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“Overheated, Half-Baked Advice”: No, Obama Doesn’t Have To Fire Everybody In The White House

In the wake of the disastrous rollout of, President Obama’s inner circle is taking a pounding.

Several anonymous Democrats recently dumped on Obama’s White House political aides in the pages of The Hill newspaper, suggesting they should be fired for dropping the ball on their boss’s top domestic priority.

Ron Fournier took a more direct approach. In a National Journal piece titled “Fire Your Team, Mr. President,” Fournier argued that Obama will never regain his standing with the public unless he overhauls his staff “so thoroughly that the new blood imposes change on how he manages the federal bureaucracy and leads.”

The “off with their heads” approach is just the latest manifestation of longstanding criticism that Obama’s group of advisers is far too insular, which in this case resulted in utter embarrassment for the administration.

But this overheated advice is half-baked for a few reasons.

Yes, the rollout is a headache for the White House, but early problems are typical of new government programs. In particular, ObamaCare’s hiccups are reminiscent of Social Security’s at the beginning. The eventual government audits may find instances of individual incompetence, but even if so, there likely won’t be evidence of a systemwide governmental breakdown warranting mass firings.

In fact, the Obama administration has a rather impressive managerial history, pulling off an $800 billion stimulus free of graft and boondoggles, executing the auto industry bailout, and providing scientific expertise to stop the BP underwater oil gusher. Any assessment of the Obama administration’s competence should factor in all it has done before demanding across-the-board career sacrifices.

Furthermore, panic firings breed more panic. Jimmy Carter learned this the hard way in 1979. Suffering from low approval ratings and a sputtering agenda, Carter sparked a fresh wave of support and renewed grassroots spirit with his daring “Crisis of Confidence” speech. But a few days later, he snuffed out his own momentum by demanding the resignation of his entire cabinet.

One Carter-era reporter recently told Politico, “Wholesale sacking of cabinet officers usually comes off as desperation,” and fed the perception of Carter as a “floundering leader.”

Contrast that to Franklin Roosevelt, who was suffering his lowest approval ratings in 1939 as fears circulated that the Social Security Board had failed to collect necessary wage data from employers and would be unable to cut millions of checks. Did FDR start firing people left and right? Nope. As his top Social Security man recounted decades later, “He wasn’t interested in it. He was bored stiff. I couldn’t have kept him interested in any of my woes. He laughed them off.”

Some people today say Roosevelt was a pretty good leader.

By: Bill Scher, The Week, December 5, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Running Out Of Fresh Attacks”: Republicans Revive Mitt Romney’s Favorite Medicare Attack

With substantially improved and new insurance signups surging, Republicans have been forced to pivot to a new line of attack against the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a series of news releases accusing Democratic candidates of cutting Medicare through their support of the health care reform law.

“As the ObamaCare disaster continues to unfold, Mark Pryor and National Democrats have resorted to deceiving seniors using their old and discredited MediScare playbook,” reads the release targeting Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR).

“What’s new this year is the blatant hypocrisy that Mark Pryor and his liberal allies in Washington are exhibiting,” it continues. “Pryor’s deciding vote for ObamaCare cut $717 billion from Medicare—including nearly $5.4 billion directly from Arkansas ($10,296 per Medicare recipient in Arkansas).”

CNN reports that the NRSC campaign will target Senators Pryor, Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN), along with Senate candidates Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) and Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI).

If this line of attack sounds familiar, it’s because it was a centerpiece of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s case against the Affordable Care Act in the 2012 elections. The Republican ticket repeatedly accused President Obama of having “robbed” and “raided” $716 billion from Medicare to “pay for Obamacare, a risky, unproven, federal takeover of health care.”

Of course, that attack ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of the $716 billion actually represented reductions in how much Medicare pays hospitals and insurers, as WonkBlog’s Sarah Kliff explained last August. Medicare benefits themselves are not affected.

It also ignored the fact that Ryan’s own budget included the exact same $716 billion in cuts (with the implied promise of deeper cuts in the future to pay for trillions of dollars in new defense spending and tax cuts). He has also kept the savings in subsequent budget proposals. Nearly every Republican in Congress — including Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Pryor’s chief rival in his 2014 re-election bid — has supported Ryan’s budget plans, significantly blunting the accusation’s impact.

Nonetheless, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) spokesman Brendan Buck told MSNBC that the attack is “a tried and true campaign hit” — ignoring that it totally failed to blunt the Democratic Party’s sweeping victory in 2012.

There’s no denying that Republicans had a good political month targeting the Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout. But the fact that they are already returning to this easily debunked attack, which was proven to be unpersuasive in the last election, raises the question of whether they are running out of fresh attacks against the law. And with repeal seemingly off the table, one wonders where Republicans will turn if good news about the law continues to trickle out.


By: Henry Decker, Featured Post, The National Memo, December 4, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voters Wil Not Forget”: Opposition To Obamacare Will Come Back To Haunt Conservatives

It is truly amazing to me to read through the blogs, the press releases from the Republican anti-Obamacare war room, the phalanx of Koch-brothers’ sponsored think tanks and web sites – one message: FAILURE.

Let’s leave aside that their cagey rhetoric has shifted from “repeal” to “a fix,” but that their policy position remains the same: kill it. Republicans will continue their onslaught against the Affordable Care Act because they believe it is a political attack that will work for them and unite their party, at least in the short run.

They complain about the problems with the website, yet they love that it didn’t work well. They are euphoric when it fails. Do they want it to succeed? Heck no.

They offer up people who have had problems switching their health care plans, with big smiles on their faces. Another Congressional hearing is called for to condemn the ACA, according to the Republicans.

Peter Roff, one of my esteemed colleagues on this blog, publishes a list from the Heritage Foundation on why the ACA will fail (never mind that much of what Heritage called for is in the law, like the individual mandate).

But forget all that. I would cite much of this list as precisely why Obamacare will work (see Roff’s Heritage list here):

  1. The new plans available under the law will provide better coverage for a better price. This is not a broken promise by the president but the end result. Think about the benefits: no pre existing conditions; no canceling of your plan when you get sick; no caps on coverage; no huge costs for women over what men pay; keeping children on the plan until they are 26.
  2. There will be more options for consumers to choose from, not less. They won’t be forced into inferior plans.
  3. The new approach to Medicaid will allow people to shop for and purchase their plans, not arrive in emergency rooms often too late for help and with exorbitant costs. This will be a vast improvement on where we are now. Sadly, many Republican governors want to keep these people from getting insurance by rejecting federal funds to help with the Medicaid expansion.
  4. The ACA will lead to more stable families with better health care, not penalize people for success or getting married, as Heritage asserts.
  5. There will be better care for women, more coverage, and it won’t destroy our religious liberties. Pardon the sexism, but that is a “straw man.”
  6. Probably the most absurd claim from Heritage is that the ACA is a job killer. If we are providing health care to an additional 30-40 million Americans, it will create jobs in the health care field, not kill them. More doctors, more nurses, more ways to care for patients. Businesses will have more productive workers, fewer who are sick and out of work, and costs will decrease as more people are covered.

I do have one prediction for my friend Peter Roff and those Republicans who are staking the political future of their party on killing the ACA: When this succeeds, voters will not forget, and they will remember the horror stories of the old system.  The more the focus is on patient care, better treatment through R&D, keeping people healthy, access for millions, the more that Democrats will benefit from the contrast. Republicans should be very careful not to argue too strongly for failure, it will come back to haunt them.


By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, December 5, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Higher Wages Are Good For Companies Too”: The Intellectual Rigors Of Low-Wage Work Are Too Frequently Dismissed

Barbara Gertz is 25 and works at a Walmart in Aurora, Colorado, stocking shelves on the overnight shift. She and her husband, a cement mason, can get by most months, but there have been days Barbara has called in sick because she can’t afford the gas to drive to work.

Higher wages would obviously benefit Barbara and her colleagues at Walmart who protested last Friday. They would also benefit fast food workers striking tomorrow in 100 cities across the country who earn, on average, $11,000 a year.

But according to Zeynep Ton, an adjunct professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, higher wages are better for companies, too.

Ton’s book, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits, comes out in January and in it, she describes how large retail companies like Mercadona, Trader Joe’s and Costco have been able to invest in workers without raising prices. “These companies think about employees not as costs to minimize but as capable human beings with the potential to generate sales and profits,” Ton recently wrote on her blog. “Doesn’t all this cost a lot? Of course it does. But that’s only part of the strategy. These companies also design and manage work in a way that makes their employees more productive and takes full advantage of a committed, motivated, and capable (that is, well-paid, well-trained, and well-treated) workforce.”

Here’s one of Ton’s favorite examples of why the so-called Good Jobs Strategy works: During the recession, both Walmart and Mercadona, Spain’s largest supermarket chain, had to cut costs and did so by reducing the variety of products they carried. Walmart customers were annoyed when their local store stopped carrying their favorite brand of potato chip, or toilet paper or T-shirt. Sales dropped; Walmart’s chief merchandising officer had to leave the company. At Mercadona, customers were unfazed if an item they wanted was out of stock because workers, who as a matter of company policy are trained in every department, were able to recommend a replacement. Sales figures increased, even after Mercadona reduced its prices by 10 percent. Workers would let management know if there was a particular product that too many customers seemed to miss. “They could do this because they are empowered, cross-trained and have the time to engage the customer,” Ton writes. By comparison, Barbara told me that “there’s just a total lack of respect” for associates at Walmart. She mentioned a friend who politely pointed out an inventory problem to her supervisor and was fired the next day for the very mistake she tried to correct.

Ton’s argument is that workers who are paid fairly and treated respectfully are more productive and more innovative, across industries and on all salary levels, at Google or at Walmart. “Low-cost retail work is not trivial and how you perform that work makes a big difference for the company’s bottom line,” Ton has written. Retail work requires intuition and charm, quick decision-making, a good memory. As Mike Rose, an education professor at UCLA, has eloquently written the intellectual rigors of low-wage work are too frequently dismissed.

Ton’s Good Jobs Strategy also applies to fast food industry. In-N-Out Burger, the cultishly beloved West Coast hamburger chain, is a good example. The starting wage is $10.50 per hour, significantly higher than at McDonald’s. They have the lowest turnover rate in the fast-food industry. Like Mercadona and Trader Joe’s, In-N-Out keeps overhead low by limiting their offerings, by doing just a few things—hamburgers, cheeseburgers, milkshakes—really, really well.

With more than half of fast food workers on public assistance, costing taxpayers an estimated $7 billion a year, the demands of Thursday’s strike is in the public’s best interest as well. On Tuesday, the Washington, DC, Council voted to increase the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour and to extend paid sick leave to tipped workers, having found, despite theories to the contrary, that such a policy does not discourage new businesses from opening or cause preexisting businesses to relocate. President Obama recently endorsed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

If political pressure and public protest don’t cause McDonald’s and Walmart to increase worker pay, perhaps pure profit-driven thinking will. After all, what if Barbara had to call in sick on one of the busiest days of the year?


By: Jessica Weisberg, The Nation, December 4, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Inequality And Self-Righteousness”: President Obama Challenges The Emotional Heart Of Conservative Politics

Here’s a passage from the president’s speech at CAP yesterday, which was a bit of a watershed, consolidating his varying perspectives on inequality and government’s role in the economy:

[W]e need to set aside the belief that government cannot do anything about reducing inequality. It’s true that government cannot prevent all the downsides of the technological change and global competition that are out there right now — and some of those forces are also some of the things that are helping us grow. And it’s also true that some programs in the past, like welfare before it was reformed, were sometimes poorly designed, created disincentives to work, but we’ve also seen how government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class. Investments in education, laws establishing collective bargaining and a minimum wage — (applause) — these all contributed to rising standards of living for massive numbers of Americans.

Likewise, when previous generations declared that every citizen of this country deserved a basic measure of security, a floor through which they could not fall, we helped millions of Americans live in dignity and gave millions more the confidence to aspire to something better by taking a risk on a great idea. Without Social Security nearly half of seniors would be living in poverty — half. Today fewer than 1 in 10 do. Before Medicare, only half of all seniors had some form of health insurance. Today virtually all do. And because we’ve strengthened that safety net and expanded pro-work and pro- family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, a recent study found that the poverty rate has fallen by 40 percent since the 1960s.

What he’s doing here is challenging the idea that you can defend the “good” government interventions in the economy that are now part of the national landscape while opposing contemporary efforts to expand opportunity and reduce inequality. This strikes directly at the politics of selfishness and self-righteousness that is at the emotional heart of conservative politics at present.

The opportunity gap in America is now as much about class as it is about race. And that gap is growing. So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts.

This can’t be said too often.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 5, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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