“His Instincts Fail Him Again”: John Boehner Is Weak In The Face Of Pressure From Right-Wing Ideologues
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), two months ago:
Republicans’ efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s health care reform law appear to have come to an end, as House Speaker John Boehner described it Thursday as the “law of the land.”
In an interview with ABC News, the nation’s top elected Republican seemed to indicate that Congress wouldn’t engage in the type of repeated repeal votes the way it had in the past two years.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), three days ago:
“This week, the House passed Republicans’ balanced budget that fully repeals and defunds ObamaCare to protect families, workers and seniors from its devastating consequences. The House will continue working to scrap the law in its entirety….”
Note the amount of time that’s elapsed: we’re not talking about Boehner changing his mind over the course of three years; we’re talking about taking wildly different positions over two months. In January, the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land,” and Congress has better things to do than to waste time trying to repeal a law that isn’t going anywhere. And in March, Boehner reversed course entirely — congressional Republicans have already voted several dozen times to repeal the reform law, and the Speaker sees no reason to become more constructive now.
I don’t know Boehner personally, but I suspect what he said in January was sincere — the guy probably doesn’t want to be known as the Speaker who pointlessly spun his wheels, voting repeatedly on health care for no particular reason, so as the new Congress got underway, he envisioned a more productive session for governing. And then the Speaker was reminded what party he’s in and how little his caucus cares about constructive legislating.
But the larger point gets back to something we talked about on Thursday: I suspect Boehner’s instincts aren’t as ridiculous as his caucus’.
Pressed for an answer, before he has time to do the full political calculation, Boehner reflexively takes a sensible line on everything from taxes to energy to immigration. Even in 2011, during the debt-ceiling crisis he didn’t want to instigate — his instincts told him this was a bad idea — Boehner’s gut told him to take President Obama’s offer for a “Grand Bargain.” He had to reverse course when his allies balked.
When the Speaker’s followers tell him to change his mind, he puts his head down, and does what he’s told to do.
The problem isn’t necessarily that the House Speaker is a right-wing ideologue, but rather, that he’s weak in the face of pressure from right-wing ideologues. It might help explain why Boehner struggles in his post — he’s not allowed to follow his own instincts, which would otherwise serve him well, because of the radicalization of his caucus.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013
Paul Ryan releases his budget plan today and the rollout and coverage of the document and its author represent a test for both Ryan and the media. I’m speaking specifically of its provisions regarding repealing Obamacare—or more precisely “repealing” Obamacare.
The test for Ryan is the extent to which his reputation as a straight-shooting budget wonk survived the ill-fated Romney campaign. Longtime Ryan observers know that that standing was more contrivance than reality (he cast a string of budget-busting votes during the Bush years before finding his inner fiscal warrior when a Democrat was in the White House, and his budgets have been less intellectually honest than advertised), but its durability showed it to be impervious to reality.
So the question now is whether that disconnect will endure? Because even before it’s fully unveiled Ryan’s budget fails both the laugh test and the cry test—both, as I said, regarding its treatment of the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare.
The laugh test regards the fundamental premise that Ryan’s budget anticipates the law’s repeal. Agree or disagree with the idea of repealing the law, you have to admit that it’s about as likely as Mitt Romney signing any bills into law any time soon.
National Journal‘s Jill Lawrence wrote an article yesterday looking at the political logistics of repeal, and they’re daunting, to put it mildly.
For the health-care law to be repealed before 2017, you’d have to believe that either Obama would, lamb-like, accept repeal of his signature domestic accomplishment, or that Republicans in 2014 would somehow win veto-proof two-thirds majorities in the House (290 votes if all 435 representatives are present, 58 more seats than the GOP held as of mid-March) and the Senate (67 votes, which would require a net gain of 22 seats).
For repeal to be feasible in 2017, a Republican would have to win the White House in 2016; Republicans would need to hold their House majority, and Republicans would need a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (15 more than they have now).
That latter scenario, Lawrence notes, also doesn’t take into account the day to day reality of the law in 2017—the practical problems of unwinding a system that will have become entrenched as people use it to get health coverage and so forth.
“The continuing assumption that Obamacare will be repealed, even with Obama reinstalled in the White House, is just one more factor that makes Ryan’s budget more wishful than credible,” Lawrence concludes. That’s putting it politely. The fact is that if we’re to take Ryan and his budget seriously, it should be grounded in reality, not in the wishful thinking of the right wing.
But Ryan’s Obamacare repeal also fails the cry test for being so intellectually dishonest as to make a noncynical citizen weep. You see Ryan’s repeal of Obamacare isn’t actually a full repeal of Obamacare. As the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein points out, “Ryan’s version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance.” So the $716 billion which Obamacare cut from Medicare and which Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney campaigned so hard against last year? Those cuts are in Ryan’s budget … just like they were in his previous budgets. He was, as TPM’s Sahil Kapur points out, against those cuts before he was for them before he was against them before he was for them. Or something.
And the governance/campaigning dichotomy is the more striking for the results of the campaign. You would think that after losing a race that the GOP insisted was a grand philosophical showdown, Republicans would attempt some sort of course correction other than reverting to their we say we hate it, but we’re happy to use it stance on Medicare cuts. Voters disapprove of both the party and its policies, and Ryan’s response is more of the same. To paraphrase his least favorite philosopher, his budgets seem to repeat themselves, first as tragedy, then as farce.
The question remains whether Ryan will be called on it in news reporting or whether he will reclaim his reputation as honest-green-eye-shade guy. Stay tuned.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, March 12, 2013
“Accidental Disclosure”: Aetna Shareholders “Dismayed” Over Company Donations To Anti-Obamacare Campaigns
A group of Aetna shareholders is challenging the health insurer for donating to the American Action Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — two organizations dedicated to undermining Obamacare.
Aetna donated over $7 million to the two groups during the Democrats’ effort to enact health care reform, though the contributions did not become public until this year, when the company accidentally “made the disclosure in a year-end regulatory filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.”
In a letter to Aetna on Monday, the shareholders claim that the company did not comply with disclosure policies or inform its investors about the donations:
“We believe Aetna is not in compliance with its corporate political and lobbying disclosure policy, a policy which we negotiated and expected would be met in spirit and in letter,” read the Monday letter to Aetna CEO and President Mark Bertolini from Mercy Investment Services Inc. and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, two Catholic groups with investments in Aetna. [...]
But in their recent complaint to Aetna, the Catholic investors point to a 2007 letter of agreement in which Aetna promised shareholders that it would disclose all expenditures for lobbying and political purposes, as well as trade association payments and grass-roots spending. The Aetna policy followed a 2006 shareholder resolution calling for the company to disclose its political spending.
“We, investors, withdrew the resolution in good faith expecting that the resolution establishing oversight and transparency would be followed, revised as best practices evolved and in place for reference by the members of the committee preparing the annual reports,” read the letter. In an interview, Sister Valerie Heinonen, one of the letter’s authors, said investors were “dismayed” that the agreed-on policy had not been followed.
Aetna maintains that it intended the funds to be used for educational purposes, yet both the American Action Network and the Chamber are still fighting reform. Just days after the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the law, AAN announced a $1.2 million advertising campaign urging Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, July 14, 2012
The health-care ruling has exposed a delicate dance within the Republican Party. Romney does not want to run on the health-care issue. To the extent that he wants to invoke the issue, it’s to flay Obama for having focused on it as a distraction from the economy, not as an ideological crusade against Big Government. But conservative activists want to be sure that, if Romney wins, he will commit his political capital to repealing the Affordable Care Act. Thus their current focus on demanding that Romney pledge to repeal the law (see Avik Roy, Keith Hennessey, Rich Lowry, and David Brooks, among many others).
The interesting thing about these conservatives’ arguments is that they are all committed, to varying degrees, to upholding the pretense that the Republican Party really wants to impose a more technocratically sound version of health-care reform. To be sure, they insist they are advocating a vastly different philosophical vision centered around self-empowerment and free markets and other wonderful things. But all of them say, or imply, that they share the basic goals of the Affordable Care Act, which is to make coverage available to all Americans and to control cost inflation. So, for instance, Lowry argues, “The two central selling points of the law — insuring millions more people and keeping people with pre-existing conditions from getting locked out of insurance — can be addressed with policies that are cheaper and less disruptive (a tax credit for purchase of insurance and high-risk pools, respectively).”
I see two problems with this hopeful scenario, both fatal.
The first is that the mythical Republican reform plan is really hard to pass. Conservatives may think they have a cheaper way to fix the system, but it still costs money. And Republicans have never appropriated any money to cover the uninsured. Indeed, all their plans divert money that already exists to cover people who need health care for other purposes. Conservatives hopefully propose turning the health-care tax deduction into a more progressive tax credit. Great idea! Except the plans put forward by Romney and Paul Ryan plow the savings from eliminating that tax deduction back into lower tax rates. And it leaves no budgetary provision for high-risk pools or any other mechanism to subsidize coverage for the poor and sick.
Now, you could suppose that maybe this is all one giant oversight. Republicans failed to craft an alternative plan during the health-care debate, then voted to just straight repeal Obamacare with no replacement, then voted for a budget that just straight repeals Obamacare with no replacement, but when they have power, then they’ll really come up with a plan.
But where is the evidence that they have any desire to do so? Sunday, the two most powerful Republicans in Congress appeared on interview shows and were asked what they plan to do for the uninsured. Mitch McConnell hilariously danced and weaved, admitting that covering the uninsured is “not the issue”: http://youtu.be/QvZvNSKrOZ4
Paul Ryan, as he is apt to do, offered a much smoother take, couching his position in philosophical abstractions:
What — what Mrs. Kennedy and others were saying is this is new government-granted right. We disagree with the notion that our rights come from government, that the government can now grant us and define our rights.
Those are ours. Those come from nature and God, according to the Declaration of Independence, a huge difference in philosophy.
What this blather actually means is that he does not accept that the government has an obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to health care.
If Republicans really wanted to replace Obamacare with some more “market-friendly” alternative, then there’s a simple way they could go about it. They could promise to repeal the law only if they packaged the repeal with a replacement that did not increase the number of uninsured. But they’ll never do that, because the magic, cheaper free-market alternative does not exist, and the GOP has no interest in diverting resources to cover the poor and sick.
Hennessey, who lays out the most specific vision for repealing Obamacare, asserts, “Repeal and replacement should be separate legislative efforts.” This means, of course, that the actual plan is first to get rid of Obamacare, then pretend to work on a replacement before eventually discovering that it’s expensive and unpopular. Oh well. The only interesting question here on any level is why so many conservatives feel bound to pretend that the Republicans really are going to formulate some other plan to care for the poor and sick.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, July 4, 2012
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He’s relentlessly focused on his message and doesn’t let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn’t like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News’ Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing:
WALLACE: All right, let’s move on. If voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be, you say, to repeal and replace “Obama-care.” And I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to “Obama-care” is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of “Obama- care,” get rid of that half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, get rid of the half a trillion dollars in taxes. In other words, the single biggest step we could take in the direction of improving American health care is to get rid of this monstrosity.
WALLACE: But if I may, sir, you’ve talked about repeal and replace. How would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: I will get to it in a minute. The first step we need to take is to get rid of what is there, this job-killing proposal that has all of these cuts to existing health care providers. Secondly, we need to go step by step to replace it with more modest reforms. There will not be a 2,700-page Republican alternative. We will not take a meat axe to the American health care system. We will pull out a scalpel and go step by step and make the kinds of more modest changes that would deal with the principal issue which is cost. Things like interstate sales of health insurance. Right now you don’t have competition around the country in the selling of health insurance. That is a mistake. Things like lawsuit reform. Billions and billions of dollars are lost every year by hospitals and doctors in defensive medicine. Those kinds of steps…
WALLACE: But respectfully sir, because we are going to run out of time and I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?
MCCONNELL: That is not the issue. The question is, how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.
WALLACE: But you don’t think the 30 million…
MCCONNELL: What our friends on the other…
WALLACE: You don’t think the 30 million people that were uninsured is an issue?
MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what we are not going to do. We are not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system. That is exactly what is at the heart of “Obama- care.” They want to have the federal government take over all of American health care.
And there you have it. Obviously, McConnell can’t come out and speak the truth, which is that while there are a few changes Republicans would like to see on health care, not only isn’t it an issue they care very much about, they really don’t give a crap about people who don’t have insurance. Never have, and probably never will. First of all, those just aren’t their people, and second of all, actually helping the uninsured requires things they don’t like, such as expanding Medicaid.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can say. McConnell ought to know that when asked questions like this, Republicans are supposed to say, “The way you expand coverage to everyone is to increase competition and unleash the free market, not through big government blah blah blah.” That way it looks like you’ve actually responded to the question, even though you haven’t actually said anything. The great thing about conservative talking points is that they can be used almost anywhere, no matter how empty they are. McConnell is seriously off his game.
I stand by my prediction that Republicans are going to stop talking about health care within a few days. They just don’t feel comfortable with the topic.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 2, 2012