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“The Obstructionists”: Congress Can Still Mess Up The Iran Deal

“Now, Congress takes up the matter” are words that are ensured to send shudders down the spine, so shudder away: We’ve just entered the congressional phase of the Iran talks, with a Senate hearing next Tuesday, after which it’s up to Mitch McConnell to decide how fast and aggressively to move with the bill from Tennessee Republican Bob Corker that would bar the administration from making any changes to U.S. sanctions against Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews and debates any Iran agreement.

There are, as the Dude said, man, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous here. It’s all quite complicated. But here, it seems to me, is your cut-to-the-chase question: Is there enough good faith in this United States Senate for something to be worked out? Or is it just impossible?

One proceeds from the assumption that the Senate will do whatever it can to kill a deal. It’s a Republican Senate, by a pretty wide margin (54-46); history would suggest that these Republicans simply aren’t going to hand President Obama a win like this. It hardly matters what the details are, about what Iran can or can’t do at Fordow, about the “snapback” provisions of the sanctions, about the inspections regime, or about what precise oversight role Congress has. It’s just basically impossible to imagine that this Republican Party, after everything we’ve seen over these last six years, and this Republican Senate majority leader, who once said it was his job to make Obama a one-term president, won’t throw up every roadblock to a deal they can conjure.

Once again, we’re left separating out the factors the way scientists reduce compounds to their constituent elements in the lab. How much of this is just Obama hatred? How much is (this is a slightly different thing) the conviction—quite insane, but firmly held—that he doesn’t have the best interests of the United States at heart? How much is a genuinely paranoid, McCarthy-ish world view about the intractably evil nature of our enemy and the definitional Chamberlainism of ever thinking otherwise?

And how much is just self-interested politics, as it is bequeathed to us in its current form? Which is to say—if you are a Republican senator, you simply cannot cast a vote that can be seen as “pro-Obama” under any circumstances. You just can’t do it.

I asked in a column last week whether there would be one Republican officeholder in Washington who might say, “Hey, upon examination of the details, this looks like a decent deal with risks that are acceptable, and I’m going to support it?” It’s still a good question. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is conceivable. He called that noxious Tom Cotton letter “not appropriate.” But Flake is pretty new to the Senate and doesn’t carry a lot of weight on these matters.

Some suggest Corker himself. Corker has this reputation, in part earned, as one of the reasonable ones. He gets articles written about him like this one,  from The New York Times a couple of days ago, which limned him as a Republican of the old school, a sensible fellow who still wants to horse-trade.

And he is—but only up to a point, at which the horses return to their stalls. The most notable example here is the Dodd-Frank bill. This is all detailed at great and exacting length by Robert Kaiser in his excellent book about how financial reform became law, Act of Congress. Then, Corker talked for hours and hours with Chris Dodd about the particulars—derivatives reform, oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more. He wanted to play ball, even thought he might deliver some votes. But as time passed, it became clear to Corker that the base just wasn’t standing for it. He faced reelection in 2012. Not tough reelection—he won with 64 percent of the vote. But reelection campaigns are great excuses for senators to do nothing, and nothing is what Corker did. He withdrew from all participation with Dodd and Frank, and he ultimately voted against the bill.  When it mattered, he caved to the extremists, in other words, among his colleagues and in his base. Why that means he should be getting credit for a spirit of compromise now in New York Times articles is something that, to my obtuse mind, requires further explanation.

“He’s not Tom Cotton.” Uh, okay. Wonderful. But that’s where we’ve come, celebrating a guy because he doesn’t want to start World War III. Happily, though, all is not lost. It’s far from clear that Corker or Cotton (and yes, they are different) can block a deal. There are, I’m told, three categories of senators on this question. The first is our own mullahs—no deal no how. The second is a group of mostly Democrats and independents—Virginia’s Tim Kaine, who is a close ally of the White House, and Maine’s Angus King—who basically wants a deal but wants to be sure that it’s good, and want to influence the shape of any legislation the Senate might pass.

The third group is senators who also basically would like to see a deal but want the Senate to serve as a backstop against a deal they see as bad. I’d put Chuck Schumer in that third camp. So when these people say they back the Corker bill, as Schumer did this week, it doesn’t mean they’re against the administration or a deal per se. Democrats aren’t going to be Obama’s problem here. A few, the ones from the deep red states, may be boxed in. But most will stick with the administration, if a deal is finalized along current terms.

I don’t think our mullahs have the numbers right now. But Obama is going to have to sell this to more parties than Tom Friedman and Steve Inskeep. He has, or should have, Friedman’s readers and Inskeep’s listeners already. The way to get someone like Corker to play ball is to sell it in Knoxville. Public opinion still influences foreign policy, as Obama knows from his Syrian experiences. Put it to work.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Iran, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Last Gasps Of A Dying Movement”: Obamacare Obstructionists’ Self-Created Trap

Kevin McCarthy doesn’t have the best timing. The House majority whip released what he hoped would be the foundational document of Obamacare truthers, “Debunking Obamacare’s 7 million enrollees ‘success’ story,” the same day the White House announced that, in fact, 8.03 million Americans had enrolled in the insurance exchanges. Republicans will no doubt try to debunk the higher figure the same way, but the more we learn about who’s been covered under the Affordable Care Act, the harder it will be. It is, overwhelmingly, a success story.

I said the same thing back when the number was 7 million: Imagine how many more people might have been covered if shrill Republicans hadn’t made repealing and obstructing the ACA their top priority. The news that 35 percent of enrollees are under 35 is particularly heartening: it means many young people ignored the campaign to tell them not to sign up – remember that creepy Uncle Sam “doctor” and reports of cool campus keg parties? Yes, the president had Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper – damn you, Bradley Cooper! Greg Gutfeld is still so angry at you – but imagine where we’d be without an organized national campaign to scare people out of signing up.

The campaign to discredit the act will continue. McCarthy’s dumb document lists five new metrics for measuring success, including how many enrollees have actually paid, and how many didn’t have insurance before. Those are old talking points, but they’ve added a new one – how many received subsidies — which is ugly in several ways. Republicans will use a high rate of subsidies, if that’s the case, to negate the act’s success, when in fact the subsidies were always key to it: You can’t have an individual mandate to purchase private insurance without making some provision to help those who can’t afford it. Affordability is why most didn’t have it in the first place.

But McCarthy also tacks on an ugly parenthetical, asking “how many received a subsidy (raising concerns about fraud).” Brian Beutler at the New Republic calls this an effort to “welfarize Obamacare,” to stigmatize it and also make it subject to the same hysteria about “fraud” that conservatives use to smear other social programs. Remember that Sen. Ted Cruz called the subsidies “sugar,” telling Sean Hannity that when Americans got a taste of it, they’d be “addicted to the sugar, addicted to the subsidies. And once that happens, in all likelihood, it never gets …”

“It’s over,” Hannity declared. “It never gets repealed.”

Exactly.

Still, a high rate of subsidies will let the GOP continue to demonize the “takers” vs. the “makers.” But some of them are going to have a big problem: A lot of the takers will turn out to be their voters. Poor Mitch McConnell: His own state of Kentucky, under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Steve Brashear, set up its own insurance exchange, expanded Medicaid and conducted a bold public health campaign to get folks into “Kynect.” Now Kentucky has reduced the number of uninsured by 40 percent – and many of those newly insured are McConnell’s aging white constituents.

McConnell seems appropriately alarmed. The man who has repeatedly pledged to “repeal” the law just this week told healthcare workers in Kentucky that repealing the law can’t happen while Obama is president, so “we’re going to figure out a way to get this fixed.” That softer tone isn’t sitting well with his Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin, who’s already accusing McConnell of being an Obamacare appeaser, but the Senate minority leader seems to be looking past Bevin to his November battle with Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The only thing that might get Republicans out of a mess of their own making is Democratic cowardice, and you can never underestimate the capacity of centrist and red state Democrats to sabotage themselves and their own party. We’ll see how hard Grimes hits McConnell over his role in obstructing the ACA; so far, it hasn’t been very hard at all. She needs to make him the man who’s trying to charge women more than men for insurance again; the man who’s trying to take healthcare away from 370,000 Kentuckians who have it thanks to Democrats.

Democrats have similar opportunities in Virginia and Arkansas. Republicans have been itching to make the midterms a referendum on Obamacare. Thursday’s news means that might not work the way they had planned.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 18, 2014

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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