After the GOP victory in the November 2010 elections, with a net pickup of 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats, the Obama Administration has been attempting to cultivate a moderate, centrist image to regain its footing with the American public. President Obama’s deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts, which would have expired on January 1, 2011, and his personnel shakeups in the White House worked to improve Obama’s standing with the public to above the critical 50% level by the end of January 2011.
However, in the past week, President Obama has now returned to the approximate level of public approval prior to the November elections, with about 45% of the public approving of his performance. The two main daily pollsters, Rasmussen Reports and Gallup, demonstrate this recent decline in approval, with Gallup measuring 45% approval/47% disapproval and Rasmussen showing 46% approval/53% disapproval. The mainstream media has yet to report upon this end to Obama’s polling resurgence, despite the lavish attention paid to the rise in ratings. Rasmussen reported on this recent slide today in its report:
The president’s Approval Index ratings have fallen nine points since Monday as the crisis in Egypt unfolds. Most of the decline comes from a fall in the number who Strongly Approve of the president’s performance (30% on Monday, 23% now). However, for the first time since mid-December, the number who Strongly Disapprove has moved back over the 40% mark for five straight days. The Strongly Disapprove total had been above 40% for most of 2010 but fell to the high-30s after the president and Senate Republicans reached a deal to extend the Bush Administration tax cuts.
The major issue commanding media coverage in the past week or so has been the ongoing protests in Egypt against President Mubarak’s regime. The inconsistent and highly publicized statements of the Administration about the crisis, from Vice President Biden asserting that Mubarak was not a dictator and shouldn’t resign to Obama’s recent demands that Mubarak “immediately” begin a transition to a new government, may have unsettled some Americans who were moving in Obama’s direction in response to his post-election centrist manoeuvrings. Unfortunately for President Obama, it appears that his Administration’s handling of the crisis may have again soured the middle 10% of the country on his leadership.
In a startling review issued today by the Associated Press regarding Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests, it was revealed that the Obama Administration substantially increased the use of so-called “exemptions” to disclosure under FOIA, effectively undermining the many rhetorical claims by President Barack Obama that his administration will be the “most open and transparent in history.” The AP explains the findings of its review:
WASHINGTON — The government’s use of legal exemptions to keep records secret rose during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, despite promises of increased openness, an Associated Press review found.
The review of annual Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that overall, the use of nearly every one of the open-records law’s nine exemptions to withhold information rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.
Among the most frequently used exemptions: one that lets the government hold back records that detail its internal decision-making. Obama had directed agencies to stop using that exemption so frequently, but that directive appears to have been widely ignored.
Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.
As Sunshine Week begins, I want to applaud everyone who has worked to increase transparency in government and recommit my administration to be the most open and transparent ever, an effort that will strengthen our democracy and ensure the public’s trust in their government.
We are proud of these accomplishments, but our work is not done. We will continue to work toward an unmatched level of transparency, participation and accountability across the entire Administration.
Perhaps the establishment media will report upon this clearly misleading Obama statement, especially in relation to the unmentioned 50% increase in FOIA exemption claims by his Administration, in the days to come and bring some level of honesty to the media’s reporting on the transparency issue. Obama’s statement, on his first full day in office as President, claiming that broadly granted FOIA requests are the key to an open government is a timely reminder of how far removed the first year of Obama’s government has been from the rhetoric used by President Obama on the issue of open and transparent government:
The prolific use of FOIA exemptions is one measure of how far the federal government has yet to go to carry out Obama’s promise of openness. His first full day in office, Obama told agencies the Freedom of Information Act, “which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government.”
Explosive new video has surfaced today that shows President Barack Obama, and many other prominent Democrats condemning the Bush Administration in 2005 for Bush’s attempt to use reconciliation to push through judicial nominees. These 2005 quotes are particularly jarring when compared to the 2010 quotes from the same folks about Obama’s attempt to use reconciliation to pass Obamacare. Senator Barack Obama, on 4/26/05, in response to a question on the “nuclear option” (how Democrats in 2005 characterized then-President Bush’s attempts to use reconciliation):
“He hasn’t gotten his way…uh…and that is now prompting a change in the Senate rules that really I think would change the character of the Senate uh forever and uh what I worry about would be that you essentially have still two chambers the House and the Senate but you have simply majoritarian uh absolute power on on either side and that’s just not what the Founders intended.”
Present Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighs in as well back on 5/18/2005, noting that
“The right to extend a debate is never more important than when one party controls both Congress and the White House. The filibuster serves as a check, on power, preserve our limited government.”
Considering Leader Reid’s comments yesterday that the Republicans should “stop crying” about Obama’s planned use of reconciliation to push through Obamacare, Reid’s comments in 2005 are particularly explosive in terms of today’s health care debate. Present Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also chimed in with a verbal barrage on 5/23/2005 against then President Bush about controlling himself and calling upon her GOP collegues to go to Bush and tell him reconciliation is “a bridge to far” and that “you have to restrain yourself Mr. President.” One could argue, in aftermath of the shocking GOP upset win in the Massachusetts Senate race in January 2010 by a candidate, Scott Brown, who explicitly campaigned against passing Obamacare, that a Senator from the Democratic side should have the type of conversation with the President as suggested by Secretary Clinton back in 2005.
Vice President Joe Biden weighed in with his familiar bombastic rhetoric in 2005 as well, stating that “this nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power…it is a fundamental power grab” and further opining in prayer that “”I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.” Of course, Biden now supports the Obama Administration’s plan to use reconciliation to push Obamacare through the Senate with only 50 votes (and his tie breaking vote).
A common theme of all of the Democratic Senators remarks in 2005 revolves around the destruction of the “Republic” and the elimination of the “checks and balances” intended by the Founders that would ensue should President Bush succeed in his effort to use reconciliation. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is now leading the Senate effort to pass a public option through reconciliation, had this to say on 5/18/2005 about Bush’s attempt to use reconciliation:
“We are on the precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis. The checks and balances which have been at the core of this Republic are about to be evaporated by the nuclear option. The checks and balances which say if you get 51% of the vote, you dont get your way 100% of the time. It is amazing its almost a temper tantrum.”
Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) also condemned Bush for attempting to use reconciliation, stating if used reconciliation would mean “the Senate becomes ipso facto, the House of Representatives” while also showing her more dire concern is the use of reconciliation for substantive legislation, not judicial nominees, by stating Bush will start with reconciliation for judicial nominees but then move on to its use in legislation. Perhaps most bombastic of all in 2005 regarding Bush’s attempted use of reconciliation is Democratic Senator Max Baucus (D-ND), who solemnly stated that “[t]his is the way that Democracy ends not with a bomb, but with a gavel”. Of course, Bush did not actually use reconciliation to get his nominees through the Senate as a bipartisan deal was reached.
Incredibly, each and every one of the above-quoted then-Democratic Senators, Obama, Reid, Biden, Clinton, Schumer, Baucus and Feinstein, are in favor of the use of reconciliation to pass Obamacare, with many of those same folks actively leading the effort, including now-President Obama. Perhaps an enterprising reporter could ask Harry Reid to explain if this comment also applies to Democratic Administrations like Obama’s: “No, we’re not going to follow the Senate rules…no…because of the arrogance of power of this Republican Administration.” Finally, Harry Reid posts in April 2005 on his Senate website an explanation as to why the improper use of reconciliation must be rejected and the claim to entitlement to an “up or down vote” is suspect:
For the past several months, the Senate has operated under a nuclear cloud. As a result of the Senate’s decision to reject a small number of President Bush’s judicial nominees, the Republican majority has threatened to break the Senate rules, violate over 200 years of Senate tradition and impair the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of real concern to the American people.
It is astounding that Republicans would precipitate this destructive confrontation, especially since this President has a better confirmation rate than any of his recent predecessors. The Senate has confirmed 205 of President Bush’s judicial candidates and turned back only ten, a 95% confirmation rate. Ten rejected judges – only seven of whom are currently before the Senate – does not seem reason enough for Republicans to break the Senate rules.
My Republican colleagues claim that nominees are entitled to an up-down vote. That claim ignores history, including recent history.
UPDATE: ABC’s Jake Tapper adds another Obama 2005 quote on reconciliation and the Framers of the Constitution:
At the National Press Club on April 26, 2005, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was asked about a move being discussed by Senate Republicans, then in control, to change the Senate rules so as to require a mere majority vote rather than the 60 votes necessary to end a potential filibuster.
“You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward,” then-Sen. Obama told the audience.
His remarks have garnered some attention in recent days given the current likelihood that Senate Democrats will next week use “reconciliation” rules, which require only a 51-vote majority, to pass health care reform legislation, bypassing the current Senate rules of requiring 60 votes to cut off a potential filibuster and proceed to a final vote.
The White House has been in recent days setting the table for use of reconciliation rules for health care reform.
Yesterday, talking to Democratic Senators, the president offered some thoughts on the filibuster:
So the problem here you’ve got is an institution that increasingly is not adapted to the demands of a hugely competitive 21st century economy. I think the Senate in particular, the challenge that I gave to Republicans and I will continue to issue to Republicans is if you want to govern then you can’t just say no. It can’t just be about scoring points. There are multiple examples during the course of this year in which that’s been the case.
Look, I mentioned the filibuster record. We’ve had scores of pieces of legislation in which there was a filibuster, cloture had to be invoked, and then ended up passing 90 to 10, or 80 to 15. And what that indicates is a degree to which we’re just trying to gum up the works instead of getting business done.
I appreciate what the President is trying to do here and I agree with the spirit of his comments, but the history here is bad. There was no point in time when supermajority voting in the Senate was well-suited to the challenges of the time. Indeed, as David Mayhew has demonstrated it’s simply not the case that there was routine supermajority voting until the recent past. When FDR’s opponents were seeking to block court-packing and when LBJ was lining up support for Medicare, vote-counters assumed that a majority was needed to block initiatives.
The authentic tradition is of using the filibuster as an extraordinary technique for the specific purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the South. A Harding administration anti-lynching initiative fell prey to the filibuster back in the 20s. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960 both had to be largely gutted in order to surmount filibusters. And it was recollection of the filibuster’s specific role as a bastion of white supremacy that led to the bipartisan effort to reform the filibuster in 1975 when northern liberal Democrats teamed up with the Ford administration and many Republicans to cut the cloture threshold to 60.
The institution has always been pernicious, just as the malapportionment of the Senate has always been the result of a hardball political negotiation rather than expressing some underlying good idea about the design of political institutions. Part of what makes the filibuster a bad idea is that it’s viability depends on minority party restraint. But the nature of human psychology is to create a procedural downward spiral in which each time there’s a change of partisan control, the new minority steps-up its obstruction.