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“Obamacare Swallowed Conservatism Whole”: What Happens To Conservatism When The Obamacare War Is Over?

When we look back decades from now, one of the keys to understanding this period in our political history will be the story of how a set of market-based health insurance reforms that started as a proposal from the Heritage Foundation and then were successfully implemented by a Republican governor who later became the GOP presidential nominee, ended up being viewed by virtually all conservatives as not just an abomination but the very essence of statist oppression. Liberals have often expressed wonder or exasperation about the way conservatives changed their opinions about this particular brand of reform. But now that it’s driving a government shutdown (and soon a potential default on the debt), we have to acknowledge that it’s more than just a policy conservatives hate. The Affordable Care Act is far, far bigger than that. It has become the most important definer of conservatism in America circa 2013. It isn’t that conservatives don’t still want to cut taxes for the wealthy, or slash the social safety net, or liberate corporations from pesky regulations on worker safety and the environment, or make it impossible for women to get abortions, because they still want all those things. But Obamacare has swallowed conservatism whole.

Since the health-care exchanges opened yesterday, some have suggested that the increased attention brought to the fact of their opening by the shutdown has done the administration a favor, informing more people that open enrollment has begun than the Department of Health and Human Services could possibly have managed on its own. That’s probably true. This controversy has also served to remind conservatives that there is nothing more important than fighting Obamacare. Every Republican politician has to prove that their hatred of the law is as great as that of the angriest Tea Partier. Every conservative everywhere is being told that this is what it means to be a conservative, this is so important to their beliefs and the future prospects of their party and their ideological movement that it is worth laying waste to the government and even the economy itself. If you’re a conservative and you aren’t willing to risk everything on even the smallest chance to toss your spear into this foul beast’s heart, then you’re not really a conservative at all.

Let’s fast-forward a couple of years from now, after this crisis ends without the ACA being defunded or delayed. The law is all rolled out, and while it’s far from perfect, things are going pretty well. We don’t have universal coverage, but the vast majority of Americans now have insurance, including millions who didn’t have it before. It’s not dirt cheap, but the trends that are evident today—a slowdown in the overall health-care spending growth rate, mirrored by a slowdown in premium increases—are continuing. More states have put aside their ideological objections and accepted the expansion of Medicaid to cover all their poor citizens, even if there are a few straggler states left. What with “pre-existing conditions” and “job lock” things of the past, even the most doctrinaire Tea Partier admits that there’s no more question about whether Obamacare can be repealed. Its tendrils have reached too many people who now benefit from it and would react angrily if you tried to take it away.

Ted Cruz admitted to Sean Hannity back in July that “If we don’t [defund Obamacare] now, in all likelihood, Obamacare will never, ever be repealed. Why is that? Because on January 1, the exchanges kick in, the subsidies kick in,” and they’ll be unable to take away something people are benefiting from. And he’s surely not the only Republican who gets this, which is part of the explanation for the ferocity with which they’re fighting now. But in our future scenario, the fight over the law will be basically over. There might be some debates about adjusting parts of the law, as Democrats will want to do, but that won’t concern Republicans too much. Once there’s no possibility left that it can be killed, they’ll likely lose interest.

I think that’s the most plausible picture of what things will be like in, say, 2015. The question is, if eventually they have no choice but to accept that the argument over the ACA is settled, what on earth will Republicans do with themselves? Because over the last four years, opposition to Obamacare has taken on such an extraordinary power within the movement that all other issues have paled before it.

Sure, they could revert to the old standbys—Cut taxes! Cut regulations! Strong defense! But those are just positions you can take. Obamacare was a war to be fought. And nothing galvanizes, energizes, and defines us like our wars. That’s particularly true of the zealots who are driving the Republican party and form such a key part of its base. And if they aren’t fighting Obamacare, who will they be?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Growing Numb To Mass Violence”: We Need To End The Sound Of Silence In Congress

What if we had a mass shooting and nobody noticed?

That gloomy thought came to mind as I listened to the unsettling sound of silence that followed the September 16 Navy Yard shooting in the nation’s capital that killed 12 people, plus the shooter.

Three days later it came to mind again as a shooting spree in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood made national news. Thirteen were injured, including a 3-year-old boy who was shot in the face. Four people have been charged in the reportedly gang-related incident.

President Obama eloquently expressed the grief, outrage and frustration that every decent American should feel about “yet another mass shooting” at the Navy Yard.

But overall reaction to the workplace slaughter by a reportedly deranged gunman was sadly and noticeably subdued compared to the national outrage that reignited the national gun debate following the massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.

That’s because after all the anguish, debate and proposed legislation that emerged from the Newtown tragedy, the legislation was voted down in the Senate and everyone returned to other matters — like House Republicans voting uselessly to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times. Opposition to even modest measures was too strong, especially from rural centers of pro-gun culture.

If even the massacre of children and the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, could not move Congress to pass new gun safety measures, it’s no wonder that the energy for gun safety seems to have drained out of Capitol Hill.

But that doesn’t mean that we Americans can’t do anything but wring our hands over the continuing carnage. As even mass shootings lose their ability to shock us, both sides of the gun debate need to face a bracing reality: The gun violence problem is not only local and it’s not only about guns.

Those points were urgently expressed by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter in a joint speech in Washington last Thursday. They called for a new “surge” in attention and national action to the “virus” of gun-related violence.

Calls for national action are hardly new, but I was encouraged by the mayors’ refusal to be, as Landrieu put it, bogged down by the “seemingly mind-numbing debate about gun control.”

Instead they emphasized remedies everyone should be able to agree on. They included more cops on the street, as in a stronger COPS program — Community Oriented Policing Services — passed by Congress under President Bill Clinton; stronger cooperation with the federal government to target criminals with illegal guns and stronger measures against straw purchases and interstate gun traffickers.

Yet the two mayors also called for more personal responsibility and engagement by parents, pastors, coaches and neighbors. “Babies having babies just doesn’t work,” Landrieu said.

I’ve heard Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who reportedly left some scheduled meetings with members of Obama’s cabinet in Washington early after hearing of the mass shooting back home, express a similar agenda in his slogan: “Policing, prevention, penalties and parenting.”

Bottom line: A problem as complex as urban violence must be pushed back the same way it emerged: in every sector of community and political life.

But first we have to care. Citing the number of black men killed by homicide in his city in 2012, Nutter observed: “If the Ku Klux Klan came to Philadelphia and killed 236 black men, the city would be on lockdown.”

The same would be true if “international terrorists killed 236 Philadelphians of any race,” he said. “And, yet, 236 African-American men murdered in one city — not one word. No hearings on the Hill, no investigations … nothing but silence.”

We need to end the sound of silence. It was easier to take national political action in the ’90s. The economy was doing well and Congress was not as fiercely divided as it is today. But, as the two mayors said in Washington, we should not be more willing to pay for safe streets in Afghanistan than to make our streets safer at home.

 

By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, Featured Post, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Insanity Is Not Temporary”: A Radical Vision For America That Goes From Here To Way Back Then

A lot of the talk from progressives (and I plead guilty to doing this myself on occasion) about the government shutdown and/or the impending possibility of a debt default suggests House Republicans are suffering from some sort of temporary insanity, or are indulging some sort of temporary temper tantrum by a faction they cannot ignore but can outlast. This habit flows from the broader sense that the Tea Party movement is some sort of temporary phenomenon–a “fever,” as the president famously put it–that will go away to be replaced by good, stolid, “moderate” conservatism sooner rather than later. You see it in the high hosannas raised every time yet another poll shows the percentage of voters identifying with the Tea Party–as opposed to the Republican Party that has largely internalized Tea Party policies and strategies–declining.

This attitude is perfectly understandable, but risks a major misunderstanding of what conservatives are up to at any given moment. Yes, many of them have a remarkably radical vision for America all right, which involves bringing back the idyllic government of the Coolidge administration and patriarchal culture of the Eisenhower administration. But they are pursuing an entirely rational if risky strategy for getting from here to way back there, based on three overlapping perspectives that are reasonably common in the conservative commentariat:

1) Radicalism on spending is the hand voters have dealt the GOP. The “defunding Obamacare” strategy has always been based on the leverage Republicans had after 2012 in maintaining control of just one congressional chamber. They couldn’t repeal Obamacare or enact the Ryan Budget, but they could refuse to fund the Obama Era welfare state, which meant threatening a government shutdown or a debt default. Obamacare was the natural target for this strategic brinkmanship since it polled worse than, say, Medicare or food stamps.

2) Resisting a new entitlement is easier and more effective than rolling back an established entitlement. For all the conservative talk about the hatred Americans feel for Obamacare, there is a widespread fear on the Right that once the law is in place for a few years, it will become part of the landscape, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or the Rx drug prescription before them. And this fear coincides with the “tipping point” argument that the Welfare State is now ensnaring so many Americans that “takers” are outnumbering “makers,” and will defend their theft of “maker” resources fiercely at the polls.

3) In divided government, implacable unity is the winning formula. There is an intense belief among conservatives that Republican back-stabbing–RINOism!–and tactical surrender to liberals explains every defeat for the Right going back for decades. Add in the inevitable “war of nerves” that characterizes politics in an era of divided government, and the conviction that red-state Democrats will side with Republicans if pushed to the wall, and you have an argument against compromise of any sort, at any price.

You can see how these three factors reinforce each other in Ted Cruz’s basic “defund Obamacare” rap as expressed back in August in an interview with the Daily Caller:

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, the most important check we have on an overreaching executive. Now is the best chance we have to exercise this power in order to defund Obamacare. It can be done as part of passing the Continuing Resolution (CR) — a piece of legislation that funds the government and must be renewed by September 30th.

The Continuing Resolution gives us real leverage to defund Obamacare. Fighting this fight won’t be easy, but it’s now or never. President Obama’s strategy is simple: on January 1, the subsidies kick in. President Obama wants to get as many Americans addicted to the subsidies because he knows that in modern times, no major entitlement has ever been implemented and then unwound. That’s why the administration announced that it won’t enforce eligibility requirements-essentially encouraging fraud and “liar loans”-because that way the most people possible will get addicted to the sugar.

To stop that from happening, the House should pass a new Continuing Resolution to fund the entire federal government except Obamacare. The House should include a rider in that bill that explicitly prohibits any federal dollars – discretionary and mandatory – from being spent on it. Republicans control the House, and have already voted some 40 times to repeal Obamacare, so if we stand together, we can do this.

Then the bill comes to the Senate. Republicans need just 41 votes to prevent Democrats from passing legislation that funds Obamacare – 45 Republicans in the Senate have already voted to repeal Obamacare, so if we stand together, we can do this also.

At that point, we simply have to continue to stand together and not blink. If Republicans are truly against Obamacare, they will not vote to fund it.

Cruz obviously miscalculated that Senate Republicans would block any vote on a continuing resolution that “funded Obamacare,” but his argument still stands that the side that doesn’t “blink” will ultimately win; that it’s now or never for killing Obamacare; and that exploiting the House veto power over spending and debt limit increases is the one point of leverage that Obama’s re-election did not eliminate.

So Cruz’s revolt, into which John Boehner and the House Republican Caucus have been dragged because they can’t pass any bill opposed by Democrats without the support of conservatives who agree with his approach, wasn’t some adolescent outburst that will pass like a moment of hormonal rage, but a consistent strategy for using limited leverage on behalf on an extremist agenda. If it’s “insane,” the insanity is not temporary, and won’t just go away.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 1, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Government Shutdown Deja Vu”: House Republicans Forgot The Lessons Of The Clinton Shutdowns

Regardless of what you think of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Republican effort to derail it through the government shutdown currently underway is miserably poor politics and even worse public relations.

I tried to resist writing about this topic because the partisans are hopelessly locked into their positions and my opinion on the law isn’t of any value to anyone other than my dog, who hangs on my every word. But communications is my business, and I happen to have been a young, Republican congressional chief of staff during the two shutdowns of 1995, and what I see today is worse than what happened then.

The shutdowns of ’95 were part of a budget fight between cocky new Republican majorities in both the House and Senate and a stumbling Democratic president who was about to begin his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Hardly anyone today remembers that the issue then was about getting the president to agree to a plan to balance the budget over the next seven years. In ’95, Newt Gingrich was the first Republican Speaker of the House in half a century, and he had just led a 100-day legislative assault on business as usual that resulted in a series of popular reforms to make government smaller, more responsive and transparent known as the “Contract with America.”

That summer, Republicans were looking for ways to keep the ball rolling and the prospect of using a government shutdown as a cudgel in this struggle between the legislative and executive branches was already on the table. If the government shuts down, Gingrich told Time magazine, President Clinton “can run the parts of the government that are left, or he can run no government. Which of the two of us do you think worries more about the government not showing up?”

By November, the freshmen Republicans in the House were practically chanting “shut it down” in the hallways. Many of them thought this would be popular back home, almost to the degree that the Contract had been.

First came a brief shutdown for a few days in November. And then, when negotiations with the White House broke down, came a shutdown that began on December 15 and which lasted for 21 days.

Guess what happened? People stopped talking about the need for a plan to balance the budget and began talking about all the government services they couldn’t get. Basic services halted. Fears arose about Social Security checks not going out and missing paychecks to members of the military. Thousands of federal workers were forced on furlough days before Christmas.

Republicans had made a fundamental political error – we shifted the debate from the topic on which we really wanted victory (balancing the budget) to one that not only was off-topic, but reminded people that there actually is a lot about government that they like, want and need. Oh, and we scared and hurt a lot people whose confidence and support we were trying to win.

Does this sound familiar?

Here in Central Florida, the front page of my local newspaper features the story of a couple who have been planning a wedding at the Jefferson Memorial for months. Now their plans are in jeopardy. That’s not a story about health care; it’s a story about how politicians are screwing up somebody’s nice event.

A few weeks after the shutdown ended in January 1996, President Clinton masterfully exploited the nation’s mood in his State of the Union Address. Near the end of the speech, standing in the well of the House of Representatives, Clinton turned toward the first lady’s balcony in a move that has been used by every president since Ronald Reagan, and introduced a special guest:

I want to say a special word now to those who work for our federal government. Today our federal government is 200,000 employees smaller than it was the day I took office as President. (Applause.) Our federal government today is the smallest it has been in 30 years, and it’s getting smaller every day. Most of our fellow Americans probably don’t know that. And there’s a good reason — a good reason: The remaining federal work force is composed of hard-working Americans who are now working harder and working smarter than ever before to make sure the quality of our services does not decline. (Applause.)

I’d like to give you one example. His name is Richard Dean. He’s a 49 year-old Vietnam veteran who’s worked for the Social Security Administration for 22 years now. Last year he was hard at work in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble down all around him. He reentered that building four times. He saved the lives of three women. He’s here with us this evening, and I want to recognize Richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary personal heroism. (Applause.)

But Richard Dean’s story doesn’t end there. This last November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second time the government shut down he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay.

On behalf of Richard Dean and his family, and all the other people who are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people, I challenge all of you in this Chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again. (Applause.)

Clinton’s State of the Union address ended all talk among Republicans that the shutdowns had been successful.

Around this time, Gingrich was fond of calling for dramatic change by citing the saying that one of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

What are we to make of this situation now?

 

By: Keith Lee Rupp, U. S. News and World Report, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down, Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“See You In Hell Orange Man”: President Obama Should Have A “Come To Jesus” Talk With John Boehner

So at the risk of getting ahead of myself here just a bit, the appropriations crisis is merging with the debt limit crisis. And as everybody’s favorite source for GOP thinking, National Review‘s Robert Costa, tells us today, John Boehner is determined not to relent on what just about everyone is calling an insanely untenable position on the CR because he’s got to keep GOPers together for the real ball game, the debt limit. Why? Kathleen Parker says that’s the rainbow that yielded a pot of gold for Boehner last time it appeared:

What Republicans hope to accomplish by tying demands to the debt ceiling is a grand bargain to include a package of entitlement and tax reform. Sound familiar? The president can refuse to negotiate, but at 3 a.m. when the phone rings and it’s Angela Merkel inquiring just what the hell is going on, it won’t be John Boehner’s phone ringing. It will be President Obama’s. That’s leverage. During the last debt-ceiling battle, Boehner managed to secure more than $2 trillion in cuts and no taxes.

So the conviction that Obama will eventually cave on the debt limit is what is making it possible for Boehner to walk the path Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint and their House minions have laid out for him.

Now I don’t know anything about the president’s relationship with Boehner. But it’s becoming a matter of national security for him to find some way to take him aside, maybe give the Speaker a cigarette from his secret stash, and say: “I will see you in Hell before I negotiate over the debt limit. And if you let a default happen, I will devote the rest of my presidency to making sure you, personally, bear the blame, and go down in history with our most despised traitors and criminals. For generations, little school children in Ohio will cross themselves and make hex signs when your name is mentioned. So do not, do not, go back and tell your crazy people they can win if they just stick together.”

This sort of attitude adjustment needs to happen sooner rather than later, before Boehner takes another step down the path he is currently contemplating.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 2, 2013

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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