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“Living Exact Same Day Over And Over Again”: On Groundhog Day, Republicans Vote To Repeal Obamacare

President Obama hasn’t spent a lot of time with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but the two leaders, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), met at the White House this morning. The point, according to everyone involved, was to look for ways the policymakers can find some common ground and try to get things done in 2016.

To help set the tone, the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday he was excited about the Iowa caucuses because “what it tells me is the days of Barack Obama’s presidency are numbered.”

He’s a real charmer, this one. You can just feel his enthusiasm for bipartisan policymaking in an era of divided government.

After the meeting in which the president tries to find areas of possible agreement with GOP leaders, Ryan will hold another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post reported:

The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on overturning President Obama’s veto of legislation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The vote, appropriately scheduled for Groundhog Day, is expected to fail, leaving conservatives to gear up for a final year of budget fights with the president.

Asked about today’s events, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “Republicans are poised to host another vote in the United States Congress today for the 60th time to repeal Obamacare. It’s almost like it’s Groundhog Day, except today it is actually Groundhog Day and they’re doing it again.”

Earnest added, “So I’m not really sure that qualifies as the contours of a proactive legislative agenda but it does put some pressure on Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, and other Republicans in Congress, to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration.”

For the record, estimates vary on exactly how many times Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the ACA, but the last time I checked, they were up to 62. In other words, Earnest might have been understating the case a bit.

Incidentally, shortly before the last repeal vote, Ryan was asked why he was moving forward with a bill to eliminate the Affordable Care Act before the Republican alternative is ready. The Republican leader told reporters with a smile, “Just wait.”

We later learned that this wait will continue past this year – because GOP lawmakers have already effectively given up on their plans to unveil a reform alternative in 2016.

As for today’s veto-override vote, there’s no chance of the bill succeeding. Paul Ryan and his team know that, of course, but they’re holding the vote anyway, just to go through the motions.

Postscript: In case anyone doesn’t get the reference, I should probably mention “Groundhog Day” was a classic movie from 1993 in which Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop, forced to live the exact same day over and over again. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I can assure you it’s far more entertaining than watching Republicans vote 63 times to take health care benefits away from millions of families for no particular reason.

Update: Reader F.B. emails, “In the movie, the character played by Bill Murray learns from each repetition how to live that day better. Unfortunately the Republicans show no similar improvement.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 2, 2016

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mitch Mc Connell, Obamacare, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Case Against Bernie Sanders”: The Despairing Vision He Paints Of Contemporary America Is Oversimplified

Until very recently, nobody had any cause to regret Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Sanders is earnest and widely liked. He has tugged the terms of the political debate leftward in a way both moderates and left-wingers could appreciate. (Moderate liberals might not agree with Sanders’s ideas, but they can appreciate that his presence changes for the better a political landscape in which support for things like Mitt Romney’s old positions on health care and the environment were defined as hard-core liberalism.) Sanders’s rapid rise, in both early states and national polling, has made him a plausible threat to defeat Hillary Clinton. Suddenly, liberals who have used the nominating process to unilaterally vet Clinton, processing every development through its likely impact on her as the inevitable candidate, need to think anew. Do we support Sanders not just in his role as lovable Uncle Bernie, complaining about inequality, but as the actual Democratic nominee for president? My answer to that question is no.

Sanders’s core argument is that the problems of the American economy require far more drastic remedies than anything the Obama administration has done, or that Clinton proposes to build on. Clinton has put little pressure on Sanders’s fatalistic assessment, but the evidence for it is far weaker than he assumes. Sanders has grudgingly credited what he calls “the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act,” which seems like an exceedingly stingy assessment of a law that has already reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 20 million. The Dodd-Frank reforms of the financial industry may not have broken up the big banks, but they have, at the very least, deeply reduced systemic risk. The penalties for being too big to fail exceed the benefits, and, as a result, banks are actually breaking themselves up to avoid being large enough to be regulated as systemic risks.

It is true that the Great Recession inflicted catastrophic economic damage, and that fiscal policy did too little to alleviate it. The impression of economic failure hardened into place as the sluggish recovery dragged on for several years. Recently, conditions have improved. Unemployment has dropped, the number of people quitting their job has risen, and — as one would predict would happen when employers start to run short of available workers — average wages have started to climb. Whether the apparent rise in the median wage is the beginning of a sustained increase, or merely a short-lived blip, remains to be seen. At the very least, the conclusion that Obama’s policies have failed to raise living standards for average people is premature. And the progress under Obama refutes Sanders’s corollary point, that meaningful change is impossible without a revolutionary transformation that eliminates corporate power.

Nor should his proposed remedies be considered self-evidently benign. Evidence has shown that, at low levels, raising the minimum wage does little or nothing to kill jobs. At some point, though, the government could set a minimum wage too high for employers to be willing to pay it for certain jobs. Even liberal labor economists like Alan Krueger, who have supported more modest increases, have blanched at Sanders’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage.

Sanders’s worldview is not a fantasy. It is a serious critique based on ideas he has developed over many years, and it bears at least some relation to the instincts shared by all liberals. The moral urgency with which Sanders presents his ideas has helped shelter him from necessary internal criticism. Nobody on the left wants to defend Wall Street or downplay the pressure on middle- and working-class Americans. But Sanders’s ideas should not be waved through as a more honest or uncorrupted version of the liberal catechism. The despairing vision he paints of contemporary America is oversimplified.

Even those who do share Sanders’s critique of American politics and endorse his platform, though, should have serious doubts about his nomination. Sanders does bring some assets as a potential nominee — his rumpled style connotes authenticity, and his populist forays against Wall Street have appeal beyond the Democratic base. But his self-identification as a socialist poses an enormous obstacle, as Americans respond to “socialism” with overwhelming negativity. Likewise, his support for higher taxes on the middle class — while substantively sensible — also saddles him with a highly unpopular stance. He also has difficulty addressing issues outside his economic populism wheelhouse. In his opening statement at the debate the day after the Paris attacks, Sanders briefly and vaguely gestured toward the attacks before quickly turning back to his economic themes.

Against these liabilities, Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics. Versions of this have circulated in both parties for years, having notably inspired the disastrous Goldwater and McGovern campaigns. The Republican Party may well fall for it again this year. Sanders’s version involves the mobilization of a mass grassroots volunteer army that can depose the special interests. “The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway,” he told Andrew Prokop. “You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.” But Obama did organize passionate volunteers on a massive scale — far broader than anything Sanders has done — and tried to keep his volunteers engaged throughout his presidency. Why would Sanders’s grassroots campaign succeed where Obama’s far larger one failed?

Sanders has promised to replace Obamacare with a single-payer plan, without having any remotely plausible prospects for doing so. Many advocates of single-payer imagine that only the power of insurance companies stands in their way, but the more imposing obstacles would be reassuring suspicious voters that the change in their insurance (from private to public) would not harm them and — more difficult still — raising the taxes to pay for it. As Sarah Kliff details, Vermont had to abandon hopes of creating its own single-payer plan. If Vermont, one of the most liberal states in America, can’t summon the political willpower for single-payer, it is impossible to imagine the country as a whole doing it. Not surprisingly, Sanders’s health-care plan uses the kind of magical-realism approach to fiscal policy usually found in Republican budgets, conjuring trillions of dollars in savings without defining their source.

The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.

The paradox is that the president’s ability to deliver more change is far more limited. The current occupant of the Oval Office and his successor will have a House of Representatives firmly under right-wing rule, making the prospects of important progressive legislation impossible. This hardly renders the presidency impotent, obviously. The end of Obama’s term has shown that a creative president can still drive some change.

But here is a second irony: Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board. The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.

So even if you fervently endorse Sanders’s policy vision (which, again for the sake of full candor, I do not), he has chosen an unusually poor time to make it the centerpiece of a presidential campaign. It can be rational for a party to move away from the center in order to set itself up for dramatic new policy changes; the risk the Republican Party accepted in 1980 when Ronald Reagan endorsed the radical new doctrine of supply-side economics allowed it to reshape the face of government. But it seems bizarre for Democrats to risk losing the presidency by embracing a politically radical doctrine that stands zero chance of enactment even if they win.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 18, 2015

January 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questions About Why Rubio Is So Soft On Immigrants”: The Irony In Marco Rubio And Ted Cruz’s Argument Over “Amnesty”

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are for now the only real candidates with a chance to become the Republican nominee for president (granting that Donald Trump, whatever his chances, is an utterly unreal candidate), and to Rubio’s chagrin, they are engaged in a dispute over immigration that grows progressively more venomous.

This complex policy challenge has been reduced to the question of which of them is more fervently opposed to “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, but the debate obscures an odd fact. Though Cruz is getting the better of the argument, the substance of Rubio’s position on the issue—which he is now desperately trying to justify—is actually more popular with Republican voters. But in this atmosphere, when fear and resentment are the order of the day, even that isn’t enough to help him.

A brief bit of background. In 2013, Rubio joined with a bipartisan group of senators called the Gang of Eight to write a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate but died in the House. Along with increasing border security and beefing up the E-Verify system through which employers check their employees’ immigration status, it provided for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But it was an extremely lengthy path. They would have to register, pay a fine, pass a background check, and at that point they would be granted provisional legal status. After waiting ten years, paying another fine, and showing that they had learned English, they could apply for a green card. Then if they got the green card, they could apply for citizenship three years after that. So it could be fifteen years or more before someone who is currently an undocumented immigrant became a citizen.

As for Ted Cruz’s part, he offered an amendment at the time stripping out the path to citizenship but allowing undocumented immigrants to get work permits. Rubio charges that this means Cruz supported legal status for the undocumented (horrors!), while Cruz says that his amendment was just a poison pill meant to sabotage the bill.

While Rubio has backed away from the bill—he now says he learned that comprehensive reform is impossible, and the answer is to do it piece by piece, with the enforcement pieces coming first—he still says he supports an eventual path to citizenship. But he’s always careful to stress how long it would be before that would even be discussed, much less implemented.

So right now, Rubio is defensively answering all kinds of questions about why he’s so soft on immigrants, while Cruz is the one attacking (and Rubio’s counter that Cruz is kind of an amnesty supporter too has fallen short). Yet Rubio’s position on the path to citizenship question—yes, but after a lengthy process—is quite popular within the party.

It matters a lot how you ask the question, but polling shows that, as a group, Republican voters are perfectly open to letting undocumented immigrants stay in the United States. When Pew asked recently if undocumented immigrants who “meet certain requirements” should be allowed to say, 66 percent of Republicans say yes, with 37 percent supporting citizenship and 28 percent supporting permanent residency.

But the more specific you make the question, the more open Republicans are to citizenship. When pollsters have asked whether undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship if they pay fines and learn English, clear majorities of Republicans say yes: 72 percent in a January 2014 CNN poll; 69 percent in an October 2013 CBS poll; 63 percent in a February 2013 Fox poll (those and others are collected here).

Those results demonstrate that if you can assure people—even Republicans—that undocumented immigrants will pay a price and assimilate, they have no problem with a path to citizenship. And that’s exactly what the Gang of Eight bill did.

So why isn’t Rubio winning on this issue? One reason is that his position is complex, while Cruz’s position is a rather simpler “He loves amnesty!”—and simpler messages usually prevail. Another reason is that the candidates aren’t actually appealing to all Republican voters, but the somewhat smaller and more conservative group that will actually vote in primaries. And finally, Donald Trump’s campaign, not to mention the general atmosphere of fear stirred up by the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, has made anything resembling rational discussion on this issue all but impossible. Ted Cruz is capitalizing on that atmosphere with an enthusiasm bordering on the gleeful; he’s now airing an ad claiming that the Gang of Eight bill “would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists. That’s just wrong.” It should go without saying that his claim is absolutely ludicrous.

It’s possible that each passing day in which Donald Trump is on TV talking about border walls and excluding Muslims has the effect of nudging the Republican electorate to the right on anything that has to do with foreigners. But the polling results of the last few years show that Republicans are not a monolith, and there should be a market for a position like Rubio’s.

There’s another truth we should acknowledge in this debate. What a President Cruz would actually do on immigration is almost identical to what a President Rubio would do: not much. The last few years have proven that the Republican House has no appetite for comprehensive reform, no matter what the circumstances. And today’s GOP caucus is even more conservative than it was in 2013, after the sweep of 2014 brought in a whole new class of ultra-right members. Most Republicans hail from safe Republican districts, where they fear only a challenge from the right, so there’s no reason why they’d embrace comprehensive reform. The Republican Party itself may want to reach out to Hispanic voters, but your average Republican member of Congress has little reason to; indeed, all his interests run toward vehement opposition.

And if a Republican does somehow win the presidency, the urgency in demonstrating any goodwill toward Hispanics will be gone. So what will happen? The Republican Congress will pass a bill or two hiring more Border Patrol and ICE agents and building some more fences, the Republican president will sign those bills, and they’ll all call it a day—whether the public, including even Republican voters, would favor a path to citizenship or not.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, December 21, 2015

December 22, 2015 Posted by | Amnesty, Immigration Reform, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Budget Blitz”: Boehner And McConnell Get A Move On To Approve A Deal Before Conservatives Can Counter-Mobilize

Well, you have to credit John Boehner and Mitch McConnell with some chutzpah. On the very eve of Paul Ryan’s planned accession to the House Speakership via a deal with House conservatives to treat their views with more respect and avoid deals with Democrats, the GOP leadership is unveiling the largest bipartisan budget deal since 2011, a measure that would preempt any debt default or government shutdown threat until well after the 2016 elections. Moreover, even as Ryan pledges renewed fealty to the Hastert Rule and promises not to behave imperiously towards other Republicans, this deal was negotiated semi-secretly and will be sprung on Congress for a quick vote, perhaps as early as tomorrow, and is projected to get through both chambers via a minority of Republicans voting with most Democrats. It would indeed make it easier for Ryan to keep his promises because it would take the most contentious issues right off the table.

A lot of the details of the deal are unknown or hazy at this point, but it’s clear the main objective was to set aside sequestration and give Democrats some domestic spending increases and Republicans more defense spending. In that and other respects it resembles the budget deal Ryan himself cut with Patty Murray in December of 2013, not long after the last government shutdown, which constitutes one of the grievances conservatives harbor against the Wisconsin Ayn Rand acolyte.

I suspect the air today will be filled with squawking about this deal, and it could also prove to be a big fat target for the GOP presidential candidates who are debating economic and fiscal policy in Colorado tomorrow night. So yeah, Boehner and McConnell had best get a move on to get the deal approved before conservatives can counter-mobilize, and Paul Ryan should probably remember some pressing appointments back home in his district.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2015

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Exposed Their Own Ignorance Of Basic Government”: Benghazi Hearing; While Republicans Barked And Snarled, Hillary Smiled

To watch Hillary Clinton’s Republican antagonists during Thursday’s public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi was to wonder how they could possibly behave the way they did. As representatives of the American people, they not only failed miserably to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them, but exposed their own blithering ignorance of basic aspects of government.

Determined as they were to encourage doubt about Clinton’s presidential candidacy, they instead elevated her and raised hard questions about their own knowledge, character, temperament, and intellectual capacity to serve in Congress. After months of “investigating” Clinton, the Republican committee members have developed only a dim understanding of simple phenomena — like the many and varied sources of information, beyond emails, that are available to the Secretary of State. Only someone very dense, very poorly informed, or both, would believe, for instance, that she had received “most of her intelligence about Libya,” or any other subject, in unclassified email traffic.

Often the sheer mindlessness of their inquiries was stunning: Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) asked Clinton whether she had been alone “all night” at home on Sept. 11, 2012, while the tragic events in Benghazi occurred. Rep. Mike Pompeo inquired whether the late Ambassador Chris Stevens had ever visited Clinton’s home or possessed her “fax number.” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) demanded that Clinton admit that as Secretary of State she had overseen American policy toward Libya. Several of the Republicans interrupted her rudely, upbraided her for looking at notes, even while they read from their own notes, and demanded that she give “Yes or No” answers to their queries, as if they were prosecutors grilling a perp.

The lines of inquiry that the Republicans pursued were muddled, directionless, and confusing, seemingly even to them. As the Democrats repeatedly pointed out, after all the tumult over Clinton’s emails, the proceedings of this committee so far — following several legislative and administrative investigations — revealed nothing new about the terrorist attack on the US compound in Benghazi, its prelude, or its aftermath.

So what might American taxpayers have gleaned from those 11 hours of hearings, the culmination of an expenditure of 17 months and $4.8 million? They learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the committee chair, is obsessed with someone named Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Clinton who sent her emails about Libya and other topics. He’s not just weirdly preoccupied, as anyone could see, but truly obsessed to the point of choking rage.

Those who have followed Gowdy’s conduct during the months leading up to this moment will find this Blumenthal business all too familiar. Having discovered that Blumenthal sent some emails to Clinton about Libya, largely incorporating information he had gathered from retired intelligence personnel, the chairman and his colleagues sought to fabricate a conspiracy theory of the Benghazi attack that somehow involved him.

Actually, “conspiracy theory” is too coherent a description of their aimless maundering on the topic of Sidney (who also happens to be my friend).

Gowdy appeared to believe – or perhaps pretended to believe – that if only the Secretary of State had ignored Blumenthal’s emails, the Benghazi attack might somehow have been prevented. According to this theory, she was paying too much attention to him, and not enough to Stevens.

In fact, as Clinton patiently attempted to explain over and over, she naturally delegated decisions about the safety of the Benghazi compound and personnel — and all perilous diplomatic posts — to the State Department’s security staff. Moreover, her communications with Blumenthal were, and are, entirely irrelevant to the matters that Gowdy purports to be investigating. Should Gowdy ever really wish to know why it is difficult to protect our embassies, consulates, and foreign service officers abroad, he might investigate himself and all the other Republicans who – as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) acknowledged on Thursday – voted repeatedly to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s security budget.

As I noted in Politico months ago, back when Gowdy first embarked on the Blumenthal trail, this isn’t the first time that the former Washington Post and New Yorker journalist has driven Republican politicians to manic distraction. Like Clinton herself, he is a demonized figure in certain circles – but every time they go after him, they risk humiliation or worse.

Among the many low points of the Clinton hearing was the moment when Gowdy first refused a committee vote on releasing Blumenthal’s deposition before the committee, and then whipped a party-line vote to keep it under seal. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member who led his fellow Democrats in eloquently protesting the committee’s many abuses, asked Gowdy what he is hiding.

But of course Cummings already knows the answer: In that closed deposition last June, Gowdy and company asked Blumenthal dozens of questions about wholly irrelevant but highly political matters, such as his employment by the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters, and Correct the Record – even though Gowdy has publicly claimed that he had no interest in those subjects. To release Blumenthal’s testimony would risk exposing the committee chairman’s bad faith and clumsy deceptions.

By the time Rep. Trey Gowdy finally gaveled the hearing to a close, there was little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s composed, dignified demeanor – and the contrast between her and the Republicans — had notched another political victory for her. She had movingly recounted the events of that awful night in Benghazi, explained her actions in detail, firmly defended the honor of Accountability Review Board chairs Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, and pleaded for a return to statesmanship. Her strong performance rallied skeptical liberals to her side, while furious conservatives whined in despair.

And when it was over she rose from the witness chair, smiling and greeting friends, while Gowdy stalked out, stone-faced and perspiring, as if he had seen his own demise.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 23, 2015

 

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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