Democrats in Congress remember what happened in 1994 after Bill Clinton insisted on including a ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault rifle and magazines holding more than 10 bullets in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

Rep. Jack Brooks was a liberal Democrat from Beaumont and strong supporter of labor unions who had represented Southeast Texas in Congress for more than 40 years when, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he was called upon to manage the crime bill with the assault weapons ban.

The Senate approved the assault weapons ban as an amendment to the comprehensive bill that passed 56-43 on Nov. 17, 1993, with the support of nine Republicans and opposition of nine Democrats.

The final bill passed the House 235-195 on Aug. 21, 1994, with 46 Republicans voting for it and 64 Democrats voting against it. The bill passed the Senate 61-38 on Aug. 25, 1994, with the support of seven Republicans and opposition of two Democrats (Richard Shelby of Alabama, who switched to the GOP after the 1994 election, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin).

Clinton, in his 2004 memoir, My Life, wrote: “Just before the House vote (on the crime bill), Speaker Tom Foley and majority leader Dick Gephardt had made a last-ditch appeal to me to remove the assault weapons ban from the bill. They argued that many Democrats who represented closely divided districts had already ... defied the NRA once on the Brady bill vote. They said that if we made them walk the plank again on the assault weapons ban, the overall bill might not pass, and that if it did, many Democrats who voted for it would not survive the election in November. Jack Brooks, the House Judiciary Committee chairman from Texas, told me the same thing ... Jack was convinced that if we didn’t drop the ban, the NRA would beat a lot of Democrats by terrifying gun owners. ... Foley, Gephardt, and Brooks were right and I was wrong. The price ... would be heavy casualties among its defenders ...

“On November 8, we got the living daylights beat out of us, losing eight Senate races and fifty-four House seats, the largest defeat for our party since 1946. ...The NRA had a great night. They beat both Speaker Tom Foley and Jack Brooks, two of the ablest members of Congress, who had warned me this would happen. Foley was the first Speaker to be defeated in more than a century. Jack Brooks had supported the NRA for years and had led the fight against the assault weapons ban in the House, but as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he had voted for the overall crime bill even after the ban was put into it. The NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you`re out. The gun lobby claimed to have defeated nineteen of the twenty-four members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage. ...”

As a result of the 54-seat swing in the House, Republicans gained a majority for the first time since 1954, and they kept that majority through the 2006 election. Republicans also gained nine seats in the Senate to win a 52-48 majority.

“One Saturday morning, I went to a diner in Manchester full of men who were deer hunters and NRA members. In impromptu remarks, I told them that I knew they had defeated their Democratic congressman, Dick Swett, in 1994 because he voted for the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban. Several of them nodded in agreement.”

Although Brooks was a lifetime member of the NRA and tried to keep the assault weapons ban off the bill, he ended up supporting the bill, was targeted for defeat and lost to Republican Steve Stockman, 52%-46%. Beaumont and Port Arthur, which was represented by Brooks, is now represented by right-wing Republican Rep. Ted Poe of suburban Houston. Dick Swett of New Hampshire’s 2nd District was defeated by Republican Charles Bass. Tom Foley was succeeded by George Nethercutt, who represented Washington’s 5th District, based in Spokane, for 10 years until he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2004. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) now represents Foley’s district. And the assault weapon ban expired in 2004, so as far as the law is concerned, assault rifles and large-capacity magazines carrying up to 100 rounds are totally cool.

GUN MURDER STATS. Some of the assault weapon defenders note that in Norway on 7/22/11, a right-wing terrorist killed 77 people in two separate attacks. The terrorist first set off a bomb at the national government in Oslo that killed eight people. Then he drove 40 km to a rural youth camp, where, disguised as a policeman, he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers.

The difference is that murder is exceptional in Norway, which allows the possession of rifles, shotguns and target pistols for licensed hunters and recreational shooters, but had only 31 homicides in the entire country in 2009, or a murder rate of 0.6 per 100,00 people. (Those homicides were not broken down by weapon in 2009, but in 2007 only 2 homicides in Norway were by firearm, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.) In 2009, the FBI reported 9,146 murders by firearm in the US (60% of all homicides that year), or 3 per 100,000 people. Canada, which has relatively easy licensed access to rifles and shotguns but restricts access to handguns and semi-automatic weapons, reported 173 murders by gun (32% of all homicides), or 0.5 per 100,000, while Mexico, which has strict gun control but warring drug cartels that can easily obtain weapons from the US, reported 8,804 murders by gun (54.6% of all homicides), or 7.9 per 100,000.

FLIPPING WISCONSIN SENATE MATTERED. Many progressives were disappointed that they failed to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — with some bitter recriminations over who was responsible for blowing the opportunity — but they largely overlooked the Democrats’ accomplishment of taking control of the state Senate.

When Walker was elected in 2010, John Nichols noted at TheNation.com (7/18), Republican control of both the state House and Senate seemed to be assured for the whole of his first two years. In the Senate, the GOP held a 19-14 advantage and the only power Democrats had was denying the Republicans a quorum by leaving the state when Walker moved to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Republicans still pushed through the union-bashing bill, but Democrats and unions struck back with recall elections that swept two Republican senators out of office in August 2011. In the second round of recalls (6/5) Walker won the highly publicized governor’s race but one of his steadiest backers, Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, finished roughly 800 votes behind Democratic challenger John Lehmann. Republicans fought to prevent Lehmann, a progressive with a strong pro-labor record, from taking his seat, but with his seating (7/17) control of the Senate shifted to the Dems, with progressive Mark Miller taking over from winger Scott Fitzgerald as majority leader and Fred Risser, the longest-serving legislator in the country and a progressive stalwart, taking over as Senate president. Sen. Lena Taylor, an outspoken progressive from Milwaukee, is co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee. And Democrats are calling for a special session to address job creation issues.

“Walker no longer can govern at will. And it is no secret that the hyper-partisan governor despises the new reality,” Nichols wrote. “That makes the fall elections in Wisconsin — like legislative competitions across the country — critical tests. Voters in Wisconsin will have a chance to maintain the separation of powers they established through the recall elections, just as voters in a score of other states will have a chance to check and balance Republican governors by shifting control of one of more legislative chambers to the Democrats.”

Another benefit of taking control of the Senate, Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (7/19) is that Democrats will get access to the file on how Republicans drew political boundaries benefiting their party. “Some records have previously been released under court order. But Republicans and the law firm they hired, Michael Best & Friedrich, blocked for months the release of a host of other documents Democrats sought, such as those protected by attorney-client privilege,” even though the law firm was hired to represent the entire Senate and Assembly, Marley wrote. Now that the Democrats are in charge, the law firm invited Miller to send one of his aides to review the voluminous material.

PROGS PROPOSE ‘DEAL FOR ALL.’ Progressive House Democrats are offering an alternative to the “fiscal cliff” nonsense being peddled in Washington. Isaiah Poole at the Campaign for America’s Future notes that Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are trying to get political support for a congressional resolution, H.Res. 733, that would repudiate any “grand bargain” on the federal deficit that cuts Social Security, Medicare or other programs vital to economic security.

Their resolution calls for a “Deal for All” that would protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; contain “serious revenue increases,” including corporate tax loopholes and higher tax brackets for the highest-income earners; significant reductions in defense spending; and “strong levels of job-creating Federal investments in areas such as infrastructure and education.”

The Caucus co-chairs issued a joint statement that said, “Congress is gearing up for high-stakes tax and budget negotiations, and we’re standing with working families to make sure we build a stronger and fairer economy. While both parties will need to make sacrifices, we cannot do so at the expense of economic growth or the middle class. A balanced approach like the Deal for All would end tax breaks for the richest 2%, close tax loopholes for the wealthy and special interests, and ensure Americans don’t lose the benefits they’ve paid into for decades such as Social Security and Medicare.”

So far, 38 House members have signed onto the resolution. Ask your member of Congress to co-sponsor it, Poole writes. “The answer will tell you a lot about whether you are represented by a lawmaker who sides with rebuilding the middle class on a platform of shared prosperity or one who is all to happy to make a “grand bargain” with the 1% that shafts the rest of us.”

WORKERS SEEK ECONOMIC BILL OF RIGHTS. Workers will gather in Philadelphia (8/11) in the first action of the Workers Stand for America campaign, the centerpiece of which is America’s Second Bill of Rights:

• Full employment and a living wage.

• Full participation in political process.

• A voice at work.

• A quality education for all.

• A secure and healthy future.

The goal of the Workers Stand for America mobilization, announced in July by Electrical Workers (IBEW) President Edwin Hill and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, is to counter those forces preaching austerity for the vast majority of working families and focus national attention on jobs, economic opportunity and restoring the American Dream for all. For more information see workersstandforamerica.com.

DEBT LIMIT FIGHT COST US $1.3B. Republican opposition to increasing the debt ceiling increased the US government’s borrowing costs by $1.3 bln in fiscal year 2011, and costs will continue to rise in the future, the US Government Accountability Office reported. The U.S. Treasury was forced to take varying actions to avoid hitting the debt limit before Congress raised it in August, forcing borrowing costs higher on multiple Treasury securities, the report found. And because many of those securities “will remain outstanding for years to come,” the borrowing costs will continue to rise in the near future. The debt limit fight also caused the first-ever downgrade of America’s credit rating, which Standard & Poor’s blamed on Republican unwillingness to raise taxes as part of a debt reduction deal, Travis Waldron noted at ThinkProgress.org (7/23).

ELITE STASHES AT LEAST $21T IN TAX HAVENS. Wealthy people around the world have diverted at least $21 tln and possibly as much as $32 tln offshore into tax havens, the Tax Justice Network reported (7/23). According to James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey & Co., half of that gigantic stash is owned by just 92,000 people, or 0.001% of the world's population. But Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (7/23) that amount only covers financial assets and does not include real estate, automobiles, yachts and other non-financial assets owned by the ultra-super-mega-rich.

Among the findings:

• The top 50 private banks in the world managed more than $12.1 tln in cross-border assets for private clients.

• The three private banks handling the most assets offshore on behalf of the global super-rich are UBS, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.

As John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network says, "What's shocking is that some of the world's biggest banks are up to their eyeballs in helping their clients evade taxes and shift their wealth offshore."

BIZ HELPED BY GOVERNMENT CLAIMS BIZ DOESN’T NEED HELP. After President Obama dared to suggest that America’s businesses benefitted from things that government provides, such as roads and bridges and other public infrastructure, saying, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help … Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” the Romney campaign pulled the quote out of context and produced an ad that features an offended New Hampshire businessman, saying, “My father’s hands didn’t build this company? My hands didn’t build this company? My son’s hands aren’t building this company?”

But the New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DeStato reported that in 1999, the business in question, Gilchrist Metal, “received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority ‘to set up a second manufacturing plant and purchase equipment to produce high definition television broadcasting equipment’…” In addition, in 2011, Gilchrist Metal “received two US Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000 and a smaller, $5,600 Coast Guard contract in 2008 …”

The businessman, Jack Gilchrist, also acknowledged that in the 1980s the company received a US Small Business Administration loan totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000, and matching funds from the federally-funded New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

“I’m not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government,” Gilchrest said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting some of my tax money back. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ Shame on me if I didn’t use what’s available.”

“So the guy the Romney campaign went to for their attack ad has a business has received $800,000 in tax-exempt bonds, another $500,000 or so in small business loans, does contracting work for the US Navy, but he’s pissed off that Obama said that government helps businesses,” “Hunter” writes at DailyKos.com (7/23). “Say what you will, but that sounds like the perfect Mitt Romney voter, right there.”

FRACKING SHAME. You may have heard a few months ago that a University of Texas study suggested that hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” does not contaminate groundwater. The study was billed as an independent look at the process of shale gas harvesting when it was released in February by UT’s Energy Institute. Now it turns out that Charles “Chip” Groat, who led the study, has been on the board of Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production Co., which uses fracking in its drilling operations, for several years and was paid $413,900 in cash and stock by the company in 2011, more than twice his salary from the university, the Austin American-Statesman reported (7/24).

UT officials said they recently found out about Groat’s role with the oil and gas company, after Bloomberg News asked them about it in the past month, but the university does not consider his role a potential conflict of interest or scientific misconduct because Groat only “reviewed the summary of findings and made no substantial changes in what was put together by the researchers, Charlie Cook, deputy director of the Energy Institute, told the American-Statesman.

Kevin Connor, director of the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative in Buffalo, N.Y., which reported the researcher’s role (7/23), said the institute’s claim that there was no conflict was “absurd.”

PA. ADMITS NO IN-PERSON VOTER FRAUD. Pennsylvania officials admit that there has been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and there isn’t likely to be in November. The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”

Additionally, the agreement states Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.”

Pennsylvania has said that over 750,000 registered voters do not have ID from the Transportation Department, a problem more concentrated in urban centers like Philadelphia. One top state Republican has claimed the voter ID law would help Mitt Romney win the Keystone state and Democrats have already altered their campaign plans should the law survives legal challenges.

Judge Robert Simpson was scheduled to hear the case, Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al., in Harrisburg starting on July 25. The ACLU expects the trial to last five to seven days.

COST OF ACA DROPS BY $84B AFTER SUPREME COURT RULING. The cost to the federal government of implementing the Affordable Care Act will drop by $84 bln over 11 years but 6 mln fewer people will be covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program if states refuse to open their Medicaid programs to their residents, the Congressional Budget Office concluded in an analysis after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate but ruled that the federal government cannot withhold federal funds from states that refuse to expand their Medicaid programs. About half of the 6 mln are expected to find insurance in the state-based health insurance exchanges, but 3 mln will likely remain uninsured, ThinkProgress.org reported (7/24).

GOP LEANS ON WALL STREET DONORS. Two years after the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is up and running, in its first enforcement action requiring Capital One to refund $140 mln to customers impacted by deceptive marketing practices and also fining it an additional $25 mln. But the financial industry is getting help from Republicans as it tries to gut the reforms meant to prevent another financial crisis. In 2011, on the first anniversary of Dodd-Frank’s passage, the US House passed a bill by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) to significantly weaken the CFPB. And Steven Perlberg noted at ThinkProgress.org (7/24) that Republicans who have helped Wall Street water down the reforms have been solidly rewarded for their efforts.

The finance, insurance and real estate sector is the biggest giving sector so far in this election cycle, and they are donating to GOP candidates more than ever before. Republicans hold a 64% share of campaign contributions from Wall Street, compared to just 48% in 2008, Public Campaign shows. Democrats’ contributions from Wall Street dropped from $170 mln in 2008 to $59 mln so far in the 2012 cycle. And outside spending funded by financial interests has exploded in the past four years, increasing from $3.2 mln in 2008 to the current $60 mln, with 86.7% going to conservatives and 13.3% to liberals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

R’S PUT $10T ON THE TAB. With the year-end expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the looming “sequestration” of $1.2 tln congressional Republicans agreed to during their debt ceiling hostage taking last summer, Jon Perr noted at DailyKos.com (7/22), the message from Republican leaders remains the same: taxes must not go up, defense spending must not go down and the increasing national debt is all Barack Obama’s fault.

But Perr recalled that George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001 inheriting a balanced budget from Bill Clinton and a Congressional Budget Office forecast of a $5.6 tln surplus over 10 years. Bush moved forward with massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, even after invading Afghanistan and Iraq, becoming the first president to cut taxes during wartime. Thanks to the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Medicare prescription drug program — all of which Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor voted for — CBO estimated that by 2020 the US Treasury will be $10 tln poorer than it otherwise would have been.

Mitt Romney vowed to commit at least 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product on “core” defense spending, not including war expenses. Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe noted (3/19) that would be a 61% increase over what President Obama proposes to spend over the next decade. “Enacting such an increase at the same time that Romney wants to slash taxes and balance the budget could cost trillions of dollars and require huge cuts in domestic programs. As Romney’s website puts it matter-of-factly, ‘This will not be a cost-free process.’”

Perr concludes, “But before the GOP’s best and brightest like Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and John Boehner ask for more money for the Pentagon and another round of tax cuts, they first have to answer for the unpaid tab they’ve already run up. To put it another way: ‘Dude, where’s my $10 trillion?’”

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2012


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