Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

Articles by Brian

President Obama devoted several minutes at a surprise Tuesday White House press briefing to combating the conventional wisdom that it's within his power -- and the power of the presidency more generally -- to make members of Congress, particularly members of the opposite party, cooperate.

But though he placed the onus on congressional Republicans to work constructively with him -- specifically to replace sequestration -- he did allude to an ongoing effort to provide GOP elected officials with the political cover they need to reach a budget agreement with Democrats.

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Last week, when the White House and Congressional Democrats agreed to provide the FAA the flexibility under sequestration to avoid air traffic controller furloughs, I argued that they'd crossed one of their own bright lines, and thus made a serious tactical error.

Here's some evidence to support that view.

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One of the Senate's most ardent supporters of organized labor, who opposed a 2007 effort to reform the country's immigration policies for failing to incorporate protections for low-income workers, says the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform effort is a big improvement.

"I think we're going in the right direction here," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told TPM during an interview in his Senate office last week. "I feel good about it."

Brown, along with Iowa populist Tom Harkin bucked Democratic leadership six years ago and voted to block a bipartisan immigration reform bill sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), in part because of the legislation's guest worker provisions, which they concluded would be detrimental to low-skilled workers in the United States.

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The House of Representatives passed legislation Friday giving the Federal Aviation Administration unique flexibility under sequestration to use agency funds to avoid air traffic controller furloughs.

The final vote was 361-41 -- because it was fast-tracked it required a two-thirds House majority to pass.

The legislation, now adopted by both chambers in a unusually swift and deliberate fashion over the course of 15 hours, is intended to remedy widespread staffing-related flight delays which have dogged travelers all week.

But it's also a dramatic surrender by congressional Democrats and the White House in the ongoing public fight over sequestration.

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Last night, the Senate proved it can fix big problems for real Americans -- so long as they're rich, or relatively rich, or fly for business or what have you.

The short version is that late last night it took a break from its regular schedule of lacking 60 votes to shampoo the chamber carpet and unanimously passed a bill that will provide the FAA unique flexibility under sequestration -- and thus halt the furloughs that have been causing travel delays around the country. Today the House will follow suit, and the White House has made it clear President Obama intends to sign it. Great if you fly. Bad, bad news if you're on head start or rely on meals on wheels or otherwise aren't a Priority Pass holder.

Aside the obvious iniquity, this is a big error.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says his latest effort to address the problem of Too Big To Fail banks faces two large but deeply intertwined challenges: Wall Street banks and the Obama administration.

"It's clear there's too much Wall Street in this administration," he told me during a Thursday interview in his Capitol Hill office.

Obama's Treasury department is just as unfriendly to the idea of breaking up big banks, or limiting their destructive potential, under Jack Lew as it was under Timothy Geithner, Brown said.

He was particularly unhappy with a recent speech in which Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance Mary Miller argued that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill already addressed the Too Big To Fail problem.

But Brown, and strange bedfellow Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), are pressing ahead anyhow with a new bill to impose much stricter capital requirements on megabanks, which they define as institutions with over $500 billion in assets.

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In less than 24 hours, a story about a shady, secret bipartisan effort to rescue members of Congress and their staffs from the rough seas of Obamacare has turned into a much less controversial tale about Obamacare implementation problems ensnaring innocent Hill staffers.

What I imagine makes all this unusually annoying for Democrats is that this particular Obamacare problem only exists because four years ago a Republican Senator tried to embarrass them with an amendment nobody really thought was good policy.

But that's all deep in the dustbin at this point. In 2013, every Obamacare implementation screw up is presented and viewed as the direct consequence of bad Democratic legislating. Even in cases where the legislative measure in question was written in a fit of pettiness by a Republican trying to kill the bill.

Ok, a quick, but important update to the below post about whether members of Congress are trying to wiggle out of the requirement that they and their aides purchase insurance on the exchanges starting in 2014.

To sum up briefly, in 2009, members of the Senate Finance Committee adopted an amendment to their draft of the health care bill that was designed to effectively drop members of Congress and their staffs into the exchanges, just like regular individuals.

The question now is whether they're trying to retroactively exempt themselves from that requirement, or simply trying to deal fairly with the same sort of implementation snafus that many states, etc, are experiencing on a day to day basis.

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No sense in denying it. Politico won the primetime last night with a breathtaking story about Congressional hypocrisy. The article's here. The nub of it is that Democrats and Republicans are supposedly, and secretly, trying to exempt lawmakers and their aides from Obamacare. Back in 2009, when the bill was in its infancy, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment to effectively require members and staffs to obtain their insurance on the exchanges just like your average Joe whose employer doesn't provide health benefits. It passed, for reasons which should be politically obvious. Now members want a mulligan.

Ezra Klein burrows into the specifics and lets these supposedly scheming members of Congress off the hook. All that's happening, he reports, is that members are trying to figure out a way for Congress to continue contributing to employee premiums.

We're still burrowing down into the specifics ourselves, because we want to give everyone a completely fair shake, without lapsing into credulity. But at first glance, and then after some initial reporting, I think the truth is somewhere in between.

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Last week, while the national media turned its attention to the events unfolding in Boston, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that under normal circumstances have received much more scrutiny.

And if House Republicans eventually relent and agree to return to the normal budget process, it will become relevant once again.

The report addressed and largely affirmed a key criticism of an inflation measure called Chained CPI, which among other things would reduce Social Security cost of living increases and kick people into higher income tax brackets, if adopted across the government.

The implicit finding: Chained CPI -- which President Obama included as a compromise measure in his budget -- will typically harm seniors more than the rest of the population.

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