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“Woefully Ignorant”: Congressional Republican Lawmakers Who Struggle With Basic Concepts

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) knows exactly how he plans to deal with the debt ceiling and the full faith and credit of the United States.

“I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke,” Yoho said. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, that will sure as heck be a moment. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets,” since they would be assured that the United States had moved decisively to curb its debt.

Now, Ted Yoho isn’t some random guy who called into a talk-radio show, or some troll in online comments thread. He’s a member of Congress. This elected federal lawmaker believes world markets would be more stable if the United States chose default on purpose.

While every day brings new evidence of policymakers saying foolish things about important issues, I feel like there are more examples than usual crossing the radar right now.

* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants to replace “Obamacare” with a federal benefits program that’s eerily similar to the Affordable Care Act.

* Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) demanded to know why a reporter with health care insurance didn’t enter an exchange marketplace designed for people with no health care insurance.

* Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) argued this morning that there’s “no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country,” and we won’t “default” on our debt by failing to raise the debt limit.

* Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) is convinced the government shutdown is about entitlement spending.

The list goes on (and on), but the larger point is, the country is in a difficult spot right now. The government is shut down, a debt-ceiling crisis is underway, and there’s no clear way out of the ongoing, self-imposed fiascos. The nation would benefit from sensible, knowledgeable policymakers showing sound judgment.

Instead we have these guys.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 7, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Neoconfederates Or Nihilists”: The GOP’s Latest Shutdown Delusion, They Missed The Obamacare Negotiations

I had the good luck of debating former Newt Gingrich flack Rick Tyler on MSNBC Sunday. It was good luck, because it forced me to encounter one of the ways Republicans are lying to the country about their defund/delay/repeal Obamacare hostage-taking. Tyler insisted shutting down the government was reasonable recourse for his party because the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through in the middle of the night without a single Republican vote.”

I Googled “Obamacare” and “rammed through” to find that’s a regular GOP talking point, of course. I also found the single worst piece of punditry on our current political crisis, by Michael Barone on Real Clear Politics, using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to indict President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me demolish Tyler’s claim that the ACA was “rammed through” Congress without deliberation or debate, part of  a pattern of Obama failing to negotiate with Congress. Well, I knew that was a lie, and I said so to Tyler and host Karen Finney. In fact, the ACA was the result of more than a year of congressional committee hearings in which progressive ideas like single payer or a public option were jettisoned, and hundreds of GOP amendments to the law were accepted, in exchange for zero Republican votes. Sen. Max Baucus, in particular, drove an eight-month bipartisan process via the Senate Finance Committee in which he and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley held dozens of hearings, released joint “policy option” papers and finally presided over 31 meetings lasting 60 hours with the so-called “Gang of Six” – Baucus and Grassley plus Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. — to try to hammer out a compromise that would attract GOP support. (A Twitter friend shared this helpful history of the Finance Committee’s tortuous process.)

But it wasn’t until I read the Finance Committee summary of its work on the ACA that I fully experienced the inanity of Tyler’s argument. It’s actually painful to read. In fact, it was the administration’s determination to compromise, and to let the centrist Baucus drive the process, that led Democrats to head into the disastrous August 2009 recess without an actual bill they could tout, let alone defend – and that vacuum was filled by Tea Party hatred at town halls that Rep. Todd Akin (remember him?) appreciatively labeled “town hells” for Democrats.

And of course it was August when Grassley echoed Sarah Palin’s death panels lie and claimed Obama wanted “to pull the plug on Grandma.” Still, Baucus worked to reach a deal with him, accepting his amendments to the final bill passed by the Finance Committee, along with amendments by Enzi, Snowe and other GOP members. But he never won a single vote from them. Despite that history of desperate efforts to find common ground and win over Republicans, Republicans lie and say it didn’t happen.

The main reason for GOP intransigence, of course, especially in the Senate, was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s widely publicized determination to hold his caucus together to deny the new president any victories on his agenda. On healthcare, in particular, McConnell himself told the New York Times, “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out. It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”

Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett admiringly compared the minority leader to a healthcare reform saboteur in an interview with Josh Green. “McConnell knew the places to go, around the tank, and loosen a lug bolt here, pour sand in a hydraulic receptacle there, and slow the whole thing down,” Bennett told Green.

Against this backdrop, Tyler’s claim that the Affordable Care Act was passed without negotiation is farcical. But if he hadn’t made that silly claim, I never would have Googled “Obamacare” and “rammed through” to find the worst piece of mainstream punditry on our disastrous political dysfunction. On Real Clear Politics last week, Michael Barone had the gall to use the bipartisan coalition that came together behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to indict the president for, that’s right, “ramming through” Obamacare.

Because Lyndon Johnson worked to get Republican votes for the bill, Barone argued, once it became law, “white Southerners largely acquiesced. Traditional Southern courtesy replaced mob violence. Minds and hearts had been changed.” And that’s what would have happened with the ACA if only Obama were LBJ. Or something.

If Barone really believes “traditional Southern courtesy replaced mob violence” after the Civil Rights Act passed, he needs to get out more. He ought to talk to the siblings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, as I did last week, who were murdered in August 1964 after the bill passed; or the survivors of ugly violence at the March 1965 Selma marches, from John Lewis, who had his skull fractured, to the families of Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who were killed for taking part; or the families of Jonathan Daniels or Samuel Younge, or any of the many civil rights martyrs killed after the Civil Rights Act passed.

Sadly, Barone has become a joke. But is it any accident that he casts Obamcare opponents in the role of (vanquished) Jim Crow defenders? Just this weekend an unnamed Republican congressman compared his side to the Confederates who blundered their way into the Battle of Gettysburg. He told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York: “I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn’t intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it,” the congressman said. “That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense.”

Um, OK. I’ve gotten in trouble for pointing to the role of race and racism in driving the GOP’s anti-Obamcare crusade. But I’m not the one comparing them to Confederates or the Jim Crow South.

Whether or not it’s racism, the disrespect for this president continues to amaze me. Tyler himself derisively told me and Finney that “the president doesn’t understand his job, or isn’t very good at it.” That’s pretty rich, coming from Newt Gingrich’s former flack. Neoconfederates or nihilists, take your pick. They intend to destroy this president, and if they have to take down the economy too, so be it.

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, October 7, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Disarming A Weapon Of Economic Destruction”: The Debt-Ceiling Crisis To End All Debt-Ceiling Crises

The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can’t be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That’s why the current Republican talking point—”Why won’t the Democrats negotiate?”—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they’ve lost. Unsurprisingly, they’re reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own?

Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said something encouraging: that Barack Obama is never again going to negotiate over the debt ceiling. “Whether it’s today, or a number of weeks from now, or a number of months from now, or a number of years from now, it will always be Congress’s responsibility to raise our debt ceiling so that the United States can pay the bills that Congress has incurred,” Carney said. “It will always be, as long as he’s president, President Obama’s position that that responsibility is not negotiable. That there’s not a game of trading for political priorities or agenda items that Republicans have not been able to achieve through legislation or the ballot box.”

That’s a good start, but how about this. As part of the resolution to the crisis, Obama should demand that whatever agreement they come to include eliminating the debt ceiling. Not raise it, blast it to oblivion. The fact that we have a debt ceiling at all is ridiculous. It essentially requires Congress to approve every budget twice, once to spend the money, and once to pay the bills for the money they just spent. There’s only one other democracy in the world (Denmark) that has such a thing, and they set theirs high enough that it never matters. In the days before the Republican Party descended into madness, the debt ceiling was nothing more than an occasion for some harmless grandstanding by the opposition party, but now it has become a weapon of economic destruction that needs to be disarmed. So get rid of it. If Republicans don’t want the country to take on debt, they can try to put together a balanced budget and see if it can pass. But this insanity has to stop, and the way to do it is to take away the minority party’s ability to initiate what Bloomberg News calls “an economic calamity like none the world has ever seen.”

That’s what Obama ought to demand.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 7, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Extreme Miscalculation”: Government Shutdown, The Tea Party’s Last Stand

If the nation is lucky, this October will mark the beginning of the end of the tea party.

The movement is suffering from extreme miscalculation and a foolish misreading of its opponents’ intentions. This, in turn, has created a moment of enlightenment, an opening to see things that were once missed.

Many Republicans, of course, saw the disaster coming in advance of the shutdown. But they were terrified to take on a movement that is fortified by money, energy and the backing of a bloviating brigade of talk-show hosts. The assumption was that the tea party had become invincible inside the GOP.

People who knew better followed Sen. Ted Cruz down a path of confrontation over Obamacare. Yet even before the shutdown began, Republicans stopped talking about an outright repeal of Obamacare, as House Speaker John Boehner’s ever-changing demands demonstrated.

The extent of the rout was then underscored in the hot-microphone incident last week when Sen. Rand Paul was caught plotting strategy with Sen. Mitch McConnell. Paul’s words, spoken after he had finished a television interview, said more than he realized.

“I just did CNN. I just go over and over again: ‘We’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to negotiate,’ ” Paul said, adding this about the Democrats: “I don’t think they’ve poll-tested, ‘We won’t negotiate.’ ”

Tellingly, Paul described the new GOP line this way: “We wanted to defund it, we fought for that, but now we’re willing to compromise on this.”

It’s revealing to hear a politician who is supposed to be all about principle mocking Democrats for failing to do enough poll-testing. It makes you wonder whether Paul poll-tests everything he says. But Paul’s statement raised a more important question: If just days after it began, a shutdown that was about repealing Obamacare is not about repealing Obamacare, then what is it about?

Actually, it’s what even conservatives are calling the Seinfeld Shutdown: It’s about absolutely nothing, at least where substance is concerned. Moreover, Paul and his friends need to explain why, if they are so devoted to “negotiation,” they didn’t negotiate long ago. Why did they relentlessly block negotiations over a Senate Democratic budget whose passage, according to a now-discarded pile of press releases, they once made a condition for discussions?

Only now can we fully grasp that politics on the right has been driven less by issues than by a series of gestures. And they give up on even these as soon as their foes try to take what they say seriously.

What the tea party and Boehner did not reckon with is that Obama and the Democrats are done being intimidated by the use of extra-constitutional means to extort concessions that the right cannot win through normal legislative and electoral methods.

Obama doesn’t just want to get past this crisis. He wants to win. And win he must, because victory is essential to re-establishing constitutional governance, a phrase that the tea party ought to understand.

Obama didn’t need to “poll-test” his position because the poll that matters, the 2012 election, showed that the tea party hit its peak long ago, in the summer of 2011, when it seemed to have the president on the defensive.

The slowly building revolt among Republicans against the tea party shutdown is one sign of how quickly the hard-right’s influence is fading. So is the very language they are being required to speak. Having talked incessantly about how useless and destructive government can be, House Republicans are now testifying to their reverence for what government does for veterans, health research, sick children and lovers of national parks, especially war memorials.

Appreciation for government rises when it’s no longer there. By pushing their ideology to its obvious conclusion, members of the Cruz-Paul right forced everyone else to race the other way.

Yes, the tea party will still have its Washington-based groups that raise money by bashing Washington, ginning up the faithful and threatening the less ideologically pure with primary challenges. But no Republican and no attentive citizen of any stripe will forget the mess these right-wing geniuses have left in their wake.

We now know that the tea party is primarily about postures aimed at undercutting sensible governance and premised on the delusion that Obama’s election victories were meaningless. Its leaders abandon these postures as soon as their adversaries stand strong and the poll-testers report their approach is failing. This will give pause to anyone ever again tempted to follow them into a cul-de-sac.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 6, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Rand Paul, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Myth Of Obamacare’s Bad Sales Job”: The Complexity Makes It Easy For Republicans To Lie To The Public

When they went forward with their plan to shut down the government in order to undo, defund, or otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), conservatives convinced themselves that their plan was going to work because Americans hate Obamacare. If you look at it in an extremely narrow, context-free way, that’s sort of true. If you just ask people whether they approve of the ACA, you get between 35 percent and 45 percent approval. But the closer you look, the more complicated it gets. Some people disapprove of it because they feel it didn’t go far enough; add them with those who say they approve, and you’ll get a majority. Furthermore, and most critical for what I’d like to discuss, the actual components of the law, like giving people subsidies to buy insurance, outlawing denials for pre-existing conditions, and so on, are extremely popular (the one exception is the individual mandate).

One thing’s for sure, though: You can’t say that the ACA as an abstract entity is overwhelmingly popular. That has led a lot of liberals to blame Barack Obama for doing a bad job selling the law. I must have heard or read this from a hundred liberals over the last couple of years. If only he had sold it better! Then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Sometimes, I’ve actually heard people say that he never really tried to sell it.

This argument is complete bunk. Here’s why.

1. Obama did sell it. When somebody says that Obama should have sold the ACA better, you should ask them what, specifically, they think he should have done. I can offer you a stone-cold guarantee that whatever they suggest is something that the administration and its allies did, in fact, do. Take polls to figure out what appeals would be effective? Check. Distribute talking points to their allies to get everyone repeating the same message? Check. Make one speech after another on health care? Check. Run ads touting reform? Check. They did it all. So why didn’t it work?

2. Health insurance is inherently complicated. See if you can answer these questions about your own health insurance. What’s your co-pay for office visits? What’s your deductible? What about cost-sharing for hospital admissions? Your yearly out-of-pocket maximum? Does your policy have a lifetime limit? My guess is you couldn’t answer some or all of these questions, and that only scratches the surface of the contract you signed when you got insurance. Did you read it? You probably skimmed it but didn’t bother to go through it line by line, just like you did the last time you downloaded a piece of software. Health insurance is incredibly complicated. Even people whose job it is to deal with health policy don’t always understand their own insurance.

That means that any comprehensive reform that tried to address the pathologies of the system was going to have a hard time even explaining to people what was wrong with that system. And those pathologies are so numerous that the administration had to discuss multiple things, while the opposition only had to say that Obamacare sucks. We’ll get to that opposition in a moment, but first:

3. The Affordable Care Act was an extremely complicated bill. I discussed this in my column last week, but the ACA is a gigantic kludge, a cobbled-together jumble of features each meant to solve a practical or political problem. The administration decided that the simple thing—Medicare for all—couldn’t succeed politically. They also decided that it was vital to be able to tell people, “If you like your current insurance, you can keep it.” They also had to keep conservative Democrats on board to get above the 60 votes necessary to defeat a Republican filibuster in the Senate. They also decided to co-opt the various interest groups like insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals that benefit from the current system, which required more complexity. They also decided that every penny of it was going to be paid for, which required new taxes and spending cuts. In and of themselves each of those decisions may have been reasonable, but they added up to a complex bill that was going to be difficult to explain, no matter how good their pollsters were and how effective a speaker the President is.

4. The American public is not particularly well informed or sophisticated when it comes to understanding policy. We don’t have to go into all the details here, but anybody who sets out on a project to explain something both new and complex to a public that doesn’t understand these things very well to begin with and doesn’t much care is going to be fighting an uphill battle.

5. They were facing an extraordinarily well-financed, united opposition that would say or do pretty much anything. All that complexity made it easy to just lie to the public about what the ACA does. When people hear about some new horror the ACA allegedly includes, many are ready to believe it, since it contains so many different things they already don’t understand. So conservatives could tell them that there are death panels, or that Obamacare forces doctors to collect information on your sex life, or that the IRS is going to have your medical records, or that Congress “exempted itself from Obamacare,” or whatever else they were able to dream up.

The opposition also had the benefit of being against something, which is always easier than being for something. We’re naturally more attuned to negative information than positive information, which is why it’s so easy to use fear to create opposition to a new policy, and change is always frightening. “You’re going to love this change!” is an inherently more difficult case to make than “Be afraid!”

Furthermore, the alliance opposing the law has virtually limitless resources at its disposal. Yesterday The New York Times published a revealing story on the network of conservative funders and activists that have made it their mission to destroy the ACA, including masterminding the current shutdown. Just one Koch brothers-linked organization no one has ever heard of called Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce distributed an incredible $200 million last year alone to various groups fighting the ACA.

Let me close this discussion with a little historical reminder. In March of 1994, when the Clinton health-care reform was being debated, The Wall Street Journal published an article about polls and focus groups it had conducted on the plan. The article was titled “Many Don’t Realize It’s the Clinton Plan They Like,” and it detailed how, while majorities of the public expressed disapproval of Bill Clinton’s health-care plan, when its features were described to them without saying whose plan it was, majorities expressed approval of it. That’s exactly the same thing we find now with the ACA. The problem wasn’t that Barack Obama didn’t try hard enough to sell it.

Fortunately, the success of the law won’t depend on whether you can get a majority of the public to tell pollsters, “I approve of Obamacare.” Once it’s fully implemented, the only thing that will matter will be whether, in all its different component parts, it works.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 7, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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