Browsing the blog archives for September, 2013.


Away We Go

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Obama Administration

I understand that the Senate convened at 2:00 pm today, and at 2:01 sent a CR stripped of conditions about Obamacare back to the House. The House is expected to vote tonight on a new CR that delays the individual mandate for a year (yeah, right) and would require members of Congress and their staffs to buy insurance on the exchanges without any subsidies. Why that last one makes sense to anyone is unclear.

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The Extortionists

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Congress, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The House Republicans still think they will win and the Senate and White House will cave on delaying the ACA for a year.

House Republicans may appear to observers to be pushing the government toward a shutdown, but that’s not even remotely how they see it.

The GOP rank-and-file still believe that the Senate might accept and the White House might sign a one-year delay of Obamacare in exchange for two months of sequester-level spending to briefly stave off a government shutdown.

“How dare you?” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said when reporters asked how the House would respond when the Senate rejected its offer. He grew angrier as he continued to question how one could assume the bill was dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“I have never foreseen a government shutdown and I continue not to see a government shutdown,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who was a senior Hill staffer before being elected to Congress in 2010. “The Senate has plenty of time to deal with this. This is good, common middle ground that is in this package. I think we’re gonna get a big bipartisan vote in the House. I think we’re gonna get a big vote in the Senate too.”

A right-wing news outlet reports that House Rules committee attendees actually laughed when someone said the President would veto their bill. They seem supremely confident that either they will win, or if they don’t win nothing bad will happen, or if it does happen people will blame President Obama.

What galls me is that the baggers and the media still talk about the impasse as a “negotiation.” A negotiation happens when two sides agree to give up something they want to get something else they want more. The Republicans are not offering to give up anything they want. If they had offered to raise taxes on the rich or increase the budget for entitlement programs, that would be a negotiation. But they’re saying, in effect, buy our plan or we’ll shoot the dog. That’s not negotiation; that’s extortion.

As I understand it, there are enough votes in the House to pass a clean cr if Boehner would put it up for a vote. But the baggers apparently have Boehner’s boy parts in an industrial compactor.

A government shutdown would be bad, but not nearly as catastrophic as a failure to raise the debt ceiling, which is going to have to be done within the next couple of weeks. Ezra Klein argues that it’s a good thing the baggers are throwing their temper tantrum over the cr, and when they lose it will make it less likely they’ll pull the same stunt over the debt ceiling. I think that’s wishful thinking, though.

Bill Keller has an interesting thought:

The Republicans are finally having their ’60s. Half a century after the American left experienced its days of rage, its repudiation of the political establishment, conservatives are having their own political catharsis. Ted Cruz is their spotlight-seeking Abbie Hoffman. (The Texas senator’s faux filibuster last week reminded me of Hoffman’s vow to “levitate” the Pentagon using psychic energy.) The Tea Party is their manifesto-brandishing Students for a Democratic Society. Threatening to blow up America’s credit rating is their version of civil disobedience. And Obamacare is their Vietnam.

To those of us who lived through the actual ’60s, the conservative sequel may seem more like an adolescent tantrum than a revolution. For obvious starters, their mobilizing cause is not putting an end to an indecent war that cost three million lives, but defunding a law that promises to save lives by expanding access to insurance. Printing up unofficial “Obamacare Cards” and urging people to burn them is a silly parody of the protest that raged 50 years ago. But bear with me.

There are significant differences, of course. For example, the 1960s New Left stayed out of party politics and never became a force within the Democratic Party. But I think the differences are in keeping with the temperaments and psyches of righties and lefties. Lefties want equality and justice; righties want power.

See also Paul Krugman, “Rebels Without a Clue.”

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Damnfools Are Going to Do It

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Obama Administration

It’s what we might call an “impasse.” The House keeps attaching a one-year delay in the Affordable Care Act, plus a lot of other random stuff, to the continuing resolution to keep the government funded a couple more months. The Senate keeps saying no deal; they aren’t agreeing to the delay. The President says he will veto a cr that contains a delay. I don’t think anyone is going to blink.

I get the impression that the House baggers sincerely believe the Senate will cave and are genuinely baffled why they haven’t already.

John Dickerson writes at Slate,

With less than two days until the government runs out of money, the clock is ticking and no one is negotiating. House Republicans voted Saturday on a new set of amendments it would like to tie to continued funding of the government, and Senate Democrats promptly said, “Nuts to you!” They’re going to vote to table the amendments on Monday, which will kick the issue back to the House.

Depending on when the bill returns, Republicans may try one more gambit to chip away at Obamacare, but time is growing short—the deadline is Monday at midnight. That means the decision whether to keep the government open will fall squarely on House Speaker John Boehner. He has two options: He can allow a vote on the Senate bill that passed (with Democratic votes) on Friday to fund the government until Nov. 15 or permit the shutdown to go forward, as a way to pressure the White House and satisfy his most conservative members.

C’mon, Boehner, for once in your sorry-ass life, be a mensch. Fall on your bleeping sword and put the Senate bill up for a vote.

Boehner and other House Republicans are pissed that the Senate didn’t meet today.

Speaker of the House John Boehner accused Harry Reid and other Senate Democrats of “breathtaking arrogance” for intentionally not convening a Sunday session to deal with compromise legislation to stop a government shutdown.

“The House worked late into the night Saturday to prevent a government shutdown, and the Senate now must move quickly, today, to do the same,” Boehner said Sunday.

Which of course is crap, because the Senate has made its final offer. The House can either take it or leave it. It’s that simple. Whether the Senate met today or not doesn’t change anything.

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The Slaughter of the Innocents

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Obama Administration

There’s a must-read in-depth report at the New York Times about the accidental shooting of children. The article presents evidence that these shootings have, for years, been grossly under-reported in official statistics, perhaps by as much as half. Because of quirks and inconsistencies in the way the deaths are recorded and reported, many are neither counted as accidents or prosecuted as homicides. It’s like they don’t happen.

Further, very few states have effective “negligence” laws in the books that make it a crime to leave a loaded gun where a child can get to it.

Researchers recognized this under-reporting probably was happening back in the 1990s, but the NRA successfully lobbied to stop the research.

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House GOP: Terrorists or Traitors?

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Congress, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Yeah, the title is a tad inflammatory, but I’m with James Fallows on this:

This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.

Here is the footnote, btw:

** The debt-ceiling vote, of course, is not about future spending decisions. It is about whether to cover expenditures the Congress has already authorized. There is no sane reason for subjecting this to a repeated vote. And there is no precedent for serious threats not to honor federal debt — as opposed to symbolic anti-Administration protest votes, which both parties have cast over the years. Nor for demanding the reversal of major legislation as a condition for routine government operations.

First, I agree with Fallows and David Kurtz that this crisis is not a standoff between President Obama and the Republican Party. It’s between extremists in the GOP versus the “not enough Thorazine on the planet to deal with these whackjobs” wing of the GOP. And Abraham Lincoln couldn’t reason or negotiate with the whackjobs of his day, either.

Second, the time for polite and tempered rhetoric on anyone’s part is over. Steve Benen called out Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer for saying “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.” No, Republicans are not al Qaeda. But it’s becoming a difference in degree, not in kind.

I don’t expect anyone in Congress to strap a real bomb to his chest. They and their followers are not so much motivated by a cause, or a faith, but by a fundamental belief that they are the real Chosen People, the real Americans, dammit, and they deserve to rule. Self-sacrifice isn’t their thing, I don’t believe. But if the current fiasco ends in their humiliation, expect the more-unglued among them to step up with “second-amendment solutions.” They’re more than flirted with the idea already —

Steve Benen again,

In 2010, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he could “empathize” with a madman who flew an airplane into a building on American soil. In 2009, shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said if congressional Democrats didn’t allow Republicans to influence policy debates, the GOP would have to emulate the “insurgency” tactics of “the Taliban.” Sessions added, “[W]e need to understand that insurgency may be required,” and that if Democrats resist, Republicans “will then become an insurgency.” The Taliban, Sessions went on to say, offers the GOP a tactical “model.”

If a White House aide compares Republicans to suicide bombers, it’s outrageous, but if a Texas Republican congressman compares his own party to the Taliban, it’s fine?

Yes, because freedom.

But if you’re familiar with antebellum history, you must recognize the strong parallels between the old southern fire-eaters and today’s wingnuts. So the traitor label works, too. And it serves no purpose for people in the national spotlight to be expected to mince words and extend the usual courtesies to them.

Greg Sargent:

Do Dems have to give Republicans something in exchange for not allowing economic havoc to break out, and if so, why isn’t that threatening extensive harm to the country, and to all of us, in order to get your way? Or are Republicans of course going to raise the debt limit in the end, because of course they know it’s the right thing to do, and if so, why do Dems have to give them anything in exchange for it? …

… This gets to the core truth about this debate: As long as it’s an open question whether Republicans are prepared to allow default, the claim that Republicans are threatening to do extensive harm to the country in order to extort concessions from Dems that a radical faction of their party is demanding is 100 percent right.

So the suicide bomber metaphor is off. It would be more correct to compare them to hostage takers holding a gun to America’s head while they demand tax cuts for the rich and building the Keystone pipeline.

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A Conspiracy So Immense

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economy, Financial Crisis

Charles Pierce sums it up:

[T]here is no pile of money anywhere in the country, no matter how large or small, and no matter how vital to the people who were depending upon it, to which the grifters in the financial-services “industry” do not feel entitled as fuel for their unquenchable greed.

To see what Mr. Pierce is reacting to specifically, see “Looting the Pension Funds” by Matt Taibbi. Please read it all, but in brief, he’s showing us that the financial sector has been looting government worker pension funds for years, because they could, and now that the pension funds are mostly gone, the public workers are being blamed for the dire circumstances of state and local governments. Taibbi:

It’s a scam of almost unmatchable balls and cruelty, accomplished with the aid of some singularly spineless politicians. And it hasn’t happened overnight. This has been in the works for decades, and the fighting has been dirty all the way.

All across America, pension funds have been diverted into “investments” that somehow made no money for anyone except the power brokers on Wall Street. Or else the pension funds were used to make up the revenue shortfall created by tax cuts that benefited only the wealthy. David Sirota provides some examples:

In Rhode Island, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits while handing $75 million to a retired professional baseball player for his failed video game scheme.

In Kentucky, the state government slashed pension benefits while continuing to spend $1.4 billion on tax expenditures.

In Kansas, the state government slashed guaranteed pension benefits despite being lambasted by a watchdog group for its penchant for spending huge money on corporate welfare “megadeals.”

Paul Krugman today came out and called the Masters of the Universe types a “powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths.” These malefactors of great wealth not only think they are entitled to any remaining bits of wealth or privilege still available for plundering, but they want our adulation as well. When they don’t get it, they feel persecuted.

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They’re Not Even Pretending Any More

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Obama Administration

See GOP’s Dangerous Debt Limit Demand: A Christmas Tree Of Conservative Goodies. Then read Matt Yglesias, House GOP Just Showed Why Obama Can’t Compromise on the Debt Ceiling.

The one thing Obama absolutely cannot do under any circumstances is negotiate over the statutory debt limit.

The reason is that Republicans are essentially asking for an end to constitutional government in the United States and its replacement by a wholly novel system.

From Jonathan Strong’s report at NRO, what Republicans want in exchange for agreeing to not default on the national debt is a one year delay of Obamacare, Paul Ryan’s tax reform, the Keystone XL pipeline, partial repeal of the Clean Air Act, partial repeal of bank regulation legislation, Medicare cuts, cuts in several anti-poverty programs, making it harder to launch medical malpractice lawsuits, more drilling on federal land, blocking net neutrality, and a suite of changes designed to make it harder for regulatory agencies to crack the whip.

Things like this do happen. The British system of government used to feature a ruling monarch who was checked in limited ways by two houses of parliament. Over time, those houses of parliament leveraged their control over tax hikes into overall control of the government. On a somewhat slower time frame, the elected House of Commons nudged the House of Lords out of almost all of its de facto political power. And that’s the House’s proposal here. The president should become an elected figurehead (not dissimilar to the elected presidents of Germany, Israel, or Italy) whose role is simply to assent to the policy preferences of the legislative majority.

They aren’t even pretending to care about democratic representative government. They’re just out to use whatever brute force they have to get what they (or their masters) want.

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Spread This Around

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Obama Administration

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Let It Bleed

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Obama Administration

While Cruz and the Baggers belt out their out-of-tune cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” rightie pundits are rehearsing Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare.” But they can’t get the words right.

I give you the increasingly incoherent George Will, who simultaneously believes that Republicans must press their advantage by giving “Democrats a ruinous opportunity to insist upon unpopular things,” like the individual mandate, while at the same time admitting the American people might like Obamacare once it’s started.

It is two minutes until midnight. On Jan. 1, the ACA’s insurance subsidies begin, like a heroin drip, making Americans instant addicts. The Obama administration knows that no major entitlement, once tasted, has been repealed.

Even so, Will proposes that Obamacare could collapse of its own weight. “If the ACA is, as conservatives believe, as unpleasant in potential effects as it is impossible to implement, conservatives should allow what Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time” to destroy it.”

The government should not be closed; the debt ceiling will be raised. Republicans should, however, take to heart the last words of H.L. Mencken’s summation of Theodore Roosevelt: “Well, one does what one can.” Republicans can give Democrats a ruinous opportunity to insist upon unpopular things. House Republicans can attach to the continuing resolution that funds the government, and then to the increase in the debt ceiling, two provisions: Preservation of the ACA requirement — lawlessly disregarded by the administration — that members of Congress and their staffs must experience the full enjoyment of the ACA without special, ameliorating subsidies. And a one-year delay of the ACA’s individual mandate.

By vetoing legislation because of these provisions, and by having his vetoes sustained by congressional Democrats, Obama will underscore Democrats’ devotion: Devotion to self-dealing by the political class, and to the principle that only powerful interests (businesses), not mere citizens, can delay the privilege of complying with the ACA.

Arithmetic, not moral failings, makes Republicans unable to overturn Obama’s vetoes. So after scoring some points, Republicans should vote, more in sorrow than in anger, to fund the government (at sequester levels, a significant victory) and to increase the debt ceiling. Having forced Democrats to dramatize their perverse priorities, Republicans can turn to completing the neutering of this presidency by winning six Senate seats.

First, what is it about right-wingers and their love for florid prose? Do they think that if they crank out rhetoric that smells like a florist’s hothouse we won’t notice their ideas stink?

Second, the business about Congress and their staff being either exempt from Obamacare or the recipients of special subsidies because of Obamacare is false. It’s a figment of wingnut imagination. And there is no way in hell the individual mandate will be delayed, but I think once Obamacare kicks in most people will be OK with it. I think a lot of people still don’t understand that if they get insurance through their employer or Medicare, nothing will change. When January 1 rolls around and the sky does not fall, a whole lot of air will be sucked out of the Obamacare “crisis.”

As for the exchanges, Jonathan Chait writes,

The Obama administration today released the final numbers on the premiums in the state health exchanges. This is the single most important piece of data we have to gauge the plausibility of the exchanges, which are the crucial mechanism of Obamacare. The premiums are not spin, they are the collective judgment of the marketplace. The conservative judgment of Obamacare has been a ceaseless litany of doom — rate shock, fumbling bureaucracy, unreasonable regulations. If that indictment were true, insurers would be charging higher rates than the administration initially forecast. Instead, the premiums are clearly lower than forecast — 94 percent of customers in the exchanges will have the chance to pay below-forecast premiums.

Of course, at Forbes Avik Roy is still cranking out scarey headlines like “Double Down: Obamacare Will Increase Avg. Individual-Market Insurance Premiums By 99% For Men, 62% For Women,” but Roy has gotten so ridiculous lately even Ezra Klein is just ignoring him. As has been pointed out, Roy reaches his conclusions by comparing the lowball introductory prices of really awful, not-even-bare-bones plans offered only to young healthy people in unregulated states to the cost of full-feature insurance offered on the exchanges for those same young people, without factoring in subsidies.

Now, let’s go to Wall Street Journal, where Daniel Henninger says “Let Obamacare Collapse.”

As its Oct. 1 implementation date arrives, ObamaCare is the biggest bet that American liberalism has made in 80 years on its foundational beliefs. This thing called “ObamaCare” carries on its back all the justifications, hopes and dreams of the entitlement state. The chance is at hand to let its political underpinnings collapse, perhaps permanently.

If ObamaCare fails, or seriously falters, the entitlement state will suffer a historic loss of credibility with the American people. It will finally be vulnerable to challenge and fundamental change. But no mere congressional vote can achieve that. Only the American people can kill ObamaCare.

Himmiger’s hope is that when Obamacare collapses it will take Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid with it, and Americans once and for all will get over the idea that government of the people, by the people, and for the people can respond to the needs of the people.

An established political idea is like a vampire. Facts, opinions, votes, garlic: Nothing can make it die.

But there is one thing that can kill an established political idea. It will die if the public that embraced it abandons it.

Six months ago, that didn’t seem likely. Now it does.

The public’s dislike of ObamaCare isn’t growing with every new poll for reasons of philosophical attachment to notions of liberty and choice. Fear of ObamaCare is growing because a cascade of news suggests that ObamaCare is an impending catastrophe.

The article is accompanied by a cartoon of the “Four Horsemen of the Democratic Apocalypse” — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare.

Hinniger grudgingly concedes that the public came to support the first three “horsemen,” but he thinks the ACA will be the straw that broke the camel’s back — “The discrediting of the entitlement state begins next Tuesday. Let it happen.”

Yeah, let it happen. If it’s that awful, what are they worried about? Or maybe that’s not what worries them …

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Cruz Highlights

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Obama Administration

For those of you (including me) who didn’t have time to waste watching the Cruzathon, TPM provides highlights.

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