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“Forget About Repealing Obamacare”: Too Many “Message” Votes Have Put The GOP In A Bind

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? That certainly seems to be the motto of House Republicans. Last week, the House GOP took its 56th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.

The bill’s prospects for consideration in the Senate are low and the president has repeatedly promised to veto such a measure anyway. After 56 tries, the House votes to repeal the health care law have become so commonplace that hardly anyone in Washington even blinks an eye at them anymore. Even the president says he’s lost count of how many repeal votes there have been. If House Republicans are serious in their quest to roll back the Affordable Care Act, why do they keep pursuing a strategy they know is doomed to fail?

They do it because these multiple repeal votes aren’t a serious attempt to void the health care law. They are merely symbolic message votes. Voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a popular campaign message for candidates on the right, and the recent House vote gave them a chance to fulfill their election year promises.

The repeal votes also give the Republican party a platform to continue talking about their opposition to the health law and to highlight its differences with the president. However, too many “message” votes may have also put the party in a bind. After 56 votes on essentially the same piece of legislation, the Republican party has faced criticism, according to The Hill, for failing to articulate an alternative plan. The repeated symbolic votes also expose the party to criticism for failing to lead in a critical policy area. The time spent in fruitless endeavors to repeal the law could have instead been used to negotiate on policies to fix the Affordable Care Act’s weaknesses. When it comes to health care policy, Republicans have simply become the party of no.

It’s time to switch tactics. Following the House votes last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., released a proposal for an alternative health care plan. The proposal is a good first step and perhaps necessary as, for the first time, three House Republicans voted against repeal of the Affordable Care Act in protest of their party’s apparent lack of a plan to replace it.

In addition to putting an actual health care plan on the table, Republicans may also want to consider trying to make changes to the current health care law in pieces. There could be opportunity for negotiation on aspects of the law that remain unpopular, such as the medical device tax, the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board and the definition of a full-time work week. Further, the Supreme Court ruling on the King v. Burwell case later this year regarding the legality of the subsidies being provided for the purchase of health insurance on the federal exchanges could provide Republicans with another opportunity to change the law. If the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies, a legislative fix may be necessary. By taking advantage of these opportunities, the party might be able to make the law more palatable for its constituency and improve its credibility in the process.

House Republicans have made their disdain for the Affordable Care Act very clear. A 57th vote to repeal the law will not be necessary, especially since it, too, would be doomed to fail as long as Obama is in office. However, it’s entirely possible we’ll see one. By focusing strictly on repeal of the entire law, Republicans risk giving the impression that they are completely unwilling to engage in meaningful debate on health care policy. The party should instead work to improve the law and continue putting forward ideas to do so.

A great example of this can be found at the state level. Following the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion was optional, several Republican governors have proposed alternative Medicaid plans to the administration. Some have already been successful in putting their imprint on the president’s initial policy because they came to the table in a serious manner. Republicans at the federal level would do well to follow suit.

 

By: Cary Gibson, a Government Relations Consultant with Prime Policy Group; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2015

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lesson Not Learned”: There’s Another Shutdown Fight In Washington. Republicans Will Lose This One, Too

Congressional Republicans are in a tough spot. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires on February 27, but conservatives are demanding that any DHS funding bill also block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That’s unacceptable to Senate Democrats, who filibustered the legislation three times last week.

And now we’re stuck. Some Republican senators are urging their House colleagues to accept a “clean” funding bill that doesn’t block Obama’s unilateral actions, but that’s unacceptable to House Republicans. “The House did its job,” Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday. “Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work.” No one is quite sure how this will end. “I guess the lesson learned is don’t put yourself in a box you can’t figure out a way to get out of,” Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said.

The exact outcome may be unpredictable, but this impasse wasn’t.

Think back two months ago, when Congress needed to reach an agreement to fund the entire government. Conservatives were still seething at the president for taking executive action on immigration and wanted to use the government funding deadline as leverage to enact concessions from Obama. Republican leadership, on the other hand, was terrified that another government shutdown would be a political disaster for the GOP, just as they regained full control over Congress. And, they argued, Republicans would have more leverage in the 114th Congress, having won the Senate in November. The compromise was to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal yearwith the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which was funded only until February 27.

Conservatives weren’t happy with the deal, but Boehner’s job was safe. More importantly, the Republican leadership had limited the political downside of a potential shutdown. Now, it wouldn’t be a full government shutdown, just one department. Given the Tea Party’s fury at Obama, that was a huge victory for Boehner.

But even though the current impasse was the best case scenario for Republicans, they still are in a tough position. The practical effects of a DHS shutdown are relatively minor, since most of DHS’s employees are classified as essential and thus would continue to work in the case of a shutdown. But the political implications of it are much worse. Obama can criticize the GOP for putting the U.S.’s national security at risk. “I can think of few more effective ways for Republicans to re-surrender national security as an issue to Obama than by taking the Department of Homeland Security hostage like this,” The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote in December. And that’s exactly what Obama has done in recent weeks. As February 27 approaches, Obama and other Democrats will only amplify that message.

Republicans are already trying to avoid blame for a DHS shutdown. “If there’s a shutdown, it wouldn’t be because of us,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said Tuesday. “The Democrats are filibustering it. I don’t know how we get blamed for that this time.” Hatch is rightDemocrats did filibuster the House-passed legislation on three separate occasions. But Republicans will probably take the blame. That’s how the politics of the filibuster work. The minority uses it to obstruct legislation and the majority takes the blame. Americans know that Republicans control both chambers of Congress. They aren’t paying attention to parliamentarian rules.

In all likelihood, this will end the same way every funding fight ends these days: Republican leadership will eventually bring up a clean bill and it will pass with mostly Democratic votes. That’s long been the GOP game plan. It’s also possible that Republican leadership will see this fight, with its relatively small stakes, as a good opportunity to build credibility with the Tea Party by standing up to Obama and refusing to pass a clean bill.

Neither of those outcomes are good for the GOP. But this is what happens when one ideological group has outsized control over a party and wants to pick funding fights that they are certain to lose.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, February 12, 2015

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Social Security Faces Threat From ‘Ideological War'”: Republicans Manufacturing A Crisis’ To Hide Their Real Intent

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a message to supporters yesterday, warning of a real threat to Social Security. By any fair measure, she’s right.

“We’ve known for years that Social Security Disability Insurance is set to run low in 2016, and most people assumed that another bipartisan reallocation was coming,” the senator wrote. “But now, thanks to the Republican ideological war on our most important national safety net, disabled Americans could suddenly face a 20% cut in their Social Security checks next year.”

Let’s recap for those just joining us. The Social Security system provides disability payments to Americans who want to work but can’t for health reasons. For generations, when the disability-insurance program runs short on funds, Congress transfers money from elsewhere in the Social Security system to prevent benefit cuts. The solution, sometimes called “reallocation,” has never been especially controversial – in fact, it’s been done 11 times over the last seven decades.

But last month, congressional Republicans adopted a rule change that makes it almost impossible to approve the usual, straightforward fix. GOP lawmakers seem to want to create the conditions for a crisis.

All of which led to an important Senate hearing yesterday.

Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner for the Social Security Administration, urged senators to act first to avert the crisis at hand and then begin serious negotiations on finding a longer-term solution. She said the threatened cut in disability payments – about 19 percent – would be a “death sentence” for many of the poorest recipients, but time and again, she refused to opine on more concrete options going forward.

When Colvin read aloud the president’s six principles for future reforms, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was scornful. “That’s a set of principles that makes sure we do absolutely nothing meaningful,” Graham said. “If that’s the president’s plan, we’ll never get there.”

And by “meaningful,” it appears Graham and other Senate Republicans are waiting for the White House to propose cuts to Social Security. (Ironically, President Obama was open to modest Social Security cuts as part of a grand bargain with GOP lawmakers, but Republicans have refused to consider any possible concessions and effectively ruled out the possibility of a compromise.)

The Politico report added that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member, “angrily accused the GOP of ‘manufacturing a crisis’ to hide its intent to resurrect past proposals to cut Social Security benefits and privatize the system.”

This has the benefit of being true. Addressing the upcoming shortfall in the disability-insurance program should be easy. Republicans are ensuring that it’s not, hoping to exploit a manufactured crisis to force Social Security cuts they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

Indeed, the literal name for yesterday’s hearing for the GOP-led committee was, “The coming crisis: Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency.” There would be no crisis, and no threat of insolvency, if Republicans hadn’t already ruled out the straightforward solution lawmakers have relied on for decades.

Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said yesterday, “I’m hoping the president will take an active role in this.” Expect more of this kind of rhetoric: Republicans will feign outrage over Obama refusing to offer far-right solutions the GOP-led Congress considers acceptable.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 12, 2015

February 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Social Security, Social Security Disability Fund | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Republican Congress Is A Mess”: Boehner; Senate Democrats Need To ‘Get Off Their …’

GOP House leaders emerged from a Republican Conference meeting Wednesday with a persistent refrain on Department of Homeland Security funding: The House has done its job; it’s time for the Senate to act.

During their weekly Republican leadership press conference, Speaker John Boehner repeatedly called on the Senate to take up the House-passed DHS funding bill, which Senate Democrats have repeatedly blocked the chamber from considering.

“You know, in the gift shop out here, they’ve got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law,” a fired-up Boehner said, as camera shutters clicked away. “The House has done its job! Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something?!”

When Boehner was asked if this standoff with the Senate was how he planned for the DHS bill to play out — Senate Republicans now insist it’s on House Republicans to send over a new bill — Boehner said the process was working “exactly” the way he envisioned it.

“The House did its job,” Boehner said. “We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions. Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work.”

But if they don’t, does Boehner ever intend on throwing the Senate a lifeline?

“The House has done its job,” Boehner said. “It’s time for the Senate to do theirs.”

Time and again, Republican members trickling out of the Wednesday morning conference meeting stubbornly repeated some variation of Boehner’s new favorite line: The House did its job, now it’s the Senate’s turn.

During conference Wednesday, members heard from two of their former House colleagues now in the Senate: Cory Gardner of Colorado and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

But instead of Gardner and Moore Capito quelling the House insistence that the Senate act, the two freshmen senators got an earful that they weren’t doing enough.

According to Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida, one member in the conference meeting told the senators they shouldn’t be letting the Senate go home on the weekend.

DeSantis said there were ways Republicans could pressure Senate Democrats — simultaneously noting he’s “not an expert on kind of how the Senate’s run” — and he said the sense among the public was that Senate Republicans weren’t doing enough.

In a mocking tone, DeSantis said the Senate’s attitude was, “‘OK, have a vote, OK, you don’t have 60, OK, we got to move on to something else now.’”

House members simply aren’t satisfied with the Senate’s effort on the House-passed DHS bill, which would block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. And House Republicans aren’t moving off their position that the Senate take up their bill. That insistence was typified Wednesday in one particularly iron-willed exchange between Budget Chairman Tom Price and a reporter.

“The speaker’s position, and our position, is that the House has already acted; it’s time for the Senate to act,” the Georgia Republican said Wednesday morning.

Asked if the more likely option then was for a continuing resolution or for a shutdown, Price said the option was for the Senate to act.

Presented with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments Tuesday that it was “obviously” up to the House to send over a new bill, Price was emphatic. “The House has acted,” he said, content to leave it at that.

But Rebecca Shabad, a reporter for The Hill, was not content to leave it at that. She asked if Price thought the House might have to act again. “It’s up to the Senate to act,” Price replied.

Asked again if a CR was more likely, given the short amount of time before a DHS shutdown on Feb. 28, Price resorted to a similar line. “The House has acted. It’s up to the Senate to act,” he said.

And that’s the official position from House Republicans: They’re not budging.

A similarly obstinate back-and-forth is playing out between Boehner and McConnell in the press. Boehner continues to insist the DHS funding bill is up to the Senate, while McConnell points to three failed votes to proceed to the legislation.

When Boehner was asked about the constantly evolving McConnell-Boehner relationship Wednesday, he didn’t say much.

“I love Mitch,” Boehner said. “He has a tough job to do, and so do I.”

And that was that.

Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) later issued the following statement on Boehner’s comments:

“We know Speaker Boehner is frustrated but cursing is not going to resolve the squabbling among Republicans that led to this impasse. Democrats have been clear from day one about the way out of this mess: take up the clean Homeland Security funding bill which Republicans signed off on in December – and which is ready to come to the Senate floor – pass it, and move on. If Republicans want to debate immigration policy next, Democrats are happy to have that debate.

“Neither Speaker Boehner nor Senator McConnell appears willing to do the right thing and stand up to the extremists in their caucus like Senator Ted Cruz who have led us here. As we speak, Senator McConnell is on the verge of wasting three entire weeks that could have been used to pass a clean Homeland Security bill simply because he is unwilling to stand up to Senator Cruz.

“The Republican Congress is a mess, pure and simple. Democrats are happy to help our Republican colleagues resolve their problems but the first step is for Republican leaders to do the right thing and pass a clean bill to fund Homeland Security.”

 

By: Matt Fuller, The National Memo, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Drag-Racing Off A Political Cliff”: Republicans Attack Immigrants While Putting America In Danger

The House of Representatives’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill, which is really a law seeking the mass deportations of undocumented people, including children, died on the Senate floor, victim of arithmetic certainty.

Mathematical reality seems to be a challenge to the GOP House majority. While most Americans have heard about the 60-vote rule in the U.S. Senate that impacts most legislation — the cloture/filibuster, as it is commonly known — House Republicans insist in passing bills that cannot make that threshold, and are subsequently dismayed that their legislation dies an ignominious death.

Yet once again, and this would now seem to be par for the course for Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) House, Republicans have passed a bill that, with zero support of Senate Democrats, failed to meet the basic 60-vote threshold — three times.

It has been clear for some time that Democrats will not support the liquidation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Moreover, should such a bill pass by some deus ex machina event, the president would veto it.

So why insist on passing a bill that cannot become law? One must assume that the potency of a quixotic quest to achieve the impossible is irresistible to many members of the Republican caucus in the House. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) seemed to insist that two plus two does not equal four when he told The Hill that “There’s not a Plan B, because this is the plan.”

In other words, after the mass deportation bill crashed and burned in the Senate, the House has no other plan, no other path forward to fund America’s shield from terrorism, Homeland Security.

Showing the triumph of ideology over logic, The Hill further reports that Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said before the Senate vote that: “[M]any of us agree that we should stand behind the one bill that we sent over there. Most of us feel that way. … Anything less than that, we’re not going to get any better result anyway. So why not just go for what’s really right?”

Of course, the obvious “better result” would be not to put America’s security at risk, and instead pass a clean DHS funding bill that would keep the nation safe. Immigration can always be tackled as a separate issue by the Republican-controlled Congress.

In fact, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) recently told me on my radio show that the House leadership has given immigration-reform Republicans encouragement to develop a set of sweeping immigration reform bills. So at least in the pro-arithmetic wing of the Republican Caucus, there is a reality-based path forward to deal with immigration without the perennial government shutdown threat — implicit in Scalise’s “not a Plan B” comment — that has become Republicans’ go-to tactic for forcing through their agenda when they fail to muster the votes necessary to pass legislation in both chambers.

It would be refreshing to see the big House Republican majority have as much passion for governing as they do for deportation. As Americans look at our society, polling clearly suggests that bread-and-butter issues dominate the agenda of the people. The economy, of course, and education, healthcare and the sense of economic insecurity that hangs like a shadow over most American families are the issues that should be tackled by a giant majority with ambitions to govern for more than two years.

I have yet to see one poll in which Americans rank mass deportations of undocumented immigrants as a top priority. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that Americans favor such deportations over the continued funding and smooth operation of the country’s principal anti-terrorist agency, DHS.

Ironically, the party that has claimed the mantle of being the true fighters against a global jihadist threat is willing to drag-race off a political cliff to deport people rather than fund Homeland Security.

This is a choice that has both practical and symbolic resonance. The practical impact is obvious: Even one day, contrary to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s (R-Fla.) jaunty declaration otherwise, when DHS is not funded is one day too many. Republicans willfully weakening America’s national security would be irresponsible, bordering on seditious.

And the political and symbolic effects would also be notable. Will Americans easily forget that Republicans bet with their safety, indeed the safety of the nation, for the unachievable policy goals of deporting millions of people?

Perhaps we’re seeing here the inherent weakness of a Republican majority so divided among ideologies and passions that it is literally incapable of governing for the benefit of the nation.

At the very least, we are witness to the fact that even GOP leaders such as Rep. Scalise are a little weak on the universal truths of basic arithmetic.

 

By: Fernando Espuelas, Univision America Host; THe Blog, The Huffington Post, February 6, 2015

February 8, 2015 Posted by | Deportation, Immigration Reform, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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