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George Zornick | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Now Congress Is Fast-Tracking the TPP Fast Track

Senator Ron Wyden

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

After months of back-room negotiations, key congressional negotiators are finally ready to unveil legislation that would fast-track approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bill would prohibit Congress from amending the trade deal, and would require a simple-majority vote for passage, but would in exchange set a variety of negotiating parameters.

If the architects of the legislation—Senators Ron Wyden and Orrin Hatch and Representative Paul Ryan—are at all worried that members of Congress will feel fast-track leaves them out of the process, they are doing a pretty terrible job of addressing those concerns.

A Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday morning featured top US trade officials—but occurred before the legislation was even unveiled, and was called with almost no notice. This drew some unusual and strong rebukes from Democrats on the Finance Committee over an unfair process.

Hatch and Wyden, the chairman and ranking member of Senate Finance respectively, called hearing on Wednesday night that was ostensibly about “Congress and US Tariff Policy.” It featured several top US officials that deal with trade: US Trade Representative Michael Froman, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Hatch announced at the top of the hearing that fast-track legislation could come as early as the afternoon, and both he and Wyden began their opening statements by talking about the looming bill.

Members of the committee thus suddenly found themselves in a fast-track hearing without knowing it—and before they saw the legislation. Many of them didn’t like it.

Senator Chuck Schumer, likely to be the next Democratic majority leader, opposes fast-track and objecting in the hearing to “rushing” the legislation. Senator Sherrod Brown said “We got twelve hours notice on a bill we haven’t seen…you can’t fast-track fast track.”

Senators appeared unsure if they would even get to see the legislation before a vote. Senator Debbie Stabenow asked if the committee would have to vote “on an agreement that we have not yet even seen and that hasn’t been reached,” according to the Huffington Post.

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As the hearing was going on, six Democratic members of the committee took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement objecting to the hearing they were sitting in on:

“With millions of jobs on the line, American workers and manufacturers deserve more than a hastily scheduled hearing without an underlying bill. Congress should undergo a thorough and deliberative committee process for debating trade agreements that account for 40 percent of our world’s GDP. And we should be debating a bill that has seen the light of day and contains strong provisions to protect American workers against illegal trade practices like currency manipulation.”

Schumer, Brown and Stabenow, along with Senators Robert Menendez, Ben Cardin and Bob Casey attached their names to the statement.

Take Action: Demand that Congress Reject Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Read Next: George Zornick on the Democrats who are backing Fight for 15

If Elizabeth Warren Were Running for President, This Would Be Her Agenda

Elizabeth Warren

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

If Elizabeth Warren ran for president, a key part of her campaign—if not the centerpiece—would likely involve how to restructure the financial sector in a less dangerous and more productive way. Dodd-Frank was by many accounts a good start, but it’s clear the economy is still over-financialized and too-big-to-fail banks continue to pose an existential threat.

Warren isn’t running for president, but she unveiled that exact agenda in a sweeping speech Wednesday in a conference at the Levy Institute in Washington. It advocated an array of specific, often ambitious policy proposals, many of which have circulated in Washington for years and that Warren, at various times, has already called for.

But tied together in one place, and packaged as a clear call for structural and not just technocratic changes, a blueprint emerged for how Warren thinks Democrats should attack continued financial reform. Whether purposeful or not, the speech was timed exactly to start of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Her ideas fit into four basic categories: first, getting tougher on bad financial actors, particularly big banks, and presenting them with actual legal accountability for malfeasance. Second, Warren outlined how to change the basic structure of the country’s largest financial institutions so their very existence doesn’t threaten the economy nor taxpayer money via inevitable bailouts. Third, she outlined how to change tax policies that incentivize financial risk-taking and instability. And finally, Warren called for tougher regulations on the shadow-banking sector that was a huge contributor to the 2008 crash and which remained largely untouched by Dodd-Frank.

Under no conceivable set of circumstances could most of this happen in the current political climate. Rather, it’s a world Warren wants to see—“She has outlined what a functional Congress and a willing president could do,” Bartlett Naylor, the financial policy advocate for Public Citizen, told The Nation.

Warren openly criticized the Obama administration’s lack of criminal prosecutions related to the 2008 crisis, declaring that “the Department of Justice doesn’t take big financial institutions to trial—ever—even when financial institutions engage in blatantly criminal activity.” She pointed to the overuse of deferred prosecution agreements, in which big banks get a sometimes-large financial penalty but don’t face any further repercussions, nor even admit guilt.

Use of deferred prosecution agreements for large corporations has spiked dramatically under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, with the same corporations sometimes receiving several such agreements. Justice entered into 27 such agreements in 2013, compared with eight in 2004. Warren said “no firm should be allowed to enter into a deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement if it is already operating under such an agreement—period.” She also said any agreements with financial firms going forward should have “mandatory minimum” fines equal to “at least every dime of profit generated by their illegal activity.”

Also on the enforcement front, Warren called for a vote by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors on major enforcement decisions. In 2013 the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reached a $9.3 billion settlement with mortgage servicers for improper foreclosure on millions of homes. Warren later found that the Fed Board of Governors didn’t vote on the settlement—widely seen as too weak—and that all the decision-making happened at the staff level.

Warren further called for congressional action to allow the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to police the auto-loan industry, which it is largely prohibited from doing in the Dodd-Frank legislation that created the bureau. Warren said “the auto-loan market looks increasingly like the pre-crisis housing market” and that immediate oversight is needed.

She also advanced familiar ideas for shrinking the size of too-big-to-fail financial institutions: Warren advocated for a bill that would cap the deposits, liabilities, and assets of large financial institutions. Senators Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufmann proposed an amendment to this affect to Dodd-Frank, but it failed. Warren also called for reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall division between commercial and investment banking, and for limits on the Federal Reserve’s ability to provide emergency lending to big banks. “The prospect of receiving low-cost loans from the Fed completely undermines market discipline—big banks are free to take big risks, knowing full well that the Fed will be there to bail them out if things go south,” she said.

Several changes in the tax code, such as closing loopholes that allow financial institutions to write off large bonuses and limiting the ability of banks to fully deduct interest payments, are needed, according to Warren. She said both would shift incentives away from short-term corporate decision-making and cash-hoarding. She also boosted a financial transactions tax on high-volume traders, which she said would “push sophisticated trading firms to invest in companies for the long haul and strengthen our markets.”

Warren stressed that these big structural changes—breaking up the big banks, limiting bailouts and increasing prosecutions—would shift the political-economic advantage away from large financial institutions. “Too much reliance on a technocratic approach also plays right into the hands of the big banks,” she said. “Regulatory solutions that pit the government against giant banks too often get diluted over time with loopholes, carveouts, and rollbacks, each of which favor a few well-connected firms over everyone else.”

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Without a doubt, if Washington went down the path outlined by Warren it would set off an Armageddon-like showdown with the US financial sector. But in an attempt to pre-empt some of the war-on-banks rhetoric, Warren presented these changes as fundamentally pro-business.

“[F]or too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong,” Warren said. “Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.”

Read Next: George Zornick on the leading House Democrat who will be opposing the TPP Fast Track

Hillary Clinton, Progressive Democrats Back ‘Fight for 15’ Protests

Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with local residents in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Across the country Wednesday, tens of thousands of low-wage workers protested for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, marking the latest—and largest—battle in a widening war to boost pay in the service sector and, more broadly, to draw increased attention to the U.S. wage gap.

The protests, which were backed by the Service Employees International Union and other unions and progressive activist groups, occurred in several major cities including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington.

Politicians in DC—and on the campaign trail—were presented with a crucial test: whether to voice support for what is the biggest existing, grassroots challenge to the unequal American economic structure. Several outlets noted it raised a particularly pointed question for Hillary Clinton, who is leading polls for the Democratic nomination and began her campaign the same week as the large-scale protest. Would she, as The New York Times asked Monday, speak to the “the desire of voters and party activists for an aggressive approach to mitigating income inequality”?

Late Wednesday night, a tweet from Clinton’s campaign account, signed by the candidate, provided the answer:

Many see the “Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity,” co-chaired by Lawrence Summers and UK Labour leader Ed Balls, as a tentative economic blueprint for the nascent Clinton campaign. Clinton’s support for the “Fight for 15” movement is consistent with what’s outlined in the report: among other things, it says that it’s important for “minimum wages…adjust to keep up with pay at the middle and top.” It calls for “a minimum wage that is at least high enough to prevent full-time workers from living in poverty,” specifically, a pay rate of “at least $10.10 per hour” and linked to the consumer price index.

The repeated “at least” qualifiers left uncertain what pay rate, exactly, Clinton thinks should be the floor. In the Times story Monday, progressive economist Dean Baker noted there is pressure on Clinton to “come up with a number,” and her tweet Wednesday was clearly intended to support the workers asking for $15 per hour.

Does that mean $15 is her number? We may have to wait for the campaign’s official platform to be unveiled. A campaign spokesperson told The Nation only that “Hillary applauds the efforts of organizers coast to coast fighting for an increase in their wages because you shouldn’t have to be a CEO to get a raise. Everyday Americans should be able to make a little more so you can worry a little less. Higher wages don’t just help those at the bottom of the pay scale, they have a ripple effect across the economy and helps millions of American workers and middle class families.”

Another potential 2016 contender, Bernie Sanders, released a statement earlier in the day that said “I want to applaud the workers who are organizing today in the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

There were no immediate statements of support from Democratic Congressional leadership; neither Senator Harry Reid nor Representative Nancy Pelosi released a statement or tweet about the protests. Several higher-profile Democrats did, however.

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In the House, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Representative Xavier Becerra tweeted his support, as did Budget Committee chairman Chris Van Hollen.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus convened a forum Wednesday afternoon on the “Fight for 15,” where several low-wage workers spoke. Various members of the caucus voiced their support throughout the day.

In the Senate, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, Chris Murphy, Tammy Baldwin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and likely future Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer all sent out messages of support for “Fight for 15.” Senator Patty Murray sent out several messages with the hashtag #RaisetheWage throughout the day, though didn’t explicitly back $15 per hour.

No Republican members of Congress nor potential GOP presidential candidates mentioned the movement.

Read Next: George Zornick on how this Senate candidate will not be accepting donations from Wall Street banks

Breaking: Leading House Democrat Will Oppose TPP Fast Track

Chris Van Hollen

House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (AFGE/CC BY 2.0)

As legislation to fast-track congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership gets ready to finally make its debut in Congress this week, a top Democratic member of the House announced he would oppose the bill.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, wrote in a letter to Representative Sandy Levin, the ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee, that he would oppose fast-track authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA. The letter was obtained by The Nation and its authenticity was confirmed by an aide to Van Hollen.

Van Hollen opposed a previous iteration of fast-track legislation last year, as did most other top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But so far, many of those Democrats (including Van Hollen) had not yet announced a position on the new TPA legislation being hammered out by Senators Ron Wyden, Orrin Hatch, and Representative Paul Ryan. (Levin opted out of those talks, and believes Congress should see at least the outline of a trade deal before taking up legislation to fast-track its approval.) Pelosi still remains publicly undecided.

If Van Hollen—a visible member of the Democratic caucus and ranking member of a major committee—ultimately supported the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill, it would have been a signal that House Democrats were ready to go along with the Obama administration’s trade agenda. But in his letter, Van Hollen wrote “it is clear that many [of my concerns] will not be included in a revised TPA.”

While the legislation remains behind closed doors for now, Van Hollen said continuing public opposition from Republicans made it clear that the TPA legislation wouldn’t include additional currency, labor, and environmental provisions. Moreover, he wrote that since TPA was being unveiled so close to the conclusion of the overall trade talks, “it is clearly too late for TPA to have any meaningful impact on the shape of TPP negotiations.”

Like virtually all Democrats, Van Hollen cited concerns that enforceable currency manipulation obligations would not be included in the trade deal.

He also said he objects to further entrenching the investor-state dispute settlement process, which according to negotiating documents leaked last month by Wikileaks will be included in the TPP deal. Those provisions set up a process of international tribunals where foreign companies can challenge regulatory actions by sovereign governments, and seek financial damages for any lost profit as a result of regulation. Van Hollen wrote that “a TPP that allows for increased investor lawsuits could undermine a government’s right to regulate in the public interest and involve the US in costly and detrimental lawsuits covered by American taxpayers.”

Van Hollen further cited concerns over labor standards in some of the signatory countries, particularly Vietnam, and said he insists on an agreement that includes “strong and enforceable labor protections as well as an action plan to ensure that countries are complying with internationally recognized labor rights.”

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The next several days will be crucial for the fate of TPA. Many Democrats have so far remained neutral or muted on the ongoing talks, but as the legislation finally proceeds towards a vote, several leading and visible Democrats like Van Hollen will start to take positions. Activists were heartened that Van Hollen dropped an early marker in the fight. “This letter lists some good reasons why fast track is in trouble—including investor lawsuits, currency manipulation, and workers rights—but this will come down to the growing realization that fast track will make it easier to send American jobs overseas,” said Jason Stanford of the Coalition to Stop Fast Track.

Wyden’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. Van Hollen’s letter can be seen here:

4.14.15 Van Hollen to Levin Letter on TPA

 

Take Action: Demand that Congress Reject TPP Fast Track

Read Next: 15 questions we want answered about Hillary Clinton’s stance on these key economic and foreign policy issues

Senate Candidate Forswears Wall Street Money—Who’s Next?

Donna Edwards

Donna Edwards (JD Lasica, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Democratic primary for Maryland’s open US Senate seat will be one of the most closely watched in the country, and potentially one of the most expensive. One candidate, Representative Donna Edwards, announced Thursday that she will not accept any donations from “Wall Street banks.”

In a letter to the progressive group Democracy for America, Edwards wrote “I don’t want Wall Street’s money. I don’t work for them. I work for you.” She cited recent reports that large financial institutions were threatening to withhold funding from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee because of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s rising prominence in the party, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s corollary call for the DSCC to pre-emptively reject any Wall Street donations.

The campaign for Representative Chris Van Hollen, Edwards’ high-profile opponent in the race, declined to comment.

Swearing off Wall Street donations might not be a huge impediment for him; the financial sector has not been a traditionally large source of support for Van Hollen’s campaigns nor his leadership PAC. Employees of securities and investment companies was only his tenth-biggest source of individual contributions to his campaign in 2014, and there were no big Wall Street banks in the top 20 individual contributors to his leadership PAC. Financial sector trade groups have at times attacked Van Hollen, as they did earlier this year when he included a financial transactions tax in his budget action plan.

But if he refuses to agree to the pledge, it could give Edwards a powerful rhetorical weapon in the campaign, and help her paint Van Hollen as too close to Wall Street. It’s also a fundraising tool for Edwards—in her letter to DFA members, she asked for small-dollar donations.

More broadly, Edwards is the first 2016 candidate to refuse Wall Street donations in a race. Some progressive groups are hoping it becomes a trend. “If Democrats want to prove that they’re not owned by Wall Street bullies, it starts by making clear that you can’t be bought and we’re hopeful that other House and Senate candidates will join Donna Edwards in boldly speaking out,” said DFA chair Jim Dean in a statement.

It’s not clear where the red line around “Wall Street banks” will be drawn, however.

Reich’s letter, which Edwards cites, calls on Democrats to reject “contributions from Wall Street banks like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Bank of America.”

That leaves uncertain whether donations from private equity firms, hedge funds, accounting giants, or insurance companies like AIG would violate the pledge.

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Also, “Wall Street bank” is a fungible term. Bank of America, for example, is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Colloquially, the term means a big bank—but where is the line? M&T Bank is the second-largest bank in Maryland by market share, according to the FDIC, but the thirtieth-largest in the country and generally not deemed too big to fail.

The pledge could also be hard to police. Campaigns aren’t allowed to accept a direct corporate contribution anyhow, though its associated PACs are. But if any PACs are 501(c)(4)s or otherwise non-transparent about donors, it would be impossible to know who is giving.

Edwards’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

Speaking about DFA’s general desire for more Democratic candidates to take the pledge, a spokesman said violations would be fairly easy to deduce—members will know it when they see it.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on why Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t be Senate majority leader

No, Elizabeth Warren Probably Shouldn’t Be Senate Majority Leader

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Harry Reid announced Friday that he won’t seek re-election in 2016, bringing a fascinating three-decade political career into its final chapter. Reid has been a unique Senate leader who, contrary to the old Lincoln maxim, actually kept most Democrats happy most of the time. While Reid often (though not always) maintained the trust and support of conservative Democrats all the way back to Joe Lieberman, liberals remember his heroic stance against Social Security cuts and outright privatization, his elimination of the filibuster on nominations, the gun-control battle of early 2013, and a variety of other skirmishes over the years where Reid demonstrated a willingness to fight for progressive causes—and a refusal to cave to the vocal minority of conservative Democratic Senators.

Already, the horse race to replace Reid in 2017 is on—whether it’s as majority or minority leader, though the electoral map and 2016 presidential election make the former more likely.

Liberals are sure to be skeptical of the heavy favorite to win the job, Senator Chuck Schumer, who has represented Wall Street literally as New York’s senior senator and figuratively in a variety of ways over the years. Reid has also already endorsed Schumer for the job, which comes off as heavy-handed.

Two progressive groups, Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are stoking the idea that Senator Elizabeth Warren should become the new leader. Neil Sroka, Democracy for America spokesman, said the position “shouldn’t be a slam dunk for any early front-runner, especially someone closer to Wall Street while the Wall Street wing of the party is dying and the Elizabeth Warren wing is rising.”

This is a tempting idea for progressives. It replicates the logic of the movement to draft Warren for president: by advancing the prospects of a populist crusader, it puts the more moderate sector of the party on notice that things are changing.

Greg Sargent makes a persuasive case that it’s great to start that debate now, even if it’s a steep uphill climb for Warren, as the Senate prepares to take up crucial debates on things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership; it’s good for progressives if Schumer and other moderate Democrats hear Warren’s footsteps when they are deciding whether to support Obama’s plea for a fast-tracked proposal.

There are other attractive things about Senate majority leader Warren, too—she is a prodigious fund-raiser for other Democrats, which is a crucial job requirement for Senate leader, and during the midterms she drew large crowds even in red states like West Virginia. The Senate leader also exercises a unique power to bless (or kill) potential Senate candidacies; in this role, Warren could help ensure strong progressive candidates emerged as the Democratic candidates in Senate races across the country.

So what’s not to like? I’m not sure the Warren push is a bad idea, but I have some serious concerns.

There are a few smaller-bore worries that could possibly be overcome, but are worth thinking about. For one, Warren’s office already said she doesn’t want the job. That’s a pretty big roadblock.

As leader of the Senate Democrats, Warren would necessarily lose the consistency of her positions. Her job every day would be to bring Democrats—all of them—into line to either support or oppose a particular provision. There would be messy compromises, especially when dealing with a House that’s likely to be Republican for the foreseeable future. One wonders if Warren would actually better serve progressive causes using her popularity as a normal senator, giving floor speeches and rallying Democrats away from some bad position the leadership wanted, instead of trying to herd all the cats herself.

Senate majority leader Warren also wouldn’t sit on any committees, meaning the senator who subjects the administration’s economic team or Wall Street executives to granular, probing questions on the Senate Banking Committee would be gone. Warren’s direct oversight power over Wall Street—gone.

Maybe that’s all worth it in the end. But the main reason this seems like a bad battle for progressives: it’s one they just can’t win. It’s definitely possible someone other than Schumer could be elected leader, but Warren is way too heavy of a lift.

There is a plausible argument, I think, that Warren could actually be elected president. At the end of the day, all she needs is for people to come out and vote—and give her a donation or two. But Senate leadership elections aren’t purely democratic exercises like a presidential election.

All that matters are the votes of around fifty Democratic senators, give or take a few, which are cast in a secret ballot. Nobody else gets a say, making it a pretty bad target for an organizing campaign. Sure, progressives could theoretically extract pledges from Democratic candidates or incumbents in the 2016 elections to support Warren, but there probably aren’t enough open, competitive seats to get a Warren majority that way.

The leadership election also comes at a uniquely bad time—right after the general election, and as far as possible from the next one. In other words, it happens when activists have the least amount of leverage.

Moreover, seniority is the lifeblood of the Senate. It’s the system by which senators know their service and time served will hold greater benefits down the line. It might not be pretty, nor fair, but any Senate observer will tell you it’s how the institution works. Even a theoretical senator who really wanted Warren to lead the party over Schumer would still really worry about overthrowing the seniority system that has, or would, benefit them.

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That doesn’t mean Schumer should get the job automatically, but the idea that senators would elevate a first-term member to the top seat borders on laughable. It won’t happen.

The danger in pushing a hopeless mission is that it weakens your stature. Earlier Friday, an anonymous Democratic aide in the Senate told TPM’s Sahil Kapur that the idea of Warren for leader is “absurd” and claimed the groups pushing it have little sway. I think there’s plenty of evidence of their influence—but it would be a shame if they helped prove that aide right.

Moreover, this all gets away from the task at hand: making Schumer scared of, and thus responsive to, the progressive wing of the party. Schumer almost surely isn’t worried about Warren.

My advice would be to pick a much more viable, veteran non-Schumer option like Dick Durbin, Patty Murray or even Sherrod Brown, and to throw the weight of progressives behind that person. Some of the those senators might make imperfect messengers, but the point is that they would be progressive-backed candidates who could actually win.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on getting rid of the Hyde amendment.

Let’s Just Get Rid of the Hyde Amendment

Abortion-rights activist

Abortion-rights activist Erin Matson holds up a sign as anti-abortion demonstrators march towards the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez)

Two seemingly innocuous pieces of legislation recently ran into unexpected roadblocks in Congress this month: a bill to permanently fix the Medicare doctor-payment formula, and legislation to aid victims of human trafficking.

The culprit in both cases was abortion language that would mirror the infamous Hyde Amendment. Many Democrats insist the provisions must be removed before they vote for either bill. The debate has metastasized so quickly that it’s now holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general; Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he would not bring her nomination to a vote until Democrats relent on the human-trafficking bill.

You’ve probably heard of the Hyde Amendment before—the oft-employed shorthand is that it’s the thing that prevents taxpayer dollars from going to abortion services. Ever since 1976, the bill has been a goblin haunting domestic politics, often throwing unrelated debates into chaos.

What if, once and for all, Democrats just got rid of it?

In many ways, the Hyde Amendment’s mythology outpaces its actual effect. As the dispute over these two bills shows, the Hyde Amendment isn’t an all-encompassing federal ban. Otherwise, there would be no fight here, because its principles would automatically be applied.

The Hyde Amendment actually deals mainly with Medicaid dollars, and prevents healthcare providers who have Medicaid patients from providing them abortion services.

This means it has a devastating effect on low-income women. Research has shown that lack of Medicaid funding for abortion services creates serious delays for low-income women seeking help, as they must save money necessary to pay for any procedures. Sixty-seven percent of poor women who had an abortion said they wanted to have it sooner, according to a Guttmacher Institute study. For some, the wait ends up being too long, or the cost is too burdensome—several studies estimate that somewhere between 18 and 35 percent of women on Medicaid continue their pregnancies despite wanting an abortion because the funding isn’t available.

The eponymous Representative Henry Hyde was pretty straightforward about the discrimination that his amendment created when it was enacted. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill,” he said in 1977. “If rich women want to enjoy their high-priced vices, that is their responsibility…that is fine, but not at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said during another debate.

Though limited to Medicaid, the Hyde Amendment’s fundamental logic has inspired similar bans on abortion services for federal inmates, for Peace Corps volunteers, and for members of the military. Obamacare was almost derailed over the question of whether the Hyde Amendment would apply to all the new government healthcare spending; an executive order from President Obama assured that it would. In each case, the argument is always: should we apply the Hyde Amendment?

Getting rid of the Hyde Amendment could therefore reverse the debate, and put pro-choice politicians on the offensive instead of constantly playing defense against Hyde creep.

Logistically, it might not be that hard. The Hyde Amendment expires every year—and is renewed by Congress annually when it appropriates money for the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Medicaid.

Some Democrats are at least talking about fighting back. The co-chairs of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, Representatives Louise Slaughter and Diana DeGette, issued a statement Tuesday blessing the abortion language in the Medicare payment bill because they feel the provisions don’t expand Hyde any further. They did note, however, that the Hyde Amendment “is a temporary rider that expires every year, and we—along with many women across this country—look forward to the day when it will end.”

Slaughter and four other House members embarked on a national bus tour to repeal the Hyde Amendment last summer.

Pro-choice activists are starting to look harder at getting rid of the Hyde Amendment too. URGE, a group that works to mobilize younger Americans around reproductive issues, has been running campaigns to make people aware of the issue. URGE has held rallies in twenty cities, and delivered petitions to members of Congress urging them to stop renewing Hyde.

“A lot of people didn’t even know what the amendment was, and that so many low-income women are affected. People were, one, surprised, and two, pissed off,” Kierra Johnson, the group’s executive director, told me. “It’s been under the radar for so long that congressional members haven’t had to do anything about it. We’re no longer going to let Hyde pass year after year, as if that’s just the way it should be.”

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If there is finally a push to get rid of the Hyde Amendment, it wouldn’t be the first time. As ThinkProgress recently noted, Bill Clinton actually made this a campaign pledge way back in 1992, and later asked Congress to act. Hyde, still in Congress at the time, was able to narrowly defeat the effort, and it’s never been tried in earnest since.

The chances of doing so in a Republican-controlled Congress are nil, but movements like these generally need some momentum. There will also another Clinton seeking the White House in the coming months. If she is looking for things to campaign on, getting rid of the Hyde Amendment and its anachronistic, discriminatory logic is a good place to look.

 

Read Next: George Zornick on a court victory for Chelsea Manning

Ted Cruz’s Biggest Liability Is Probably His Constant Lying

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks at Liberty University, Monday, March 23, 2015 to announce his campaign for president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Politicians lie. It’s almost non-controversial; elected officials are advocates who want to show themselves and their causes in the best possible light. Nobody tells the whole truth.

Senator Ted Cruz wants you to think he is different: the video he released Monday morning ahead of his presidential campaign announcement was titled “Time for truth.” Those were also the first words he spoke at Liberty University after making his official announcement.

If Cruz is different, however, it’s because of how boldly he claims things that aren’t even remotely true. His vacations from reality take on a gleeful exuberance, like a college freshman on his first trip to Daytona.

Cruz told a CPAC crowd, for example, that Democrats issued an ominous threat to the Catholic Church: “Change your religious beliefs or we’ll use our power in the federal government to shut down your charities and your hospitals.” Politifact naturally deemed this “both incorrect and ridiculous.”

A quick survey of some other Cruz gems:

  • Cruz said ISIS is “right now crucifying Christians in Iraq, literally nailing Christians to trees.” It wasn’t, and Cruz wasn’t able to offer any evidence.

  • Cruz described a “strong bipartisan majority” in the House that voted to repeal Obamacare. Two Democrats joined the Republicans.

  • He bluntly claimed that “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception … have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” This is not true.

  • In recent weeks, Cruz has been using some variation of this line: “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.” The IRS doesn’t have 110,000 employees, let alone agents. (There are 14,000).

This may read as an oppo-dump of misstatements from a guy who’s now running for president. But anyone who has followed Cruz’s career knows it’s the tip of the iceberg—he frequently just seems to be free-associating conservative grievances with “facts” pulled from nowhere.

In some ways this is a huge asset for Cruz: he is clearly trying to establish himself as not only the most right-wing presidential candidate, but the truth-teller who isn’t afraid to say what conservatives know to be right. (They got that e-mail forward about it, after all!)

Combined with his aggressive play for evangelical voters, in this way Cruz is not unlike the Michele Bachmann of years past—except with a much better political resume and a bigger bankroll.

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Of course, the last image many people have of Bachmann is being chased down a hallway by CNN’s Dana Bash in the final days of her congressional career; Bash wanted to confront Bachmann over the thoroughly ludicrous claim that Obama was spending $1.4 billion on personal expenses each year. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media made hay with Bachmann. Even normally credulous reporters just couldn’t resist the easy layup.

One wonders if Cruz, too, might eventually see his truthiness turn into a liability. Speaking at CPAC is one thing, but standing on the national stage seeking to be president is another.

Read Next: George Zornick on Ted Cruz’ misleading statements about Obamacare.

Does It Matter That Hillary Clinton Deleted Her E-Mails?

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton answers questions at a news conference at the United Nations, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

One of the big headlines to come out of Hillary Clinton’s press conference on Tuesday is that she deleted roughly half of the 60,000 e-mails she sent and received on her now-infamous private e-mail server while secretary of state. “At the end, I chose not to keep my private personal email,” Clinton said, revealing a theretofore unknown fact. “No one wants their personal emails made public, and I think most people understand that and respect that privacy.”

To be clear up front—Clinton didn’t break any laws or regulations by deleting this information. Federal officials are not obligated to preserve private communications.

The process by which Clinton determined what was a private communication and what wasn’t is still under significant scrutiny, however, and Clinton made a calculation to delete anything that wasn’t turned over—and to announce that fact publicly. Why might that be? What does she stand to gain, and lose, by doing that?

Off the bat, the deletion created an obvious public perception problem for Clinton. (She was immediately dubbed “Deleter of the Free World” by New York tabloids.) There’s no chance her team didn’t realize that when the e-mails were erased.

“Secretary Clinton may…lose something intangible by allowing those who hold the darkest view of her actions to believe, somehow, that their interpretation has been validated by her deliberate destruction of the emails,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, who added he thought there was an “irrational degree of passion” around the issue.

Did Clinton’s team accept that downside simply in order to free up some storage space? I think we can probably rule that out. So why do it?

“By destroying the personal emails she may have precluded a long, contentious dispute about who would be allowed to gain access to them and under what conditions,” Aftergood said. “A review of the emails would have been sought, in all likelihood, by congressional investigators, agency overseers, and FOIA requesters. If the messages no longer exist, those battles are foreclosed.”

This doesn’t mean there was anything malevolent in the e-mails—even if every one of the 30,000 messages really was about yoga routines and wedding plans, as Clinton claims, her team may have decided that deleting them (which happened sometime between December 14 and Clinton’s press conference) would hopefully pre-empt a protracted battle over nothing. It would also prevent an overzealous judge or agency chief from forcing her private communications into the public or semi-public sphere.

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Of course the final possibility is that Clinton improperly deleted work e-mails that she didn’t want the public to see. In that scenario, the erasure was definitely worth it for her, weighed against the attendant perception problems that come with deletion. Weighing those perception problems against not having to engage in a messy battle over the private e-mails is a little more unclear.

What’s interesting about this entire episode is that it’s a “scandal” of Clinton’s choosing: coming off the Bush years, where Clinton herself criticized the former administration for using private e-mails, Clinton chose the same path. It’s hard to believe she didn’t know there would someday be fallout just like what’s happening today, but she went ahead. The deletions are yet another choice.

In her telling, these decisions were made for convenience and then privacy, which may be true. There are also more problematic possibilities. We may not ever know for sure, but it’s fascinating to follow her decision tree—Clinton either made bad decisions that created negative political consequences, or good decisions that prevented an even worse outcome.

Read Next: George Zornick on a court victory for Chelsea Manning

Court: Army Must Refer to Chelsea Manning as a Woman

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning in an April 2010 photo

Chelsea Manning, the former Army private sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for leaking classified material to Wikileaks, won a court suit Wednesday that will force the Army to refer to her in future court filings by her formal name and to use feminine pronouns.

The US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, in a two-page decision, ordered that any “[r]eference to appellant in all future formal papers filed before this court and all future orders and decisions issued by this court shall either be neutral, e.g., Private First Class Manning or appellant, or employ a feminine pronoun.”

Manning’s lawyers filed requests for the proper use of her real name in court filings, and the Army filed an opposition earlier this year.

“This is an important development in Chelsea’s fight for adequate medical care for her gender dysphoria,” said Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney representing Manning. “That fight continues but at least the government can no longer attempt to erase Chelsea’s identity by referring to her as male in every legal filing.”

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Manning, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth, began a regimen of hormone therapy last month after a multi-year court battle. She is the first person to receive hormone treatment from the military, as transgendered soldiers are still not permitted.

The military will not, however, allow Manning to grow her hair like female prisoners.

Read Next: George Zornick on how King v. Burwell could strip subsidies away from millions of Americans

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