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“How’s About You And Him Fight?”: Get Ready For A Whole Lot Of Hillary Vs Barack Stories Based On Nothing

Hillary Clinton has about a year and a half before she needs to make the final decision on whether she’ll run for president in 2016. Between now and then, and after she becomes an actual candidate (if she does), we’re going to be seeing an awful lot of stories that read as though an editor said to a reporter, “Give me a story about Hillary turning her back on Barack, and the two camps sniping at each other,” and the reporter replied, “Well, I haven’t seen much evidence of that, but I’ll see what I can come up with.” That gets you stuff like a piece in today’s Washington Post, under the headline, “In the Clintons’ talk of brokering compromise, an implicit rebuke of Obama years.” Let’s get to the stinging barbs Hillary and Bill are aiming at the President:

In recent stump speeches and policy remarks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have offered sharp criticisms of the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, signaling a potential 2016 campaign theme if Hillary Clinton chooses to run for president.

The Clintons’ critiques in recent days have been explicitly aimed at congressional Republicans, who helped spur a 16-day government shutdown and potential debt default in October. But their remarks also seem to contain an implicit rebuke of President Obama’s failure to change Washington as he pledged when first running for the White House.

The arguments suggest a way that Hillary Clinton could attempt to run in 2016 as an agent of change — potentially putting her at odds with the two-term Democrat she would be seeking to replace.

So her “implicit rebuke of President Obama’s failure to change Washington” is … criticism of Republicans? And if Hillary Clinton says she wants to see everyone work across the aisle to solve problems, that’s some kind of slap in Obama’s face? Well that’s odd, since Obama ran for president saying he wanted to bring Democrats and Republicans together, just like George W. Bush did before him (remember “I’m a uniter, not a divider”?), and Bill Clinton did before him. It’s what every presidential candidate says, even the most partisan ones.

I don’t imagine that Clinton thinks Obama has been a perfect president, and I’m sure there are things she thinks she could have done better than him. But there is going to be an endless stream of stories like this one, trying to gin up some kind of dramatic struggle between the two, full of anger and recrimination and Machiavellian machinations, all based on nothing but the barest wisps of evidence. It’s driven by the journalist’s endless need to frame stories around conflict, their preference for writing about personality, and the fact that if you’re going to write a story about the 2016 campaign three years before the actual election, you don’t have a lot of material to work with. But give me a break.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 1, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP, Journalists | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Total Perversion Of The American System Of Government”: The GOP Once Again Proves Too Irresponsible To Handle The Filibuster

What does a political party do when they are badly in need of expanding their base to include women and minorities?

I’m fairly sure that exercising its right to filibuster the nominees of a president—one a highly respected woman nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and one a highly respected and well liked African American Congressman nominated to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency—would not be at the top of the list of recommend behavior.

Yet, this is precisely what the Senate Republicans did today.

What makes the blocking of these nominees so remarkable is that there is no shortage of support when it comes to the quality of the nominees among the very GOP Senators that voted to deny the Senate the opportunity to vote up or down on their nomination. Rather, the Republicans’ problem is with the president and the reality that a Democratic appointment to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will give Democrats a majority on that important judicial body.

Patricia Ann Millet is the Obama nominee to join the US Court of Appeals.

When Ms. Millet appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee charged with investigating and considering her nomination, not so much as one Republican Senator on the panel had a concern with or so much as a bad word to say about Millet’s qualifications.

Indeed, Ms. Millet was described by none other than Senator Ted Cruz as possessing “very fine professional qualifications.”

Yet, when the matter came to a cloture vote, the Democrats were unable to succeed in rounding up 60 votes and Ms. Millet’s nomination was blocked by a filibuster of the Senate Republicans.

The use of the filibuster to deny Millet’s nomination is but one more example of the Republicans simply refusing to recognize and accept that Barack Obama won the 2012 election and, having done so, gets to appoint people to fill vacancies in the federal court system.

You know, just like the Republican president who was able to appoint a few Justices to the United States Supreme Court, handing conservatives the majority vote in that body.

Currently, there are three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court which is generally regarded as the second most influential court in the nation following the Supreme Court. With the makeup of the DC Circuit Court currently split evenly between conservative appointees and liberal appointees, Senate GOPers cannot bring themselves to approve the nomination of someone they have deemed eminently competent for the job as to do so would give the appointees of Democratic presidents the edge in the vote count—although history confirms that one never knows how a judge will vote once they are seated on the bench.

While I understand that conservatives would prefer not to see the balance tip in favor of more liberal judges on so important a court—just as liberals squirmed as President Bush appointed hard-line conservatives to SCOTUS—anyone who would support this type of Senate behavior has completely rejected one of the most fundamental of Constitutional directives. While the Senate possesses the right to advice and consent on presidential nominees, that obligation was created to insure that high quality candidates with proper qualifications would fill these important roles.

Note that the filibuster is not provided for in our Constitution. The Founders intended that the Senate would take a vote on nominees and the majority would carry the day.

The vote on Ms. Millet’s nomination in the full Senate was 55-38 in favor of bringing the nomination to the floor for a full vote where Ms. Millet is expected to easily achieve confirmation. This vote included all of the Democrats voting for cloture along with two Republicans who also voted to bring up the nomination while three Republicans dogged it and voted  “present”.

Yes, I get the irony of the GOP Senators voting ‘present’ after hammering the President for doing the same during his term in the Illinois legislature.

Remarkably, the Senate GOP leadership is not even pretending they have personal or competency issues with Ms. Millet as a candidate.

Said Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell—

“Our Democratic colleagues and the administration’s supporters have been actually pretty candid. They’ve admitted they want to control the court so it will advance the president’s agenda.”

What a shocker! A Democratic president wants to appoint someone to the court who shares his point of view. Who would have thought such a thing would be possible here in America—excepting, of course, every single American President who has ever made his own appointments to the federal bench.

The mere fact that Minority Leader McConnell could make such a comment with a straight face should provide ample evidence of the fact that the filibuster does not belong in the hands of a party that would so abuse both the privilege and their constitutional obligations.

For those senators who justify their actions by claiming that they owe deference to the President when it comes to approving the appointment of cabinet members and other executive branch roles but believe more scrutiny should be exercised when it comes to judges appointed to lifetime terms, one wonders how they explain their filibustering of Congressman Melvin Watts to become the head of Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The refusal to confirm Watts is particularly remarkable when considering that a sitting member of Congress appointed by a President to an executive position has not failed to be confirmed since before the American Civil War.

Mr. Watt’s personal competency, temperament or character has never been questioned by Republicans who oppose his nomination.

Instead, Republican opponents have suggested that they are displeased that Obama appointed a politician for the job. In other words, the senators who are opposed to Rep. Watts on this basis are saying that they wouldn’t even vote for themselves if appointed.

Anyone believe that?

Of course, this might be their best argument given that these Republican politicians likely have special insight into how they are each unfit to hold a position of responsibility.

Some GOPers have suggested that the office to which Mr. Watts has been chosen—one that oversees two rather complex financial institutions—would be better run by a “technocrat”.

That’s a tough argument to make considering that the President’s first nominee for this job back in 2010 —Joseph A. Smith, Jr. the North Carolina banking commissioner—was such a technocrat. Still, there was so much objection to Smith’s nomination by Republicans that Smith eventually chose to withdraw from consideration.

The time has come for the Democratic majority in the Senate to revise the rule and change when and how the filibuster can be used. While I would not recommend complete destruction of the device, it seems clear that it must be modified to bar the use of the filibuster when it comes to Presidential nominees.

As for those who argue that this could ‘backfire’ on Democrats should the GOP gain control of the Senate, I have no problem with this whatsoever. When it comes to presidential appointees—even if that president is a Republican—there ought to be some specific problem with the candidate if the nominee is to be rejected. It cannot be about one party in the Senate or the other getting to deny a presidential appointment because it may shift the balance on a particular federal court.

If a candidate is unfit for the office—think Harriet Meyers—then the Senate should reject that candidate. But if it simply is a matter of denying a highly qualified position because the opposition party doesn’t want anyone but someone sympathetic to their own beliefs, that is just not the way things were intended to operate and represents a total perversion of the American system of government.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, October 31, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Presidential Nominations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Really Obstructing Obamacare?”: An Orchestrated GOP Resistance With Only One Very Ugly Precedent

So we’re a month into the Obamacare era. What does your average American know about it? That the website is a mess, and some number of Americans have suddenly lost their coverage after Barack Obama assured them that wouldn’t happen. These things are true, and a person would be quite wrong to deny this is deeply problematic.

But I wonder how many Americans know the other side of the coin. There are already numerous success stories out there. And then there’s the side of the story that has certainly received coverage but not nearly as much as it deserves to, which is the way—did I say way? Ways—the Republican Party is trying to make sure it fails. Todd Purdum wrote a piece for Politico yesterday on the GOP’s “sabotage” of the law. It was a terrific article, but he didn’t say the half of it.

All across the country, Republican governors and insurance commissioners have actively and directly blocked efforts to make the law work. In August, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded contracts to 105 “navigators” to help guide people through their new predicaments and options. There were local health-care providers, community groups, Planned Parenthood outposts, and even business groups. Again—people and groups given the job, under an existing federal law, to help people understand that law.

What has happened, predictably, is that in at least 17 states where Republicans are in charge, a variety of roadblocks have been thrown in front of these folks. In Indiana, they were required to pay fees of $175. In Florida, which under Governor Rick Scott (who knows a thing or two about how to game the health-care system, you may recall) has been probably the most aggressive state of all here, the health department ruled that local public-health offices can’t have navigators on their premises (interesting, because local public health offices tend to be where uninsured people hang out). In West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, and other states, grantees have said no thanks and returned the dough after statewide GOP elected officials started getting in their faces and asking lots of questions about how they operate and what they planned to do. Tennessee issued “emergency rules” requiring their employees to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

America, 2013: No background checks to buy assault weapons. But you damn well better not try to enroll someone in health care.

If you Google “Obamacare navigators,” you will be hit smack in the face with the usual agitprop. “Reports” raise “questions” about their qualifications, you see. This is the old trick of finding one bad apple and extrapolating away to beat the band. But in this case the alleged bad apple wasn’t even bad. One enrollment assister in Lawrence, Kansas—one!—had an outstanding warrant. She hadn’t even been aware of the warrant. The group she worked for said, apparently credibly, that the warrant was “no longer active.” (Interestingly under the circumstances, it was about… an unpaid medical bill!) But my favorite story linked—inevitably—the navigator program to ACORN. You will recall that no one ever proved that anybody from ACORN ever did anything wrong, but of course in right-wing land this means nothing.

A second front: Now, with people trying to sign up, some Republican legislators are openly saying that they won’t permit their staffs to answer constituents’ questions about Obamacare. This is really the main job of a member of Congress, especially a House member: People call up all the time with questions about how to slice their way through the federal government’s briar patches, and you have caseworkers on duty—typically a couple in Washington and several more back home in the district regional offices—whose job is exactly that.

Purdum quoted Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp as saying he instructs his staff to refer callers to Kathleen Sebelius. But Huelskamp is not alone. Tennessee’s Diane Black says she doesn’t feel comfortable referring people to navigators. Utah’s Jason Chaffetz is referring people back to the administration, saying: “We know how to forward a phone call.”

Someone I know asked the other day: Has there ever been a law in the history of the country as aggressively resisted by the political opposition as this? Republicans didn’t do this with Social Security. Most of them voted for Social Security. They didn’t do it with Medicare. They, and the Southern racists who were then Democrats, didn’t do it with civil rights. There was a fair amount of on-the-ground opposition to that, but it wasn’t orchestrated at the national level like this was. And when the Voting Rights Act was passed the year after civil rights, Southern states in fact fell in line quickly. Check the black voter-registration figures from Southern states in 1964 versus 1966. It’s pretty amazing.

No, to find obstinacy like this, you have to go back, yes, to the pre-Civil War era. The tariff of 1828, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which led to the civil war in “Bloody Kansas” and ultimately to the Civil War itself. Not a comforting thought. But it’s where we are.

The administration’s cockups are a legitimate story. I’ve never said otherwise. My first column about the website was quite tough on the administration and on Obama personally, when I wrote that I found it shocking that he apparently wasn’t riding herd on staff to make damn sure the thing worked. I said on television, to some host’s surprise, that yes, I did hold him accountable for the mistakes.

So I get why that’s a story. But the sabotage is a story, too. A huge one. It’s almost without precedent in American history, and the precedent it does have includes some of the ugliest chapters in this nation’s history. It gets coverage, yes. But not nearly the coverage it deserves. As is so often the case—as with Benghazi, as with Fast and Furious, as with the IRS—the bigger scandal is on the Republican side.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 1, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Casting Aside The Weak And Fragile”: Cuts To Food Stamp Program Reveal Congressional Hypocrisy

For decades, I’ve proudly asserted that “nobody starves to death in America.” The comment has been addressed to acerbic critics of the American government, often foreign visitors, who insist that the United States is a mean-spirited place that casts aside its weak and fragile citizens.

I still contend that nobody starves to death here, but I’ve had to modify my claims about the country’s social safety net. Even if no one dies for lack of basic nutrition, plenty of people go to bed hungry every night. And if Congress’ harsh Republican caucus has its way, some may starve.

That’s because the band of ultraconservatives who control the House are bent on deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. They passed a farm bill laden with welfare for farmers, but they left out one of its biggest traditional components: food stamps. It was the first time since 1973 that the nutrition program had been left out of the farm bill.

Now, negotiations have started between the Senate and the House to try to reconcile the upper chamber’s more charitable version with the one the lower chamber put together. It will be a tough slog since the two bills are billions of dollars apart. The Senate wants to cut $4 billion from SNAP over 10 years, while the House wants to cut nearly $40 billion.

Perhaps the most appalling thing about the farm bill presented by the ultraconservatives in the House is that it makes little pretense of cutting spending by ferreting out wastefulness or fraud, no feint at an all-out assault on the deficit. Instead, this is just a base and ugly assault on the working poor.

Oh, conservatives claimed that their cuts to food stamps were in response to fraud, as their claque filled the airwaves with the same example of a carefree California surfer enjoying his “wonderful” life on food stamps. They neglected to point to government data which show that SNAP is among the most efficient of government programs, with fraudulent spending restricted to about 2 percent of its budget.

Meanwhile, the same conservatives have said nothing — nothing — about the millions of dollars in fraud related to farm subsidies. A June audit by the Government Accountability Office found that millions of dollars in subsidies have been sent to farmers who’ve been dead for at least a year. That’s just the illegal stuff.

That doesn’t touch the entirely legal fraud: The entire network of agricultural subsidies is a massive boondoggle, welfare to people who hardly need it. While conservatives hector the working poor about their alleged laziness, some agricultural programs pay farmers not to plant. Why don’t Fox News and Rush Limbaugh ever talk about that?

Farmers hardly need the money. (Forget about the struggling family farmer of lore. He has largely disappeared.) Earlier this year, the Agriculture Department projected that farm income in 2013 would be $128.2 billion, the highest since 1973.

One of the more egregious examples of the sheer hypocrisy surrounding the debate over the farm bill was revealed by The New York Times, which wrote about U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN). He voted for the bill that eviscerates SNAP, but he received nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies from the government between 1999 and 2012, according to the Times.

“We have to remember there is not a big printing press in Washington that continually prints money over and over,” he said, apparently without irony.

Conservatives claim to be alarmed by the dramatic increase in food stamp outlays, up 77 percent since 2007 to a record high of $78.5 billion in fiscal year 2012. (The SNAP program is already scheduled for a 5 percent cut as a provision related to the 2009 stimulus bill lapses.) But that’s because so many more people are struggling to make ends meet.

The Great Recession accelerated a trend that has hollowed out the middle class, leaving many Americans without college degrees in a downward spiral. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 49 million Americans are “food insecure” — bureaucratese that means they don’t have enough to eat.

If we aren’t willing to see to it that they have basic nutrition, I’ll have to reconsider what I believe about my country.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, November 2, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Poverty, SNAP | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Plan Versus No Plan”: Virginia’s Gubernatorial Race Is A Referendum On ObamaCare, And The GOP Is Going To Lose

Republican Ken Cuccinelli became a national conservative star as Virginia’s attorney general by leading the legal fight to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional all the way to the Supreme Court. Now he’s running for governor, and he’s making health care the defining issue of his campaign.

As the federal rollout continues to be plagued by website problems and renewed criticism over discontinued low-coverage individual plans, Cuccinelli told his supporters Monday, “We need people to know Nov 5th in Virginia is a referendum on ObamaCare.” His latest ad slams Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe for wanting to “EXPAND OBAMACARE,” and closes by saying “to stop ObamaCare and higher taxes, there’s only one choice.” Outside conservative groups are also running ads excoriating McAuliffe as a supporter of ObamaCare.

Virginia voters appear to agree with Cuccinelli that health care is one of the most important issues of the campaign. The Washington Post poll conducted October 24-27 asked likely voters how important eight different issues were to determining their vote. Along with job creation and education, health care tied for first, with 72 percent saying those issues were “very important.”

And yet, in that same poll, Cuccinelli is losing by 12 points.

In fact, Cuccinelli is losing in every single poll that’s been taken in this race save for one in early July, suggesting that his defeat is a near-certainty.

Republicans are clinging to a bit of hope after a Quinnipiac poll released this week showed him only down by 4 points. But that poll only shows a minor tightening — within the margin-of-error — relative to the previous Quinnipiac poll from earlier in the month. Further, both Quinnipiac and the Washington Post polls peg Cuccinelli’s level of support around a meager 40 percent. And both polls show a third-party candidate in the race drawing support away from both major party candidates, which suggests if the also-ran fades in the stretch it won’t upend the stable trajectory of the race to date. (The Huffington Post synthesis of all the polls to date estimates McAuliffe’s lead to be a healthy eight points.)

Why isn’t health care helping Cuccinelli in the swing state of Virginia, despite all the very real problems ObamaCare has been facing this month? After all, the candidates’ positions on health care couldn’t make the choice any clearer. Cuccinelli wants the law repealed. McAuliffe says “it’s time to implement the law” by accepting federal money so the state can expand Medicaid coverage for the working poor, and having Virginia establish its own health insurance exchange.

The simplest answer is: McAuliffe’s position is shared by a whole lot of Virginians.

A plurality of 49 percent supported ObamaCare in a different Quinnipiac poll taken October 2-8. Voters said McAuliffe would do a “better job” on health care by a nine-point margin over Cuccinelli.

Of course, now that the shutdown is over and the program’s rollout is suffering significant flak, you might expect those numbers to worsen for McAuliffe. But this week’s Washington Post poll finds voters now trust McAuliffe to do a “better job” on health care by a whopping 21-point margin.

There is another plausible reason: Republicans still refuse to bolster their criticism of ObamaCare with serious policy alternatives.

Despite Cuccinelli’s insistence that the election is a referendum on ObamaCare, his website fails to include a page dedicated to what he would do about health care. Instead, he buries a few paragraphs on health care on his overall “Issues” page, which offers several conservative buzzwords but no actual policy specifics. Meanwhile, McAuliffe spells out his health care agenda in a seven-page white paper.

Plan beats no plan.

Despite all the troubles the Obama administration has had in getting ObamaCare off the ground, what’s been clear all month is this: Whatever misgivings and uncertainties persist, millions of people are going to Healthcare.gov and want the new system to work. But only Democrats, and a very small number of Republican governors, are showing a commitment to making the system work.

This should be a wake-up call to Republicans who thought the shaky Affordable Care Act rollout would shred belief in governmental competence, undermine liberalism, justify conservative obsession with repeal, and infuse Republicans with fresh momentum.

Because as this Virginia race shows, without plausible Republican policy alternatives, Democrats will able to ride out the inevitable hiccups that come with implementing new government programs and avoid any mass anti-government backlash. Simply hating on ObamaCare has not, is not, and will not be a potent political weapon.

 

By: Bill Scher, The Week, October 31, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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