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“For GOP, ‘Obamacare’ Is Inherently Bad, Even When It’s Good”: Focusing On Guns And Mental Health Means Talking About The ACA

In the wake of every mass-shooting – events that occur with heartbreaking regularity in the United States, but no other industrialized democracy – political rhetoric tends to follow a predictable trajectory. Democratic officials, in general, raise the prospect of new policies to curtail gun violence.

And Republican officials, in general, decry such efforts as anti-freedom, preferring to focus on practically anything else. For some on the right, mass shootings serve as an excuse to renew conversations about violent entertainment (though plenty of other countries enjoy similar cultural fare without violent consequences). For others, gun massacres are reason to start merging religion and public schools (as if the Second Amendment is inviolate, but the First Amendment is malleable).

But in recent months, a focus on mental health – which must have tested well with focus groups – has become one of the GOP’s principal talking points. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the day of the mass-shooting in Oregon last week, urged President Obama to back Cornyn’s bill “to address mental health factor in mass violence incidents.”

In the Washington Post over the weekend, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack described some provisions of Cornyn’s proposal as “helpful and constructive,” but highlighted a missing piece of the puzzle.

Cornyn’s proposal does not address the most glaring issue in American mental health policy: the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion was always the public health cornerstone of ACA. It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless, addressing the complicated medical and psychiatric difficulties of many young men cycling through our jails and prisons.

I suspect that for many Republicans, the idea of “Obamacare” playing a meaningful role in preventing mass-shootings must sound ridiculous. After all, “Obamacare” is inherently bad, even when it’s good, and all of its provisions must be rejected because, well, just because.

But Pollack is entirely correct, and if GOP officials are going to ignore gun-safety measures to focus on mental health, they should probably grow up and reconcile their mental-health rhetoric with their mindless, knee-jerk hostility towards Medicaid expansion through the ACA.

Indeed, Pollack’s Washington Post piece added:

In 2013, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a report endorsing Medicaid expansion. The report argued that “States that decline to expand Medicaid will miss as good an opportunity as they may ever have to address this shameful void in access to mental health treatment.” Addressing the connection between mental illness and violence, NAMI concluded:

 “In the aftermath of Newtown, many politicians and policy makers have promised to take steps to fix America’s broken mental health system. Expanding Medicaid in all states would represent a significant step towards keeping those promises.”

My suspicion, based on years of conservative apoplexy about expanding Americans’ access to affordable health security, is that when Republicans talk about mental health as a substitute for a debate about gun policy, they’re creating a smoke screen. Many of these partisans aren’t serious about expanding mental-health services, so much as they’re pushing a talking point to circumvent an even less pleasant conversation about the frequency of gun deaths in the United States.

They can, however, prove these suspicions wrong fairly easily. Pollack concluded, “If any other politician suggests that mental health rather than gun policy is central to reducing mass homicides, ask where they stand on Medicaid expansion. Their answer will be clarifying.”

Let’s start with Senator Cornyn, who fought tooth and nail to block Medicaid expansion in Texas, despite the fact that Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the entire country. Any chance he’ll consider a new, more constructive posture on the issue as part of his renewed interest on the issue of mental health?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 5, 2015

October 5, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Gun Violence, Mental Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Quiet, Uneventful End Of ‘Jade Helm 15′”: Conservative Hysteria Sounded Ridiculous Because It Was Ridiculous

Congratulations, America, you managed to avoid a military takeover of the United States and the dictatorial imposition of martial law.

The military exercise Jade Helm 15 generated enough conspiracy theories this year that it garnered mockery on late-night television, commentary from presidential candidates and reaction from the Texas governor. The basic thrust of the concerns: The military was laying the groundwork for martial law – if not now, then sometime in the future.

The exercise will end quietly Tuesday, however. Carried out in parts of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, it will conclude after two months of operations, said Suzanne Nagl, a spokeswoman for Army Special Operations Command, which oversaw it.

The Washington Post’s report added that Nagl does not yet have details on the lessons of the training exercise, but she added that officials at the Army Special Operations Command “believe the exercise overall was a success.”

Remarkably, “success” in this case did not mean the confiscation of Americans’ guns, as part of some kind of military takeover.

If you were away over the summer, you may not know what I’m talking about, so let’s recap. From July 15 to today, the military organized some training exercises for about 1,200 people in areas spanning from Texas to California. Somehow, right-wing activists got it in their heads that the exercises, labeled “Jade Helm 15,” were part of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the Obama administration, the U.S. military, Walmart, and some “secret underground tunnels.”

It sounded ridiculous because it was ridiculous.

Nevertheless, as far-right hysteria grew louder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) felt the need to order the Texas Guard to “monitor” the military exercises – just in case. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stoked the same fires, and even Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) arranged a meeting with Pentagon officials and a three-star Air Force general, just to make sure American officials weren’t planning a takeover of America, or something.

As recently as mid-May – just four months ago – Public Policy Polling found that one-third of Republicans believed the conspiracy theory that “the government is trying to take over Texas.”

I suppose technically, the Jade Helm 15 exercises won’t end until later today, so far-right activists still have a few more hours to worry about the end of American freedom as we know it, but I’m reasonably optimistic that their hysteria was misplaced.

Postscript: As we talked about in July, it’s tempting to think the conspiracy theorists are going to look pretty foolish now that Jade Helm is wrapping up without incident, but right-wing politics usually doesn’t work this way. On the contrary, we’re likely to hear that Obama administration would have hatched its dastardly scheme, but conservatives prevented the crisis by raising a fuss.

 

By: Steve Benen, The maddow Blog, September 15, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Jade Helm 15, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“In A Terrible Predicament”: A Victory For Obamacare’s Challengers Will Be A Disaster For Republican Candidates

Once the conservative legal strategy that gave rise to King v. Burwell got off the ground, Republicans in Congress probably had no choice but to become cheerleaders for, or active participants in, the ensuing litigation.

The imminence of the decision in the Obamacare challenge, expected from the Supreme Court sometime this month, is exposing the terrible predicament the entire strategy created for the party.

The problems Republicans will encounter if they win King—eliminating billions of dollars worth of insurance subsidies—are fairly clear and have been detailed at length. But it is also quite conceivable that the whole effort will boomerang on the GOP  even if the government wins in King, and the federal subsidies survive for those states using federally facilitated exchanges. A number of persuasive legal arguments point to a victory for the government. But one of the most likely paths begins with the Court concluding that the Affordable Care Act statute is ambiguous—that both parties’ readings of the law are plausible—and that deference should go to the government.

As Chief Justice John Roberts suggested with his one and only question at oral arguments, this would leave the door ajar for a future presidential administration to reinterpret the statute, and discontinue the subsidies.

It’s difficult to fathom that any Republican president would turn off the subsidies quite as abruptly as the challengers want the Court to do. But if the government wins in this way—on what’s known as the second step of the Chevron deference standard—it will create a new conservative litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. If elected, will you shut down the subsidies? I suspect most of the candidates will yield to pressure from the right and promise to do precisely that. Most immediately, this promise becomes a general election liability for the Republican primary winner. If that person becomes president, it will turn into an administrative and political nightmare, forcing states and the U.S. Congress to grapple with a completely elective policy fiasco.

King, as Josh Marshall noted recently, “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.”

That the case was conceived by conservatives and endorsed by Republicans has created an extensive paper trail tying the GOP to the consequences of a decision for the challengers. It has also forced Republicans to playact as if they can and will fix the problems that flow from an adverse King ruling. Initially the idea was to foam the runway for conservative justices eager to void the subsidies; it has become an accession to the reality that the public will hold Republicans to account for the ensuing chaos.

Among the pitfalls of the extended charade is that Republican presidential candidates will reject and condemn proposals to clean up a King mess if they even resemble constructive solutions.

“Things can’t be turned on a dime,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Politico. “People can run for president, but we’ve actually got to solve a problem.” Cornyn may have been thinking of his fellow Texan Ted Cruz, who wants to use King as a pretext to repeal all of Obamacare. But his discomfort with Cruz’ absolutism carries a whiff of inconsistency: Cornyn signed on to Republican briefs, first urging the justices to hear King and then asking them to void the subsidies. In January he eagerly anticipated that the Court would “render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don’t think it will ever recover.”

The promise of the King challenge has apparently faded since then. Republicans in Congress are quite likely incapable of solving the problem Cornyn was talking about in a way that pleases conservatives, and will be little better equipped if a Republican president discontinues the subsidies on his own. Six months ago, Republicans claimed excitedly that the path to repealing Obamacare outright ran through a victory in King. Now it seems that the best political outcome for Republicans would be to lose the case as conclusively and embarrassingly as possible.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Ted Cruz: I Won Those Purple Hearts!”: It’s Not The First Time Cruz Has Claimed Credit For Something That Has Raised Eyebrows

Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential stump speech electrifies conservative crowds with a cocktail of growls, whispers, warnings of impending doom, and at least one claim of personal accomplishment so powerful, it often brings many in the audience to their feet.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was down in Fort Hood, where the soldiers who were shot by Nidal Hasan were finally, finally, finally awarded the Purple Heart,” Cruz told activists last weekend at the conservative Freedom Forum in Greenville, S.C. “I’ll tell you the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded. I was very proud last year to introduce legislation in the Senate to mandate that the Pentagon award those Purple Hearts.”

Cruz rightly pointed out that for years, the Obama administration had classified the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, by Army Major Nidal Hasan as a “workplace violence” incident rather than as a terrorist attack, though Hasan’s rampage came after he had been in contact with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan’s shooting spree left 13 dead and 32 wounded, including dozens of military personnel who were deemed ineligible for the Purple Heart because of the Pentagon’s classification of the attack as not combat-related.

At the end of 2014, Congress passed a bill requiring the Pentagon to reclassify the 2009 attack, and the Fort Hood victims were indeed awarded the Purple Heart.

But Cruz voted not once but twice against the Pentagon authorization bill that changed the Purple Heart policy. A Cruz spokesman told the Dallas Morning News that Cruz voted against the bill over an issue unrelated to the Fort Hood shootings but that “he would have found another way to get it done” had the bill had not passed. “Supporting one amendment certainly does not mean a senator is obligated to support the entire bill.”

And although Cruz played an important role on the Senate Armed Services Committee at last year, the credit for changing the Pentagon’s long-standing policy belongs to at least a dozen senators and members of Congress who had pushed the issue relentlessly for years before Cruz ever arrived in the Senate.

It was Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), not Cruz, who originally introduced legislation to award the Purple Heart to the Fort Hood victims in 2009. Cornyn’s bill coincided with a similar bill from Representative John Carter (R-TX), whose district includes much of Fort Hood. Cornyn and Carter would introduce their bills again in 2011 and 2013. Representatives Roger Williams (R-TX), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Peter King (R-NY) all pushed the matter in their own committees.

Representative Michael McCaul, another Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held hearings on the matter. Senator Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, did the same and commissioned a months-long investigation into the causes of the Fort Hood attack.

Lieberman introduced a bill of his own, along with Cornyn, in 2012 to mandate that the Pentagon change its criteria for awarding the Purple Heart that would include the Fort Hood victims. In 2014, Senator John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas who is also on the Armed Services Committee, wrote legislation similar to Cruz’s to mandate that the Pentagon award Purple Hearts to victims of a similar shooting at a Little Rock military recruiting center in 2009.

Neal Sher, a lead attorney for the Fort Hood victims and their families who sued the Pentagon over the policy, said the reclassification was the result of efforts by multiple offices for multiple years on and off Capitol Hill.

“Cruz was instrumental, Cornyn was instrumental, the Texas House delegation, McCaul, Carter, Williams, were all instrumental,” said Sher. “It took years, years. The administration and the Pentagon were opposing it every step of the way. It took an act of Congress to get them to change their tune.”

A staffer who worked on the issue agreed that Cruz did play an important part in the final result for the families, but “the claim nonetheless omits what Lieberman, Cornyn and others had done to get the ball to the one-yard line. In other words, ‘the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded’ phrase is true but insufficient. “

It’s not the first time Cruz has claimed credit for something on the campaign trail that has raised eyebrows back in Washington.

Cruz ran into a buzz saw with Senator John McCain last month after the Texas senator told a New Hampshire audience that he had been pressing McCain to hold congressional hearings to allow members of the military to carry personal firearms on military bases. Cruz suggested that McCain had yet to respond.

McCain said Cruz had never spoken with him about it at all.

“Ask him how he communicated with me because I’d be very interested. Who knows what I’m missing?” McCain said to a group of reporters in the Capitol, according to The Hill. “Maybe it was through some medium that I’m not familiar with. Maybe bouncing it off the ozone layer, for all I know. There’s a lot of holes in the ozone layer, so maybe it wasn’t the ozone layer that he bounced it off of. Maybe it was through hand telegraph, maybe sign language, who knows?”

Cruz later acknowledged he “may have misspoken” about his outreach to McCain. Cruz’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his Fort Hood remarks.

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The National Memo, May 16, 2015

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Fort Hood, Senate, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Count Primaries In The Short Run”: The Tea Party Is Still A Powerful Force In GOP Politics

Liberal-friendly media outlets have been running obituaries for the Tea Party almost from the moment the grassroots conservative movement began in 2009. Tea Party anger over ObamaCare and corporate bailouts helped fuel a surprise Republican wave in 2010, shocking most pundits, as the House of Representatives shifted firmly into the GOP’s control. But then the movement fell short in 2012, and ever since then, much of the media have once again seemed eager to pronounce the Tea Party either dead or irrelevant — missing the larger point, and the larger impact. And the media’s Tea Party misfire will surely continue today, now that longtime Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts has emerged victorious over conservative challenger Milton Wolf in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Or take, for instance, this year’s Mississippi Senate primary. The Republican incumbent, Thad Cochran, has a long reputation for pork-barrel politics and down-home pandering, neither of which has endeared him to small-government conservatives. The competitive challenge from Chris McDaniel came as a shock to Cochran and his supporters, who believed they could get one more easy ride back to the Senate from the seven-term senator in one of the friendliest states for Republicans. Instead, McDaniel narrowly edged Cochran in the initial vote, and narrowly lost the runoff — although McDaniel is contesting the results. To win the runoff, Cochran had to appeal to an unusual constituency: Democrats.

But in most states where incumbents faced challenges from Tea Party activists, the incumbents have had to defend their conservative credentials. Two key Senate GOP leaders had to fend off challengers with more effort than they have probably expended in several cycles put together. National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Cornyn defeated a sitting House member, Steve Stockman, in the March primary in Texas, but it wasn’t easy; Cornyn got 59 percent of the vote, a decent enough showing, but hardly a ringing endorsement, even after Cornyn vigorously defended his brand of conservatism in the Lone Star State.

Mitch McConnell in Kentucky found himself in the hot seat, too. The Senate minority leader often runs afoul of Tea Party activists for his efforts to find compromise on issues when the grassroots want confrontation. McConnell won his Senate primary by 25 points over a first-time challenger, whose campaign ended up collapsing under its own weight. But first, Matt Bevin forced McConnell to shift to the right and get more defiant, at least rhetorically speaking.

Most Republican incumbents knew to move to the right well before the primary campaign; Lindsey Graham began laying the groundwork two years ago for his re-election effort, which paid off this spring in an easy win over six challengers. But not everyone got the memo. The biggest surprise came in the primary for Virginia’s 7th congressional district, where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was expected to win easily. Cantor certainly expected it, spending most of his campaign fundraising outside of the district and barely engaging in his own race. Dave Brat, a local college professor with no electoral experience but with plenty of grassroots support, spent less on his whole campaign than Cantor spent on steakhouses — and ended up beating Cantor by double digits.

This dynamic — of conservative challengers, win or lose, forcing longtime incumbents to be more conservative — seems to be lost on the media. This week, both CBS News and The Hill ran Tea Party obituaries. CBS called this week’s primaries “the Tea Party’s last gasp this year,” while The Hill said that the movement’s Senate hopes will surely “fade.” And in the moment, that might well be true.

But look: The true test of the Tea Party won’t be in primary victories this week or this year, but in the impact of the conservative grassroots movement on the Republican Party. We have already seen incumbents who have rarely if ever had to deal with intraparty challengers shift their focus and message in response. The lack of banner wins in 2012 certainly didn’t persuade most of these incumbents to dismiss that pressure — in fact, the ones who succeeded most were the ones who prepared soonest and most vigorously.

When the New Left brand of progressivism arose in the 1960s, its candidates didn’t win a lot of elections at first either. It took two decades for the pressure of the movement to shift the center of the Democratic Party away from its traditional, blue-collar liberalism. In the late 1980s, the trend worried Democrats enough to form the Democratic Leadership Council to push back and recruit moderates to run for office, the most successful of which was Bill Clinton in 1992. By 2008, his wife blew her opening for the presidential nomination in part by falling short of the progressive credentials of Barack Obama.

The lesson here is not to count primaries in the short run. Look for the way incumbents have to defend their record and wait for the grassroots to produce change organically over the long run.

 

By: Edward Morrissey, The Week, August 6, 2014

 

August 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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