Still more on sequestration

This morning The Fix by Chris Cillizza included this interesting post by Aaron Blake.  Blake posted four great graphics explaining the impact of the sequester.  I am going to copy 2 of them here, but you should look at the entire post.

Blake explains

First up is Pew’s illustration of the year-by-year spending cuts that are included in the sequester. As you can see, the cuts start out relatively small — less than $75 billion in 2013 — but they grow to more than twice that size by 2021, for a total of more than $1 trillion.

The biggest growth in cuts over that time occurs in the interest payments, but everything except for mandatory spending cuts grow steadily over time.

And then there is this depressing news.  Sequester will not have that big of a positive impact.

There has to be a better way.  Maybe spend some money to put people back to work and let them pay taxes thus increasing revenue?  And we do have to fix the tax code so Facebook executives actually pay taxes.  And maybe we can cut programs and defense more selectively.  This won’t be as dramatic, and it might be slower, but it will hurt fewer people.

Meanwhile, members of Congress of both parties are doing their best to keep funding for their own districts.  Politico quotes Senator Lindsey Graham, an opponent of the sequester

I’m almost relishing the moment all these tough-talking guys say: ‘Can you  help me with my base?’” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the most vocal  critics of the sequester, told POLITICO.

“When it’s somebody else’s base and district, it’s good government. When it’s  in your state or your backyard, it’s devastating,” he added.

Of course Graham’s solution is to do away with the Affordable Care Act or Obama care.  Is the momentum swinging toward a rational budget and solution?  Probably not.

What does Chuck Hagel have to do with Benghazi?

I wish someone would explain to me what someone who was not even a government official at the time has to do with Benghazi?  Is Chuck Hagel just leverage?  Believe me, the Obama Administration could show live action footage of the event as it unfolded and the Republicans still wouldn’t be happy.

According to Politico

One Armed Services Committee member, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey  Graham, has made clear that he considers Benghazi and Hagel to be one issue —“no confirmation without information,” he said Sunday, threatening to block both  Hagel and CIA nominee John Brennan. Graham is demanding more details from the  administration about its response to the Benghazi attacks, particularly the  direct involvement of President Barack Obama.

And then you have James Inhofe.  Again from Politico

A spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) confirmed to POLITICO that he wanted  to drag out the confirmation process for the former Republican senator from  Nebraska.

Inhofe’s threat continued GOP brinksmanship that got under way on Sunday when  Republican aides first said that some senators might walk out of a meeting that  included a vote on Hagel. Inhofe and another top Republican on the committee,  Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both said Monday they would not walk out, but  Inhofe repeated his vow to press the battle against Hagel.

It appears very much as if the Republicans have forgotten that they are a minority in the Senate.  If Chair Senator Carl Levin calls for a committee vote, it will be along party lines which he didn’t want.  But I don’t think there will be any bipartisan agreement there.  According to the New York Times, Levin

…called Monday for a committee vote on Tuesday afternoon on the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.

The committee action has been postponed for the past week over evolving demands from Republicans for new documentation on Mr. Hagel’s past statements, personal financial records and even a sexual harassment allegation involving two former staff members, but not Mr. Hagel himself. As action has drawn closer, Republican opponents to a former Senate Republican colleague have threatened filibusters and even a walkout from the committee.

Once Hagel’s nomination reaches the floor, vote counters believe that there will be 60 votes to break any attempt at a filibuster.  Maybe Majority Leader Reid need to reconsider his agreement with Senator McConnell since I don’t think it is going to work.

But Mr. Levin’s decision to call for a public discussion and vote, starting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday ahead of President Obama‘s State of the Union address, indicated that the chairman still believes that Mr. Hagel has enough support to be confirmed. Committee aides say they have no indication that any Democrats or Senate independents will oppose him, putting him at 55 votes to start. Two Republican senators, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns from Mr. Hagel’s home state, Nebraska, have pledged their support, and at least four Republicans have said they will oppose a filibuster.

And I still want to know what Chuck Hagel has to do with Benghazi, Senator Graham.  I think we all know that this really has to do with the fact that Hagel is not a war hawk and will figure out a way to cut the defense budget.

Photograph Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Sonia Sotomayor and Senator Graham

Let’s look at this exchange as published in the Washington Post

GRAHAM: Now, during your time as an advocate, do you understand identity politics? What is identity politics?

SOTOMAYOR: Politics based simply on a person’s characteristics, generally referred to either race or ethnicity or gender, religion. It is politics based on . . .

GRAHAM: Do you embrace identity politics personally?

SOTOMAYOR: Personally, I don’t as a judge in any way embrace it with respect to judging. As a person, I do believe that certain groups have and should express their views on whatever social issues may be out there. But as I understand the word “identity politics,” it’s usually denigrated because it suggests that individuals are not considering what’s best for America.

. . .

GRAHAM: Do you believe that your speeches properly read embrace identity politics?

SOTOMAYOR: I think my speeches embrace the concept that I just described, which is, groups, you have interests that you should seek to promote, what you’re doing is important in helping the community develop, participate, participate in the process of your community, participate in the process of helping to change the conditions you live in.

I don’t describe it as identity policies, because — politics — because it’s not that I’m advocating the groups do something illegal.

GRAHAM: Well, Judge, to be honest with you, your record as a judge has not been radical by any means. It’s, to me, left of center. But your speeches are disturbing, particularly to — to conservatives. . . . Those speeches to me suggested gender and racial affiliations in a way that a lot of us wonder: Will you take that line of thinking to the Supreme Court in these cases of first precedent?

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham is viewed as a bellwether for how large a majority of the Senate will vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

The Republicans have spent most of their time over the last four days trying to figure out what makes Judge Sotomayor tick.  I think the answer is pretty simple:  Yes, she is a woman and yes, she is Latina and in her private time, she may volunteer for groups that advocate those causes.  But when she is a judge, she is not an advocate.   And that’s why none of you could find anything objectionable in any of her many decisions.  Isn’t that what you said you want from a judge?  Isn’t that why you were all upset about empathy?  Sonia Sotomayor has shown that she has empathy and that she rules according to the facts and the law.  I think that is what you said you wanted.

Sonia Sotomayor – Day 2

Does Senator Jeff Sessions understand the roles of the various courts?  Does he understand the use of precedent?  Is he really a lawyer?  Kate Phillips blogging the hearing in the New York Times

Judge Sotomayor, confronted by Senator Sessions about how her take on a wise Latina’s decisions differed from that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, pointed out that Ms. Cedarbaum was her friend and was sitting in the audience. (In one of her speeches, Ms. Sotomayor had referred to Ms. Cedarbaum’s discussions about the number of women joining the bench and whether those numbers were having any impact.)Mr. Sessions repeatedly said he was “troubled” and very concerned as to whether she could be impartial if she couldn’t put her experiences aside. Ms. Sotomayor replied that she believed she did apply the facts to each case, and applied the law.

We all see the world through our own lens.  Sessions, whether he wants to admit it or not, see the world through his white, Southern, racist one.  To expect any judge to lay aside his or her experience when looking at a case is to want robots or cyborgs to become judges.  However, we do not want them to judge cases on emotion or experience alone, they must also apply the law.

Howard Fineman blogging this afternoon for Newsweek wrote

Sotomayor was saying that it was better to admit the existence of personal biases, and then control them with that knowledge. Sessions was forced to argue that a judge must come to the bench with no biases whatsoever─an ironic position indeed for a son of the segregated Deep South.

Senator Schumer tried to tackle this issue.  Phillips writes

He began by knocking down concerns over empathy that Republicans have cited: “Now I believe that empathy is the opposite of indifference,” he said, adding “the opposite of having ice water in your veins.”

He then went through a number of cases, including the litigation around the plane crash into Long Island Sound brought by the surving families.  Even though she, along with everyone in the country, felt for the plaintiffs, she applied the relevant law and ruled against them.

And then there was her Republican “supporter”, Lindsey Graham, who turned condesending and lecturing

Mr. Graham has been one of the more outspoken critics in the Senate about the judge’s wise Latina remarks. As we mentioned Monday, he complained, around the time of his meeting with her, that as an “everyday white guy,” he wouldn’t have been able to get away with such comments.During his session today, Senator Graham pounded home that point. Perhaps this was his Southern upbringing coming out, but at one point as he wove his way through his objections to her statements, he said, “Do you understand, ma’am?”

If he had uttered those words — that as a white man he would make a better decision, for example, against a minority opponent in a political race, “they would have my head,” Mr. Graham declared.

In a chastising voice, Mr. Graham added: “It would make national news and it should. Having said that I am not going to judge you by that one statement. I just hope you’ll appreciate the world we live in, meaning you can say those things and still inspire somebody and still get a chance to get on the Supreme Court.” If others used those words, they “wouldn’t survive.”

Does that make sense? he asked.

Yes, she answered.

And then she went to to hope that we will move past this type of thinking and had Graham agreeing that if the hearing moved the discussion closer to this goal, it would have been worth while.

Back to Fineman

So it goes: pretty easily for the judge. The feeling in the Hart Building hearing room today is almost sleep-inducing, for the following reasons

  • The discipline, preparation, canniness, record, and intellect of the nominee.
  • The ambivalence, even confusion, of her GOP interlocutors (with the exception of the canny Lindsey Graham).
  • The nature of confirmation hearings, which have become a form of predictable puppet theater, especially since everyone knows in advance that Sotomayor has the votes.

Aside from her personal demeanor─calm, almost painfully explanatory─Sotomayor’s best weapon in the hearings has been her record as a judge. There just aren’t many cases that the GOP has been able to cite to make her sound like a wild-eyed “activist,” liberal or otherwise. So far, they have mentioned about 10 of her cases, out of hundreds.

This Wasserman cartoon from the Boston Globe sums it up well.