One of Ohio's two U.S. senators says Democrats need to get better organized so they can counteract private conservative groups that secretly draft legislation for Republican lawmakers.
The Porkopolis column in this week's CityBeat features excerpts from an interview with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). As is often the case with print media, there was limited space available and segments of the wide-ranging interview with Brown weren't included in the column.
One of the unused segments included Brown's responses to questions about whether President Obama and Congressional Democrats are aggressive enough in pushing their agenda, and whether the Left needs a group to counteract organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Asked if Democrats at the federal level are too reactive and need to do better at framing and guiding debate on issues, Brown said his party could use some improvement in that regard. He cited the theories of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century essayist and abolitionist.
“I think the Democrats could do better at that, from the president on down,” Brown said. “It's always easier to say no. The one reason (Republicans) do well with message is, by definition almost, of conservative. Emerson talked about the innovators and the conservators. Progressives are the innovators and conservatives are the conservators. By definition, the conservators protect the status quo. Protecting the status quo means 'no,' 'repeal,' 'don't,' and 'not.' Those are simple concepts. Changing things is more complex.”
Also, Brown wishes the media would more clearly articulate what's happening in Washington. During the recent debate on raising the federal debt ceiling, for example, it was Obama and Democrats who were willing to compromise, a fact he believes didn't receive enough attention.
“When one party digs in and is extreme, both parties look bad,” he said. “When people say, 'they all look terrible in Washington,' a big reason for that is Republicans weren't willing to negotiate anything. They were willing to shut the government down if we didn't do things their way.
“We, in the end, want to be responsible,” Brown added. “A bunch of senators were in the White House months ago and Barack Obama said to us, 'I'm the adult and I have to be responsible. They know I'm not going to let the government default.' Well, as long as they know that, it changes things.”
Brown likes the suggestion of Democrats forming their own progressive version of ALEC — the private, corporate-backed group that writes model legislation for state lawmakers, which is funded by the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association and others.
“That might be a good idea,” he said. “The elections last year were all about job loss. Spending a little bit, but mostly about job loss. Then you look at the three most salient things this state legislature has done, which is roll back collective bargaining rights, voting rights and women's rights.
“Not only is that not solving the problems we really have, which is jobs, it's also injecting divisions into our country and our state that we don't need,” Brown added. “It's made people so angry and hurt so many people's feelings in a really significant way and for what? So they can accomplish a political agenda. That's what is really outrageous.”
An ardent opponent of going to war in Iraq, Brown believes some progressives' fear that Obama will extend the wars there and in Afghanistan beyond the timetables for troop withdrawals is unfounded.
“I'm confident they will be respected and I'm hoping Afghanistan's will be accelerated,” he said. “I think (Obama) will stand on what he said.”
The senator is more ambivalent about U.S. intervention in the uprising in Libya. “I wish the president had been a bit more forthcoming with Congress about our involvement, but people I respect have also said it would've been a real genocide there if the Europeans and we hadn't done something,” Brown said. “It's an awfully difficult call.”
Brown believes extremist actions by the GOP — like restricting collective bargaining rights at the state level, and trying to defund Planned Parenthood and limit access to abortion at the federal level — are out of touch with the mainstream, and will benefit Democrats in next year's elections.
“Voters absolutely see these guys overreaching,” Brown said. “The voters aren't wild about Barack Obama and the Democrats, but they like the Republicans even less.
“They've overreached on Medicare, it's going after Head Start and Planned Parenthood and all the kinds of things there is general consensus about in this country,” he added. “We have general consensus in this country on many things, except the Far Right, on items like the environment, on Medicare, on food safety, on voting rights. These guys have exploded that.”
Some major decisions are expected in the next few days, and we're not referring to how the dithering, ineffectual Cincinnati City Council will finally close a $54 million deficit.
Rather, the decisions coming soon are who will replace Republican Chris Monzel on City Council, and who will replace Tom Callinan as editor at The Enquirer.
The New York Times is reporting today that Sarah Palin has been hired by Fox News to be a regular contributor to the cable news channel.
Uh, didn’t she work there already? This is like reporting “Dog bites man.”
Two Democratic congresswomen walked out of a hearing today in the House after a Republican colleague blocked a woman from testifying about a new federal rule that will require most employers to provide free birth control.
U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) left the hearing after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) prevented the woman from being added to the witness list.
Announced last month, the rule reclassifies birth control as a preventative health measure, which means most employers must cover contraception in their insurance plans with no cost sharing like co-pays or deductibles. Initially, an exemption was granted for churches but not for religiously affiliated schools and hospitals, which angered some Catholic bishops and others.
In a compromise unveiled Feb. 10, President Obama said religiously affiliated schools and hospitals wouldn’t be forced to offer coverage for free contraceptives. Rather, insurers will be required to offer the coverage free to any women who work at such institutions.
That wasn’t good enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and some conservative politicians, who said the coverage shouldn’t be required at all.
Issa’s staff informed Democratic members of the committee that the hearing was about religious liberty in general, and not the contraception mandate, in explaining why Sandra Fluke couldn’t testify.
“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the (Obama) administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness,” Issa’s staffers wrote in a letter.
Fluke wanted to tell about an incident involving a 32-year-old friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and prescribed birth control pills as the only remedy for her condition. Because the woman’s insurance didn’t cover contraception, the friend couldn’t afford her medication and eventually lost her ovary.
Read what Fluke had planned to tell the panel here.
Eleven people were on Issa’s witness list, led by the Rev. William Lori, the Roman Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. Eight of Issa’s witnesses are Orthodox Christian, Catholic or evangelical, and represent Christian institutions.
Originally, Issa only planned on calling nine witnesses — all men. After the public flap, he added two women to the list.
A post on viral web cataloger BuzzFeed accuses U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt or her staff of airbrushing the congresswoman’s Wikipedia page.
BuzzFeed claims that a user bearing the Internet fingerprint shared by all Congressional offices removed the section of Schmidt’s Wikipedia entry titled “The Armenian Genocide issue.”
Schmidt was one of 33 Congress members alleged to have had airbrushing done to their Wikipedia pages.
Also listed was House Speaker John Boehner, who allegedly had mention of his knowledge of the Mark Foley congressional page scandal scrubbed from his page.
CityBeat on Wednesday asked for comment from the offices of Schmidt and Boehner but no response was given.
“The Armenian Genocide issue” section appeared on Schmidt’s page as of Wednesday. It’s unclear whether the section had previously been removed.
According to the entry, Schmidt came under fire in 2008 from congressional challenger David Krikorian for failing to publicly define the mass killing of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians between 1915-1916 as the “Armenian Genocide.”
The Armenian-American Krikorian accused Schmidt of taking tens of thousands in “blood money” from the Turkish government in order to push the denial. Krikorian’s claims resulted in a defamation lawsuit from Schmidt and a complaint before the House Ethics Committee.
However, Boehner’s page still contained no mention of his knowledge of the Foley page scandal as of Wednesday afternoon.
In 2006 former Republican Florida Rep. Mark Foley resigned over reports that he had sent sexually explicit Internet messages to at least one underage male former congressional page.
Boehner told The Washington Post that he had learned of inappropriate “contact” between Foley and a 16-year-old page and told then-House Speaker Dennis Hassert about it. He later told the newspaper that he couldn’t remember whether he talked to Hassert.
A prominent Republican congressman is under investigation for insider trading. U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, is being probed by the Office of Congressional Ethics for making suspicious trades and buying certain stock options while helping oversee the nation’s banking and financial services industries.
Leave it to TV talk show host David Letterman to tell it like it is.
Broaching a topic that is on most political junkies' minds these days, Letterman questioned the psychological stability of House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) on his CBS show Monday night.