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Speaker of the House John Boehner listens as his fellow Republicans speak to the media after a conference meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 21, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Boehner undermines his own minimum-wage argument

01/27/15 11:16AM

When policymakers debate increasing the minimum wage, there's nothing wrong with them drawing on their personal experiences when making a decision. Some members of Congress, however, really aren't good at it.
 
A couple of years ago, for example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued against raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour because, when she was a teenager, she made $2.15 an hour and she "appreciated that opportunity."
 
What Blackburn didn't realize is that inflation exists -- when she made $2.15 an hour as a teen, in inflation-adjusted terms, that was over $12 an hour in today's money. The Tennessee Republican was trying to argue against a minimum-wage hike, but she ended up doing the opposite.
 
A related problem popped up over the weekend, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on "60 Minutes" and CBS's Scott Pelley asked if Congress might increase the "federal minimum wage." The Republican leader replied:
"It's a bad idea. I've had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin' up and gettin' myself through school. And I wouldn't have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing [a] higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder."
Again, there's nothing wrong with Boehner, like Blackburn, drawing upon his personal experiences. The trouble is that Boehner, like Blackburn, is flubbing the details.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

The 'House Freedom Caucus' gets to work

01/27/15 10:40AM

Following up on a report from a couple of weeks ago, House Republicans continue to find new ways to splinter from their like-minded allies. For about four decades, far-right members of Congress have enjoyed a special group separate from the Republican mainstream -- the Republican Study Committee -- home to the House's most rigid ideologues and reactionary voices.
 
But the more radicalized House Republicans become, the easier it is for some GOP lawmakers to see their colleagues as not quite conservative enough. Sure, the Republican Study Committee is fine for most run-of-the-mill far-right members, but what about the right-wing elite who aren't sure about Republicans' commitment to the cause?
 
As of yesterday, they officially have their own little team.
GOP lawmakers who find the far-right Republican Study Committee too squishy now have a new clique to call home: the House Freedom Caucus.
 
"The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans," the group declared in its first official communiqué.
And just how big is the newly named House Freedom Caucus? As of yesterday, it has just nine members.
 
In fact, the group is small enough to list the full membership: Republican Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), John Fleming (La.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.). Collectively, they issued a two-sentence statement of purpose that could probably have been endorsed by any nine members of Congress in either party or in either chamber.
 
The funny part, however, continues to be the process through which members can join the House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012.

Benghazi committee veers onto predictable path

01/27/15 10:05AM

When the House Intelligence Committee wrapped up its investigation of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, it was the seventh congressional committee to weigh in on the deadly terrorist violence that killed four Americans. The Intelligence panel's findings, all of which discredited right-wing conspiracy theories, were intended by its Republican authors to be the "definitive" congressional statement on the attack.
 
But GOP leaders didn't much care, and soon after announced they would continue to support an eighth committee to do what the other seven committees had already done. This other, select committee spent $1.5 million in taxpayer money last year to review facts that have already been reviewed, and the panel, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), is digging in for more unnecessary efforts in 2015.
 
The committee is off to a not-so-sterling start.
Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi are accusing Republicans of conducting crucial interviews in secret and withholding information.
 
The tensions between the two parties erupted into the open on Monday after a letter from the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), criticizing Chairman Trey Gowdy's (R-S.C.) handling of the investigation went public.
 
Cummings said Republicans were holding meetings with witnesses, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Maghreb Affairs Raymond Maxwell, who claims he was instructed to edit documents relating to the 2012 attacks. He said that Democrats were being excluded from these Republican-only meetings. Democrats say they have never asked Gowdy to require witnesses to meet with them, just that when witnesses are willing to sit down with both sides, they be included.
In a four-page letter to the far-right South Carolinian, Cummings told Gowdy, "You have had different standards for Republicans and Democrats participating in the investigation, secret meetings with witnesses, and -- perhaps most importantly -- withheld or downplayed information when it undermines the allegations we are investigating."
 
The response from Gowdy's office was a classic:
Texas Governor Perry, a possible Republican candidate for 2016 presidential race, talks several participants at business leaders luncheon in Portsmouth

Perry says jobless rate has been 'doctored'

01/27/15 09:17AM

The sharp improvement in American job creation clearly poses a challenge for Republicans. The GOP spent last year insisting that the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, and federal regulations were crushing the job market, and yet, 2014 saw the fastest drop in unemployment in literally three decades.
 
What's a Republican to do? As is too often the case, it appears resorting to conspiracy theories is easier than dealing with reality.
After a two-year hiatus from politics, unemployment trutherism made its return to the Republican campaign trail on Monday, making a brief appearance alongside Rick Perry at an Iowa breakfast.
 
According to Bloomberg Politics reporter Dave Weigel, the former Texas governor told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition that they couldn't trust the official unemployment rate coming out of Washington.
 
"It's been massaged, it's been doctored," Perry said, as quoted in a tweet by Weigel.
Weigel has not yet published a report with the full context, but he provided a transcript to  W. Gardner Selby. The former Texas governor explicitly said, in reference to the unemployed, "I mean, who is it standing up for these people that I call the uncounted? They've lost hope that they can even get a job, so they're not even counted. When you look at the unemployment rate today, that's not the true unemployment rate, it's been massaged, it's been doctored."
 
Actually, no, it hasn't.
David Koch

Koch brothers put a price tag on the 2016 elections

01/27/15 08:41AM

When it comes to campaign fundraising, it's easy for the numbers to start to blur together. One candidate raised several million dollars, but is struggling with cash on hand. Another had a subpar monthly report, but fared well in the quarterly report. There are PACs, super PACs, campaign committees, state parties, and on and on, each furiously trying to fill their coffers -- and in a "permanent campaign" environment, it seems to never stop.
 
I mention this because I understand how easy it is to start tuning out reports on the role of money in elections. Everyone gets it: there's a lot of money being raised and spent.
 
But some reports shouldn't be dismissed too quickly. This piece from Matea Gold, for example, was legitimately jaw-dropping.
A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
 
The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The question is not whether $889 million is a lot of money to invest in a single election. It is. Rather, the key here is understanding what such a sum represents in a democratic system of government.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence speaks during the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting Leadership Forum on April 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indiana's Pence readies state-run media

01/27/15 08:01AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a far-right former congressman who's rumored to be eyeing the 2016 presidential race, is hardly the only conservative Republican policymaker who's sometimes at odds with the press.
 
Pence appears to be, however, the only conservative Republican policymaker who hopes to circumvent -- and compete with -- independent news organizations with his own state-run media entity.
Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
 
Pence is planning in late February to launch "Just IN," a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.
According to the materials obtained by The Indianapolis Star, state agencies' communications directors were informed last week, "At times, Just IN will break news -- publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such 'exclusive' coverage remain under discussion."
 
It's hard to say exactly what this will look like in practice -- I suppose we'll see soon enough -- but state officials will apparently publish "news stories" they've written about their own administration's work, effectively erasing the line between press releases and actual reporting.
 
It'll be especially interesting to hear about the news-gathering process for "Just IN." Will press secretaries chase down quotes from their bosses? When agency chiefs host press conferences, will state officials sit among actual reporters? Will those officials scoop real news organizations before the press conferences even begin?

Coastal drilling proposal and other headlines

01/27/15 08:01AM

White House to propose allowing oil drilling off Atlantic coast. (New York Times)

Pres. Obama defends U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia. (AP)

The Kochs put a price on 2016: $889 million. (Politico)

The blizzard may be a bust in NYC, but New England is still getting hammered. (New York Times, The Weather Channel)

Sen. Harry Reid is recovering at home after eye surgery. (The Hill)

Alabama lawmaker threatens to reveal colleagues' affairs over marriage hypocrisy. (TimesDaily)

Gunmen at luxury Libyan hotel take hostages, kill three guards. (NBC News via AP)

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Iowa Governor Branstad sent to hospital

Iowa Governor Branstad sent to hospital

01/26/15 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports that Iowa governor Terry Branstad, who is about to become the longest serving governor in U.S. history, became ill during a speech at a ribbon-cutting event today and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 1.26.15

01/26/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Greece: "Alexis Tsipras, the leftist political maverick who swept to power on Sunday in Greece in a popular rebellion, formed a new coalition government on Monday with a right-wing fringe party that will charge immediately into the task of reversing wrenching austerity policies and negotiating with European leaders to reduce Greece's debt burden."
 
* Yemen: "A C.I.A. drone strike on Monday on a car in eastern Yemen, the first since the resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, killed three suspected Qaeda fighters, American officials said, in a signal that the United States will continue its targeted killing operations in the country despite the apparent takeover by Houthi fighters."
 
* A new thing for the Secret Service to worry about: "The owner of a drone that landed on the White House grounds early Monday told authorities that he was testing how it would perform in bad weather but lost track of it, law enforcement sources told NBC News. The drone's owner, who is cooperating with a Secret Service investigation, said that he did not realize it had landed in a tree on the lawn of the White House until he saw news reports describing the incident, the sources said."
 
* Espionage: "A banker and two diplomats were charged Monday with spying for the Russian government in the New York area, using coded messages and secret handoffs to gather intelligence and send it back home."
 
* Leak case: "Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was convicted of espionage charges Monday, for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran's nuclear program."
 
* Marriage news from late Friday: "A federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, today struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, bringing the number of gay marriage states to 37.... The judge did not put a hold on the effect of her ruling, but the state's attorney general, Luther Strange, said he would seek one."
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

Making room for morality in the health care debate

01/26/15 04:53PM

One of the things that makes the debate over health care policy so interesting is that it has such sweeping implications. We can look at the issue, for example, and ask economic questions, such as, "How much is the Affordable Care Act helping the economy?" We can look at the same issue and ask fiscal questions, such as, "How important is it that 'Obamacare' is reducing the national deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars?"
 
We can look at the issue from a political perspective. And an ideological perspective. And a sociological perspective. And given extreme circumstances, maybe even a national security perspective.
 
But at its root, for many involved in the debate, the angle that matters is a moral one. Policies like the ACA tend to do extremely well on substantive questions, and quite poorly on political ones, but when we strip away the layers, we're often left with the morality of either providing or denying families access to basic medical care. Confronted with the question, either the dial on your moral compass spins or it doesn't.
 
This came up in a big way over the weekend, when the American Enterprise Institute's Michael R. Strain made a curious argument about mortality rates in the Washington Post. The headline on the piece read, "End Obamacare, and people could die. That's okay."
In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals -- including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
In fairness to Strain, he almost certainly did not write the jarringly callous headline, but he did write this quoted excerpt. In fact, his piece went on to say that if Republican policymakers successfully repealed the federal health care reform law, it "could" result in more American deaths, "but it clearly would not be immoral."
 
I can appreciate why Strain feels the need to make this case. For proponents of reform, there's considerable focus on consequences: if Republicans -- either on the Supreme Court or in Congress -- destroy the law, the potential for catastrophic shockwaves are quite real. As a practical reality, if millions of families are stripped of the benefits, an untold number of Americans will die unnecessarily. Their crime? They got sick.

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