A Government Shutdown Averted . . . For Now

The White House and House Republicans reached an agreement late Friday night on a budget deal that would avert a government shutdown. The proposed six-month deal would cut domestic spending and foreign aid by more than $40 billion from the rate of spending at the beginning of this Congress. Behind the closed doors of a special meeting of the Republican Conference, Speaker John Boehner presented the package to his Tea Party caucus as at least an agreement in principle. President Obama, for his part, hailed the deal as "the biggest annual spending cut in history". GOP riders on Title X subsidies and on EPA regulations were deferred.

The House and Senate quickly approved a stopgap measure to keep the government running. The final deal would still require another vote sometime next week.

Politico has more details on what the agreement entails.

President Barack Obama noted late Friday that a last-minute deal to avert a government shutdown happened because "Americans of different beliefs came together ... Both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed.""

Painful for whom? Certainly not for the wealthy in this country who remain undertaxed even as their wealth accumulates to proportions of gross indecency. No, when it comes to doling out painful austerity measures, these fall disproportionately on the weakest members of society.

As per the needed infrastructure projects, well that's just insane as well. Over the past few months, Republican Governors have killed important and vitally needed infrastructure projects in New Jersey, Ohio, and Florida. I'm not sure how to recreate the political conditions that led to the interstate highway system initiated during the Eisenhower Administration, but until the American right obtains an equivalent conviction regarding the urgent need to update the rapidly decaying and outmoded infrastructure across the nation, the country will fall further and further behind in the global economy. And that serves no one.

To be perfectly candid, we have a President who refuses to lead. President Obama sees himself as some Solomonian arbiter who rises above the partisan divide to bridge irreconcilable differences. Pity, for one, that he gets few political dividends for his efforts. To many on the right, he remains some sort of Marxist Kenyan born usurper who is committed to subverting the Constitution - no matter his stance on any issue, there are some who will take the opposite position even if they have to run through harried hula hoops of hypocrisy as Newt Gingrich recently did on Libya - while to much of his base, he remains simply an enigma. What are Barack Obama's values? For what and for whom will he fight? Nearly 27 months into his Presidency, for those on the left these questions remain unanswered. 

If the Democrats won this round in the court of public opinion, which for now it seems that they did if only marginally, they did so because of the leadership coming from the Senate. It was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Patty Murray of Washington who were out in the front battle lines defending the rights of women to adequate health care and the cause of reproductive freedom. Honorable mentions to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for speaking out on the GOP's war on women.

The Republicans were their own worst enemies but given their base, it is unlikely to hurt them that much, though I suspect the gender gap in next year's election will only grow. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana likely cemented his following among social conservatives. It was Pence who led the charge against Title X subsidies. Surprisingly, Rep. Michelle Bachmann showed signs of sanity being among the first on her side of the aisle to call for a clean bill, free of any controversial riders. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who made a similar plea, however, was ravaged on conservative websites such Free Republic and Red State for merely suggesting such a compromise. Bachmann largely proved immune to attacks, suggesting that she maintains a street cred with Tea Party activists that is the envy of others on the right. One other loser, who is growing more irrelevant by the day, is Sarah Palin. She took to Facebook again with another diatribe against the President and she was unceremoniously ignored. 

A Bridge Too Far

After the meeting at White House sponsored by President Obama in an attempt to prevent the shutdown of the US government last night, Senate Majority Reid said that the agreement had been reached on every issue except a GOP plan to defund Planned Parenthood.

"The only thing left was women's health," Reid said. "That's a bridge too far," he said. "I am really concerned that this government is going to shutdown" over this issue.

"In the presence of the President of the United States, we went through those they -- the Republicans -- felt were most important," Reid added. "We went through them one by one. They were all resolved -- except the rider dealing with Planned Parenthood."

Just to be clear, the Republicans, now a fully owned subsidiary of the Christian Right, are prepared to shut down the US Government over funding an organization that provides subsidized health care ranging from cancer prevention to birth control.  Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes the implications:

The Pence amendment, from which the rider originated, would cut off preventive health care for millions of women who need it the most by preventing Planned Parenthood health centers from providing birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams, and other preventive care to millions of women whose health care is covered by Medicaid and other public health coverage programs. Planned Parenthood serves three million people served in their health centers each year, and two million of those participate in some federal health program.

More than 90 percent of the health care provided by Planned Parenthood is preventive. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses carry out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams. Planned Parenthood health centers also provide affordable birth control to nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing for women and men.  The funding that PPFA receives from the federal government goes toward this basic care, and accounts for roughly one-third of Planned Parenthood’s $1 billion annual budget. These funds come from local, state and federal sources, but 90 percent come from Medicaid and other federal sources. Federal funds pay only for cancer screenings, birth control, family planning visits, annual exams, testing for HIV and other STIs, and other basic care.

Moreover, 73 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood provides primary and preventive health care to many who otherwise would have nowhere to turn. According to the Guttmacher Institute, six in ten patients who receive care at a family planning health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their main source of health care. 

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told a summit of women's rights activists she believes Republicans are engaged in a war on women and women's rights.

"There is actually a war on women," Rep. Pelosi told the several hundred activists attending the Women Money Power Summit sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Abortion is one issue but contraception and family planning and birth control are opposed by this crowd too. Understand what is at risk here," Pelosi said, referring to proposals promoted by the Tea Party controlled Republican caucus in the House.

There's more...

Senator Reid: "The Issue is Ideology, Not Numbers"

A solemn and crestfallen Harry Reid took to the Senate floor today to express his dismay at what now looms as inevitable, a government shutdown.

"The numbers are basically there but I am not near as optimistic—and that’s an understatement—as I was 11 hours ago,” said the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada in an eloquent yet understated Senate floor speech on Thursday morning. On the chances of a government shutdown, Reid said, “It looks like it’s headed in that direction.”

If the numbers are there, then what is preventing a deal that would avert a costly and unnecessary disruption of government services? Well according to Senator Reid, Republicans tied to the Tea Party movement are insisting on attaching riders targeting abortion and clean air regulations that should be dealt with in regular legislation.

"It's not realistic to shut down the government on a debate dealing with abortion," Reid went on to say. "It's not fair to the American people."

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly writes:

Republicans want to cut off Planned Parenthood and gut the Clean Air Act, but instead of pursuing legislation to achieve their goals, they're insisting that this be part of the budget. Democrats can't go along with this nonsense, and John Boehner is too weak a Speaker to tell his caucus to act like grown-ups, so the entire process is unraveling.

This has led to talk about the GOP shutting down the government over abortion, but even that's not quite right -- Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using public funds to terminate pregnancies, and has been for many years. What we're talking about here is Republicans shutting down the government over access to contraception and family planning services.

This is the basis for the GOP hostage strategy.

One is simply dumbstruck at the radicalism of today's GOP and I cannot help but to ask how can the country endure in the face of an ever-widening cultural and ideological chasm? The worldview to which much of the GOP subscribes is one that we as a nation thought we had long put behind us but they want to repeal the twentieth century and they don't mind destroying the country in the process. If that doesn't worry and anger you, then nothing will.

New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

From the Restore Fairness blog-

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org

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Will Latino enthusiasm color the mid-term vote?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In these weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, the competition for voter support is intense and the tension is most palpable in the sphere of the media where candidates are vying for support from specific voter groups. Looking specifically at the constituency of Latino voters, research conducted by America’s Voice and the Latino Decisions team has found that in spite of, or possibly even as a direct consequence of the rabid anti-immigrant campaigning on the part of right wing members of the Republican party, there has been an steady increase in numbers of Latinos who will vote Democrat in the mid-term elections.

From the standpoint of the immigration issue, it is interesting to note that while researchers were seeing a strong sense of disillusionment with the Democrat party amongst Latinos and other immigrants over the last few months, currently, this trend seems to be changing. Latinos, who voted predominantly Democrat in the 2008 Presidential election, had begun to wane in their support for the Democratic party as a result of the party’s failure to deliver on promises of immigration reform made during the 2008 electoral campaign.

As announced by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions on a call yesterday though, recent tracking polls reveal that there has been a significant increase in the number of registered Latino voters, and that a majority of them are voting Democrat. One of the key criteria by which Latino Decisions measure their data is “degree of enthusiasm.” Yesterday’s tracking poll showed a much greater deal of enthusiasm for next week’s election amongst Democrat leaning Latino voters than amongst the (smaller) Republican leaning Latino population. Most importantly, this is a huge change from a month ago- this week, 61% of Latino voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting on November 2nd, as compared to only 40% on September 6th. The research shows-

For the fourth straight week, we find an increase in the percentage of Latino registered voters who report being very enthusiastic about voting in November 2010.  Four weeks ago just 40.3% of Latinos said they were very enthusiastic, and today that figures reaches 58.3%.  Self-reported turnout certainty remained constant at 75.1% from one week ago, up 10 point from four weeks ago.  As election day draws near, and early voting is in full swing, Latinos are reportedly showing more and more interest and enthusiasm.

According to Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, this increase in enthusiasm is largely due to the anti-immigrant and blatantly anti-Latino campaigns that a lot of Republican candidates have run. In the past weeks, Senator Harry Reid’s opponent in Nevada, Republican candidate Sharron Angle, has released a series of ads that, along with demonizing Harry Reid for his support of immigration reform, are extremely anti-immigrant, anti-Latino and even blatantly racist. Calling Reid “The Best Friend An Illegal Alien Ever Had,” one of the ads juxtaposes images of aggressive looking Latino fence skulking alongside a fence with images of an innocent white family. Her second ad shows a group of “gang-like” Latino men threatening white college students. Continuing to pit the “dangerous” brown people against the “innocent” white people like her and her family, the most recent ad might be the one to tip the Senatorial race in Nevada against Sharron Angle, given that Latinos are said to play a prominent role in the tight race between Reid and Angle.

Watch the ad for yourself. 

Foolhardy anti-immigrant campaigns are not the only reason that Latinos seem more keen to vote next week. In addition to a mammoth effort on the part of civic and community groups and labor unions such as the Services Employees Workers Union working on the ground to encourage people to vote, President Obama himself seems to be focusing his energy on winning back the support of the immigrant community and driving them to the polls.

In an interview for Univision yesterday, President Obama defended his unsuccessful attempt at securing immigration reform. Making an analogy to the civil rights movement, he urged that change takes time, and reassured the community that he would push for immigration reform as soon as he could. In his interview, he sought to convince listeners that it was Republicans who were responsible for blocking the passage of immigration reform, making a pointed reference to Sen. John McCain as one of the 11 Republicans who support immigration reform a few years ago only to back away from the issue over the past year. Today, the President is holding a conference call along with actress Eva Longoria, to highlight the actions he has taken that benefit the Latino community and drive home the point that a refusal to vote in the mid-term elections could mean a death knell for immigration reform.

Whatever your reasons, it’s really important to get your voice out there, so make sure you vote!

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