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“An Abundance Of Rhetoric, A Dearth Of Solutions”: After A Prolonged Lack Of Use, GOP Policymaking Muscle Has Atrophied

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, argued yesterday that “some” of the unattended minors from Central America he saw “looked more like a threat to coming into the United States.” How could he tell? McCaul didn’t say.

Soon after, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued in support of sending the National Guard to the border. Asked what good Guard troops could under the circumstances, Perry couldn’t say. (In fact, he seemed confused by the question.)

A variety of congressional Republicans have now balked at President Obama’s appeal for emergency resource, insisting the package costs “too much.” What’s the GOP’s alternative response? What’s the proper amount of spending? They wouldn’t say.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is among many far-right lawmakers condemning the White House for not deporting Dream Act kids. Why are Republicans focusing so heavily on a policy unrelated to the humanitarian crisis at the border? They haven’t said.

To be sure, this is an incredibly difficult crisis to resolve. Anyone who suggests there’s an easy, quick fix to this is kidding themselves. But as is too often the case, congressional Republicans – folks who were elected to help shape federal law – appear to be sitting out the substantive debate altogether. GOP lawmakers have decided what’s really needed right now is incessant complaining – and little else. Danny Vinik added:

If Republicans object to this request, what exactly do they propose instead? How should we move through the huge backload of cases? Where should we hold the unaccompanied minors in the meantime? And how should we pay to transport them to their home countries?

It’s not that Republicans have poor responses to these questions; it’s that they’re not even trying to answer them.

The post-policy GOP knows what it doesn’t like – the president and his policies – but seems to have forgotten that a governing party, or at least a party that maintains the pretense that governing matters, cannot simply boo from the sidelines.

In some cases, they’re hardly making any effort at all. For example, Goodlatte late last week published an item for Breitbart, with some specific recommendations.

Send the strong, public message that those who enter illegally will be returned. President Obama needs to use his bully-pulpit to send the clear message that those who are seeking to enter the U.S. illegally will be returned to their home countries and that subjecting children to the perilous trek northward to our southern border will no longer be tolerated.

This sounds like sensible advice, right up until one realizes that the president has already done this, and asked for resources from Congress for an advertising campaign in countries like Honduras and El Salvador to reach an even larger Central American audience. Putting aside the question of why the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is writing pieces for Breitbart, why doesn’t Goodlatte know that Obama’s already done what he’s asking the president to do?

It’s easy to get the impression that congressional Republicans’ policymaking muscle has atrophied after a prolonged lack of use. GOP lawmakers have failed to work on public policy for so long, doing so little substantive work in recent memory, that they seem wholly unprepared to act with any sense of purpose now.

Their complain-first instinct obviously remains intact, but a challenge this complex will need more than whining politicians. There’s real work to be done – the sooner the better – and it’s well past time for congressional Republicans to pick up their game. They’re outraged by the crisis at the border? Good. Now they can get to work doing something about it.

 

By; Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 14, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, GOP, Homeland Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare Fails To Fail”: The People Who Falsely Predicted Doom Just Keep Coming Back With Dire New Warnings

How many Americans know how health reform is going? For that matter, how many people in the news media are following the positive developments?

I suspect that the answer to the first question is “Not many,” while the answer to the second is “Possibly even fewer,” for reasons I’ll get to later. And if I’m right, it’s a remarkable thing — an immense policy success is improving the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s largely slipping under the radar.

How is that possible? Think relentless negativity without accountability. The Affordable Care Act has faced nonstop attacks from partisans and right-wing media, with mainstream news also tending to harp on the act’s troubles. Many of the attacks have involved predictions of disaster, none of which have come true. But absence of disaster doesn’t make a compelling headline, and the people who falsely predicted doom just keep coming back with dire new warnings.

Consider, in particular, the impact of Obamacare on the number of Americans without health insurance. The initial debacle of the federal website produced much glee on the right and many negative reports from the mainstream press as well; at the beginning of 2014, many reports confidently asserted that first-year enrollments would fall far short of White House projections.

Then came the remarkable late surge in enrollment. Did the pessimists face tough questions about why they got it so wrong? Of course not. Instead, the same people just came out with a mix of conspiracy theories and new predictions of doom. The administration was “cooking the books,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming; people who signed up wouldn’t actually pay their premiums, declared an array of “experts”; more people were losing insurance than gaining it, declared Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

But the great majority of those who signed up did indeed pay up, and we now have multiple independent surveys — from Gallup, the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund — all showing a sharp reduction in the number of uninsured Americans since last fall.

I’ve been seeing some claims on the right that the dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured was caused by economic recovery, not health reform (so now conservatives are praising the Obama economy?). But that’s pretty lame, and also demonstrably wrong.

For one thing, the decline is too sharp to be explained by what is at best a modest improvement in the employment picture. For another, that Urban Institute survey shows a striking difference between the experience in states that expanded Medicaid — which are also, in general, states that have done their best to make health care reform work — and those that refused to let the federal government cover their poor. Sure enough, the decline in uninsured residents has been three times as large in Medicaid-expansion states as in Medicaid-expansion rejecters. It’s not the economy; it’s the policy, stupid.

What about the cost? Last year there were many claims about “rate shock” from soaring insurance premiums. But last month the Department of Health and Human Services reported that among those receiving federal subsidies — the great majority of those signing up — the average net premium was only $82 a month.

Yes, there are losers from Obamacare. If you’re young, healthy, and affluent enough that you don’t qualify for a subsidy (and don’t get insurance from your employer), your premium probably did rise. And if you’re rich enough to pay the extra taxes that finance those subsidies, you have taken a financial hit. But it’s telling that even reform’s opponents aren’t trying to highlight these stories. Instead, they keep looking for older, sicker, middle-class victims, and keep failing to find them.

Oh, and according to Commonwealth, the overwhelming majority of the newly insured, including 74 percent of Republicans, are satisfied with their coverage.

You might ask why, if health reform is going so well, it continues to poll badly. It’s crucial, I’d argue, to realize that Obamacare, by design, by and large doesn’t affect Americans who already have good insurance. As a result, many peoples’ views are shaped by the mainly negative coverage in the news media. Still, the latest tracking survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a rising number of Americans are hearing about reform from family and friends, which means that they’re starting to hear from the program’s beneficiaries.

And as I suggested earlier, people in the media — especially elite pundits — may be the last to hear the good news, simply because they’re in a socioeconomic bracket in which people generally have good coverage.

For the less fortunate, however, the Affordable Care Act has already made a big positive difference. The usual suspects will keep crying failure, but the truth is that health reform is — gasp! — working.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chris Christie Is Once Again The Last To Know”: Building His Brand As The Last Guy On The Block To Know What’s Going On

Chris Christie is in the news again, this time for calling the ACA a “failure”:

In what could be the latest move toward a 2016 presidential bid, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) offered a wide-ranging critique of President Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. Speaking to reporters at the National Governors Association on Saturday, Christie labeled Obamacare, the administration’s signature legislation, a “failure on a whole number of levels” and said it should be repealed.

“But has to be repeal and replace with what. It can’t just be about repeal,” Christie told the audience. “What I’ve said before is, what Republicans need to be doing is putting forth alternatives for what should be a better healthcare system.”

This, of course, in spite of a number of news stories that have put Republicans on the defensive about Obamacare, including the fact that the percentage of Americans who are uninsured has dropped to an all-time low.

And at a time when many Republican governors like Scott Walker are dialing back on their overt opposition to marriage equality, Christie is doubling down:

He also urged his GOP colleagues to keep bringing up their opposition to same-sex marriage, even though a series of court decisions have overturned many statewide gay marriage bans. “I don’t think there’s some referee who stands up and says, ‘OK, now it’s time for you to change your opinion,’” according to Christie.

As with the bridge scandal, Chris Christie increasingly seems to be building his brand as the last guy on the block to know what’s going on. But the Republican base has shown that it most appreciates candidates who most infuriate the left, not the ones who best understand the changing electorate. So it may just redound to Christie’s benefit.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The High Court’s Highhandedness”: Rulings Are Based Less In Law Than In The Personal Beliefs Of The Men On The Tribunal

It is a case of Supreme hypocrisy.

The adjective refers to that nine-person tribunal at the top of the American legal system, the noun to its latest act of judicial malpractice. Meaning not the notorious Hobby Lobby decision handed down at the end of June, but a less-noticed ruling a few days later.

We have to revisit the former to provide context for the latter. On June 30, the court ruled that a “closely held” corporation may deny employees health insurance covering any contraceptive method that conflicts with the company’s religious beliefs. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito faulted the government for failing, under the Affordable Care Act, to choose the “least restrictive” means of ensuring women access to all FDA-approved methods of birth control. He pointed out that the ACA already makes an exemption for nonprofit groups with religious objections; simply fill out a form certifying those objections and they are relieved from having to provide the disputed contraceptives.

Alito saw this as a win-win. Employees get the birth control they want — they pay directly to the insurance company — but the government does not “impinge” on the organization’s religious beliefs.

Three days later, the court issued an injunction freeing a Christian school — Wheaton College in Illinois — from having to fill out the certification form. The school had argued that simply doing the paperwork — the form asks only for name, contact information, signature and date — infringed upon its religious liberty because it would trigger the employee’s ability to get the disputed contraception. So the same form that the court held to be a reasonable compromise on Monday was judged an unreasonable burden on Thursday. Or as Justice Sonia Sotomayor put it in a withering dissent, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

Indeed, the malleability of the court’s logic suggests these rulings are based less in law than in the personal beliefs of the men on the tribunal. One gets the sense they chose the desired result first, then backfilled whatever “reasoning” would get them there.

Which is not just Supreme hypocrisy, but also Supreme faithlessness. And, yes, Supreme sexism.

I once saw a protest sign to the effect that if men gave birth, contraception would be bacon flavored and dispensed from vending machines. Can anyone argue the truth in that? Would we even be having this debate if some company had a religious objection to Viagra — or vasectomies?

And how far down the line must a company’s religious scruples be honored anyway? If it is too much to ask Wheaton College to fill out a form because an employee will be “triggered” to buy contraception on her own, does the school also have a right to scrutinize and approve other purchases made with the salary she earns from them? If she buys whiskey or pornography with “their” money, does the school have a right to object?

Not to mention the frightening precedent the court is setting in the name of religious liberty. It makes faith a potential get-out-of-jail-free card, exempting the holder from any law he finds onerous. Given that Mormons once embraced a theology of racism and evangelical Christians still deny basic freedoms to gay people, the danger of this is obvious.

In its rush to confer personhood on organizations and constrain women’s choices, the court steers us toward a day in which corporate rights would trump human rights and you could no longer take for granted that you would be served by a given business without first checking to make sure you didn’t offend the owner’s religious sensibilities. It’s hard to imagine what that world would be like.

Pretty soon, we may not have to.

 

BY: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Syndicated Columnist, The Miami Herald; Published in The Seattle Times, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bordering On Heartless”: Protecting Ourselves From The Youngest Of Refugees

Glenn Beck says he has come under fierce attack from some of his fellow conservatives for a grave transgression.

His crime? He announced plans to bring food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to at least some of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have crossed the border into the United States.

“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said. “Anyone, left or right, seeking political gain at the expense of these desperate, vulnerable, poor and suffering people are reprehensible.”

Beck, not averse to a certain grandiosity, let us know that “I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this.” But assume he’s right — and he may well be. It’s one more sign of how the crisis at our border has brought out the very worst in our political system and a degree of plain nastiness that we should not be proud of as a nation.

Let’s stipulate: This is a difficult problem. Unless the United States is willing to open its borders to all comers — a goal of only the purest libertarians and a very few liberals — we will face agonizing choices about whom to let in and whom to turn away.

Moreover, it’s clearly true, as The Post editorialized, that “there is nothing humanitarian in tacitly encouraging tens of thousands of children to risk their lives, often at the hands of cutthroat smugglers, to enter this country illegally.”

But instead of dealing with this problem in a thoughtful way reflecting shared responsibility across party lines, President Obama’s critics quickly turned to the business of — if I may quote Beck — seeking political gain. Last week, the only issue that seemed to matter was whether Obama visited the border.

It’s not just partisan politics, either. It should bother religious people that politicians pay a lot of attention when conservative church leaders speak out against contraception and gay rights but hardly any when religious voices suggest that these children deserve empathy and care.

There are those in our clergy who could usefully consider whether they speak a lot louder when they’re talking about sexuality than when they’re preaching about love. Nonetheless, many religious leaders are condemning callousness toward these kids.

“The church cannot be silent,” the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, wrote in Time magazine, “as angry groups of people stoking the flames of fear yell at buses filled with helpless immigrant children and women.”

And Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the media director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for “a moral conscience moment” akin to the response during the civil rights era “in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”

It is said, and it’s true, that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that swept through Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush in December 2008 has had the unintended consequence of encouraging the Central American children to head north. To protect victims of sex trafficking, the law guaranteed an immigration hearing to unaccompanied minors, except for those from Canada and Mexico.

As the bill was making its way through Congress, members of both parties could not stop congratulating themselves for their compassion. The bill, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said, arose from “exemplary bipartisan cooperation” and showed how big-hearted we are.

“Together, let us end the nightmare of human trafficking,” he declared, “and lead the world to see, in the poignant words of Alexis de Tocqueville, that America is great because America is good.”

Suddenly, we are far less interested in being “good” than in protecting our borders — even if those we are tring to “protect” ourselves from are the youngest of refugees.

All the pressure now is to change the Wilberforce Act so it would no longer apply to Central American children. There’s a strong logic to this. The law does create a powerful incentive for unaccompanied minors from Central America (which is not that much farther away than Mexico) to seek entry, en masse, to our country.

But there is another logic: that the anti-trafficking law really did embody a “good” instinct by holding that we should, as much as we can, treat immigrant children with special concern. Do we rush to repeal that commitment the moment it becomes inconvenient? Or should we first seek other ways to solve the problem? Yes, policymakers should be mindful of unintended consequences. But all of us should ponder the cost of politically convenient indifference.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 13, 2014

 

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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