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“Inside The Anti-Obamacare Resistance”: A Facinating Glimpse Into Warped Conservative Ideology And Tactics

The two largest states that have so far failed to join in the Medicaid expansion provided for in the Affordable Care Act are Florida and Texas, where Republicans control the legislature and the governor’s office. Looking more closely at the intra-Republican battle over how and whether rich new federal funds can be captured without “surrendering” to the hated Obama provides a fascinating glimpse into conservative ideology and tactics.

Florida offers the murkiest situation. Gov. Rick Scott, who was beginning to look rather toasty in his 2014 re-election prospects, roiled conservative circles in his own state and nationally by suddenly coming out for Medicaid expansion in exchange for permission from the Obama administration to move Medicaid beneficiaries into private managed care plans. But Scott’s been stopped cold by GOP legislators, who in turn seem split between outright rejectionists centered in the state House and those in the Senate who want an even better “deal” that would utilize the state’s CHiP program, which is a privatized premium support scheme, instead of Medicaid for the expansion.

A conservative Florida reporter presents the views of the rejectionist camp quite vividly:

Tom Lauder, a reporter for Media Trackers Florida, which is closely following the Florida Obamacaid debate, says House Republicans appear likely to stand firm….

“Grassroots conservatives are particularly upset with Gov. Scott using the language of the left in his efforts to build momentum for Obamacaid,” Lauder explained. “When Scott argues, ‘I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,’ he asserts that the only time people have access to goods and services is when government gives it to them as an entitlement. Scott has enraged his conservative base by making this big-government argument. This isn’t a question of whether government should give Medicaid to the poor and disabled, because the poor and disabled already qualify for Medicaid.”

At issue, Lauder says, is the rejection of Scott’s argument that federal funding will come without cost to state taxpayers.

“Scott’s conservative base also resents Scott talking about federal funding as if it were free money,” Lauder added. “Even if the federal government kept its promise to fund most of the Florida Medicaid expansion, which many conservatives doubt will be the case, Floridians pay federal taxes in addition to state taxes. Federal dollars flowing into Florida are not free dollars, even for Floridians.

In other words: Florida’s “true conservatives” don’t much care what mechanism is being used to expand coverage; they’re just flatly against it.

In Texas, meanwhile, the rejectionist camp is led by Gov. Rick Perry, as Ron Brownstein explains in a National Journal column:

Republican state Rep. John Zerwas, a health care leader who represents a district outside Houston, says legislators are getting an earful at home from providers and local officials worried about the state rejecting the money.

Against that backdrop, Zerwas and some GOP state House colleagues are searching for ways to steer Texas into the expansion. They assume the state will not move more people into the existing Medicaid program. But they consider it misguided to simply reject the federal money and deny insurance coverage to so many people who could obtain it. “We are not going to make this better … without doing something that substantially reforms how we deliver Medicaid,” Zerwas says. However, “we have to have a solution for this group of people.”

Last week, Zerwas introduced legislation that would authorize state health officials to negotiate with the Obama administration to expand while delivering coverage for the newly eligible through new means. He likes the deal the administration is discussing with Arkansas, which could allow the state to use Medicaid expansion dollars to instead buy private insurance for its eligible adults, and he believes that approach could be “sellable to the governor.”

Many here, though, wonder if Perry would take any deal. The widespread belief is that he intends to seek the GOP presidential nomination again in 2016, and accepting more Medicaid money would smudge his image of Alamo-like resistance to Obama.

This is an interesting scenario given recent efforts from the Perry camp (outlined earlier this week in another National Journal piece by Michael Catalini) to depict the swaggering, gaffe-prone Texan as “ahead of his time” in understanding the need for Republican outreach to Latinos. Notes Brownstein:

[I]f state Republicans reject federal money that could insure 1 million or more Hispanics, they could provide Democrats with an unprecedented opportunity to energize those voters—the key to the party’s long-term revival. With rejection, says Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, Republicans “would dig themselves into an even deeper hole with the Hispanic community.”

It’s unclear how this will all play out in Florida and Texas. But nobody recently has lost any money betting on the hard-core conservative approach, particularly on an issue as incendiary to the Right as Obamacare. That rejecting any sort of coverage expansion beyond that absolutely required by the ACA would mean leaving vast sums of federal money on the table would in fact be considered a badge of honor by a lot of the people involved.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 22, 2013

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Health Care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Devastating Blow To The Scientific Process”: The Idea That Politicians Decide What Is Worthy Of Research Is Perilous

This week, ten years after swearing to destroy Saddam Hussein and build democracy in Iraq, the United States took a step toward dismantling its investment in studying how democracy works.

For more than 15 years, congressional Republicans have been trying to do away with federal funding for political-science research. Every time until now, political scientists successfully fought back. One reason they could: The pot designated for political science in the National Science Foundation (NSF) was a tiny percentage of overall research money—about $10 million out of a $7 billion budget. That’s less than two-tenths of a percent. But it’s also the majority of total grant funding for political-science research. The field provides us with much of what we know about how democracies, including our own, function (and don’t function). Political scientists study how and why opinions change on key issues, what motivates people to vote, and how public opinion influences elected officials. For a relatively small sum, the nation that loves to tout its democratic ideals has been funding projects to investigate how that democracy works (and doesn’t).

Last May, when House Republicans passed an amendment by Congressman Jeff Flake to stop funding the NSF’s Political Science Program, Senate Democrats stopped it from going anywhere. Even New York Times columnist David Brooks got agitated by Flake’s selective targeting of the program, arguing, “This is exactly how budgets should not be balanced—by cutting cheap things that produce enormous future benefits.” (If he’s like most political journalists, Brooks uses plenty of NSF-funded data.)

But tucked inside the 600-page continuing resolution the Senate passed on Wednesday afternoon—the measure that must pass to avoid a government shutdown—is an amendment from Republican Senator Tom Coburn, designed to cut off the vast majority of federal support for political-science research. The amendment prevents the National Science Foundation from funding its Political Science Program, “except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

Perhaps most surprising, the resolution passed by a voice vote, meaning there was no real opposition from Democrats. It’s quite a turnabout. Democrats have long supported research grants for the social sciences. When Coburn introduced a similar amendment in 2009, Democrat Barbara Mikulski went on the offensive: “This amendment is an attack on science. It is an attack on academia,” she said. “We need full funding to keep America innovative.”

But this time around, Senator Mikulski, as appropriations chair, was shepherding a difficult piece of legislation through the body as Republicans threatened a government shutdown. Democratic leaders were afraid that if Coburn didn’t get his way on the amendment, he would slow down the continuing resolution. That might have doomed the thing, with Congress headed to recess. Instead, it seems Coburn modified his original amendment to assuage the Democrats. His new language permitted the NSF to allow exceptions for political projects that “promote national security or the economic interests” of the country. Instead of cutting the $10 million allotted for the Political Science Program, the measure simply prohibits grants in political science. The NSF gets to keep the money for other purposes.

“It reflects the nature of the Senate more than it reflects any shifting views or shifting support,” says Thomas Mann, political scientist and congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. “If there were a [roll call] vote on this, it never would have passed.” The House has already shown its support for a similar measure. The die has been cast, at least in the short term. Democrats will have a chance to undo the measure in October, when Congress will need to pass another budget for the next fiscal year.

The American Political Science Association called the decision “a devastating blow to the integrity of the scientific process.” That’s not overstating things, even if $10 million looks like a drop (if that) in the national budgetary bucket. If you care about scientific process generally, it’s not hard to see why the amendment is an ominous portent for other NSF programs. Growing up as the daughter of a political scientist who received several NSF grants, I was well aware of their importance, not only to political-science research but to the social sciences in general. Fields like sociology, psychology, and economics also rely heavily on NSF funding—and could also fall victim to the whims of an influential member of Congress. What if Senator Coburn next decides that sociological studies of gender and homophobia are frivolous? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has already expressed his support for getting rid of funding for all social-science research, even though the combined budget for those programs is less than 3 percent of total NSF funding.

The situation could easily spread further, into the many parts of the hard sciences that are just as easily politicized—say, evolutionary biology or climate change. When the Flake amendment entered the House, the science magazine Nature wrote an editorial detailing the threat to all fields: “Scientists should ask themselves which vulnerable research programme could be next on the hit list,” the piece read. “The idea that politicians should decide what is worthy of research is perilous.”

Second, political-science research is important. NSF funds a number of major projects that inform much of how we understand our system. For instance, for decades, the Political Science Program has funded the National Election Study, a multimillion-dollar project run out of the University of Michigan. The data, freely available to anyone, provides the most comprehensive look at how American political opinion has changed over time on key issues. Through the study, we can track the evolution of partisan identification, public opinion, and a variety of other key issues over decades. The findings are used by journalists and campaigns, and they’re used to train undergraduates and graduate students in research. If the study ceases, there will suddenly be no way to see long-term trends in the American electorate.

Other Political Science Program studies have investigated questions that are important to our functioning democracy but not particularly easy to raise money for—like gender gaps in political ambition or how responsive elected officials really are to public opinion. Furthermore, the research has helped develop a number of statistical and methodological tools, like computer-assisted interviewing, which has since become standard in private-sector research.

Without NSF, many of these projects may go unfunded. Political-science research, like most academic research, relies on outside funding. Universities pay professors’ salaries and offer basic infrastructure—the buildings in which the research can take place, for instance—but most of the actual dollars for research come from grants. NSF funds 61 percent of political-science research. “There are other opportunities out there” for funding, says John McIver, who ran NSF’s Political Science Program in the mid-1990s. “But there are no pots as big as the NSF program. It’s going to be hard for big political science to continue.”

Why would political science be singled out for cuts in the first place? Coburn says he opposes the funding because the $10 million spent on political science takes away $10 million from studies of diseases or other causes deemed more worthy. In a letter to the director of the National Science Foundation earlier this month, he argued, “Discontinuing funding for these types of studies will increase our ability to fund research into basic fields of mathematics and science such as engineering, biology, physics, and technology.”

Of course, the National Science Foundation has a number of programs that have no direct economic or medical benefits. Physicists spend millions studying dark matter; not only have some of those studies failed to reach a conclusion but the research has no impact on most of our lives. Political-science research also makes its way into Congress—as the political scientist John Sides noted in 2011, even Coburn hasn’t let his opposition to NSF’s political-science grants stop him from relying on NSF-funded political-science research when the research bolsters his own positions. In one debate, he cited NSF-funded research to demonstrate the lack of congressional oversight of the Government Accountability Office.

Singling out political science for a cut seems absurd, until you consider that political scientists conduct research about elected officials and also that this research (usually) doesn’t rely on access or parlor games. Unlike reporters, who must establish relationships to gain access and information—and risk getting shut out when they write something controversial—political scientists have been free to critique and explain our political process, warts and all, and have never had to fear political repercussions. Until now, it seems. “Members of Congress don’t like research being done about members of Congress,” McIver says. “In a world in which Congress has an 11-percent approval rate, Congress is not happy to know there’s research being done specially on that topic.” As if to prove his point, Senator Coburn has repeatedly insisted that there’s no need to fund studies of the GOP’s use of the filibuster. It just so happens that many political scientists are eager to examine how the tool has been used (if not abused) under the current Republican leadership in the Senate.

Coburn’s attempt to stifle political science probably won’t succeed for long. Democrats are expected to restore the status quo by next October. But the fact that this decision was made at all is worrying. Flake, Coburn, and Cantor aren’t likely to let this go, especially now that they’ve had a taste of success.

 

By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, March 23, 2013

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Science, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Had To Take Me Down”: A Democratic Win Of The House In 2014 Would Put Nancy Pelosi Back In Charge

You remember the Republicans’ 2010 midterm campaign message: Nancy Pelosi, engulfed in flames, demon-like. Nancy Pelosi, in charge, bossing you around with her crazy liberal values. An official “Fire Pelosi” bus tour sponsored by the Republican National Committee, and the specter of her leadership invoked in ad after ad.

All of this was a key Republican strategy in taking back the House, and while there were lots of reasons the Democrats lost and Pelosi was dethroned, it achieved the desired result. Since the next big electoral battle will be control of the House in 2014, and a Democratic win would presumably put Pelosi back in charge, expect to see more Pelosi boogeyman-ing.

“It didn’t bother me, I figured they thought I was effective and therefore they had to take me down,” Pelosi told Salon at the premiere Thursday night of “Fall to Grace,” her daughter’s HBO documentary on former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey. Still, she worries about the message it sends to other women who might be considering a run.

“What does concern me about it is that women that we want to be involved in politics, women like you, women who have options to do other things and we say, ‘Come over here and do this!’ And they’re saying, ‘No, I don’t want to subject myself to that. Why would I do that? I have a great life, I have plenty of opportunities.’ So what I’ve said is that if you lower the role of money in politics and you increase the level of civility, you will have more women running for office, elected to office, and that would be a very wholesome thing for our country.”

Of course, Pelosi is not as lonely as she once was on the Hill, and the more female leadership is normalized, the less likely such attacks are to resonate. As the New York Times notes in a story today on female senators, a critical mass is slowly but surely building, even if it creates long lines on the Senate floor’s bathrooms and female senators are still occasionally asked what they’re doing there. The piece also cites a recent American Journal of Political Science study, “When Are Women More Effective Lawmakers Than Men?” which found that “while men may choose to obstruct and delay, women continue to strive to build coalitions and bring about new policies.” Pelosi’s dealmaking as speaker can rankle, including on the left. It also, though, recently earned her the following designation from Vice President Joe Biden on the signing of the Violence Against Women Act: “If you ever want a partner to get anything important done, call Nancy Pelosi.”

In the meantime, Pelosi seems to be enjoying the Republican scramble to appeal to women and people of color, which they now concede is necessary to winning anything but a majority of gerrymandered House districts. (Or, to use their own words, “address concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.”) Does she have any advice for the other party?

“Respect,” she said. “I think respect would be a good place to start. We are fortunate in our House Democratic caucus — women, minorities, LGBT community members make up a majority of the caucus. We don’t need anybody to teach us how to speak to women, Hispanics, blacks, because that’s who we are. And not only do they have a seat at the table, they have a seat at the head of the table, because over half of our chairmen-to-be, our senior Democrats — people who would be chair if we were the majority — are women and minorities.”

 

By: Irin Carmon, Salon, March 22, 2013

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Reactionary, Ill-informed And Ill-intentioned”: The G.O.P.’s Bachmann Problem

The current intramural squabbling on the right is just too delicious for words. At least for nice words.

Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)

Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: “Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds.” What a lovely woman.

Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. “Buck up or stay in the truck,” she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.

Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a “dummy” who was “born stupid.” It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.

But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.

The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.

Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings “now stand at a 20-year low,” and that is in part because “the outside influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”

And too many of those hard-liners have a near-allergic reaction to the truth.

A prime example is Michele Bachmann, the person who convened the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and a Republican candidate for president last year.

She burst back on the scene with a string of lies and half-truths that could have drawn a tsk tsk from Tom Sawyer.

PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”

She also said during that speech that President Obama was living “a lifestyle that is one of excess” in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.

The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that “during last year’s G.O.P. presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.”

And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:

“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Factcheck.org pointed out that her “facts” didn’t match her hyperbole.

Last year The Washington Post quoted Jim Drinkard, who oversees fact-checking at The Associated Press, as saying, “We had to have a self-imposed Michele Bachmann quota in some of those debates.”

It’s sad when you are so fact-challenged that you burn out the fact-checkers.

People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.

And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 22, 2013

March 24, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Many Massacres Are Enough?”: National Gun Fever Shows No Sign Of Breaking

Apparently, there will be no ban on assault weapons.

Never mind that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type rifle to rip apart the bodies of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Forget the fact that James E. Holmes, the alleged Aurora, CO, movie theater shooter, fired, among other weapons, an AR-15.

Nor does it seem to make any difference that Jared Loughner — the man who shot Gabby Giffords and killed six others, including a 9-year-old girl — used a high-capacity magazine that the Clinton-era assault-weapons ban rendered illegal. A high-capacity magazine also enabled the massacre committed by Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The political climate has changed since the 1994 ban: Democrats have cowered before the gun lobby; the National Rifle Association has grown even more extreme; the U.S. Supreme Court has moved much further to the right. And, in the 20 years since Congress banned assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, Americans have heard a steady drumbeat of pro-firearms rhetoric that fetishizes the Second Amendment. In other words, the climate around firearms has gotten crazier.

Even before the current debate over more restrictive gun laws began, most political observers knew it would be difficult to get Congress to stand up to the firearms lobby. So it’s no great surprise that Majority Leader Harry Reid, who runs from the shadow of the National Rifle Association, slammed the door on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s effort to re-up the assault-weapons ban.

Still, I find myself once again wondering just how bad things have to get before the fever breaks — before the country comes to its senses on firearms. We’re in the throes of a kind of madness, a mass delusion that assigns to firearms the significance of religious totems.

Many critics of an assault-weapons ban note that it would not provide any magical cure-all for the mass shootings that have plagued us over the years since Columbine. That’s certainly true. But banning at least some assault-type weapons and the high-capacity magazines that feed them would be a step in the right direction. Why can’t we take that step?

What would be wrong with reinstituting a ban? For 10 years — from 1994-2004 — an imperfect ban prohibited the sale of certain types of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It covered only new weapons; old ones were grandfathered in, so those already in existence were available to criminals, the mentally unstable and the impulse-control-challenged. The original ban didn’t prohibit easy modifications or cosmetic changes that allowed gun owners and manufactures to practically duplicate outlawed weapons. So the old law was hardly perfect.

But many law enforcement officials nevertheless supported it, declaring that it helped. It didn’t end gun violence or stop mass murders or prevent suicides (which account for two-thirds of gun deaths in this country). But it prevented some killings. Isn’t that worthwhile?

And the Clinton-era ban accomplished that without infringing on the rights of gun owners. They could still hunt game, protect their homes and enjoy firearms on gun ranges. The civilized world did not come to an end during those 10 years; the Second Amendment was not besmirched.

Yet, the vociferous — nay, deranged — leadership of the NRA has persuaded Congress that an assault-weapons ban is akin to totalitarianism. More important, it has persuaded Democrats that it has the power to end their political careers if they don’t carry water for the gun lobby. After Al Gore’s defeat in 2000, he and other Democrats blamed the loss partly on support for tougher gun laws. And the NRA was only too happy to take credit.

That was nonsense, of course. Gore won the popular vote and would have won the Electoral College, as well, if the ballots had been properly counted in Florida. Besides, he has only himself to blame for being a lousy candidate. But none of that seems to matter now because conventional wisdom has rewritten history.

If dead innocents — their bodies ripped apart by bullets from an assault weapon — couldn’t persuade Congress to ban at least some of those firearms and the high-capacity magazines that feed them, the cause is lost. So is our common sense.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 23, 2013

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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