Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
Senate Republicans' Tuesday filibuster of a Democratic bill to avert a student loan interest rate hike signals a return to familiar territory for the party. The move comes after a brief detour that spurred speculation about whether, with the general election in full swing, Republicans were ready to ease up when it comes to blocking hot-button issues.
The context is an effort by the GOP -- and its presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney -- to save face with key voting constituencies that strongly favor Democrats and could swing the election: women, young voters and Hispanics.
Senate Democrats' effort to avert a student loan interest rate hike fell prey Tuesday to a Republican wall of opposition. GOP members declared their support for the cause but grumbled about how the majority party wants to pay for it.
A motion to proceed went down along party lines, 52-45, falling short of the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster. The underpinnings of the debate are an election-year battle for young voters, whom President Obama is eager to energize and whom presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is also courting.
House Republicans advanced a measure Monday that shifts automatic defense spending cuts the parties agreed to last August as part of a bipartisan debt-limit deal to domestic programs aimed at mitigating poverty and working-class struggles.
In clearing the legislation, the Budget Committee put it on a glide path to passing the full House -- but that's when it falls into limbo. Senate Democratic leadership had a concise message for their GOP colleagues: Dream on.
As Congress returns from recess this week, House Republicans are set to advance legislation to replace automatic defense spending cuts they agreed to last year with cuts to programs for the poor and working class. The controversial measure is expected to pass the House and die in the Senate, making it largely a political exercise that allows the two parties to contrast the values at the heart of the 2012 election: Should the burden for addressing the country's long-running fiscal challenges fall to struggling people, or to the wealthiest people in the country?
The proposal -- which is an outgrowth of the budget the House GOP overwhelmingly voted for late March -- would cut some $261 billion from health care programs, food stamps, unemployment benefits and child tax credits, among others. It constitutes a violation of the GOP's end of the debt-limit deal, which included painful sacrifices for both parties if the Congress failed to reach a bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement.
The Obama re-election campaign doesn't appear fazed by attacks from the right about "politicizing" the killing of Osama bin Laden, and on Sunday remained on offense over what it said was one of the president's accomplishments.
"The president hasn't been spiking the ball," said President Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod on ABC's This Week. "This was the one-year anniversary. It's part of his record. And it's certainly a legitimate part of his record to talk about." Axelrod said Obama followed through with his promise that catching the al-Qaeda leader would be a top priority. "And then he ordered a mission that was -- was, frankly, risky, dangerous," he said. "Bob Gates said it was one of the most courageous, one of the gutsiest decisions he's ever seen a president make. And it turned out successfully."
Axelrod was responding to an outside conservative group's ad -- hailed by Karl Rove and widely discussed in the conservative blogosphere -- that utilizes ominous music to sharply attack Obama for taking credit for the killing of Bin Laden on the first anniversary last week. "Heroes don't seek credit," the ad said. "Heroes don't politicize their acts of valor."
Mitt Romney's diversity of policy positions over the last decade has left conservatives and liberals wondering: What would he actually do as president? Would he return to his former, more moderate self, or would he embrace the ideological fervor of the right as he did during the primary?
According New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, it's hardly a close call: A hypothetical President Romney would do pretty much what House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan tells him to do, because he won't have much of a choice politically. And that, he argues, would be a disaster for the economy.
"Romney -- well, who knows what Romney thinks. Romney's economic advisers are not crazy," Krugman told TPM in an interview. "But I think it's unlikely Romney would have the leeway [to break from the Ryan mold]." The presumptive Republican nominee for president has effusively praised Ryan and, during the primary, attacked Newt Gingrich for criticizing him.
Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human rights activist who is under siege by his government, called in to a special committee hearing about his situation Thursday.
According to a translator, Chen told members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, "Thank all of you for your care and for your love." He said he fears for his and his family's well being and wants to come to the United States.
After the call ended, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said it "absolutely underscores why we're here."
Paul Krugman fired back at Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) after the influential Republican laughed off the New York Times columnist's criticisms by saying, "I've always figured I've got three certainties in my life: Death, taxes and attacks from Paul Krugman."
In an exclusive interview following the release of his new book End This Depression Now!, Krugman told TPM, "That's not a substantive remark. I've never attacked him just for nothing in particular. I've gone after his arithmetic and said it doesn't add up at all. And he has never offered a response to that. All he does is make scary noises about the deficit, with mood music, with organ music in the background about how ominous it is, and then propose a plan that would in fact increase the deficit."
There may not be much President Obama can do to improve the economy between now and the election, but telling a clear story about why it remains weak could mean the difference between victory and defeat this November. Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman fears the Obama team is getting that critical narrative wrong.
"They've tied themselves up in knots because they've bought into this notion that it would sound wrong to admit that they haven't been able to do everything that they really should have done," Krugman told TPM in an interview following the release of his new book, "End This Depression Now!" "It's incredible -- they can't quite make up their minds on whether the theme is that Republicans are standing in the way of doing what has to be done, or things are really good and America's back on track. The problem is that you can't perceive both of those lines at the same time."