American foreign policy with two leading progressive thinkers.

RSVP to watch online, or attend in person if you are in New York City:

http://www.progressivebookclub.com/pbc2/emailSignUp.pbc?splash_id=262&srcKey=211aac

The Progressive Book Club offers some pretty great opportunities to engage with some of the leading voices in progressive politics.

Don't forget, you can get these books -- or any other book offered by the PBC -- for free when you become a full member.
 

PFAW

PFAW Opposes Unconstitutional Vitter-Bennett Amendment

Today, People For the American Way was represented by our General Counsel Debbie Liu at a press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment, which would require Census workers to ask all Americans their citizenship and immigration status in the 2010 census. Doing so could discourage minority communities’ participation in the 2010 census, and would result in an inaccurate census. Not only is the amendment unconstitutional, it is a thinly-veiled effort by the radical Religious Right and their counterparts in Congress to target undocumented immigrants. 

Above, attendees at the press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

The New York Times featured an editorial citing how changing the census would waste time and valuable resources. Should the Vitter-Bennett amendment pass, the Census Bureau would have to reprint forms, promotional materials and training software:

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

Other civil rights groups including the Center for American Progress (CAP), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Demos, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) attended the press conference.

PFAW

Obama Chooses Barnes for Key White House Position

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Melody Barnes to be Director of the Domestic Policy Council:

Melody Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team, and served as the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America. Barnes previously served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 until March 2003.
Healthcare reform, as part of an economic recovery plan that takes care of the middle class, will be a priority for Barnes.  We appreciate the work she’s done in the past, and we’re sure she’ll do great work in the new administration.
PFAW