The last month and half in American politics has been dominated by one story and one story only: the health-care law and its (now better-functioning) website.
But on Friday, we received a reminder of another political story that isn't going away anytime soon.
As NBC's Jessica Taylor writes, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., announced he would seek re-election next year, setting up a 2014 establishment-vs.-Tea Party GOP primary against state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Conservative groups quickly reiterated their support for McDaniel and opposition to Cochran in the June 3 primary.
“Throughout his over 40 years in Washington, Sen. Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things. He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a 'moral obligation' to cut spending,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. “Sen. Cochran has also voted to confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices and is a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks."
The Senate Conservatives Fund added, "Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country."
Meanwhile, the establishment in Mississippi lined up behind Cochran.
As GOP operative Henry Barbour tweeted:
Good news for MS w/ @SenThadCochran decision to run. He stands on principle, but is always a gentleman - not much of that left in DC.
And it's not just in Mississippi. By First Read's count, there are at least half a dozen Senate GOP primaries next year essentially pitting the Republican establishment against the Tea Party:
-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. Matt Bevin in Kentucky;
-- Sen. Lindsey Graham vs. a crowded field in South Carolina;
-- Sen. Pat Roberts vs. Milton Wolf in Kansas;
-- Sen. Lamar Alexander vs. Joe Carr in Tennessee;
-- Sen. Mike Enzi vs. Liz Cheney in Wyoming;
-- and the crowded field in Georgia vying to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
But as one Republican operative watching these Senate contests contends, it's very possible all of these GOP incumbents win their primaries next year. "As long as the senators are prepared to do the work ... all can win."
Yet there's also something going on in these races beyond ideology or the establishment vs. the Tea Party.
It's age -- or longevity in the Senate.
Cochran was first elected to the Senate in 1978; Enzi in 1996; Roberts in 1996; and Alexander and Graham in 2002.
As the Club for Growth put it in its statement on Cochran, “Throughout his over 40 years in Washington..."
Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term in 2014, NBC News learned Friday, making the veteran lawmaker into a top target for conservative groups during next year's GOP primary.
Amid murmurs that Cochran might retire rather than endure a campaign against already-announced challenger Chris McDaniel, the senator will instead try for another six-year stint in Congress.
The Mississippi Republican's decision was first reported by Roll Call and the senator confirmed it in an interview with Gannett newspapers. His Senate spokesman confirmed Cochran's decision to NBC News.
McDaniel, a state senator, swiftly picked up endorsements from the influential Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund after he announced his candidacy this fall. As the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, Cochran has hardly enamored himself among conservative groups who wish to slash government spending.
The pressure on Cochran from his right is even more pronounced in a reliably Republican state like Mississippi, where the GOP primary can sometimes serve as a de-facto general election.
“Throughout his over forty years in Washington, Senator Thad Cochran has done some good things for Mississippi, but he’s also done some bad things. He voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a “moral obligation” to cut spending,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “Senator Cochran has also voted to confirm liberal Supreme Court Justices and is a strong supporter of wasteful earmarks – something that is opposed by Republican leaders in both the Senate and the House. Mississippi voters will make the final judgment as to whether it is time for a change.”
Cochran, who will turn 76 tomorrow, had appeared to waiver on whether he wanted to run again. He missed his self-imposed end-of-November deadline to make a decision, and his meager fundraising of just $53,000 in the third quarter didn't make it seem as though he was likely to seek re-election. Many GOP observers, both in D.C. and Mississippi, expected he would retire, but his thinking seemed to have changed in the past few weeks.
The veteran lawmaker likely still has the upper hand in the June 2014 primary. Still seen as popular in the Magnolia State, Cochran was first elected to the U.S. House in 1972 before winning his Senate seat in 1978. He has been easily re-elected since.
Other statewide officials had said they would consider running if Cochran stepped aside, but his decision to run likely sets up a showdown with McDaniel, and may give Tea Party groups their best chance to knock off a member of the GOP establishment. SCF and CFG's political arms have already run television ads, praising him as a new conservative leader. McDaniel drew criticism for addressing a neo-Confederate group earlier this year.
"Our members in Mississippi like Chris McDaniel because he will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country," said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins. "We're going to do everything we can to help him get his message out so voters know they have a choice."
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa next week to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, the White House confirmed Friday.
“President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The White House said further details of the visit will be announced later.
Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
In remarks at the White House Thursday evening, Obama called the former South African president an inspiration to the world.
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” he said. “Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us -- he belongs to the ages.”
Mandela’s funeral is set to be held on Sunday, December 15.
Universal, bipartisan praise for Mandela after his passing -- when it wasn’t always the case… Cincinnati-area focus group: Voters angry with Washington, down on Obama, and feeling helpless in fixing things… November jobs report: Employers add 203,000 jobs and unemployment rate falls to 7.0%. (Is the slowly but surely improving economy the political story folks aren’t paying enough attention to?)… Wrapping up Obama’s interview on MSNBC’s Hardball… Scott Brown’s appears to confuse Massachusetts for New Hampshire… And de Blasio’s deft political move in hiring Bratton as his police commissioner.
As Americans reflect on the legacy of the former South African president, NBC's Andrea Mitchell takes a look back on the struggles and controversy Mandela faced on the global stage, including his time as an enemy of the United States.
*** Universal, bipartisan praise for Mandela -- when that wasn’t always the case: For a Washington that’s deeply divided on almost every issue, Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday was a unifying event. The praise for the late South African leader was immediate and bipartisan. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth,” President Obama said yesterday afternoon. “Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his ‘long walk to freedom’ showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity,” House Speaker John Boehner added. And here was the Republican National Committee’s Reince Priebus: “His legacy is defined by doing what others declared impossible, most notably fighting the evil of apartheid and beginning the healing of a nation.” But as universally praised and beloved as Mandela is now, anyone who was politically aware in the 1980s or 1990s knows that always wasn’t the case. After all, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan vetoed legislation -- which Congress overrode -- punishing South Africa for its racial apartheid. A lot of it had to do with Cold War mentality at the time; some viewed Mandela as on the wrong side of that fight. But it’s all a reminder how the passage of time and history can transform a one-time controversial figure into a political saint, and vice-versa. But it’s also a lesson that sometimes a policy of the moment will end up being embarrassing; politicians today ought to think about what a policy decision in the moment will look like a generation later.
Independent voters sat down with NBC pollster Peter Hart in Cincinnati last night to talk about their frustrations with politicians in Washington.
*** “The system doesn’t work”: If you follow American politics and look at any polling, you know that Washington right now is about as popular as New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez at a Boston Red Sox convention. But a focus group of 11 Cincinnati-area voters -- conducted Wednesday night by NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) -- further drives home the message that Americans believe Washington is broken. As NBC’s Carrie Dann, who covered the focus group writes, “America has met the enemy, and it is Washington.” Here was Terry Hartley, 63, a retired Romney voter: If members of Congress spent some time in his shoes, Hartley said, "I would hope that they would care more about the people they represent." He added, "That's what upset me so much about the shutdown. It's like they didn't care." Here was Brigid Brennan, a 51-year-old Obama voter, who said this about Washington politicians: "I think they were selfish. It's sad that we can't discuss things and come to a conclusion." This is how Hart summed up the attitudes: "They're indicting the president, they're indicting Congress," he said. "It is a sense that the system doesn't work, and they don't have an answer, but they know what they hate."
*** Down on Obama: And as Hart explains, President Obama “took it right on the chin.” Per NBC’s Dann, none of the eight voters who supported Obama in 2012, nor the three who voted for Mitt Romney, described themselves as "proud" or "satisfied" with the president, opting instead for "mixed" or "disappointed." Here’s Brandi Nixon, 34, an African-American nurse assistant who voted for Obama twice, both in 2008 and in 2012: "He's a big disappointment," she said. "He just lost focus. He lost focus on his goals…. He stopped focusing on creating more jobs and fixing the economy." Words used to describe the president, even by those who voted for him last year, included "inexperienced," "powerless," "cautious," "timid" and "overwhelmed." As Hart sums it up, “Yes, they are disappointed with the roll out of health care, this is a major black eye, but it is really more a sense that events are controlling him, rather than.his shaping and leading the country.” You could not walk away from this focus group without realizing the president is losing the faith of the swing voters whom he lured to his side in both 2008 and 2012.
*** Feeling helpless to fix Washington: Perhaps the most interesting finding from the focus group was that the participants said they felt helpless in being able to punish Washington. "That's probably the anger and the frustration," said Jeff Brown, a 45-year-old scientist who leans Republican. "It's not easy to do that." Here’s how Hart put the attitudes: "The public has figured out what's wrong," he said. "They can't figure out how to fix it."
*** Thoughts on 2016: With these respondents down on Obama, it was interesting (and maybe not all that surprising) that views of Hillary Clinton couldn’t be higher. As Dann writes, the Cincinnati-area voters described the former secretary of state and potential 2016 candidate as "strong," "vivacious," "powerful," "a great head of state" and "smart." All of the women in the group praised her sense of purpose, although the three Romney voters said they found her "distrustful." It also was interesting that the focus-group participants -- who were politically sophisticated -- had lukewarm feelings about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "Chris Christie was a non-personality," said Hart. "We talk about him as being big and omnipresent; he was small and insignificant." It’s a reminder that, outside In fact, participants had fuller impressions of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as 2016 contenders, although both elicited mixed reactions.
*** Employers add 203,000 jobs in November, unemployment rate drops to 7.0%: Despite all the political problems Obama has faced over the last month and a half, here’s something that might not be getting enough attention: The economy appears to be a lot stronger than many think. Here are the latest job numbers from the AP: “A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7 percent in November, an encouraging sign for the economy. The Labor Department says employers added 203,000 jobs, nearly matching October's revised gain of 200,000. The job gains helped lower the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent in October.” We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: As has been the case over the past two years, the U.S. economy is never as weak as many think it is -- but it also isn’t as strong. This also was a finding from the Cincinnati focus group: There was a belief that the economy is getting better…
*** Obama plays “Hardball”: Also yesterday, President Obama sat down for an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. The dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “Republicans ought to be ‘embarrassed’ of their record low productivity during their time in charge of the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama said Thursday. In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the president said Republicans shouldered most of the blame for gridlock in Washington, especially as GOP lawmakers tend to the ideological concerns of their party’s conservative flank. ‘They’ve got to be embarrassed,’ the president said on a special edition of ‘Hardball’ that aired Thursday evening. ‘Because the truth of the matter is they’ve now been in charge of the House of Representatives – one branch or one chamber in one branch of government – for a couple of years now. They just don’t have a lot to show for it.’”
*** Massachusetts? Or New Hampshire? Republicans tell us that there’s about a 50%-50% chance that former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) might run for the Senate next year -- in New Hampshire. And so Democrats were delighted about this video -- via the Dem oppo group American Bridge -- of Brown appearing to forget what state he was in while in Londonderry, NH. “What I've heard from the Republicans up here is they're thankful that I've been around for a year, helping them raise money, helping them raise awareness as to the issues that are effecting not only people here in Massachesett--uh, in New Hampshire, but also in Massachusetts, obviously, in Maine.” Ouch.
*** De Blasio’s deft political move in hiring Bratton as his police commissioner: Finally, don’t miss this other news from yesterday: Liberal NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio hired Rudy Giuliani’s former police chief -- Bill Bratton -- as his top police official. The New York Times: “William J. Bratton was named police commissioner of New York City for the second time on Thursday. But it is a different place than the crime-ravaged city he came to in 1994. And he said he was going to be a different kind of commissioner, overseeing a different kind of policing.” It was a pretty deft political move by de Blasio -- it placates those worried about New York returning to the 1980s when it comes to crime. But there’s also Bratton saying that his second go-around won’t be like his stint with Giuliani.
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*** Friday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: We will reflect on Nelson Mandela's life and times and see how the world is reacting with NBC's Andrea Mitchell and NBC News contributor Charlayne Hunter-Gault. To discuss Mandela's leadership and diplomatic legacy Chuck is joined by fmr. U.S. Amb. to South Africa Donald Gips and current Amb. Patrick Gaspard, and we will have the latest reaction in South Africa from NBC's Keir Simmons on the ground in Soweto, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-DE and fmr. Rep. and NAACP Pres. Kweisi Mfume, D-MD, on Apartheid and 1980s U.S. politics.
*** Friday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts discusses the life of Nelson Mandela with NBC News contributor Charlayne Hunter-Gault, The Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III & Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) talks about the Affordable Care Act. And Jared Bernstein, Former Chief Economist & Economic Policy Adviser to V.P. Biden, breaks down the latest job numbers.
*** Friday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include the New York Times’ Nick Kristof, MSNBC’s Karen Finney, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, Rep. Jim Clyburn, the NAACP’s Ben Jealous, and MSNBC’s Al Sharpton.
*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Maxine Waters, former Rep. Ron Dellums, Rep. Keith Ellison, msnbc’s Chris Matthews, NBC Special Correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault and NBC’s Keir Simmons and Michelle Kosinski.
*** Friday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews former Ambassador to UN Andrew Young, former NY Times Johannesburg Bureau Chief Suzanne Daley, Charlene Hunter Gault, Rep Sheila Jackson Lee and Mandela Biographer Barry Denenberg.
*** Saturday’s “MSNBC Live Weekends” line-up at 2:00 pm ET: Craig Melvin will look at the life and influence of Nelson Mandela and also feature interviews with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Michigan State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, Cook County, IL Commissioner Bridget Gainer, msnbc.com’s Irin Carmon, and the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.
NBC News: "World leaders, politicians, celebrities and public figures all across the globe mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and South Africa's first black president, who died Thursday at home at the age of 95. Statements on his passing poured in from around the world, with President Barack Obama at the White House saying he was one of the countless millions of people who drew inspiration from Mandela's life and his 'fierce dignity.' 'He achieved more than could be expected of any man," Obama said, visibly emotional. 'Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us,' he added, referring to Mandela by his affectionately used clan name."
Gallup: “After two months of glitches with the new federal healthcare website and attempts to fix it, the percentage of Americans who prefer that Congress scale back or entirely repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or ‘Obamacare,’ has changed little. Fifty-two percent favor scaling back (20%) or repealing (32%) the law, similar to the 50% from mid-October.”
Another Gallup point: “President Barack Obama's job approval rating averaged 41% in November, down 12 percentage points from 53% last December, his high-water mark since his first year in office. Hispanics' approval has dropped 23 points over the last 12 months, the most among major subgroups, and nearly twice the national average.”
MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin: "In a reflective mood Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke candidly to msnbc’s Chris Matthews about the challenges of being commander in chief and the legacy he will leave behind. Above all, he urged young people not to lose faith in the notion that government could genuinely improve Americans’ lives. 'The interesting thing about now having been president for five years is it makes you humbler as opposed to cockier about what you as an individual can do,” Obama said. “You recognize that you’re just part of the sweep of history and your job really is to push the boulder up the hill a little bit before somebody pushes it up a little further and the task never stops at perfecting our union.”
Politico: “Washington has tried very hard this year to crush the economy with debt ceiling fights, clumsy budget cuts, a government shutdown and complete legislative gridlock. It does not appear to be working. Nearly every recent report shows an economy picking up at least a little speed heading into 2014: The jobless rate is falling, house prices are rising, the stock market is soaring and overall economic growth just handily beat expectations. Friday’s employment report is expected to show another gain of somewhere close to 200,000 jobs, suggesting the economy has shrugged off the most recent Beltway blows.”
The National Archives released more RFK files yesterday. It is 26 boxes and 7,500 pages of “memos, correspondence, reports, and notes from Robert F. Kennedy’s participation in White House meetings,” the Boston Globe writes.
Politico: “Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray are only a few billion dollars in budgetary savings away from a deal that would set spending levels and blunt the impact of across-the-board spending cuts for the next two years, according to sources close to the negotiations. But hurdles remain, as finding those few billion dollars is difficult in an already tight federal budget.”
But, as Roll Call notes, “Speaker John A. Boehner tempered expectations for deals on the budget and the farm bill Thursday, saying neither issue appears to be poised for conclusion.”
National Journal: “The details of a potential budget deal are trickling out, and nobody seems thrilled with what they're hearing.”
The Hill: “Speaker John Boehner’s decision to hire a well-known advocate of immigration reform is raising concerns among the House’s most ardent opponents of legislation.”
The Hill: “Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) blasted a Florida prosecutor on Thursday for his conduct at a press conference where he announced that charges would not be filed against Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston in a rape investigation. McCaskill said on Twitter that she was ‘disgusted’ with Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs. ‘As former prosecutor & advocate for rape victims I'm disgusted at the frivolity of Meggs press conference announcing no charges on Winston,’ McCaskill tweeted.” She took issue with his laughter at several points during a press conference on a serious topic.
The Hill: “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is softening her comments that an extension of federal jobless benefits must be included in a budget deal to win Democratic support.”
Obama wouldn’t pick sides in a potential Clinton-Biden primary on Hardball yesterday. “Asked to ‘compare and contrast’ the pair's presidential attributes, Obama told MSNBC host there was ‘not a chance am I going there,’” The Hill writes. “‘They've got different strengths, but both of them would be outstanding,’ Obama said.” He added, “Both Hillary and Joe would make outstanding presidents and possess the qualities that are needed to be outstanding presidents.”
The Detroit Free Press: “Today, Detroit has the eye of the Republican Party. This morning, the state Republican Party will open an African American Engagement Office as part of a nationwide effort to reach out to black voters. Then, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — expected by many to run for president in 2016 — will outline a plan to the Detroit Economic Club to get the bankrupt city back on its feet by slashing taxes. Along with a grassroots event featuring Paul at Grace Bible Chapel on Oakman, the moves are designed to help support a Republican plan to connect with minority voters who widely rejected the party in last year’s presidential election.”
Charlie Cook wonders if Democrats can recover from the botched health-care rollout and wonders even if “certain Senate Democrats may try to move the goalposts of a budget deal, pushing for additional Republican concessions to the point that House Speaker John Boehner can't deliver enough of the hard-liners in his caucus, thus creating a repeat of last fall's showdown.”
Hillary Clinton’s in DC to receive a human rights award from the Lantos Foundation. USA Today notes it’s the 19th award she’s received since leaving office as secretary of state in February.
Ann Romney was in DC yesterday promoting her book, “The Romney Table.” She said in order to win women, politicians need to remember “respect.” And here’s what she meant specifically: “Asked if she was referring to inelegant comments made in recent years by such Republican politicians as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, Romney responded,” per Politico: “Those things you need to realize by the time you’re five or six or seven years old. You shouldn’t have to be talking to politicians about how to behave.”
MASSACHUSETTS: The Boston Globe: “Attorney General Martha Coakley sketched out plans Thursday for how she would improve the state’s education system if she were elected governor next year, including lengthening the academic day and calendar.”
MASSACHUSETT—ER, NEW HAMPSHIRE: Scott Brown at a fundraiser for the NH GOP made this gaffe yesterday, according to a video posted by liberal PAC American Bridge: “What I’ve heard from the Republicans up here is they’re thankful that I’ve been around for a year, helping them raise money, helping them raise awareness as to the issues that are effecting not only people here in Massachusetts — uh, in New Hampshire, but also in Massachusetts, obviously,”
Politico headline: “Scott Brown: Where am I?”
NORTH CAROLINA: “While Democrats up for re-election are facing heat over Obamacare, a Democratic-aligned super PAC launched a TV ad targeting the leading Republican in the North Carolina Senate race on the issue of health care,” Roll Call reports. “According to a Republican tracking ad buys, Senate Majority PAC is spending $736,000 over the next two weeks across four media markets to defend Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and criticize her top Republican challenger, state Speaker Thom Tillis. It’s the second time in a month that the super PAC has come to the aid of Hagan.”
The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, dating back to 1938.
Today's minimum wage is on par with what it has been, adjusted for inflation, over the last 20 years. But the flattening of the minimum wage is part of a generational decline.
In short, as fast-food workers protest their wages today across the country and urge a minimum-wage increase, public policy has not kept up with how much things cost.
The minimum wage peaked in 1968. Even though it was just $1.60, it had the buying power today of $10.74. But from then on, despite the raw minimum wage being increased 14 times, it has not kept pace with inflation.
Someone working full time - 40 hours a week - at the minimum wage today of $7.25 an hour, would make just $15,080 for the year.
In his State of the Union in February, President Obama called for a minimum-wage hike to $9 an hour, declaring, "Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty."
The government considers any individual making less than $11,490 a year to be in poverty. A single mother supporting two children, however, would be considered poor if she made less than $19,350 a year, certainly below the minimum wage.
Even at $9 an hour, she would only make $18,720 for the year.
The minimum wage back to its federally mandated inception in 1938 side by side with what that amount would be in 2013 terms.
Who’s to blame for Congress’ unproductivity?... Living in unprecedented times during divided government… Obama to sit down with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews… On Obama’s economic speech yesterday… And on his challenge to the GOP… Strikes take place in fast-food restaurants across the country… Battling over Pryor’s “Bible” ad… On Rand Paul’s upcoming economic speech… And recount in Virginia AG race to begin on Dec. 16.
Reuters file photo
The U.S. Capitol Dome
*** Who’s to blame for Congress’ unproductivity? By now, you probably know that the last 112th Congress (2011-2012) was the least productive in modern history, according to the available data. And so far, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on pace to be even more unproductive. And there are two different arguments for the low output. Democrats, as well as some nonpartisan congressional observers, blame House Republicans for their reluctance to compromise and their insistence (sometimes violated) to bring legislation that only has support from a majority of Republicans. “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise,” Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein have written. Meanwhile, House Republicans point the finger at the Democratic-controlled Senate. “To date, the House has passed nearly 150 bills in this Congress that the United States Senate has failed to act on,” House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday. But as The Hill’s Bob Cusask has noted, Boehner had a different standard back in July: “We should not be judged on how many new laws we create; we ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.” Indeed, many conservatives argue that slowing down the legislative process by not passing laws is a positive as far as they are concerned.
*** Living in unprecedented times during divided government: Of course, the other argument is that this is what you get during times of divided government. Yet here's the thing: Divided government has NEVER produced such a small number of laws until now.
113th Congress (Obama in the WH, Dem SEN control, GOP House control): 56 laws -- so far
112th Congress (Obama in the WH, Dem SEN control, GOP House control): 283 laws
110th Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 460 laws
106th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 580 laws
105th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 394 laws
104th Congress (Clinton in WH, GOP SEN control, GOP House control): 333 laws
102nd Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 590 laws
101st Congress (Bush in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 650 laws
100th Congress (Reagan in WH, Dem SEN control, Dem House control): 713 laws
99th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 663 laws
98th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 623 laws
97th Congress (Reagan in WH, GOP SEN control, Dem House control): 473 laws
Bottom line: This is an unprecedented level of unproductivity even during a time of divided government. Just look at the best apples-to-apples comparison of Reagan's three Congress' when his party controlled the White and Senate, but Dems controlled the House. It's not even a close call. That Dem House got a lot more done with its GOP rivals than this GOP House has with its Dem counterparts. And the unfavorable comparison continues when comparing this Congress with the divided government eras of Bush and Clinton. And then consider this: Even if you add the 150 House bills Boehner is touting, the productivity still doesn’t come close to what we saw during the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush years.
*** Obama to sit down with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: With the federal health-care website (sort of) fixed, Democrats are continuing their efforts to prove that they’re no longer playing defense on the issue. President Obama sits down with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to discuss the health law in a special edition of “Hardball” airing at 7:00 pm ET. Also at 10:00 am ET today, House Democratic leaders will hold a press availability with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who has become a hero to many Democrats and health-reform advocates for how his state has successfully implemented the law so far. But all the news isn’t rosy for Democrats. “The Obama administration was counting on seven million enrollees by the end of the first enrollment period in March, a number that was supposed to ensure a safe mix of sick, older people and young, healthy ones. Because of problems with the federal insurance exchange and the negative publicity around the rollout, the total is likely to be well short of that,” the New York Times says. “Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the administration needed to be enrolling close to 100,000 people a day to meet its target. Because state-based websites are doing better, other calculations put the necessary number closer to 40,000 a day, but few are suggesting the goal of seven million is within reach.”
*** On Obama’s economic speech yesterday: Despite all the attention on the health-care law and the website and the focus on the nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama yesterday addressed what some argue is the sleeper issue for 2014, 2016, and perhaps beyond -- growing income inequality and the lack of economic mobility. “I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American,” Obama said. “Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90%, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than 8%. Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.” To rectify this, the president called for a higher minimum wage, Congress re-upping unemployment insurance, extra retirement security for Americans, and patience with the implementation of the health-care law. These will all be reiterated during his State of the Union.
*** And on his challenge to the GOP: To us, Obama’s speech was striking because he firmly aligned himself with the progressive side inside the Democratic Party on this issue (as he pretty much did during the 2012 presidential campaign and in that 2011 Kansas speech). Given his stance, we’d be pretty surprised if a Hillary Clinton took a different direction in 2016. Despite some disagreeing voices (like from the Third Way), the Democratic Party doesn’t seem like it will move from this lane. Yet more importantly, it will be interesting to see how the Republican Party responds, especially given the results from 2012. In his speech yesterday, Obama issued this challenge to the GOP: “If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let’s hear them. I want to know what they are. If you don’t think we should raise the minimum wage, let’s hear your idea to increase people’s earnings. If you don’t think every child should have access to preschool, tell us what you’d do differently to give them a better shot. If you still don’t like Obamacare -- and I know you don’t -- (laughter) -- even though it’s built on market-based ideas of choice and competition in the private sector, then you should explain how, exactly, you’d cut costs, and cover more people, and make insurance more secure.”
*** Warren says she’s not running in 2016: By the way, while Hillary Clinton still might have some work to do on her left flank, she is already catching an early break – Elizabeth Warren says she’s not running in 2016.
*** Strikes taking place at fast-food restaurants across the country: This debate about income inequality and the lack of economic mobility isn’t taking place in a vacuum. “Fast-food workers in about 100 cities will walk off the job this Thursday, organizers say, which would mark the largest effort yet in their push for higher pay,” the AP writes. “The actions are intended to build on a campaign that began about a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year. The protests are part of a movement by labor unions, Democrats and other worker advocacy groups to raise pay in low-wage sectors.”
*** Battling over Pryor’s “Bible” ad: Turning to the 2014 midterm races, vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has released this provocative TV ad. “I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in this book,” Pryor says to the camera with a Bible in his hands. “The Bible teaches us that no one has all the answers; only God does.” He goes on to say, “Neither political party is always right. This is my compass, my north star [referring to the Bible].” The National Republican Senatorial Committee criticized Pryor’s ad, writing: “Interesting ad, considering the same Mark Pryor was quoted below just last year cautioning that the Bible is ‘not a rule book for political issues.’” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fired back: “The NRSC should immediately pull down their attack and apologize to Sen. Pryor and other people of faith who don't deserve to have their religious beliefs attacked by political operatives in Washington, DC. This attack was out of bounds. Period." The campaign for Pryor’s GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), seemed to agree. “Rep. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) Senate campaign on Wednesday denounced a ‘bizarre and offensive’ attack on Sen. Mark Pryor’s faith by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”
*** On Rand Paul’s upcoming economic speech: On the 2016 front, Rand Paul is holding a conference call at 9:00 am ET to brief reporters on his upcoming trip to Detroit and speech at the Detroit Economic Club.
*** Recount in Virginia’s AG race begins on Dec. 16: Lastly, the recount in Virginia’s attorney general race will begin on Dec. 16. The AP writes, “Democrat Mark Herring's 165-vote win over Republican Mark Obenshain in the close race for attorney general is headed to a recount Dec. 17 and 18, with Fairfax County getting a one-day head start.”
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