Lately, it has been looking more and more likely that America is about to lurch over the fiscal cliff, or fiscal staircase, or fiscal curb, or whatever, due to GOP obstructionism. On Friday, there was a tad more hope on the Hill as congressional leaders met with President Obama to try and come up with some sort of last-minute deal to at least partially avert the $400 billion in across-the-board tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts set to go into effect January 1. To provide a kick in the pants to their fellow members of Congress, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) rallied with dozens of working class folks outside the Capitol Friday to push for a stop-gap measure that would spare the middle class and working poor from tax hikes and expiring unemployment benefits.
Since Adam Lanza massacred 20 children and 7 adults in Newtown a week ago, gun control is on the national mind more than any time since probably 1994. Several pro-gun lawmakers and public figures have had a change of heart in recent days. And on Wednesday, Obama came out in support of renewing a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring background checks on all gun sales. That is bad news for gun rights groups all over the country. But it sure helps them raise money.
The tragedy in Newtown has revived a national debate about gun control, focusing attention on the laws (and loopholes) governing gun ownership in America, and raising a host of questions about how to prevent future Newtowns (and Auroras and Columbines and Virginia Techs). Chief among them is how to keep weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people. Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, whose mother was reportedly seeking to have her son committed to a mental institution, carried out the shootings with weapons that had been legally purchased by his mom, but across the country it's frighteningly easy for people with serious psychiatric problems to purchase weapons.
It's technically against federal law to sell guns to people with a severe mental illness, but in practice the background check system is so flawed it rarely filters out those with disqualifying psychiatric problems. There are a number of roadblocks to enforcing the law. One of them is that only gun sales by federally licensed arms dealers require background checks. That means a huge chunk—40 percent—of private gun sales don't require buyers to be vetted. (This is the so-called "gun show" loophole, though currently six states have laws that close it.) The law also defines disqualifying mental illness narrowly. It only forbids gun sales to people who have been determined by a court to be seriously mentally ill, or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. This means that the system often overlooks dangerous and disturbed people who don't have a paper trail.
On Monday, President Obama rolled out his latest deficit deal compromise, which would reauthorize the Bush tax cuts for those making under $400,000, extend unemployment benefits, and cut Social Security spending. It's pretty close to the deal House Speaker John Boehner offered last Friday. But on Tuesday, Boehner pulled out a not-so-fun sounding "Plan B," which involves letting tax cuts expire for those with income above $1 million...and then just not really dealing with the rest of that fiscal cliff thing.
Democrats say Plan B is a signal that Boehner has backed out of negotiations over the fiscal cliff. And now the center-left Center for American Progress has taken a look at Plan B, and found it wanting.
A few high-profile female lawmakers and policy people discussed just that at a Center for American Progress event on Tuesday in Washington. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, and other lady luminaries joined PBS' Judy Woodruff for a download on what women voters expect from Congress' female contingent, and how to keep American women politically engaged, and fighting for their interests post-election.