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“The Height Of Absurdity”: What Republican Political Regression Looks Like

In July, when several far-right lawmakers started pushing a government-shutdown scheme in earnest, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who isn’t exactly a moderate, had the good sense to reject the idea as silly.

“I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” Burr said at the time. “Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is going to be law.”

I mention this, of course, because the North Carolina Republicans’ reasoned, sensible approach to extortion politics has apparently disappeared over the last two months.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who dubbed Cruz’s threat to shut down the government over Obamacare the “dumbest idea” he’d ever heard, said Congress shouldn’t give Obama a debt ceiling increase without attaching strings, and the president “is going to pay some price for it, which is a benefit for the American people.”

“I hope [an Obamacare] delay is either part of the next [continuing resolution] or I hope it’s part of the debt ceiling,” Burr said.

There are a couple of important angles to this. First, if anyone was inclined to give Burr points for being an adult in July, now is the time to kick yourself. What he’s describing is a dangerous extortion scheme in which radicalized lawmakers threaten to hurt the country on purpose unless Americans start losing health care benefits.

The fact that Burr didn’t want to threaten a government shutdown was nice, but the fact that he does want to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States is madness — the severity of a sovereign debt crisis is vastly more serious than a shutdown.

Second, Politico mentioned in passing that the issue here is Congress “giving Obama a debt ceiling increase.” It’s time for the political world to stop thinking this way — raising the statutory debt limit isn’t “giving” the president anything.

Indeed, the political establishment’s understanding of this issue has become more than a little twisted. To see Republicans voting for a debt ceiling increase as some kind of concession is the height of absurdity. For those who rationalize threatening deliberate harm to the nation, and for much of the media, the idea is that we’re witnessing some sort of trade — Democrats get a debt-ceiling increase, Republicans get a laundry list of goodies they can’t pass through the legislative process.

The problem with this is that it’s not sane.

The legislative branch has the power of the purse, and appropriates government spending. When that spending is outpaced by federal receipts, it’s up to the executive branch to borrow the difference. Under a ridiculous quirk in the U.S. system, the executive is only allowed to borrow the difference after Congress, which spent more than it took in, gives its authority to do so.

This is called the debt ceiling. The Obama administration needs to borrow the funds to pay the bills for the stuff Congress already bought. There’s no real reason for the system to work this way — most modern democracies have no use for a statutory debt limit — but for now, this is the messy process we’ve created for ourselves.

The point, of course, is that when Congress raises the debt ceiling, as it must, it’s not doing the White House a favor. It’s not some kind of concession or gesture of goodwill. It’s not increasing the debt or giving Obama a blank check or spending any money. It’s just extending a legal authority to pay the bills lawmakers already racked up. Period. Full stop.

So when it comes to “negotiations,” for Congress to ask the White House, “What do we get for raising the debt limit” is insane because on a substantive level, the question is gibberish.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 26, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“As Usual, The Public Be Damned”: House Republicans Should Come To Their Senses And Just Knock It Off

The health care obsessives in the Senate, led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, have spent days trying to portray Democrats as out of touch with the public. “The Senate Democrats are not listening to the millions of Americans who are being hurt by Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said this morning in his last stand in this particular round of the budget battle.

Moments later, however, the vote took place and Mr. Cruz lost badly. It was clear that all Democrats and a majority of Senate Republicans had in fact listened quite closely to the public — which demanded that Congress not shut down the government, whatever the fate of President Obama’s health law.

On the crucial vote to cut off debate over a temporary spending bill to keep the government open, 79 senators, including 25 Republicans, opposed Mr. Cruz’s plea for a filibuster. (All of those Republicans also opposed the final bill, which removed the provision defunding the health law and sent the stopgap bill back to the House, but by then Democrats only needed a simple majority for passage.)

The Republican split in the Senate — 25 against shutdown tactics, 19 in favor — was a pretty clear signal to the House about the political limits of opposition to the health law. Mainstream Republicans will continue to oppose the law, exaggerating every minor glitch and failure, and running against it in next year’s election, but most are not willing to shut down the government to stop it.

They know what will happen if a shutdown occurs at midnight on Tuesday, or even worse, if a default occurs two or three weeks later: television news clips of phones going unanswered at Social Security offices, shuttered national parks, and veterans protesting reduced services. And a plunge in the market in event of a default. What was a political standoff would turn into a picture of dysfunction. Voters would get angry, and Republicans would inevitably (and accurately) get the blame.

The question now is whether a majority of House Republicans will feel the same way as their colleagues in the upper chamber. Answering only to rigidly gerrymandered districts, House members have shown themselves far less interested in the general welfare than senators, and may not react to the same pressures.

The bill now heads back to the House, and if Republicans attach another health care demand to it, that’s it, game over, the government shuts down on Tuesday. The Senate will have to strip it out again, and there won’t be enough time for reconciliation. Speaker John Boehner could agree to a one- or two-week extension, if he can get the votes for a kick-the-can bill, or he could punt, approve the Senate bill, and make his stand on the debt limit increase in the following few days.

But he’ll eventually have to punt on that, too, or risk triggering an economic catastrophe. The only realistic path is a sensible variant on what Mr. Cruz said this morning: Listen to the public and stop governing by crisis. Or as President Obama put it this afternoon: “Knock it off.”

By: David Firestone, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, September 27, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cowering To The Tea Party”: Where Oh Where Are The Sane House Republicans?

With the Senate, as expected, passing a (relatively) clean continuing resolution (CR) and sending it back to the House — but with House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to first pass a Christmas tree debt-limit bill and then retreat on the CR reportedly in ruins — there’s a lot of pessimism right now about keeping the government open when funding runs out on Tuesday.

But it’s still in the interests of mainstream House conservative Republicans to avoid a shutdown. And for the same reason: They’re the ones who are going to have to allow something to pass after a shutdown, so there’s no advantage in waiting until then. There might be if they had a demand they really cared about and thought they might get, but that’s not the case here, since exactly none of the sane House Republicans (which is well more than half of their conference) believes that the GOP has any chance of defunding, delaying or repealing Obamacare in this particular fight.

There are basically two ways they can avoid a shutdown. One is that they can pass a clean CR with mostly Democratic votes, and then those who don’t have to bite the bullet can pretend that they held firm with the tea partyers only to be betrayed by Boehner and a handful of moderates.

Or they could just admit what they think: that this particular battle has no chance for success, no matter what grandstanding demagogues might say. In the Senate, more than half of the Republicans were willing to vote against Ted Cruz in the key cloture vote. If more than half of the Republicans in the House would publicly say that they’ll vote for a clean CR — or even just ask for a clean CR to come to the House floor — they could move forward.

The first blame for a potential shutdown goes to Cruz and his allies. But they have no leverage at all if most House Republicans walk away from what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today called the “weird caucus.” Which means that those mainstream House Republicans deserve plenty of blame as well if the government shuts down on Tuesday.

Sane conservatives in the Senate were willing to speak up and to vote to keep the government open. Where are the sane House Republicans?


By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, September 27, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hurting Real People Who Have Real Needs”: Republicans Are Suppressing Obamacare Enrollment

Republicans have done everything they could think of to repeal, defund, undermine and otherwise disrupt Obamacare. But they’ve failed, and that’s why they’ve turned to a last-ditch strategy to stop the law and take away the rights of millions of Americans to get the health care they need.

Governors and state legislators are adopting state laws and regulations to sabotage the work of “navigators,” the community organizations that will help consumers sign up for care. We are witnessing navigator suppression, and the Republicans’ objective is simple: the harder they make it for navigators to do their jobs, the harder it will be for people to benefit from Obamacare.

Republican governors in 21 states are already denying more than 5 million people health care by refusing to expand Medicaid. Navigator suppression is another way for the Obamacare haters to pile on and limit the reach of the law.

In a new report, Health Care for America Now conducted a detailed review of the most egregious laws and regulations found in 13 selected states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. These states are home to 17 million people without health insurance who are eligible for coverage under the health care reform law–fully 41 percent of the nation’s uninsured.

The excessive requirements we found include such things as residency rules, extra fees, additional and unnecessary training requirements, superfluous certification exams, and prohibitions against navigators talking with consumers about the benefits offered by different plans. These measures constitute direct interference in the enrollment process.

For example, in Missouri, state and local officials are barred from providing any assistance to an exchange. In Florida, the Department of Health released a directive prohibiting navigators from conducting outreach at any of the county’s 67 health departments. Fortunately, two big counties, Broward and Pinellas, are ignoring the order.

And just this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered the Insurance Commissioner to write new navigator regulations that require, among other things, that navigators complete 40 hours of training in addition to the 20 hours required by the ACA and then pass a “rigorous” state exam. Perry is even trying to limit the hours of navigator operations to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. None of these rules is going to help get people covered in Texas, which has the nation’s highest percentage of uninsured residents.

These roadblocks and restrictions have caused groups to withdraw from the program and return their navigator grants. This is why President Obama in Maryland today criticized the Republicans for creating these sorts of “roadblocks” for the “churches and charities” working as navigators to educate the public about enrollment.

The Republicans claim these laws are about protecting consumers. But Georgia’s commissioner of insurance cleared that up when he boasted on video that he was doing everything he could to be “an obstructionist” to Obamacare.

Some of the Obamacare opponents may think they’re attacking the President or the law, but mostly they’re hurting real people with real health care needs. They’re making it harder for people to buy health care. This isn’t just an abstract political debate. For people without health insurance, this is about whether or not they can get medical care and get it without going bankrupt.

In a growing number of states, navigators are turning back their grants to help consumers because of navigator suppression policies.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, for example, which was planning to enroll people at three hospitals, turned back $124,000 in federal grant money because of state restrictions that went into effect this past July.

Cardon Outreach was going to educate people in Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah. It returned its $833,000 grant.

In West Virginia, the Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, a vocal opponent of the ACA, launched a harassment campaign against one of his state’s navigators, West Virginia Parent Training and Information. Morrisey posed dozens of questions to the group about its navigator program and gave them only 14 business days to respond. Instead, the organization decided to send back its $366,000 enrollment grant.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council along the Texas border with Mexico just returned $288,000 in navigator grant funds this week in response to Perry’s attack, and four other Texas navigator groups reportedly may follow suit.

These state officials have taken their cues from members of Congress. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to 51 groups in 11 states, including food banks, legal aid societies, and United Way organizations. The committee demanded that these groups produce reams of paperwork about their operations and schedule a briefing of the committee by Sept. 13. The only purpose of the inquiry was to interfere with the ability of these groups to prepare for enrollment. That’s sabotage, and it’s a politically motivated abuse of power.

Many of the states now going after navigators are also passing laws to suppress voter registration and make it harder for minority, low-income and elderly residents to participate in elections. Just like voter suppression, enrollment suppression is an attack on people’s right to be healthy and free from financial hardship and bankruptcy.

That’s why navigator suppression shocks the conscience: it perpetuates the systematic denial of affordable health care to huge numbers of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, especially those in minority and lower-income populations.

Thanks to Obamacare, Americans no longer have to worry about getting the health care they need. They only have to worry about the Republicans taking it away.


By: Ethan Rome, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now; Health Care for America Now Blog, September 26, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans, Rick Perry | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“James Madison For Dummies”: An Obstructionist, Compromised Reputation Among The GOP

The effort to defund Obamacare, culminating in Sen. Ted Cruz’s marathon speech on the Senate floor, has been symbolic in ways its sponsors did not intend.

This, in the end, was the strategy: For procedural reasons, senators needed to vote against a House spending bill defunding Obamacare — in order to force a government shutdown, in order to cut off federal spending unrelated to Obamacare, in order to trigger a wave of public revulsion against Obamacare, in order to force President Obama to trade away his signature legislative accomplishment. And any elected Republican, by the way, who questions the practicality of this approach is a quisling.

It is the fullest expression (so far) of the view of leadership held by the new, anti-establishment conservative establishment: Exploit a legitimate populist cause to demand a counterproductive tactic in an insufferable tone, then use the inevitable failure to discredit opponents in an intra-party struggle. More Pickett’s charges, please. They are emotionally satisfying (and good for fundraising). And the carnage may produce new generals, who are more favorable to future Pickett’s charges.

In the process, the GOP is made to look unserious and incapable of governing. But that is beside the point. The advocates of defunding have bigger ideological fish to fry. They argue that, over the decades, Republican compromisers have been complicit in producing a federal government so overgrown that our constitutional order has collapsed beneath it. “I don’t think what Washington needs,” argues Cruz, “is more compromise.”

In this case, the evidence of GOP compromise is not the acceptance of Obamacare. It is insufficient enthusiasm for an absurd procedural maneuver. But never mind. The real target is the idea of compromise itself, along with all who deal, settle or blink.

In the middle of this unfolding Republican debate comes a timely National Affairs article by Jonathan Rauch. It is titled “Rescuing Compromise,” but it might well have been called “James Madison for Dummies.”

Rauch argues that Madison had two purposes in mind as he designed the Constitution. The first was to set faction against faction as a brake on change and ambition — a role that tea-party leaders have fully embraced. Madison’s second purpose, however, was “to build constant adjustment into the system itself, by requiring constant negotiation among shifting constellations of actors.”

Following the Articles of Confederation, America’s founders wanted a more energetic government. But they made action contingent upon bargaining among the branches of government and within them. “Compromise, then, is not merely a necessary evil,” argues Rauch, “it is a positive good, a balance wheel that keeps government moving forward instead of toppling.”

Compromise, of course, can have good or bad outcomes. But an ideological opposition to the idea of compromise removes an essential cog in the machinery of the constitutional order. “At the end of the day,” says Rauch, “the Madisonian framework asks not that participants like compromising but that they do it — and, above all, that they recognize the legitimacy of a system that makes them do it.”

We are seeing that an anti-compromise ideology can make for bad politics. In our system, Obamacare will not be overturned by one house of Congress. A tea-party shutdown strategy — if implemented — would make securing the other house and the presidency less likely for Republicans. And the political energy consumed by Cruz and crew has not been available to promote incremental limits on Obamacare that might have aided GOP political prospects.

But the problems with this view run deeper. A belief that compromise is always favorable to liberalism is historically ill-informed. Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform were the results of bipartisan compromise. So were Clinton’s four budgets that kept federal spending below 20 percent of GDP. And addressing the long-term debt crisis — really a health entitlement crisis — will not be possible without a series of difficult political compromises on benefit restructuring and revenues.

It is a revealing irony that the harshest critics of compromise should call themselves constitutional conservatives. The Constitution itself resulted from an extraordinary series of compromises. And it created the system of government that presupposes the same spirit. “Compromise,” says Rauch, “is the most essential principle of our constitutional system. Those who hammer out painful deals perform the hardest and, often, highest work of politics; they deserve, in general, respect for their willingness to constructively advance their ideals, not condemnation for treachery.”

But such condemnation, it seems, is an easier path to attention.


By: Michael Gerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 27, 2013

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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