“Willfully Disobeying The Law”: Republican Leaders Refuse To Make Appointments To Key Obamacare Panel
The top two Republicans in Congress informed President Obama on Thursday that they will refuse to fulfill their duty under the Affordable Care Act to recommend members of a new board with the power to contain Medicare spending.
It’s a dramatic power-play driven by the explosive partisan politics of Obamacare and with potentially important implications for federal health care policy.
In a letter to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted their original opposition to Obamacare, reiterated their intent to repeal it entirely, and declared that they would not make any appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The IPAB is a 15-member panel whose members must be confirmed by the Senate. The President selects three members himself and is required by law to seek three recommendations each from the top Democrat and Republican in each chamber. With Thursday’s letter, Boehner and McConnell refused to make any recommendations.
The IPAB will be stood up in 2014 by Obamacare and tasked with making cuts to Medicare provider payments (it may not touch benefits) if costs exceed economic growth plus an additional percentage point in any given year. Congress can override it by passing equally large cuts with a simple majority or waiving the cuts entirely with a three-fifths majority.
“Because the law will give IPAB’s 15 unelected, unaccountable individuals the ability to deny seniors access to innovative care, we respectfully decline to recommend appointments,” Boehner and McConnell wrote in the letter.
But there is a catch: if IPAB fails to do its work for any reason, the Health and Human Services secretary must order the cuts herself. So in a way, Boehner and McConnell are surrendering some of their power in order to appear as though they’re thwarting Obamacare — when in reality they’re merely turning over more control to the executive branch.
“Under the ACA, if the IPAB fails to make a recommendation as required under the IPAB provision, the Secretary may make a recommendation in its place,” said Tim Jost, a professor of health law at Washington and Lee University. “So if no IPAB is created, it is not fatal.”
IPAB is, however, capable of functioning without all of its members confirmed. But the letter reflects a continuation of broader GOP obstruction of Obamacare implementation. Senate Republicans have suggested that they may filibuster any IPAB nominee, period.
This approach makes it easier for a future Republican president to neuter IPAB by executive fiat. In the short term, it puts the Obama administration more directly in the political line of fire for any cuts that it does approve.
The other political incentive for Republicans to oppose IPAB is that spending Medicare dollars more wisely makes it easier to sustain the single-payer structure of the program, and makes it harder to argue that it needs to be privatized, as the Paul Ryan budget does.
There is some irony as well in Boehner and McConnell refusing to play ball on IPAB — a key cost containment mechanism in Obamacare — while their party is complaining about potential cost increases under the law, and government spending more generally. Limiting Medicare spending and cutting the deficit, part of the rationale for IPAB, are routinely touted as central GOP goals.
“We believe Congress should repeal IPAB, just as we believe we ought to repeal the entire health care law,” Boehner and McConnell wrote. “In its place, we should work in a bipartisan manner to develop the long-term structural changes that are needed to strengthen and protect Medicare for today’s seniors, their children, and their grandchildren. We hope establishing this board never becomes a reality, which is why full repeal of the Affordable Care Act remains our goal.”
By: Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo, May 9, 2013
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has released an important new report that details Barack Obama’s record on nominating judges during his first term. It’s no surprise: Republican obstruction against his selections was unprecedented. For example:
President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
A quick look at the report’s summary confirms that Obama’s nominees have been treated more roughly than those of Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and the other Bush.
That’s only half the story. George H.W. Bush had to deal with an opposition party Senate for his entire first term, and Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had that during about half of their first terms. It’s at least plausibly legitimate for opposite party Senators, when they have the majority, to argue that they should have a larger role in filling judicial vacancies, and to act accordingly. At the very least, if they simply oppose some of those nominees, they will defeat them in “up or down” votes.
But Obama, like Ronald Reagan, had a same-party Senate majority during his first term. He should have had among the best results over any recent president, all things being equal.
What changed when Obama took office, however, was the extension of the filibuster to cover every single nominee. Republicans didn’t always vote against cloture (or even demand cloture votes), but they did demand 60 votes for every nominee. That’s brand new. It’s true that Democrats filibustered selected judicial nominations during the George W. Bush presidency, but only at the circuit court level, and not every single one.
That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents. He doesn’t show up last on every measure — for example, George H.W. Bush had a lower percentage of district court nominees confirmed — but he’s fourth or fifth out of five of these presidents on almost every way that CRS slices the numbers, and it adds up to by far the most obstruction faced by any recent president.
And remember: the losers here aren’t just the president and liberals who want to see his judges on the bench. Ordinary people who just want to get their legal matters taken care of promptly have suffered because of all the vacancies on federal courts.
It’s really a disgrace. Especially those picks that were delayed for months, only to wind up getting confirmed by unanimous votes. Especially the foot-dragging on district court nominees. Just a disgrace.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 3, 2013
“Dowd Transference Syndrome”: When Republicans Don’t Receive Blame They Deserve, They Have No Incentive To Be More Responsible
When the Senate minority killed expanded background checks last week — and in the process, stopped the entire legislative effort to reduce gun violence — I thought it would put to rest the assertion that Congress would function more effectively if only President Obama would “lead” more. Alas, I thought wrong.
By the rules of the Beltway punditocracy, Obama did everything right: he took his message to the public, to the media, and to lawmakers directly. The president leveraged public opinion, accepted compromises, activated his electoral operation, and remained focused on achievable, popular, mainstream goals. The Republican filibuster prevailed anyway.
In a column that’s remarkably difficult to understand, Maureen Dowd is blaming Obama for the GOP’s intransigence.
Unfortunately, [Obama] still has not learned how to govern.
How is it that the president won the argument on gun safety with the public and lost the vote in the Senate? It’s because he doesn’t know how to work the system. And it’s clear now that he doesn’t want to learn, or to even hire some clever people who can tell him how to do it or do it for him.
It’s unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate.
There’s something rather amazing about the argument itself: after 20 years of complete inactivity on gun reform, President Obama was quickly able to persuade a majority of the country and a majority of the Senate to endorse sensible reforms. What a feckless leader!
I realize Dowd’s column has generated quite a bit of scrutiny, but the more I read it, the more I’m puzzled by it.
Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.
Well, yes, Senate Democrats ostensibly “controls” the Senate, but Obama’s party could not “muster 60 votes” because that would require the existence of several Republican moderates who do not exist. There are 53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats. A 60-vote supermajority it is not. What is there to “marvel” over?
President Obama thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress. But that’s not how adults with power respond to things.
Really? Because it seems to me reform proponents, including the president, have relied on reason and substance — the way adults respond to things. Does Dowd think Republicans — who engaged in post-policy nihilism throughout the debate — would have been more receptive if the president was more cerebral with them?
To thunderous applause at the State of the Union, the president said, “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” Then, as usual, he took his foot off the gas, lost momentum and confided his pessimism to journalists.
Took his foot off the gas? He gave a bunch of speeches, turned his weekly address over to Newtown parents, worked the phones, and did all the things a president does when he or she wants to see a bill passed.
The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in “The American President.”
Yep, that was a great movie, but it was fiction. They didn’t need a war room; they needed five more votes. The problem wasn’t the lack of Michael J. Fox in the OEOB; the problem is there’s a radicalized Republican caucus on Capitol Hill that doesn’t give a damn about anything but tax cuts.
Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles. Obama should have called Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota over to the Oval Office and put on the squeeze: “Heidi, you’re brand new and you’re going to have a long career. You work with us, we’ll work with you. Public opinion is moving fast on this issue. The reason you get a six-year term is so you can have the guts to make tough votes. This is a totally defensible bill back home. It’s about background checks, nothing to do with access to guns. Heidi, you’re a mother. Think of those little kids dying in schoolrooms.”
Here’s something casual observers of American politics may not fully appreciate: Obama has very little to offer Heidi Heitkamp. She represents a red state that voted against him, and by the time she’s up for re-election, he won’t even be in office anymore.
Obama had to persuade some Republican senators in states that he won in 2012. He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this.
A few paragraphs prior, Dowd wrote that speeches weren’t going to cut it. Besides, the public was riled up and Republicans didn’t care.
Tom Coburn, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, is one of the few people on the Hill that the president actually considers a friend. Obama wrote a paean to Coburn in the new Time 100 issue, which came out just as Coburn sabotaged his own initial effort to help the bill. Obama should have pressed his buddy: “Hey, Tom, just this once, why don’t you do more than just talk about making an agreement with the Democrats? You’re not running again. Do something big.”
In what universe was Tom Coburn going to vote for new gun restrictions? What makes Dowd believe he was a gettable vote?
Obama hates selling. He thinks people should just accept the right thing to do.
Right, which is why Obama failed to pass the Recovery Act, health care reform, Wall Street reform, DADT repeal, student loan reform, New START ratification, credit card reforms, and food-safety reforms. Oh wait, Obama actually passed all of those things, suggesting the president’s “hatred” of “selling” isn’t really the problem.
There were ways to get to 60 votes.
If Dowd knows what those ways are, she should say so.
The larger point here is that accountability and responsibility should matter, which makes columns like Dowd’s so disappointing. Republicans filibustered gun reforms, they lied about gun reforms, they partnered with extremists against gun reforms, and then they killed gun reforms.
So let’s blame Obama? Because he didn’t remind a columnist of a president she once saw in a fictional movie?
When those who deserve blame don’t receive it, they have no incentive to be more responsible the next time. Imagine how hilarious Senate Republicans found Dowd’s column — “We ignored the will of 90% of Americans four months after a madman massacred children and a liberal New York Times columnist is condemning the president she agrees with! Amazing!”
Dowd’s column is a counterproductive mistake.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 22, 2013
“The Way Forward On Guns”: It Often Takes Defeat To Inspire A Movement To Build The Strength Required For Victory
Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is — or at least should be — with the Senate’s morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.
The outcome is a test of both an invigorated gun safety movement and a gun lobby that decided to go for broke.
The National Rifle Association assumed that blocking new gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre would firmly establish its dominance. Advocates of sane gun regulations would scatter in despair and be torn apart by recriminations.
But there is a flaw in the gun lobbyists’ calculation: Their strategy leaves the initiative entirely in the hands of their opponents. The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.
What was striking about Wednesday’s vote is that many of the senators who had expressed support for universal background checks after the slaughter at Newtown meekly abandoned their position when the roll was called.
Proponents of the measure, including Mark Kelly, the husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, spoke of private meetings in which senators offered no substantive objections to the compromise negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa). The wobbling legislators simply hinted that politics would not permit them to vote “yes.”
Giffords, the victim of the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to battle on behalf of gun reforms. She responded to the Senate vote with an op-ed in the New York Times that declared plainly: “I’m furious.” Senators, she said, “looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”
Giffords’s frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks — Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — was indignation.
Begich invited scorn by insulting those who insisted that the Newtown massacre ought to be the last straw.
“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” he said. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.” Describing the reaction to the death of so many children as “emotional” rather than rational should be electorally disqualifying.
But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lock step behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure: Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain and Susan Collins.
This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.
Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness — their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman — could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.
This vote also made clear that the right wing is manipulating our system, notably by abusing the filibuster, to impose a political minority’s will on the American majority. Since when is 90 percent of the nation not “the Real America”?
Not only do Americans overwhelmingly endorse background checks; senators representing the vast majority of our people do, too. The “yes” votes Wednesday came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?
But the next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted “no,” or they can leave them believing that the “safe” vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous “yes” votes — among them, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan — or they can leave them hanging.
The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory. Which way this story goes is up to us.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 21, 2013
I’ve been shaking my Boggle box to come up with some colorful adjectives to add to the din of words criticizing the Senate for its failure pass the universal background check amendment in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.
I didn’t get any words as good as egregious or atrocious. Boggle’s 16 cube tray didn’t give me enough letters to produce words as bumptious as those. But I did get the word Fed, and that reminded me of James Madison’s Federalist 10, a paper he wrote in 1787 to argue that “one of the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union is its tendency to break and control the violence of factions.”
Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse …adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He argued that majority rule would “secure the public good from the danger of factions and preserve the spirit and the form of popular government.”
Sadly, the outcome of this vote is just another example how the filibuster has eroded any and all ability of the Senate to secure the public good. The 46 Senators who voted against cloture put their self-interest ahead of public safety, regardless of the fact that the bill closed all the loopholes in the background check process, a process that today lets 40 percent of guns purchased go unchecked.
The filibuster came into being in 1815. Between 1815 and 1975, Senators were required to stand in the chamber and speak until a 2/3′s vote invoked cloture. It was exercised infrequently because the costs of using it were higher. Two-thirds of Senators had to be present and voting in the chamber, and 3/5′s sworn. In short, they had to sit and listen to the speech until they fell asleep, wore out, or simply couldn’t take it anymore.
In 1975, the Democratic controlled senate strengthened the filibuster. Senators didn’t have to be present to use it or engage in endless debate in the chamber. To invoke cloture, the number of required votes was reduced to 3/5s, or 60 out of 100.
Why did Democrats make these changes? They wanted to make sure that if they lost control of the chamber in some future election, they’d have a reliable way to way to block the Republican party.
The Democrats made a bad move. Since 1975, both parties have abused the filibuster to such an extent that today the Senate shows little productivity, and it’s a rare occurrence that bills do pass. Under majority rule, S.649 passed 54-46, but that doesn’t count because every bill now requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass, a requirement that flies in the face of majority rule.
Just the threat of a filibuster stops legislation in its tracks, and special interests work this to their advantage. The gun lobby compelled those 46 Senators to filibuster the bill by threatening to pull support from their 2014 reelection campaigns.
However, it’s not just the gun lobby influencing senators to filibuster bills. Over the past several years, many powerful liberal and conservative interest groups have helped orchestrate filibusters of multiple good and broadly beneficial legislative proposals.
The filibuster slaps popular government in the face. It has to go. It does nothing but obstruct the democratic process, and it isn’t needed to give the minority party a stronger voice in the chamber. Even if we got rid of it, each Senator still has plenty of rules and procedures at his or her disposal to slow debate.
How we get rid of it, however, is a discussion I’ll reserve for a future column, because we can’t expect the very people who benefit from the filibuster to support eliminating it. One thing’s for sure: If the status quo persists, we won’t see any reasonable gun control laws in this geological age.
By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, April 19, 2013