"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Not Quite What Happened”: Sen. Joe Manchin’s Misreading Of Gun Control Politics

Senator Joe Manchin did an laudable job this year of trying to steer a bipartisan gun-control package through the Senate, despite being a Democrat representing a red state where hunting is very popular. And he may be called upon to do so again next year. But his comments about the politics of gun control yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” seem very wrong, and might bode poorly for the fate of gun control legislation next year:

 What we found out is that people just didn’t trust government, that they were going to stop there. So they said hey Joe, we’re OK with the bill. We like the bill. The bill is not bad at all. We can live with that. But we just don’t trust government stopping and doing what we say we’re going to do.

That’s not quite what happened. Indeed, people liked the bill — very much. As proponents of the legislation often pointed out, support for universal background checks is around 90 percent and remained that high through the entire gun control debate.

It’s hard to find evidence for Manchin’s claim that the legislation failed because people didn’t “trust the government…to stop there.” An April 2013 Washington Post poll – at the height of the gun control debate — found that 55 percent of Americans thought it was possible to make new gun control laws without interfering with the rights of gun owners, with 38 percent thinking otherwise. Americans also said enacting new laws to reduce gun violence were more important than protecting the rights of gun owners, by a 52-40 margin, according to the polls.

And others, including a HuffPost/YouGov poll in September, found that 48 percent of Americans wanted gun laws that were more strict, compared with 16 percent who said less strict and 29 percent who wanted no change.

Now it’s certainly true that pro-gun groups liked to scaremonger about a “national gun registry” that would be used to take away the rights of gun-owners—but despite their best efforts, we still saw polls with broad, bipartisan support for the Manchin-Toomey legislation.

Manchin surely knows such claims are unfounded, since his own bill explicitly makes such a registry illegal, and since he regularly dismissed such concerns back in the spring. So it’s quite odd to see him retroactively validating those unfounded concerns now, and ascribing them to “most people” instead of misinformation by the gun industry and its political allies.

That’s troubling for the immediate future of gun control, because if Manchin really believes the public has spoken, that would be a much more intractable problem then simply fighting some industry misinformation and winning a couple more votes.

But this little episode also underscores a personal pet peeve: the tendency by many people, including those who work within the system and know better, to broadly and belatedly ascribe legislative outcomes as the obvious will of the voters. Gun control failed despite public support, because pro-gun groups are quite adept at lobbying (and spending money), and because many legislators feared primary challenges from pro-gun opponents. Even though it failed in Congress, it didn’t fail with the people.

Similarly, you might hear folks pontificating that the death of the public option during the debate over the Affordable Care Act shows that Americans aren’t ready for socialized health insurance—but the public option was extraordinarily popular with both conservatives and liberals, and was in fact one of the more popular parts of the bill. Our democracy doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to, and people who work in politics would be wise to remember that when assessing what went wrong and how to move forward.

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post; December 23, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Personal Relationships’ Can Only Go So Far”: No Modern Precedent For Partisan Polarization As Intense As Today’s GOP Status Quo

It’s a fact of contemporary domestic politics that many in Washington resist, but there’s a limit to the power of presidential schmoozing.

The President’s failure to build friendships with lawmakers has damaged his chances of finding bipartisan support for legislation, a senator from his own party said Sunday. “It’s just hard to say no to a friend,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“When you build that relationship and that friendship, you’re looking for ways to try to work things out and find a compromise and, you know, that friendship means an awful lot. When you don’t build those personal relationships, it’s pretty easy for a person to say, well, let me talk about it, you know, and not really make, you know, that extra effort.”

I wish this were true, because it would suggest the underlying problem would be fairly easy to solve. If Manchin were right, and President Obama’s “personal relationships” with lawmakers could lead to more responsible governing, a concerted effort could be made to turn the White House into The Friendliest Place on Earth.

Regrettably, though, Manchin’s remedy is deeply flawed.

Let’s put aside, at least for now, the fact that Obama has gone further than any modern president in bringing members of the opposing party into his cabinet and incorporating ideas from the opposing party’s agenda into his own policy plans – only to find that Republicans oppose the very ideas they used to support once they learn the president agrees with them.

Let’s instead focus on this notion of “building personal relationships.” I’m reminded of an anecdote from a year ago, when Obama invited several GOP lawmakers to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie “Lincoln.” The president extended the invitation in secret, so congressional Republicans wouldn’t face any lobbying to turn Obama down.

How many of the invited Republicans accepted the invitation? None.

The Beltway seems to accept as fact the notion that an aloof president has made no effort to cultivate friendships with members of Congress, but reality points in a very different direction. It’s not just movie nights, either – Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.

When it comes to “building personal relationships,” we’ve seen the effort. It just doesn’t seem to have paid any dividends.

And why not? Because the importance of presidential schmoozing has been wildly exaggerated, based on an antiquated, romanticized vision. As we’ve discussed before, there have been times at which lawmakers were on the fence before a big vote, and a president could gently apply pressure with a White House dinner invitation and an after-meal chat on the Truman balcony. For those who believe these traditional norms still apply, there’s an assumption that Obama can get his way with Congress if only he engaged more.

But in 2013, those norms have been thrown out the window.

If lack of schmoozing isn’t the problem, what is? As we’ve discussed many times, traditional governing dynamics are largely impossible given that the Republican Party has reached an ideological extreme unseen in modern American history. It’s a quantifiable observation, not a subjective one.

The result is a situation in which GOP lawmakers refuse to compromise or accept concessions, partly due to partisan rigidity, partly out of fear of a primary challenge, and most of the time, both.

Indeed, the parties sharply disagree with one another – there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo – and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. Presidential friendships change nothing.

Let’s return to the thesis presented last year by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein: “[W]e have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

The notion that schmoozing will lead to progress rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.

It’s a pleasant enough fantasy, and I wish it were true, but everything we’ve seen over the last four years points in the opposite direction.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 23, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Nightmare For John Boehner”: Why Obamacare Could Help The Democrats In 2014

If some Republicans are sounding just a little bit desperate right now, I think I know why. “Obamacare is not just a broken website,” House Speaker John Boehner sputtered the other day in retreat as it emerged that the website is now working well. “This bill is fundamentally flawed.” He sure hopes he’s right about that—and by the way, Mister, it’s a law, not a bill. But I bet late at night, when he’s having that last smoke and thinking back over his day, he fears that he’s wrong and that the central Republican…“idea,” if you want to call it that, of the last three years—get rid of Obamacare—is going to look awfully stupid to a majority of Americans eight or 10 months from now.

If you haven’t gone to just for kicks, I certainly recommend now that you do. Pretend that you’re from a state that didn’t create an exchange, if you aren’t, because if you’re from a state with its own exchange, you’ll just be kicked to the state website, and what you want to test here is the federal one. So just choose a yahoo state that didn’t play ball, where the law was mocked as just so much socialism.

I just did, for the first time in weeks, an hour before scribbling these sentences. I was amazed. It was lightning fast. Explanations were clear and straightforward. Instead of bureaucratese, I encountered something I didn’t expect at all: plain English!

And here’s the key thing. It gave me loads of choices. I pretended to be a 35-year-old man from Kansas with a spouse and child. Without even having to enter my fake income, the site delivered me in a split second to a page with loads of plan options.

Choice. That’s what America’s about. As I heard Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) say on Alex Wagner’s show a couple of weeks ago, we’re a nation of shoppers. It’s what we do best. Alas, he is correct. That’s what we want. From TVs to smartphones to flavors of potato chip that have been stretched to include ketchup and dill pickle (who eats those?), we believe that endless options are our right.

How many options? An amazing 42, to be precise. Forty-two plans! That might be more than the number of available potato-chip flavors in America. I would have to think it will shock people, in a highly positive way, to see they have so many choices. And most of all, it will feel…American. Something that offers a person 42 options ain’t socialism, as Americans know in their bones.

The plans ranged from $70 a month, which would have covered only me, to $742 a month for the Rolls-Royce family version, with $0 deductible and $6,500 out-of-pocket. It was an astonishing menu. And take it from a guy who just moved house and has been on the phone and online interminably with private-sector service-providers, mostly but hardly limited to the cable/Internet/phone company: This looked easy. The interface was great, really user-friendly, really clear.

Now, most of these plans weren’t cheap. Health insurance isn’t cheap. For example, a middle-of-the-pack silver plan looked like this: $472 a month; a $7,500 family deductible; a $12,700 out-of-pocket maximum. Those aren’t cheap. But a $10 copay for a doctor’s visit, $75 to see a specialist, and just $15 for a generic prescription. That’s not bad at all.

So yes, Mr. Speaker, it’s more than a website. It’s a chance for people who’ve eschewed insurance for years to buy it and take their kids to a doctor and even to a specialist when needed. Individuals will have to decide for themselves whether that buys them $5,664 in peace of mind (that’s $472 times 12), but I suspect a lot of people will decide that it sure does.

And this is where Republicans, if they’re looking around the corner, might be freaking out. They are going to emphasize the horror stories going forward, and those stories will exist. The Democrats will emphasize the violin stories, and they will exist, too.

But in between the decontextualized disasters and the stories with Hollywood endings will be millions of people to whom nothing particularly dramatic, but something very positive indeed, will have happened. They got insurance, or decent insurance, for the first time in their lives. They went and got their first physical in years. They had that bad back checked out finally. They took their child to an eye doctor and got her glasses. That’s not dramatic enough for a television ad, but any parent will understand that a child going from struggling with reading to being able to read easily at school is plenty dramatic.

I’ve known for a long time the Republicans were on the wrong side of history here. Forty-something million uninsured in this impossibly rich country, and they don’t want to do a thing about it. And don’t fall for their “plans.” They’re unworkable. They’re unworkable because the Republicans aren’t willing to spend the money that experts all say is required to make plans workable. And they aren’t willing to spend the money because spending money acknowledges the existence of a common purpose in this nation, and they certainly can’t acknowledge a common purpose, unless it’s war.

So while I’ve known they were on the wrong side of history, I have feared they were on the right side of the politics. Well, I’m starting to think otherwise. No American who has 42 choices is going to feel like the jackboot of the state is stomping on his neck. And sometime next year, the people in the states that didn’t take Medicaid money are going to start noticing something else: that in a lot of cases, they’re going to be paying more for the same plan that a person in a participating state is paying. How’s that going to go down, Rick Perry?

Mr. Speaker, light up another one. It’s going to be a long night.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 5, 2013

December 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is Sabotage, Plain And Simple”: The Unprecedented GOP Efforts To Undermine A Federal Law

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s never been the Affordable Care Act’s biggest fan, appeared on MSNBC yesterday to join the critical chorus. In reference to the Obama administration, the conservative Democrat said, “The bottom line is that they messed up, they messed up royally. There’s no excuse for this.”

The administration’s missteps have been well documented, and officials have earned much of the criticism they’ve received. But to say there’s “no excuse” is to overlook Republican sabotage efforts that have made a real difference.

Todd Purdum recently made the case, for example, that “calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step” is a “less acknowledged cause” of the rollout’s troubles. Jamelle Bouie added this week, “If Republicans have shown anything over the last four years, it’s that they’ll do anything to stop the Affordable Care Act, even if it amounts to legislative sabotage.”

We’ve talked before about the scope of these unprecedented efforts to undermine a federal law, which include blocking necessary resources needed for implementation, public misinformation campaigns, discouraging public-private partnerships, blocking Medicaid expansion, blocking CMS nominees, refusing to create marketplaces, and prohibiting “Navigators” from doing their jobs. But the campaign is arguably intensifying now.

Dana Milbank reports on House Republican leaders who emerged from their weekly meeting yesterday and tried to scare the bejesus out of Americans.

The Republicans’ scary-movie strategy has some logic to it: If they can frighten young and healthy people from joining the health-care exchanges, the exchanges will become expensive and unmanageable. This is sabotage, plain and simple – much like the refusal by red-state governors to participate in setting up the exchanges in the first place.

The quotes from House GOP leaders are rather remarkable. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said health care reform may lead to identity theft; Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) falsely claimed “premiums are going right through the roof”; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that consumers who visit may become victims of fraud; and Caucus Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said vulnerable constituents may be put “on the casualty list.”

Milbank added, “Let’s hope the new health-care plans have generous coverage for anti-anxiety medication.”

Let’s not forget that the difference between a lie and a falsehood is intent – if you know the truth and say the opposite because your goal is deceit, you’re lying. And for the most part, congressional Republicans, whose interest in helping provide greater health security for Americans is easily trumped by their interested in destroying a Democratic law, have been reducing to lying.

But for saboteurs, honesty and serious policy debate are easily sacrificed for the larger goal. Indeed, they’re a small price to pay.

Also note, we’re looking at quite a one-two punch from the far-right – on the one hand we see the Koch brothers and their allies urge the uninsured to stay that way on purpose, in order to advance conservatives’ ideological goals, and on the other we see congressional Republicans try to terrify the public in the hopes that people who stand to benefit from “Obamacare” steer clear of the system.

President Obama added yesterday, during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that if both parties were “invested in success,” the rollout wouldn’t have been quite so rocky. “One of the problems that we’ve had is that one side of Capitol Hill is invested in failure and that makes the kind of iterative process of fixing glitches as they come up and fine tuning the law more challenging,” he added.

There’s no denying that the dysfunctional health care website matters, and the administration’s missteps deserve criticism. But Republican sabotage matters, too.

Kevin Drum recently explained, “No federal program that I can remember faced quite the implacable hostility during its implementation that Obamacare has faced. This excuses neither the Obama administration’s poor decisions nor its timidity in the face of Republican attacks, but it certainly puts them in the proper perspective.”

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 20, 2013

November 21, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gun-Crazy Business Models”: Beretta USA Teaches Us How Not To Run Your Corporation

We often think of business leaders as hard-nosed pragmatists, guided by dollars and cents with little regard to emotion. But the truth is that corporate executives are human just like the rest of us. They can be as irrational as anyone, and frequently make business decisions on the basis of things like spite.

So it is that the gun maker Beretta USA has decided against expanding operations into West Virginia, despite heavy lobbying from state officials, becauseas the Charleston Gazette reports, “they say Sen. Joe Manchin’s push to expand background checks makes the state less stable for their business.” Perhaps the folks at Beretta don’t quite understand what a senator does, or how laws passed (or in this case, not passed) by Congress actually work. If Congress were to pass a background check bill for the country, it wouldn’t make the state of West Virginia any more or less “stable” for the gun business than any other state.

And after all, business is booming. It isn’t that more Americans are buying guns (gun ownership is on a steady long-term decline), but that those who do own guns are buying more and more of them. That’s why companies like Beretta have forged such a close alliance with the National Rifle Association. The NRA tells its constituents that the country is about to descend into a Mad Max-style apocalypse and that politicians will be confiscating their guns any day, so they rush out to buy more, and the gun manufacturers reap the profits.

A new background check law might help keep guns out of the hands of some people who shouldn’t have them, but it probably wouldn’t hurt Beretta’s bottom line one bit. They’re in a business that has gone nowhere but up. Nevertheless, like other gun advocates, they want to think of themselves as oppressed, kept down by mean politicians in their crusade for liberty. But wherever they decide to move those couple of hundred jobs, they’ll be just fine.

And by the way, in the six and a half months since the Sandy Hook massacre, roughly 5,600 Americans have been killed with guns.


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

July 5, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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