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“Christie’s New Jersey Faces Yet Another Downgrade”: The State’s Structural Finances Are In A Very Precarious Condition

It was about a year ago when New Jersey’s debt was downgraded for the sixth time since Gov. Chris Christie (R) took office in 2010. The announcement came soon after the Republican governor scrapped his state pension-reform plan.

Four months later, the Garden State was hit with another downgrade. Then another. Late yesterday, it happened yet again.

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded New Jersey’s debt rating, dealing the Garden State its record ninth ratings cut since Gov. Chris Christie took office.

The ratings drop by one notch, from A1 to A2, on $32.2 billion worth of bonds underscores the state’s “weak financial position and large structural imbalance, primarily related to continued pension contribution shortfalls,” Moody’s said in a statement Thursday…. Credit downgrades make it more expensive for the state to borrow money to pay for things like road improvements and school construction.

The agency warned that the state’s structural finances are in a precarious enough condition that future downgrades may be necessary.

Christie not only holds the state record for the governor with the most downgrades, he holds a comfortable lead in this ignominious competition against his next closest rival.

In the larger context, I don’t doubt that the governor will kick off his presidential campaign soon, but I’m honestly not sure what he’ll say.

State pension reform, the “landmark achievement” of Christie’s first term, is no more. He’s still getting slammed, repeatedly, for the bridge scandal, which isn’t yet resolved. Job creation in New Jersey has been slower than most of the country, and its unemployment rate is still above the national average.

The Republican can’t point to his management skills, or his presidential temperament, or his legislative accomplishments. He can’t point to his standing in the polls, or his electability, or his major donors who’ve started to embrace different candidates.

Unpredictable things happen during a race for national office, but in a crowded, competitive field, it’s tough to see Christie’s road to success.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, New Jersey, Pension Plans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hillary Clinton Is Quaking In Her Boots”: Two More Candidates To Begin Doomed Runs For Presidency

What leads a man to look in the mirror and say, “I could be president of the United States”? Anybody can say they should be president, of course—after all, aren’t all your ideas the right ones?—but it takes a remarkably optimistic spirit to think that you can do what it takes to make it to the White House. Can you raise all that money, run that huge organization, out-strategize your opponents, overcome the inevitable stumbles and controversies, have the stamina and fortitude and cleverness to do it all better than anyone else, and convince the American people that you’re the one?

Somebody has to do it, of course. But if you’re a politician who last ran for office thirteen years ago, who had a relatively undistinguished record, who represents a wing of your party that no longer exists, and whom nobody ever accused of being charismatic in the first place, what makes you look in that mirror and say, “Yeah. I’m ready. Let’s do this”?

America, I give you George Elmer Pataki:

Ready to get on that train to Victorytown? No? No matter, Pataki is in New Hampshire, pressing the flesh and winning hearts and minds. And he’s not the only one with visions of electoral glory dancing through his head:

Mike Huckabee, who stepped down from his Fox News Channel show, “Huckabee,” in January, is expected to return to Fox this evening to make his 2016 presidential campaign official. Huckabee said Friday he is “moving toward” announcing a second bid for the White House.

Huckabee told reporters in Washington this morning he would make a little news on “Special Report with Bret Baier,” which airs on FNC at 6 p.m. ET.

Huckabee’s bid is, if equally destined for failure, at least a little easier to understand. Unlike Pataki, Huckabee isn’t a walking Ambien, and he’s kept in touch with the Republican electorate since his last run in 2008 by being a ubiquitous presence on radio and television. But he’s also a con artist who seems to spend most of his time devising ways to separate gullible conservatives from their money. Not only is that likely to be raised by his opponents should he actually gain any momentum in the primaries, running for president isn’t a good way to make money, at least in the short term. He already had what I assume is a lucrative career. So he must really believe he can win. After all, Huckabee is a man of fervent and sincere faith.

Maybe it’s the imperfections of the announced candidates that lead people like Pataki and Huckabee to give it a shot. After all, Jeb Bush is a Bush, Marco Rubio is a whipper-snapper, Scott Walker is untested nationally—if you were motivated enough, you could come up with a scenario in which everyone else falls and you’re left as the obvious choice. But these guys? I’m sure Hillary Clinton is quaking in her boots.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect,April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | George Pataki, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mike Huckabee | , , | Leave a comment

“Asking For A Bail Out Of His Self-Made Crisis”: Cut Taxes Or Expand Medicaid?; Florida Governor Rick Scott Is In Quite A Pickle

The Florida state government has been a hotbed of opposition to Obamacare, and has succeeded in resisting the law’s Medicaid expansion, in large part because of the state’s Low Income Pool: a multi-billion dollar, 10-year-old pilot program through which, right now, the federal government subsidizes health care providers who treat the poor.

Also right now, in Florida, Governor Rick Scott wants to enact hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax cuts.

The budget room for those tax cuts, in other words, exists because the federal government is spending money—money that comes with no guarantee—in a way that bolsters Florida’s resistance to Obamacare.

Not keen on financing opposition to itself, the Obama administration is leaning toward ending this sweet arrangement, and phasing out the Low Income Pool, which has in any case grown obsolete in a world where Florida can adopt the Medicaid expansion and provide insurance to nearly a million of its poor citizens.

All of which is to say that if Scott and Florida Republicans want their tax cuts, they will have to use expanded Medicaid to fill the budget hole where the Low Income Pool used to be. But rather than push against that open door, Scott announced Thursday that he will sue the federal government. Specifically, he’s arguing that by rescinding the Low Income Pool, the Obama administration is coercing Florida into participating in Obamacare, so the Low Income Pool must continue. Put another way, he’s asking the courts to force the feds to bail out his tax cut.

This is all playing out against the backdrop of King v. Burwell, in which conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to rescind billions of dollars in Affordable Care Act subsidies in their own states—money they claim is contingent upon them establishing their own exchanges. Like most Republican governors, Rick Scott didn’t establish an exchange, but for some reason he isn’t sounding the coercion alarm over King.

Scott’s argument is transparently frivolous, but it underscores the extent to which the GOP’s deranged resistance to Obamacare is boomeranging on itself. As Greg Sargent notes at the Washington Post, “Scott’s lawsuit is designed to get the administration to fork over federal money for health care—but only if it isn’t part of Obamacare.” Without that money, Scott probably won’t get his tax cuts. Which means that in Florida, the GOP’s commitment to tax cuts is running up against its Massive Resistance to Obamacare. And the tax cuts might lose.

This adamant opposition to the Medicaid expansion is a relatively recent development. Scott claims his opposition stems from the administration’s coolness to the Low Income Pool. If the federal government can just end that program, how can Floridians trust them to commit to their end of the Medicaid expansion? But that doesn’t wash. The Low Income Pool was scheduled to expire, whereas the federal government is obligated by law to fund 90 percent of the Medicaid expansion in perpetuity.

Florida’s Senate president—a Republican—thinks Scott is being ridiculous. He released a statement that refutes Scott’s objection to the Medicaid expansion and undermines the lawsuit:

The federal government has no obligation to provide LIP funding, or to work within our timeframe. While we respect Governor Scott’s authority to protect the state’s interests in the way he sees fit, we have a constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget by a specific deadline. From where I sit, it is difficult to understand how suing [the federal government] on day 45 of a 60 day session regarding an issue the state has been aware of for the last 12 months will yield a timely resolution to the critical health care challenges facing our state. The Senate budget anticipated the potential reduction or elimination of LIP funding and included solutions to provide Floridians access to health care services and coverage. We remain hopeful CMS will approve the Senate proposal.

A likelier explanation for Scott’s change of heart is a combination of anti-Medicaid spending by the Koch-backed advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and entrenched Obamacare opposition in the Florida House. Sensing that the Medicaid expansion might be in danger, Scott flipped, rather than be caught on the losing side of it.

But Scott could have solved this problem a long time ago if he’d ever fought for Medicaid expansion earnestly, and could solve it now by teaming up with the Senate to stare down the House.

Instead Scott is suing the federal government to bail him out of a self-made crisis. This isn’t an anomaly, but a pattern. Across the country, Republican governors are coping with the consequences of their own Obamacare intransigence—staring into a future where their insurance markets get destroyed by virtue of their refusal to help implement Obamacare and their unwillingness to take on the right as it pursued litigation.

It was inevitable that as Obamacare became more entrenched, Republicans would see their opposition to the law come into tension with their other core interests. This is exactly what’s happened, and to some extent it has exposed weaknesses in the resistance strategy. But that resistance—to the idea of providing health insurance to the poor—remains very strong. Stronger, perhaps, than the allure of tax cuts.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, April 17, 2017

April 18, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ted Cruz’s Frightening Gun Fanaticism”: When A Presidential Contender Encourages Armed Insurrection

As incredible as it sounds, there’s an argument going on right now between two Republican senators (and, potentially, two Republican candidates for the presidency) over whether the American citizenry should be ready to fight a war against the federal government. The two senators in question are Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, and they can’t seem to agree whether the Second Amendment serves as bulwark against government “tyranny.”

It all started with a fundraising email Cruz sent making the case that “The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.” TPM’s Sahil Kapur asked Graham what he thought of his Texan colleague’s view of the Second Amendment, and the South Carolina senator was not impressed. He even invoked the Civil War, which should make Cruz’s people plenty upset. “Well, we tried that once in South Carolina,” Graham said. “I wouldn’t go down that road again.”

This view of gun rights that casts personal firearm ownership as a check on the abuses of government doesn’t make a great deal of practical sense, and it betrays a lack of faith in our democratic institutions. But it’s become increasingly popular among high-level Republican officials who quite literally scare up votes by telling voters they’re right to keep their Glocks cocked just in case the feds come for them. Iowa’s new Republican senator Joni Ernst famously remarked that she supports the right to carry firearms to defend against “the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

The obvious question raised by statements like those from Cruz and Ernst is: when does the shooting start? What is the minimum threshold for government “tyranny” that justifies an armed response from the citizenry? In 2014, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was ready to start a shooting war with the feds to defend his illegal grazing practices, and he garnered the support of top-level Republican officials (they only abandoned him after he started wondering aloud whether black people would be better off as slaves).

It’s an important question because Republicans and conservatives – Ted Cruz included – tend to throw around terms like “tyranny” sort of haphazardly when criticizing policies and politicians they disagree with.

In May 2013, Cruz spoke at a press conference arranged by then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (remember her?) to vent rage at the IRS over its targeting of Tea Party-aligned non-profit groups. Cruz quoted Thomas Jefferson to suggest that the IRS scandal (along with Benghazi and Obamacare and other stuff) was a harbinger of “tyranny” from the federal government: .

Last January, Cruz said Barack Obama was running the country like a dictator because of his executive orders on immigration and the administration’s delay of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate. “There are countries on this globe where that is how the law works,” Cruz said. “You look at corrupt countries where the rule of law is meaningless, where dictators are in power and they have things they call law. But what does law mean?”

Later that same month he wrote a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed suggesting that Obama’s “lawlessness” was a threat to personal liberty:

That would be wrong—and it is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness. As Montesquieu knew, an imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen. Because when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president.

I don’t doubt that Cruz would argue strongly against an armed response to Obama’s immigration orders and tweaks to Obamacare. But at the same time, he’s the one bringing up government “tyranny” and “lawlessness,” and he’s the one bringing up the need to arm oneself in order to preserve one’s liberty. So he should be the one to explain where those two concepts intersect, and when an armed citizen would be justified in committing violence against the government.


By: Simon Maloy, Political Writer, Salon, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Insurrection, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Hypocritical Folly Of Congress’ Capricious Interest In Foreign Policy”: Exclusively In The President’s Domain — Except When It Isn’t

Senate Republicans want to get involved in President Barack Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, as they demonstrated when the vast majority of them signed Tom Cotton’s forceful letter. Senate Democrats want to get involved, too — including Ben Cardin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer, the likely successor to Harry Reid as Senate Democratic leader.

Congress has some legitimate prerogatives here. And the framework of the nuclear deal is risky, even by the United States’ reading. These senators are not wrong to demand oversight.

At the same time, a large contingent of these senators don’t really want a deal that could be realistically achieved by diplomatic means in the foreseeable future. Some want to condition meaningful sanctions relief on Iran becoming a “normal” country. But the reason we’re pushing to restrict and inspect Iran’s nuclear program in the first place is precisely because Iran is not a normal country.

But here’s the particularly striking thing: The GOP-controlled Senate demands some say in the Iran nuclear deal, but is content to allow Obama to wage war against ISIS in Iraq without a congressional vote, the second such unauthorized war of his presidency. And here, Congress’ prerogatives are unmistakable: The Constitution gives the legislative branch the power to declare war.

Forty-seven Republican senators signed a letter asserting that Congress must have a role in the Iranian negotiations. They’ve merely debated authorizing the ISIS war — after the bombing was well underway.

Congress has largely abdicated its clearest role in foreign policy, its voice on matters of war and peace. Half the Democrats in the Senate deferred to George W. Bush on Iraq. But at least he sought congressional approval for his wars. The last two Democratic presidents have gone to war without such approval, though at least congressional Republicans tried to restrain Bill Clinton. They have been derelict in this duty with Obama in the White House.

Republicans were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend the view that the president can’t decide when the Senate is in recess. Some Republicans sued Clinton over Kosovo. And now Republicans are clamoring to have final say over any deal with Iran. But there are few Republicans who seem to think it’s bad that Obama is bombing ISIS without congressional approval, except insofar as it involves working with Iran. (See newly declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio on this point.)

In fact, many lawmakers now argue that foreign policy is exclusively in the president’s domain — except when it isn’t.

A lot of these questions do really turn on the merits. If the Iran deal detracts from American national security, Republicans are right to try to subvert it. If the deal enhances national security, it’s a bad thing to undermine it. And it’s at least understandable that Republicans will be less angry about a president bombing jihadists who have killed Americans in gruesome fashion, even if there was no congressional vote.

But the process matters too — especially if you claim to be the party of constitutionally limited government. If presidents usurp the power to declare war, it is inevitable that not all of the wars of their choosing will be wise or just. And conservative critiques of the imperial presidency lose some of their force when coupled with arguments that the president is an emperor when it comes to going to war.

At minimum, some of the reasonable arguments made against executive power grabs begin to look like partisan posturing — which, in turn, makes it easier for presidents to successfully grab power. Why? Because some voters and opinion leaders will take the arguments against these executive actions less seriously.

That includes arguments against the Iran deal. While the final details will ultimately be the result of work done by the administration and our allies, the diplomatic process itself is a product of bipartisan policies pursued by two administrations.

Republicans would be more convincing in their arguments against Obama’s Iran framework if they demanded he come to Congress before using military force, not just when he is clearly trying to avoid the use of force.


By: W. Jamees Antle, III, The Week, April 17, 2015

April 18, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Congress, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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