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“On The Receiving End Of The Insanity”: August Off To An Awkward Start For The GOP

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) received some unexpected pressure from the far-right this week, when he told constituents he’s strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn’t want to shut down the government. For his conservative constituents, that’s simply unacceptable — Pittenger’s many votes to repeal “Obamacare” aren’t enough to satisfy the right, which wants GOP lawmakers to go much further.

As it turns out, Pittenger isn’t the only one. Watch on YouTube

In this clip, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) was also pressed by a constituent on whether he’s prepared to vote against any funding bill that includes funding for Obamacare.” As Jonathan Cohn explained:

The question draws strong applause from the audience. Schock says he shares the frustration with Obamacare, calling it “an extremely flawed bill” and supporting repeal. But shutting down the government, Schock goes on to explain, would be an extreme step — one that would have harsh consequences for average Americans. “If you’re going to take a hostage,” Schock says, “you gotta be willing to shoot it.” Another attendee quickly quipped, “kill it.”

As Aviva Shen noted, there was a similar scene in Nebraska at an event hosted by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R). When the congressman said he rejected a Republican plan to trigger a government shutdown, a constituent drew applause by arguing, “[W]e elected Republicans to fight for more conservative policies.”

GOP officials had fairly specific hopes for the August recess. Having conservatives complaining that Republicans aren’t far-right enough on health care wasn’t part of the plan.

Indeed, let’s not forget that the ideal scenario for Republicans was for far-right activists to show up at town-hall meetings and shout at Democrats, about health care and other issues. But as the August recess gets underway, these early reports suggest far-right activists are indeed showing up, and they’re glad to shout about health care, but it’s Republicans who are on the receiving end of their ire.

As we discussed yesterday, this is a mess the GOP created. If Republicans aren’t pleased with the results, they have no one to blame but themselves.

As party officials and strategists ponder their next step, they may also want to keep in mind that the pro-shutdown activists making a fuss at town-hall events aren’t part of the American mainstream. The conservative Washington Examiner had an interesting item yesterday on an important poll.

First, let’s examine a poll conducted June 2-5, several weeks before a small group of congressional Republicans proposed their defund-or-shutdown strategy. The survey, conducted for the Republican nonprofit Crossroads GPS by GOP polling firm North Star Opinion Research, examined voter attitudes toward Obamacare and its implementation.

Not surprisingly, the results were almost uniformly negative for Obama and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act — with the key exception being the response to this question: “Some say that the health care reform law is so bad that an effort to repeal it should be attached to a bill necessary to keep the government running. Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for opponents of the health care reform law to risk shutting down the government in an effort to get rid of the law?”

Only 29 percent of respondents said this was a good idea, compared with 64 percent who said it was a bad idea and 7 percent who didn’t know.

Remember, this was a Republican pollster, publishing results intended to be helpful to Republicans.

It leaves the party in quite an awkward situation. After deliberately getting far-right activists all riled up about gutting the federal health care system by any means necessary, many Republicans are now balking at a government shutdown threat, leaving the GOP base feeling betrayed. But if Republicans take the base’s demands seriously, they risk alienating the mainstream, and handing Democrats a cudgel to use against them in the 2014 midterms.

Maybe GOP leaders should have thought this through a little more?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 8, 2013

August 9, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On The Receiving End Of Right-Wing Ire”: The GOP Struggles To Contain The Monster They Created

When it comes to Republican threats to shut down the government over funding for the federal health care system, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has adopted a you’re-either-with-us-or-you’re-against-us attitude: “All I’m saying is that you cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it. If you’re willing to fund this thing, you can’t possibly say you’re against it.”

It’s a sentiment the GOP base has embraced with great enthusiasm. Watch on YouTube

In this clip, we see Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) pressed by a constituent at a town-hall meeting on whether the congressman will go along with the far-right scheme to shut down the government in the hopes of defunding the Affordable Care Act. “Do you want the thoughtful answer?” Pittenger asked. The voter replied, “I want yes or no.”

The answer, of course, was “no.” The North Carolina Republican considers himself a fierce opponent of “Obamacare,” but nevertheless sees the shutdown threat as unrealistic. Indeed, Pittenger tried to explain why the tactic would fail in light of the Democratic White House and Democratic majority in the Senate, but the angry activists didn’t care.

“It doesn’t matter,” one voter is heard saying. “We need to show the American people we stand for conservative values,” said another.

The clip was posted to a Tea Party website called “Constitutional War.”

Keep in mind, Pittenger is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican from New England. As Greg Sargent reported yesterday, the congressman is a red-state conservative who’s not only voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but has co-sponsored a dozen or so bills to destroy all or part of the current federal health care system.

But as far as some Tea Partiers are concerned, Pittenger and other conservative Republicans who see the shutdown strategy as folly are suddenly the enemy.

It appears that Republican officials have created a monster, and like Frankenstein, they aren’t altogether pleased with the results.

For the last few years, GOP lawmakers have said, repeatedly, that the base should rally behind Republicans as they valiantly try to tear down the federal health care system and take access to basic care away from millions. And by and large, Tea Partiers and other elements of the party’s base cheered them on.

The scheme was, for the most part, a rather cruel con — Republicans almost certainly realized that their last chance to repeal “Obamacare” was the 2012 presidential election, which they lost badly. But they kept fanning the flames anyway, telling right-wing activists to keep fighting — and more importantly, keep writing checks.

Party leaders may have winked and nodded to one another, realizing that they’d never be able to fulfill their dream of heath care destruction, but therein lies the problem: conservative activists thought the party was serious, and saw neither the winks nor the nods.

The result, as Robert Pittenger noticed in North Carolina, isn’t pretty. The GOP base seems to be waking up and saying, “What do you mean you’re not willing to shut down the government over Obamacare funding? If Rubio, Cruz, and Lee have a plan, why are you betraying us by rejecting their idea?”

Republicans had an opportunity after the 2012 elections to shift gears. Party leaders could have subtly and understandably made clear that the repeal crusade had fallen short, and the GOP would have to begin focusing on other fights.

But the party did the opposite, telling easily fooled donor supporters that this was a fight Republicans could win. Now the GOP finds itself stuck in a hole they dug for themselves. Republicans were gleeful when the August recess meant Democrats getting yelled at over health care; they may be less pleased when they’re on the receiving end of right-wing ire.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 7, 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Time For Conservatives To Face Reality”: Deal With It, ObamaCare Will Not Be Repealed Or Defunded

On March 21, 2010, my former boss and mentor, David Frum, wrote a story that ran on under the headline “Waterloo.” It harshly criticized conservatives for their uncompromising opposition to the bill officially titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but which most of us know simply as ObamaCare. David agreed that in a perfect world, ObamaCare would never see the light of day. However, surveying the legislative landscape, David observed that the GOP never had enough votes to defeat the health-care bill.

While conservatives could not prevent the bill from becoming law entirely, David argued that they could have engaged with Democrats and possibly watered down many of the bill’s most unconservative provisions. Instead, though, the GOP refused to participate at all because the worse the bill the unchecked Democratic Congress passed, the better Republicans would do in the 2010 midterm elections.

“Waterloo” went live on the website at around 5 p.m. on the 21st. Within 24 hours, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks took David to lunch and fired him, essentially for daring to disagree.

More than three years and two elections have passed since David was shouted down for pointing out the flaws in the GOP’s “strategy” for handling ObamaCare. History appears to have provided David right. While the GOP did seize control of the House in November 2010, the party has failed to secure the Senate and, more importantly, Barack Obama won re-election. Realistically, what that means is that repeal is not an option, since even if the GOP did somehow manage to secure a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2014 (which even the most optimistic prognosticators will tell you is not going to happen), the GOP still could not affect repeal (since the president would veto). And yet, despite this harsh reality, serious members of the GOP are still promising voters that they will repeal the law. Indeed, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are threatening to shut down the government if the president does not defund the law.

Not surprisingly, plenty of smart liberals have taken note of the GOP’s obstinacy on this issue. But more interesting is the fact that some of the brightest voices within the conservative movement are beginning to speak out against the futility of the strategy that my old boss was fired for raising back in 2010. The question ought never have been whether we can prevent ObamaCare, but rather how bad ObamaCare was going to be when the bill finally was delivered to the president for signing.

Late last week, Charles Krauthammer finally put his foot down in the face of Cruz and Lee’s continued efforts to shape GOP policy proposals as if they lived in a perfect conservative world that simply does not exist. Krauthammer did not mince words, describing the Cruz/Lee ultimatum as “nuts.” While he acknowledged that he would support defunding ObamaCare if he thought it would work, he also said it’s obvious that it won’t work, and that he does not fancy “suicide.” Indeed, while Lee and Cruz will undoubtedly claim those who don’t support their cause are less than full conservatives, Krauthammer correctly observed that one’s position on their proposal has little to do with principle and everything to do with “sanity.”

Interestingly, the point that Krauthammer makes is virtually identical to the one David made three years ago. The proposition underlying both articles is that electoral realities must govern ideological decision-making. In a perfect world, Republicans simply could have prevented ObamaCare’s passage by voting against it. Similarly, now, in a perfect world, Republicans would have the votes to repeal or defund ObamaCare.

But alas, this is not a perfect world and that being the case, true conservatives adjust their tactics and their expectations. Over the past three years, the GOP base has become so enamored with the idea of ideological purity that they have been willing to throw the realities of real world politics overboard to chase it. But real defenders of conservatism must learn to embrace the painful compromises of day-to-day governance. Otherwise, we will become a party that stands by and debates itself while living under completely unchecked legislation shaped wholly by our ideological opponents.


By: Jeb Golinkin, The Week, August 6, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Health Care Panic”: Willing To Risk Economic And Fiscal Crisis To Deny Essential Health Care And Financial Security To Millions

Leading Republicans appear to be nerving themselves up for another round of attempted fiscal blackmail. With the end of the fiscal year looming, they aren’t offering the kinds of compromises that might produce a deal and avoid a government shutdown; instead, they’re drafting extremist legislation — bills that would, for example, cut clean-water grants by 83 percent — that has no chance of becoming law. Furthermore, they’re threatening, once again, to block any rise in the debt ceiling, a move that would damage the U.S. economy and possibly provoke a world financial crisis.

Yet even as Republican politicians seem ready to go on the offensive, there’s a palpable sense of anxiety, even despair, among conservative pundits and analysts. Better-informed people on the right seem, finally, to be facing up to a horrible truth: Health care reform, President Obama’s signature policy achievement, is probably going to work.

And the good news about Obamacare is, I’d argue, what’s driving the Republican Party’s intensified extremism. Successful health reform wouldn’t just be a victory for a president conservatives loathe, it would be an object demonstration of the falseness of right-wing ideology. So Republicans are being driven into a last, desperate effort to head this thing off at the pass.

Some background: Although you’d never know it from all the fulminations, with prominent Republicans routinely comparing Obamacare to slavery, the Affordable Care Act is based on three simple ideas. First, all Americans should have access to affordable insurance, even if they have pre-existing medical problems. Second, people should be induced or required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, so that the risk pool remains reasonably favorable. Third, to prevent the insurance “mandate” from being too onerous, there should be subsidies to hold premiums down as a share of income.

Is such a system workable? For a while, Republicans convinced themselves that it was doomed to failure, and that they could profit politically from the inevitable “train wreck.” But a system along exactly these lines has been operating in Massachusetts since 2006, where it was introduced by a Republican governor. What was his name? Mitt Somethingorother? And no trains have been wrecked so far.

The question is whether the Massachusetts success story can be replicated in other states, especially big states like California and New York with large numbers of uninsured residents. The answer to this question depends, in the first place, on whether insurance companies are willing to offer coverage at reasonable rates. And the answer, so far, is a clear “yes.” In California, insurers came in with bids running significantly below expectations; in New York, it appears that premiums will be cut roughly in half.

So is this a case of something for nothing, in which nobody loses? No. In states like California, which have allowed discrimination based on health status, a small number of young, healthy, affluent residents will see their premiums go up. In New York, people who don’t think they need insurance and are too rich to receive subsidies — probably an even smaller group — will feel put upon by being obliged to buy policies. Mainly, though, those insurance subsidies will cost money, and that money will, to an important extent, be raised through higher taxes on the 1 percent: tax increases that have, by the way, already taken effect.

Over all, then, health reform will help millions of Americans who were previously either too sick or too poor to get the coverage they needed, and also offer a great deal of reassurance to millions more who currently have insurance but fear losing it; it will provide these benefits at the expense of a much smaller number of other Americans, mostly the very well off. It is, if you like, a plan to comfort the afflicted while (slightly) afflicting the comfortable.

And the prospect that such a plan might succeed is anathema to a party whose whole philosophy is built around doing just the opposite, of taking from the “takers” and giving to the “job creators,” known to the rest of us as the “rich.” Hence the brinkmanship.

So will Republicans actually take us to the brink? If they do, it will be crucial to understand why they would do such a thing, when their own leaders have admitted that confrontations over the budget inflict substantial harm on the economy. It won’t be because they fear the budget deficit, which is coming down fast. Nor will it be because they sincerely believe that spending cuts produce prosperity.

No, Republicans may be willing to risk economic and financial crisis solely in order to deny essential health care and financial security to millions of their fellow Americans. Let’s hear it for their noble cause!

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 25, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Health Care | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Holy Crap”: Christian Employers Claim Their Religion Puts Them Above the Law

Ready for the next court fight over Obamacare? Get to know Hobby Lobby, the chain of stores fighting the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that the health insurance employers offer their employees cover contraception, and the next Christian martyr to the unholy scourge of health coverage for employees. Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians, and though their company isn’t a church, they’d like to choose which laws they approve of and which they don’t, and follow only the laws they like. And a federal appeals court just ruled that not only can their suit go forward, but they’re likely to win. Because apparently, “This law violates my religious beliefs” is now a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The decision is simply mind-blowing, essentially finding that private businesses are just like religious institutions, and therefore they can decide which laws they have to obey:

“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the judges wrote. “The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel Inc. and their owners, the Green family, argue for-profit businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exception if the law violates their religious beliefs. The owners approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg — such as an IUD or the morning-after pill.

Hobby Lobby is the largest and best-known of more than 30 businesses in several states that have challenged the contraception mandate. A number of Catholic-affiliated institutions have filed separate lawsuits, and the court suggested faith-based organizations can follow for-profit objectives in the secular world.

“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other,” they wrote.

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but my reaction upon reading this was, “Holy crap!” It’s not for the court to question whether Hobby Lobby’s interpretation of what laws it would rather follow is correct? Seriously? And they don’t see how they can distinguish selling pipe cleaners and finger paint from any other form of evangelism?

Before we get to the core question here, it’s just incredible that one of the reasons the court found in favor of Hobby Lobby was that the company didn’t want to pay for insurance that would pay for “drugs and devices that the plaintiffs believe to be abortifacients.” But what they believe is utterly irrelevant. One of the methods they object to is Plan B, the morning-after pill. But Plan B isn’t an abortifacient. The plaintiffs can choose to “believe” that it is if they want, but they’re asking that the state accept their belief as if it were true just because they believe it, and thereby exempt them from obeying the law. In effect that creates a justification for anyone who wants to ignore the law to create their own factual universe, then use that invented universe to say they’re exempt from the laws everyone else has to follow. If you get caught by a speed camera going 50 in a 35 zone, you can’t say, “Your honor, I believe that all speed cameras automatically register cars as going 15 miles per hour over their actual speeds. Therefore, I was going 35, and I am exempt from this fine.”

This is not the last challenge we’re going to see to this part of the ACA; there are going to be many other companies coming forward to say, “We’re Christian, so therefore the law doesn’t apply to us.” But just think for a moment about the principle they’re using to justify that position. There isn’t any question about the constitutionality of this provision of the ACA. It was passed by Congress and signed by the President. It’s the law of the land. But these private companies are saying that they have the right to choose which laws they obey, simply by saying “It’s my religion.”

To put this in context, the law doesn’t distinguish between “real” religions and fake religions, and properly so. One of the reasons we have the religious freedom we do in America is that the founders didn’t want to set up a system like the one that existed in Europe, where there was a single state religion and none others had protection. So if you want to get married by a clergyman from the Church of Holy Toenail, you might have to fill out some extra paperwork, but you’ll be able to do it.

And that means that if we apply this rationale more broadly, anyone, whatever religion they claim to believe in, should be able to declare themselves exempt from any law they don’t like. And what’s more, they don’t even need any evidence from their religious tradition or texts to justify it. You know what the Bible says about contraception? Absolutely nothing. Not a word. But along the way, some Christians decided that God disapproves of contraception, even though most Christians use it. So now anyone can declare that their religion, i.e. their personal interpretation of their religion, has a greater legal force than actual laws.

I have to pay taxes? Sorry, I’m a Hindu, so I think taxes are an abomination unto the Lord. Sure, there’s no justification for that position in any Hindu text, but the Bible says nothing about contraception either, and Christians are getting an exemption for that, so I decided that Hinduism forbids tax paying. You caught me breaking into my neighbor’s garage and stealing his nice new 18-volt cordless drill? Well, I’m a Buddhist, and I believe that private property is an impediment to enlightenment, so what’s his is mine. The zoning laws in my neighborhood forbid retail establishments? Sorry, I’m a member of the Church of the Homemade Energy Bar, which mandates that all adherents sell energy bars out of their homes, so the zoning rules don’t apply to me.

I only skimmed the decision in this case, so maybe there’s something there I missed that makes this seem less appalling. But religious organizations get all kinds of special treatment from the government as things stand today, and what the plaintiffs in this case (along with their supporters) seem to be arguing is that religious people ought to enjoy a special privileged status that puts them above the law.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 28, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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