The 2012 Republican primary probably won’t be much like the 2008 Democratic primary, but Mitt Romney’s campaign is organizing just in case the nomination fight against Newt Gingrich lasts all the way into the spring. The New York Times‘ Trip Gabriel and Jeff Zeleny report that if neither Romney or Gingrich have decisive victories in the early voting states, “Gingrich could be faced with the ultimate challenge to his campaign: the need to survive a war of attrition of the sort for which he is unprepared at the moment.” Romney’s organized in Alabama, Indiana, Delaware, and lots of other later-voting states, while Gingrich’s campaign didn’t file the paperwork in time to get on the Missouri caucus ballot. The Washington Post‘s Philip Rucker, too, reports that Gingrich’s campaign is trying to create a huge organization in just a couple weeks, with staffers sending all-caps emergency emails to Republicans in Ohio to get enough signatures to get on that state’s ballot. Ohio votes in March, though, and it doesn’t seem likely that both guys will be around by then. Not only does Gingrich not have the organization of Obama, he doesn’t have the message Republicans want to hear or an army of new voters to help him win in late-voting states.
The establishment candidate is also the organized candidate
Outsider Obama outmaneuvered frontrunner Clinton by organizing in late-voting states, and by having a strong organization in the Iowa caucuses. But this year, the well-organized candidate is also the establishment choice: Romney. Obama’s surprise victory in Iowa was thanks to his organization — really important for Democrats, as Matthew Dowd, who was chief strategist for George W. Bush in 2004, explains at ABC News. But that organization isn’t important for Republicans in the state, he says. The Democratic caucus “involves meeting certain mandated thresholds, convening in groups at each caucus, reconvening, and using various mathematical equations that are instrumental to choosing a winner,” Dowd writes, but Republicans just show up and vote, and then those votes are counted. That means enthusiasm matters as much as organization.
The Post reports that Gingrich has hired Bush veteran Gordon C. James to build his organization, saying, “I’m just banking on 33 years with the Bush family and all those friends I’ve made to help us do that.” But while James might have a lot of friends, Gingrich has a ton of enemies. Sen. Tom Coburn, who was first elected in 1994 — Gingrich’s Republican Revolution — said on Fox News Sunday that he wasn’t “inclined” to support Gingrich. Coburn explained, “There’s all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they’re leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking.”
Obama’s secret weapon was young people, Gingrich’s is old people
Obama was able to bring in new voters outside of the traditional groups that lined up behind Clinton: young people. But Gingrich’s “secret weapon,” as Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin put it, is old people. Enthusiasm for Gingrich is not among insurgent activists, but seniors.
Gingrich will have a hard time attacking Romney on health care
Another problem Gingrich will have in sustaining the enthusiasm of the piss-off Republican party base is that he’s weak on the issue they care about most. Obama had the advantage of a record of being against the Iraq war early on, which appealed to Democrats frustrated by eight years of the Bush administration, while Clinton had voted to authorize the war in 2002. Clinton was seen as much more hawkish. But Gingrich can’t make a similar contrast Romney, because in the 1990s he endorsed the part of Obama’s health care overhaul — the individual mandate – that Republicans hate the most.
Obama had a disciplined campaign, Gingrich doesn’t
Obama’s campaign valued loyalty — and no leaking to the press. Obama strategist David Axelrod even told Politico, “There are no assholes. There are going to be no assholes on this campaign.” That helped limit stories about internal bickering that plagued Clinton’s campaign. By contrast, Gingrich’s campaign staff quit on him this summer, and then proceeded to talk mad smack about him in the press for days.
A long primary gave Obama a lot of time to introduce himself to people who’d never heard of him, while a long primary gives Gingrich a chance to remind people why he was run out of town in 1998
A four- or five-month long process means there’d be lots of time to rehash the Gingrich years: impeachment, ethics probe, marriages, the government shutdown. And a long nomination fight means Gingrich will have more opportunities to indulge in one of his weaknesses — saying things that make Republicans really mad. Gingrich famously called a Republican plan to overhaul Medicare “right-wing social engineering,” and it nearly killed his campaign. In the last couple weeks, Gingrich has already floated amnesty for some illegal immigrants and ending child labor laws.
By: Elspeth Reeve, The Atlantic Wire, December 5, 2011
Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in his office at the end of his term as governor of Massachusetts in 2007 as part of an unprecedented effort to keep his records secret, Reuters has learned.
The move during the final weeks of Romney’s administration was legal but unusual for a departing governor, Massachusetts officials say.
The effort to purge the records was made a few months before Romney launched an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is again competing for the party’s nomination, this time to challenge Barack Obama for the presidency in 2012.
Five weeks before the first contests in Iowa, Romney has seen his position as frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates whittled away in the polls as rival Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gained ground.
When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.
Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear.
Republican and Democratic opponents of Romney say the scrubbing of emails – and a claim by Romney that paper records of his governorship are not subject to public disclosure – hinder efforts to assess his performance as a politician and elected official.
As Massachusetts governor, Romney worked with a Democrat-led state house to close a budget shortfall and signed a healthcare overhaul that required nearly all state residents to buy insurance or face penalties.
Massachusetts’ healthcare law became a model for Obama’s nationwide healthcare program, enacted into law in 2010. As a presidential candidate, however, Romney has criticized Obama’s plan as an overreach by the federal government.
Massachusetts officials say they have no basis to believe that Romney’s staff violated any state laws or policies in removing his administration’s records.
They acknowledge, however, that state law on maintaining and disclosing official records is vague and has not been updated to deal with issues related to digital records and other modern technology.
BUYING UP HARD DRIVES
Romney’s spokesmen emphasize that he followed the law and precedent in deleting the emails, installing new computers in the governor’s office and buying up hard drives.
However, Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out records from his governorship were unprecedented.
Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about, or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.
The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.
In signing the lease, Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost – $108,000. Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.
As a result of the change in leases, the cost to the state for computers in the governor’s office was an additional $97,000.
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign, referred questions on the computer leasing deal and records removal to state officials.
Last week, Saul claimed that Deval Patrick, the present Massachusetts governor and a Democrat, was encouraging reports about Romney’s records to cast the former governor as secretive. Patrick’s office has not responded to that allegation.
STATE REVIEWING RECORDS LAW
The removal of digital records by Romney’s staff, first reported by the Boston Globe, has sparked a wave of requests for state officials to release paper records from Romney’s governorship that remain in the state’s archives.
Massachusetts officials are now reviewing state law to determine whether the public should have access to those records.
The issue is clouded by a 1997 state court ruling that could be interpreted to mean that records of the Massachusetts governor are not subject to disclosure. Romney has asserted that his records are exempt from disclosure.
State officials and a longtime Romney adviser have acknowledged that before leaving office, Romney asked state archives officials for permission to destroy certain paper records. It is unclear whether his office notified anyone from the state before destroying electronic records.
Officials have said the details of Romney’s request to remove paper records, such as what specific documents he wanted to destroy, could be made public only in response to a request under the state’s freedom of information law. Reuters has filed such a request.
By: Mark Hosenball, Reuters; Editing, David Lindsey and David Storey, December 5, 2011
Several wealthy bankers, investors, and entrepreneurs have called for higher taxes on the rich as an important part of reducing the nation’s deficit, led most prominently by Warren Buffett. “It is mathematically impossible to invest enough in our economy and our country to sustain the middle class (our customers) without taxing the top 1 percent at reasonable levels again,” wrote wealthy entrepreneur Nick Hanauer in an op-ed last week. “Significant tax increases on the about $1.5 trillion in collective income of those of us in the top 1 percent could create hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our economy, rather than letting it pile up in a few bank accounts like a huge clot in our nation’s economic circulatory system.”
Joining the list of those in financial positions of power that are calling for higher taxes on the rich is Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat who, as the Huffington Post’s Bonnie Kavoussi reported, said over the weekend that it’s “inappropriate” that income inequality in the country is continuing to grow while taxes on the rich stay low:
“The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That’s a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t agree with that,” Porat said. “The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that’s inappropriate.” “We cannot cut our way to greatness,” she added.
The rising compensation of executives and those in the banking industry is one of the major factors driving the nation’s income inequality. And at the same time that the rich have been getting richer, their tax rates have been plummeting. It’s refreshing to hear someone in the banking industry acknowledge these truths and want to rectify them, rather than decrying higher taxes on the rich as akin to the Nazi invasion of Poland.
By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, December 5, 2011
Years ago, I remember an interview in which former Speaker Newt Gingrich said he read at least one book a week. The trick to doing so for such a busy man?
Always carry what you’re reading, he recommended, even when you’re not traveling; read in doctors’ waiting rooms, in checkout lines—any place where you’d otherwise just be wasting time.
Some time after that—he was out of office by this point—I saw Gingrich in the Tysons Corner (Virginia) mall. He was in the corridor, slowly pacing in a circle … his nose buried in a book.
Impressive, I thought; he reads even while (presumably) his wife shops.
The downside to this kind of bibliophilia, for certain personalities, is that it can lead to faddishness. I’m sure you have a friend who fits the bill: Whatever he’s reading at a given moment is all he can talk about. And then he moves on.
Brimming with ideas is perhaps a superior condition when compared to, say, the calcified simplicity of George F. Will (“Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks—56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.”) The latter is a time-honored trope for too many conservative pundits: Get government out of the way of the market, ponder no further, and then pat yourself on the back for appreciating “society’s complexities.”
But an overheated motor of idea generation in high office is a recipe for disaster, or at least folly. As Charles Krauthammer observes, Gingrich as president would be “in constant search of the out-of-box experience.”
Then again, Gingrich seems to me to be full of lots of ideas that are not as imaginative as he thinks or, alternatively, just plain dumb. Gingrich wants to be able to fire federal judges, partially privatize Social Security and Medicare, and create a flat-tax alternative to the current code. This is comfortably in line with the positions of his GOP rivals.
Then there’s Gingrich’s now-infamous “child janitor” idea. Kids in the inner-city lack productive role-models, he says; they don’t see what it’s like for an adult to get up in the morning and go to work. This is itself a debatable proposition, but what bothers me most about it is that it’s a solution in search of the wrong problem.
When I think of Gingrich’s hypothetical poor inner-city kid, I see a bunch of problems, short- and long-term. He’s going to a lousy school—and even if he does well there, he faces long odds of a) finishing college and b) doing better than nonpoor kids who didn’t finish college. Set aside the schooling question, there’s the fact of stratospherically high unemployment rates in the inner city, and the broader, abysmal lack of opportunity for low-skilled men.
All of this is to say that cleaning bathrooms as a teenager is probably not going to change outcomes for this kid.
“Paycheck President“ Gingrich really has nothing interesting to say about declining social mobility in America, about how to mitigate the ways in which the global economy and low-skilled immigrants are squeezing working- and middle-class Americans from the top and bottom.
All that time reading in malls and doctors’ offices, and he’s still well inside-the-box on the most important questions.
By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, December 5, 2011
Federal officials hope to crack down more effectively on operators of “multiple employer” health plans that have defrauded small businesses and their workers of hundreds of millions of dollars, often leaving them stuck with unpaid medical bills, according to new rules proposed Monday by the Obama administration under the health care legislation.
Known as Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements, or MEWAs, such plans have a checkered history under operators who used federal law in the past as a shield from state insurance investigators. The plans are set up for small businesses to provide their workers with lower cost coverage by pooling premium contributions from the employers and workers together for benefits that are paid from the arrangement.
Yet an unintended consequence of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which has restricted states from regulating multiple employer arrangements, allowed these plans to dodge state insurance examiners, often after high fees were paid and money was then unavailable to pay medical claims and other benefits.
In the last two decades, the Department of Labor said it had initiated 800 civil and more than 300 criminal investigations, but often had been unable to prevent the operators of the plans from draining assets of the plans through a variety of schemes that included “excessive administrative fees or outright embezzlement resulting in harm to participants and their families,” the agency said in a statement.
Under the rules proposed Monday, the Secretary of Labor would have the authority to issue a “cease and desist order” when federal officials believe fraud is taking place. The secretary can also freeze assets, stop marketing and certain other business practices.
“For the first time, the federal government has some tools that we have never had to get at these MEWAS early before the money is gone and everybody is left in the lurch,” said Phyllis C Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration. “Once we have these new tools, hopefully the losses will go down because we will be able to intervene before the money is gone.”
There have been many high profile cases of defrauded MEWAs, like that of TRG Health Plan, which had more than 11,000 plan subscribers and operated in more than 40 states and left behind more than $17 million in unpaid medical claims when it was terminated 10 years ago. The labor department alleged TRG’s operators diverted assets to accounts of an affiliated marketing firm, failed to charge adequate premiums and did not have sufficient assets to pay benefits.
Often, small employers, unions or trade associations will turn to a MEWA for affordable benefits because an insurance company will not cover those who may have an older population of workers or employees who might be in poor health. So analysts say operators of MEWAs bilked the most vulnerable of Americans in search of affordable coverage for themselves and their workers.
Take the National Writers Union, which turned to a MEWA known as Employers Mutual when their insurance carrier dramatically raised rates. The plan, based in Nevada, sold benefits to 22,000 policy holders and was unlicensed in states, claiming its structure did not require it to be licensed. The plan left behind more than $24 million in unpaid claims, a 2004 General Accounting Office report said.
“Whenever people are desperate for affordable coverage, they look for alternatives and unscrupulous individuals target those kinds of people,” said Mila Kofman, the former superintendent of insurance for Maine who is professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “Many have been hauled into federal court but the U.S. Department of Labor didn’t have tools to act quickly.”
Federal officials estimate more than 2 million Americans are enrolled in hundreds of MEWAs but they cannot be certain because they don’t know.
Another crucial part of the proposed regulations are that MEWAs have to register with the Department of Labor before operating or be subject to various penalties. The lack of licensure or registration made MEWAs a fertile opportunity for frauds.
“We don’t even know how many of these there are,” Ms. Borzi said.
Following a 90-day public comment period, the proposed rules will become final, probably by mid-2012.
The insurance industry, which is not known for welcoming new regulations, welcomed the labor department’s proposals.
“We are pleased the government is going to have these added powers,” said Alissa Fox, senior vice president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. “These entities are avoiding oversight and harming consumers. It hurts consumers and we are concerned when consumers are being hurt by entities that are not going to be paying these bills.”
By: Bruce Japsen, The New York Times Prescriptions, December 5, 2011