A Congress already setting records for futility, a nation trying to absorb rapid transformation and a political system designed to slow the pace of change have led Washington D.C. into a gridlock.
The much-criticized 112th Congress – from 2011 to 2012 – was the least productive and least popular Congress on record, according to the available statistics.
Now six months in – highlighted by a string of legislative stalemates – the 113th Congress (2013-2014) is on track to match or even surpass those dubious distinctions.
After the last Congress saw its approval ratings drop to their lowest levels, aJune Gallup survey found that just 10 percent of Americans have confidence in the institution. That’s the lowest percentage Gallup ever measured for Congress on this question – or, for that matter, any other American institution, including the presidency, big business, the medical profession and public schools.
When it comes to productivity, only 15 legislative items have become law under the current Congress. That’s fewer than the 23 items that became law at this same point in the 112th Congress, which passed a historically low number of bills that were signed into law.
To many observers, these are signs of broken government, gerrymandered congressional districts and out-of-control partisanship on Capitol Hill.
But they’re also a reflection of divided government, especially during a time of profound and rapid social change.
“The country is pretty divided in a lot of different ways, and [Congress] not doing things reflects those divisions,” said John Samples, a political scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
By Shelby Bremer, Credit.com
More than 7 million students will see interest rates on their student loans double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on Monday, after the failure of Congress to pass legislation to prevent the automatic rate hike that they successfully deferred for a year last summer.
Despite the introduction of several bills to serve as a solution, lawmakers will leave for the week-long July 4 recess without implementing any of them, letting the July 1 deadline pass. Any students taking or renewing federal subsidized Stafford loans after that deadline can expect to pay, for example, an additional $3,000 on a $23,000 loan paid off over 10 years.
House Republicans passed the Smarter Solutions for Students Act on May 23, a measure that ties student loan interest rates to market-based rates. This plan would have reset student loan rates every year depending on the rate on U.S. Treasuries, which Senate Democrats claimed was too uncertain and with a cap of 8.5 percent, could push rates even higher than 6.8 percent.
Retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright was the second-highest ranking member of the U.S. military, and a key Obama adviser who served as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Legal sources tell NBC News Cartwright has been notified he’s the target of a Justice Department criminal investigation into a leak about a covert U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.
By Michael Isikoff
National Investigative Correspondent, NBC News
Legal sources tell NBC News that the former second ranking officer in the U.S. military is now the target of a Justice Department investigation into a politically sensitive leak of classified information about a covert U.S. cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
According to legal sources, Retired Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has received a target letter informing him that he’s under investigation for allegedly leaking information about a massive attack using a computer virus named Stuxnet on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Gen. Cartwright, 63, becomes the latest individual targeted over alleged leaks by the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted or charged eight individuals under the Espionage Act.
Last year, the New York Times reported that Cartwright, a four-star general who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 2007 to 2011, conceived and ran the cyber operation, called Olympic Games, under Presidents Bush and Obama. According to the front-page story by chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, President Obama ordered the cyber attacks sped up, and in 2010 an attack using the Stuxnet worm temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges that the Iranians were using to enrich uranium.
The Times story included details of the Olympic Games operation, including the cooperation of Israeli intelligence and the way the virus was introduced to an Iranian nuclear facility. It described meetings in the White House Situation Room and was based on interviews with “current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program.”
AUSTIN, TEXASGov. Rick Perry on Wednesday called a second special session of the Texas Legislature to pass widespread abortion restrictions across the nation’s second-largest state, after the first attempt by Republicans died overnight following a marathon one-woman filibuster.
Perry ordered lawmakers to meet again on July 1 to act on the abortion proposals, as well as separate bills that would boost highway funding and deal with a juvenile justice issue. The sweeping abortion rules would close nearly all the state’s abortion clinics and impose other widespread restrictions.
Perry can call as many 30-day extra sessions as he likes, but lawmakers can only take up those issues he assigns.
The debate over abortion restrictions led to the most chaotic day in the Texas Legislature in modern history, starting with a marathon filibuster and ending with a down-to-the wire, frenetic vote marked by questions about whether Republicans tried to break chamber rules and jam the measure through.
Democrats put their hopes of thwarting the bill in the hands of Wendy Davis, a state senator clad in pink running shoes, for a daylong attempt to talk the bill to death. Over the duration of the speech, Davis became a social media star, even becoming the subject of a tweet from President Obama for her efforts.
But just before midnight, Republicans claimed she strayed off topic and got help with a back brace — two things that are against filibuster rules — and cut her off.
That cleared the way for a vote.
By Ian Reifowitz
I’ll leave the legal analysis to others who are far more expert than I on that matter.
My point is this: for all those who may have temporarily, let’s say, forgotten or even denied that there is any substantive difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, this decision should remind you exactly what those differences are.
The decision was 5-4. The justices who voted to declare parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional were all appointed by Republican presidents, including two by George W. Bush, who took in office in 2001.
Do you still think there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats?
Look, this has not been a good couple of weeks for our government, and a lot of liberals have been rightly agonizing over just how much they support the Democratic Party.
To those people, I say this: Criticize President Obama all you like, and criticize the Democratic Party or various figures for whatever you think needs criticizing. It’s important to speak out, as speaking out can help move our party and the President in the right direction.
But don’t forget that there are real, substantive differences between the two parties. They are not the same. The Democratic Party is better than the Republican Party for our country, for our economy, for justice, for equality, and yes, for liberty. Barack Obama is better than Mitt Romney or John McCain would have been on all those counts as well.
To deny those facts is to deny reality. Furthermore, denying those facts makes it more difficult to motivate progressives to do what needs to be done to achieve the broad, progressive goals we share.
The two parties are not the same. And that matters. [Full Quote]