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“Will The GOP Ever Be Happy?”: No Matter The Facts, They Just Don’t Care If Healthcare.Gov Works Or Not

Healthcare.gov is well on its way to full stability, but Republicans refuse to acknowledge it. No matter the facts, the GOP is committed to the message that Obamacare has failed.

It wasn’t that long ago when Republicans were deeply concerned over the quality of the president’s healthcare website.

In a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Lamar Alexander demanded answers for the massive glitches that attended the rollout of Healthcare.gov. “We are concerned by recent comments to the media that the system suffers from architectural problems that need design changes,” wrote the two GOP lawmakers, “We seek information about these problems as well as whether you still expect individuals to suffer a tax penalty if they do no purchase government-approved health insurance.”

Likewise, in a statement, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said that “Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight.” This was echoed by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which called the website an “inexcusable train wreck” and wondered “how President Obama can tax uninsured Americans for not having something that they can’t purchase.”

The administration responded to all of this criticism—and more—with a promise that Healthcare.gov would work for the majority of users by December 1st. And it does. According to the administration, a five week “tech surge” has doubled the capacity of the online interface to the health care exchanges that form the core of the Affordable Care Act. As of this month, the website can handle 50,000 simultaneous users, for a total limit of 800,000 users per day. The site is functional more than ninety percent of the time, up from fifty-five percent of the time in October.

There is still a whole host of work to finish, especially on the back-end, where critical communications are made to insurers with regards to subsidies and eligibility. Overall, however, the White House has achieved more than 400 of the 600 fixes on its “punchcard” of repairs. Healthcare.gov is on the fast track to full stability, which will be a significant boost to the law and its prospects.

Given the extent to which Republicans were so concerned with the status of the website, you’d think they would greet this as good news, even as they continue to oppose the law. The message doesn’t have to be extensive. Something as simple as, “We still oppose the law, but we’re glad Americans haven’t been left in the cold,” would suffice.

Even that, however, is too generous for Republicans, who can’t concede any goodwill to the president’s health care law. “[The] website is least of Obamacare’s problems,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “This isn’t just about a broken website, it’s about a fundamentally-flawed law,” wrote Michael Steel, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House John Boehner. And on ABC’s This Week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Cole said that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the first impression here was terrible.”

The Republican complaints of two months ago were purely opportunistic. For them, it just doesn’t matter if Healthcare.gov is working, since Obamacare is destined to fail, reality be damned! At most, the broken website was useful fodder for attacks on the administration. Now that it’s made progress, the GOP will revert to its usual declarations that the Affordable Care Act is a hopeless disaster. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Americans have gained access to health insurance thanks to the Medicaid expansion or the exchanges, and many more will join their ranks as the deadline for coverage approaches.

Republicans haven’t offered a response to this because, as of this moment, the party doesn’t have a response. Yes, there are conservative intellectuals with ideas for reform, but as an institution, the GOP has little to say about the constellation of problems in American health care. Even in their drive for repeal, Republicans failed to offer an alternative. At most, lawmakers like Bob Corker of Tennessee have tentatively called for “market-driven” reforms, like changes to the tax code, and allowing insurers to sell across state lines. Ironically, the Affordable Care Act allows for these changes, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the GOP.

It’s almost cliché to say that the Democratic Party is gambling its success on the Affordable Care Act. If it works, the party can point to a broad program that delivers needed benefits to millions of Americans. If it doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine how Democrats will re-earn the trust of a skeptical public, to say nothing of the fate of the uninsured and the broader consequences for liberalism.

In the same way, the Republican Party is gambling its fate on the failure of the law, with no attempt to grapple with the possibility of its success. What happens if Obamacare works as advertised? How do GOP leaders salvage a failed crusade? And more importantly, how do GOP voters react when the prospect of repeal is completely, unambiguously off the table?

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, December 2, 2013

December 4, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Calling-Out Bad Analysis”: False Equivalency And Crocodile Tears

I’m delighted to see that amongst the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “nuclear option’s” invocation, there’s some robust calling-out of bad analysis and crocodile tears.

WaPo was Ground Zero for “centrist” bemoaning of the terrible partisanship this step would unleash. But Jonathan Chait was having none of it:

The bizarre, defining feature of this argument is that, unlike the crocodile tears being shed by Republicans, the centrist Establishmentarians all take the view that the Republican judicial blockade was completely unacceptable. They argue that the solution to the unacceptable blockade is that, as the Post piously insists, “Both parties should have stepped back and hammered out a bipartisan compromise reform.”

That Republicans did not offer to compromise or in any way back down from the stance the Post calls unacceptable is a fact so fatal to this argument that none of the three [WaPo]writers in any way acknowledges it. I would agree that a 50-vote threshold for lifetime judicial appointments represents a sub-optimal arrangement. It would be better if there were some way for the Senate to filter out extreme nominees without having the power to wantonly blockade a vital court for nakedly partisan reasons. Given the refusal of Republicans to back down, I prefer majoritarianism to the existing alternative. The Establishmentarians refuse to grapple with the trade-off. They are against fires and fire hoses alike.

Unfortunately, now that the “nuclear option” has been officially recorded as the efficient cause of whatever happens next in the descent to partisan polarization, it will become the ever-ready justification for future false equivalency arguments of the sort Chait eviscerates.

An even more interesting deconstruction of today’s wailathon comes from Jonathan Bernstein, writing, as it happens, at WaPo’s Plum Line. He suggests it may have been the “reasonable” Senate Republicans pitching the biggest fits about the nuclear option who precipitated it by their languid-at-best attempts at a preemptive deal, and who may actually welcome it privately because it gets them out of a jam:

The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.

Now Obama gets his judges, and “mainstream conservatives”–especially those like Alexander and Graham who are facing 2014 primary threats–can happily vote against them. What’s not to like?

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 22, 2013

November 23, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Journalists, Senate | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Losing Gambit”: Ted Cruz Is A Wacko Bird Of His Party’s Own Making

For his 21-hour floor speech decrying Obamacare, Ted Cruz is catching heat from a lot of his fellow Republicans. In the Senate, they disdain his not-quite-filibuster as grandstanding. “This is not a situation where you dig your heels in and Obamacare gets defunded,” said Senator Ron Johnson. “[The tea party] just want anybody who offers them a path, whether it’s realistic or not.” Said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, “To be told we’re not listening by somebody who does not listen is disconcerting.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page, usually on board for any assault on Obamacare, blasted Cruz’s maneuver as baldly ineffective.

The sum of all these reactions is yet more widespread Republican exasperation with Cruz. But while the GOP usually has good reason to treat Cruz like a wacko bird, this time, the GOP broadly has plainly laid the groundwork for his gimmicky Obamacare opposition. The Ted Cruz who completed that 21-hour Senate floor marathon is a wacko bird of the party’s own making.

Many of the same conservatives who are now denouncing Cruz’s tactics have strong claims to paternity over the GOP’s destructive obsession with Obamacare. They may see the specific tactic of shutting down the federal government in order to undo the Affordable Care Act for what it is: a losing gambit. And they may recognize that Cruz’s grandiloquent speechifying isn’t going to change minds in the Senate, where lawmakers planned to stripped a provision to defund Obamacare from the House budget as soon as Cruz stopped pleading on behalf of the bill. But odds are they will continue to relentlessly endorse defunding Obamacare, just as they have before.

This, even though the party’s obsession with defeating the president’s signature achievement is laying waste to the GOP’s long-term prospects. As my colleague Noam Scheiber argued in June, the Republican fixation with the Affordable Care Act harms their standing with Latino voters at a historical moment when they need to expand their favorability, and fast. It detracts from their ability to build an economic platform that aims for something besides massive spending and welfare cuts. And despite the GOP’s intentions to make defunding their banner 2014 issue, despite dozens of votes to defund the law and their broad failure to leverage the law in the last election cycle, Obamacare is really, seriously unlikely to go away.

So for someone like Senator Lamar Alexander to imply that Cruz’s grandstanding feeds impressions of the GOP as a do-nothing party is pretty rich. The Tennessee lawmaker has cast 23 purely symbolic votes against Obamacare that now comprise a major plank of his reelection campaign. For the Wall Street Journal editorial board to scoff at Cruz is even more absurd. Their columns have never missed an opportunity to promulgate even the most absurd and fact-free arguments for dismantling Obamacare—a moniker that the board on Monday took credit for inventing. Johnson has called Obamacare “the greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime.”

With all that hyperbole fueling the modern-day GOP, it’s no wonder Cruz calculated that a day-long verbal assault on Obamacare would be a homerun with his base, and worth the headache that it would cause Republican leaders. Their troubles, after all, began long before Cruz showed up, when they bet their future on their ability to defund Obamacare, no matter the cost.

By: Molly Redden, The New Republic, September 26, 2013

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Grand Old Party Of Nihilists And Cranks”: The Politics Of Destruction With The Values Of Zealots

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Republican Saxby Chambliss, Georgia’s senior senator, was considered a steadfast conservative. The American Conservative Union has given him a lifetime score of 92, while the Club for Growth has scored him at 83. He earns an A from the National Rifle Association.

But a couple of years ago, Chambliss embarked upon an exercise that would merely have cemented his stature as a power broker as recently as the administration of George W. Bush: He joined Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, to form a bipartisan group of senators working to come up with a deal to whittle down the deficit. In other words, he considered compromise with Democrats.

In our current warped political universe, that was enough to earn Chambliss a potential challenger from the right, and he decided not to seek re-election. Chastened by Chambliss’ experience, none of the Georgia Republicans running for his vacant seat wants to occupy the same ZIP code with the words “compromise” and “bipartisan.”

This is what the Grand Old Party has come to: It’s now led by nihilists whose only politics are those of destruction and whose only values are those of zealots. There may be reasonable Republicans remaining in office, but they’ve been bullied into compliance and cowed into silence.

If you don’t believe that, listen to the growing drumbeat for the impeachment of President Obama — despite the glaring lack of evidence that he has committed impeachable offenses. (Having the temerity to win a second term is not an impeachable crime.) While such talk was once restricted to the nutters — men like U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), who has said the president’s impeachment would “be a dream come true” — it has leaked into the GOP’s water supply.

Witness the recent off-the-cuff remarks of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who, though a standard-bearer for the hard right, has been considered a thoughtful and rational man. At a recent meeting with constituents, Coburn declared that the president was coming “perilously close” to the standards for impeachment.

Last month, at a tribute in his honor, the retiring Chambliss obliquely urged his party to come to its senses. He didn’t explicitly mention the GOP’s spiral into right-wing madness, but he did speak of the importance of his work with the Gang of Six, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I don’t mind crossing party lines. If Republicans had a patent on all the good ideas, we’d be in power forever. We don’t have a patent on all those good ideas,” he said.

But his intended audience has taken another lesson from Chambliss’ bipartisanship: If you even consider it, you will be labeled a RINO — Republican In Name Only — by the tea party activists who now wield enormous power in the Republican Party. Having chased Chambliss off, they have taken to hectoring Georgia’s junior Republican senator, Johnny Isakson, for his failure to jump with enthusiasm to the idea of shutting down the government over Obamacare.

Tea Party types have also targeted longtime senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee. In a letter urging Alexander to retire, they claimed that “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.”

In response, Alexander penned a remarkable op-ed in The Tennessean defending his record as a politician who has occasionally reached across the aisle. “I know that if you only have 45 votes and you need 60 senators to get something important done like balancing the budget and fixing the debt, then you have to work with other people — that is, IF you really care about solving the problem, IF you really want to get a result, instead of just making a speech,” he wrote.

However, such time-honored traditions of governance have little effect on the white-hot rage of radicals who want to toss out any conservative who remembers the lessons of his middle-school civics classes. They have no respect for the basic give-and-take on which representative democracies thrive, no real interest in improving the nation’s fortunes. So, no, Senator Alexander, they don’t care about solving problems.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, August 31, 2013

September 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Culture Of GOP Obstruction”: When Basic Governance Is Deemed Controversial

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely seen as the nation’s second most important federal bench, has three vacancies. President Obama yesterday introduced three non-controversial nominees to fill those vacancies. And were it not for the breakdowns of the American political process, none of this would be especially interesting.

But here we are.

Senate Republicans have come up with lots of reasons for not wanting to advance President Barack Obama’s nominees to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, whether it be false accusations of “court-packing” or claims that the court doesn’t need its three vacancies filled because it’s not busy enough.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued there was another problem with moving Obama’s nominees: a “culture of intimidation” being fueled by Democrats.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) went further, responding to the nominees by telling reporters, “There is no basis for the president inventing these crises. It’s unpresidential. It’s embarrassing to me.”

Just so we’re clear, we’ve apparently reached the point at which a president nominating judges to fill existing vacancies is seen by Republicans as outrageous. They not only decry “court packing” — a phrase they use but clearly do not understand — they also feel “intimidated” and “embarrassed” by a basic governmental process outlined by the Constitution.

Indeed, according to Lamar Alexander, Obama is creating a “crisis.” Worse, it’s “unpresidential” for the president to exercise his presidential duties. I realize it’s a little unusual for the White House to introduce three judicial nominees at once, but this GOP freak-out is excessive by any sensible standard.

But, Mitch McConnell says, there’s no reason for Democrats to complain. “You know, we’ve confirmed an overwhelming number of judges for President Obama,” the Minority Leader told reporters yesterday. “So the president’s been treated very fairly on judicial [nominees].”

Is this true?

Greg Sargent took a closer look.

It is not easy to conclusively determine whether GOP obstructionism is unprecedented. But there are some data points we can look at. For instance, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented.

Goldman calculates his Index of Obstruction and Delay by adding together the number of unconfirmed nominations, plus the number of nominations that took more than 180 days to confirm (not including nominations towards the end of a given Congress) and dividing that by the total number of nominations. During the last Congress, Goldman calculates, the Index of Obstruction and Delay for Obama circuit court nominations was 0.9524.

Goldman told Greg, “That’s the highest that’s ever been recorded.” He added, in reference to the most recent Congress, “[I]t is unprecedented for the minority party to obstruct and delay to the level that Republicans have done to Obama in the 112th Congress.”

The Congressional Research Service also found (pdf), “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).”

It appears that by objective standards, McConnell’s boasts have no basis in fact. Imagine that.

Nevertheless, the Minority Leader yesterday refused to commit to allowing the Senate to vote up or down on the new nominees, not because he can think of something wrong with them, but because he thinks the D.C. Circuit isn’t busy enough to need filled vacancies.

With each passing day, the “nuclear option” becomes more viable.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Federal Courts, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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