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President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, prior to the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25...

The difference 'active and eager partners from the other party' can make

04/23/14 05:09PM

The nation recently recognized the 50th anniversary of President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, which in turn sparked a related conversation about presidents, breakthrough accomplishments, and whether they're a thing of the past.
Peter Baker asked, for example, whether it's still "even possible for a president to do big things anymore." The usual suspects said President Obama could have more of the landmark legislative victories LBJ achieved if only he schmoozed more, led harder, and bent Congress to his will.
LIke many of us, Norm Ornstein is tired of this, and returned to the subject this week because he felt "compelled to whack this mole once more." I'm glad he did.
I do understand the sentiment here and the frustration over the deep dysfunction that has taken over our politics. It is tempting to believe that a president could overcome the tribalism, polarization, and challenges of the permanent campaign, by doing what other presidents did to overcome their challenges. It is not as if passing legislation and making policy was easy in the old days.
But here is the reality, starting with the Johnson presidency.... [H]is drive for civil rights was aided in 1964 by having the momentum following John F. Kennedy's assassination, and the partnership of Republicans Everett Dirksen and Bill McCullough, detailed beautifully in new books by Clay Risen and Todd Purdum. And Johnson was aided substantially in 1965-66 by having swollen majorities of his own party in both chambers of Congress -- 68 of 100 senators, and 295 House members, more than 2-to-1 margins.
This is very much in line with what we talked about two weeks ago: those who want to know whether presidents can still do big things are making a mistake if they focus solely on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the most important legislative accomplishments of this generation happened between 2009 and 2010, in part because of Obama's leadership, and in part because Congress was eager to govern.
The political process collapsed in 2011, not because the president schmoozed less or forgot how to get things done, but because power changed hands on Capitol Hill.
Ornstein pushed this observation further, in ways journalists -- at National Journal and elsewhere -- need to understand.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Dec. 5, 2013.

Kentucky's 'indisputable success'

04/23/14 04:09PM

No state has worked harder than Kentucky to implement the Affordable Care Act effectively. The results speak for themselves.
The Beshear administration claimed Tuesday that implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky has been an "indisputable success" with more than 413,000 enrolling for coverage before the March deadline.
Gov. Steve Beshear announced the figures in a Capitol press conference, seeking to underscore his long-held contention that the federal law will provide untold health benefits for the commonwealth despite critics who argue otherwise.
Beshear said about 75 percent of applicants in the state's health benefit exchange, called kynect, lacked any insurance and were unable to access needed care or teetered on the edge of bankruptcy before signing up.
The Democratic governor added that ACA detracts are stuck on an "echo chamber," unable to recognize that "this is working -- that's the bottom line."
At the event, Beshear introduced a local woman who an emergency appendectomy last month, and who would have faced "catastrophic" economic conditions had she not enrolled in Kentucky's insurance marketplace.
Soon after, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement complaining about the law anyway because, well, just because.
As for the broader political implications, there are a couple of angles to keep in mind.
Bloomberg Announces Largest Seizure Of Guns In NYC HIstory

Georgia's 'Guns Everywhere Bill'

04/23/14 12:49PM

Just a few minutes ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed sweeping new gun legislation into law, and while it's technically the "Safe Carry Protection Act," NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez noted that many have labeled it the "Guns Everywhere Bill."
One of the most permissive state gun laws in the nation, it will allow licensed owners to carry firearms into more public places than at any time in the past century, including bars and government buildings that don't have security checkpoints.
The law also authorizes school districts to appoint staffers to carry firearms. It allows churches to "opt-in" if they want to allow weapons. Bars could already "opt-in" to allow weapons, but under the new law they must opt out if they want to bar weapons. Permit-holders who accidentally bring a gun to an airport security checkpoint will now be allowed to pick up their weapon and leave with no criminal penalty. (At Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a record 111 guns were found at TSA screening areas last year.)
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has called the legislation "the most extreme gun bill in America."
Despite the opposition of gun-safety reformers and Georgia law enforcement, the bill was passed with relative ease. The governor's Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter, voted for it, too, though he made it slightly less extreme, helping eliminate some provisions, including a measure allowing guns on college campuses.
Regardless, the new state law, which takes effect in July, also expands on Georgia's "stand your ground" policy by "protecting convicted felons who kill using illegal guns."
Frank Rotondo, the executive director of Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, told The Guardian, "One of the biggest concerns is it expands stand-your-ground. The way it's written, a felon who is not permitted to have a weapon could use a weapon in defense of his or her home and not be charged for having the weapon."
Oddly enough, a similar bill recently passed the Arizona legislature, though it met a different fate.
Rand Paul

Rand Paul crosses the Reagan/Carter line

04/23/14 11:40AM

A couple of weeks ago, David Corn had a fascinating report on a speech Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered in 2009 -- the year before his election -- in which he condemned Dick Cheney's foreign policy views in unusually strong terms. In fact, Paul seemed to come fairly close to accusing the former Vice President of a corruption on a massive scale, suggesting Cheney used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq in order to boost Halliburton profits.
It led to some speculation about whether comments like these would ruin Paul's national ambitions, but they didn't necessarily seem like an automatic deal breaker. After all, it's hardly a secret that the senator rejects the neoconservative worldview. In a Republican primary, Cheney bashing won't help, but one can imagine an adept candidate overcoming this.
David Corn's new scoop, however, might be more of a problem.
...Paul hasn't always cast himself as much of a Reagan fan. In fact, when he stumped for his father in 2008 and again when ran for Senate in 2010, Paul often referred to the grand old man of the GOP with a touch of disappointment and criticism. And he routinely made an assertion that might seem like blasphemy to many Republicans: President Jimmy Carter had a better record on fiscal discipline than Reagan.
In a variety of campaign appearances that were captured on video, Paul repeatedly compared Reagan unfavorably to Carter on one of Paul's top policy priorities: government spending.
It's not hard to imagine Republican presidential candidates turning some of these clips into attack ads.
Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition rally against the Koch Brothers offer to buy The Los Angeles Times newspaper, May 29, 2013.

When the right attacks the ACA from the left

04/23/14 10:50AM

The right's election-year attack on the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be pretty straightforward: it's big government, it raised taxes, the website didn't work for a couple of months, and it falls under some strange definition of "socialism."
But as "Obamacare" starts to look a whole lot better than it did a few months ago, conservatives are switching gears a bit. In fact, the new argument from the right is nothing short of amazing: conservatives are attacking the ACA for not being liberal enough.
Yesterday, for example, Freedom Partners, a political operation that enjoys financial support from Charles and David Koch, launched a new attack ad in Michigan's U.S. Senate race, targeting Rep. Gary Peters (D). The voice-over tells viewers:
"Congressman Gary Peters says he's standing up to health insurance companies. The truth? Peters voted for Obamacare, which will give billions of taxpayer dollars to health insurance companies."
Got that? After years in which the right screamed at every opportunity that the Affordable Care Act was a socialized government takeover of the American health care system, these exact same conservatives now want the public to believe the exact opposite: the ACA is a sweetheart deal for the private health insurance industry that tried to kill the law before it passed.
Maybe now would be a good time to mention that this is bonkers. The Koch brothers' operation and its allies can argue that the Affordable Care Act is socialism or they can argue it's a giveaway to Corporate America. They can claim the "Obamacare" is radical liberalism or they can claim it's too conservative.
But to argue all of this at the same time is to treat Americans like idiots.
Two bride figurines on top of a cake.

Conservative culture warriors find a reassuring marriage poll

04/23/14 10:09AM

Looking back over the last year or so, how many national polls have shown a majority of Americans endorsing marriage equality? Just about all of them. For much of the right, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice, and there's nothing they can do to bend it back.
But the religious right movement is nevertheless filled with dead-enders, who can commission a poll of the slice of the population that might still agree with the conservative culture warriors.
Two conservative groups are pushing back on moves by the GOP to drop opposition to same-sex marriage from party platforms, releasing a poll of base voters taken last month that found in favor of defining marriage "only" as between a man and a woman.
The poll, commissioned by groups led by conservatives Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins, runs counter to a wide variety of opinion polls that show movement on the question of same-sex marriage, with more voters favoring it than opposing it.
Bauer's and Perkins' groups specifically polled Republican and Republican-leaning independents last month, and wouldn't you know it, they found that 82% of respondents believe marriage should be between "one man and one woman." The same poll found 75% of respondents don't want "politicians" to "redefine" marriage to include same-sex couples."
Touting the results, Bauer issued a statement insisting the debate over equal marriage rights "is far from over," adding that policymakers shouldn't "misread the convictions of the American people."
And that, right there, underscores the circumstances that have pushed conservatives further from the American mainstream.
Doug and Mary Blair wait for appointment at the Breathitt County Family Health Center on Jan. 21, 2014 in Jackson, Ky.

Medicaid expansion starts to look even better

04/23/14 09:22AM

It's been well documented that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is an extremely good deal for states that choose to embrace it. The policy improves state finances and bolsters state hospitals, all while providing struggling families access to medical care. We're occasionally reminded it's even good for creating jobs.
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped design both Mitt Romney's health care system in Massachusetts and President Obama's ACA recently said he wasn't overly concerned when the U.S. Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for states. After all, he thought to himself at the time, "It's not a big deal. What state would turn down free money from the federal government to cover their poorest citizens?"
We now know, of course, that nearly half the states have done exactly that for partisan reasons that the right struggles to explain. This week, however, the policy fight became even more one-sided -- the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noticed that a Congressional Budget Office analysis found that Medicaid expansion is "an even better deal for states than previously thought."
CBO has sharply lowered its estimates of the costs to states of adopting the Medicaid expansion.
* CBO now estimates that the federal government will, on average, pick up more than 95 percent of the total cost of the Medicaid expansion and other health reform-related costs in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the next ten years (2015-2024).
* States will spend only 1.6 percent more on Medicaid and CHIP due to health reform than they would have spent without health reform (see Figure 1).  That's about one-third less than CBO projected in February. And the 1.6 percent figure is before counting the state savings that the Medicaid expansion will produce in state expenditures for services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment provided to the uninsured.
The full CBO report is online here (pdf).
And yet, despite all of this, we saw new evidence this week that Republican policymakers in some states are working to block Medicaid expansion, not just now, but also in the future.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D)

Impeaching Nixon (no, not that one)

04/23/14 08:35AM

There is no actual competition to see which Republican-led state legislature can govern in the least responsible way possible, but if such a contest existed, Missouri would have to be considered a credible contender.
The indictment against GOP lawmakers' recent efforts in the Show Me State isn't short: voting restrictions, nullification effortsanti-union schemes, anti-evolution measures, an anti-health care push, and on and on.
To be sure, many of these efforts have fallen short, thanks in part to Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon. But given Republican extremism, perhaps it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Missouri's GOP lawmakers have responded to the governor's objections to their agenda by raising the specter of impeachment.
A Missouri state House committee will hold hearings Wednesday into three proposed articles of impeachment against Gov. Jay Nixon (D), whom some Republicans say has committed offenses worthy of being removed from office. [...]
Even if the House succeeds in impeaching Nixon, it would require five of seven judges appointed by the state Senate to convict Nixon and remove him from office.
And by all accounts, that's not going to happen.
But my point in highlighting these developments isn't to suggest that Nixon's tenure is actually in peril, because it almost certainly is not. Rather, the point is that even pursuing the possibility of impeaching a sitting governor without good reasons reinforces a larger truth: these Missouri Republican lawmakers appear to have gone completely over the edge.
Speaker of the House John Boehner pauses during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Mar. 26, 2014.

Without a plan, talk of ousting Boehner is just talk

04/23/14 08:00AM

There were reports a couple of weeks ago that "several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming" behind the scenes, holding "discreet" meetings about possibly trying to oust House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) before the start of the next Congress.
The chatter has grown a little louder since, and those involved no longer see the point of discretion.
Conservatives are increasingly -- and not so quietly -- showing the early signs of a speakership revolt. But short of a sudden groundswell of opposition from the GOP rank and file, or a magic wand, Speaker John A. Boehner is the one who controls his fate.
Just don't tell that to the Ohio Republican's foes.
"I think pretty well everybody's figured Mr. Boehner's going to be gone, and the question is Cantor and McCarthy," said Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. "But most conservatives are saying it's not just at the top; it's all the way through."
Huelskamp, who was more than an active player in the last Boehner coup, told CQ Roll Call there are "a lot of meetings going on" about who could be speaker in the 114th Congress, and if Boehner should decide to say, conservatives are discussing how to remove him.
The dirty little secret is that just about everyone on Capitol Hill sees value in this scuttlebutt. For right-wing members, chatter about their efforts to choose new House GOP leaders makes them feel important. For the Republican establishment, the gossip not only helps rally the rank-and-file membership against extremists, but also becomes a convenient excuse for the GOP's complete failure to govern.
And for Democrats, the specter of Republican infighting is always welcome.
But at the risk of spoiling everyone's fun, I'd recommend taking all of the chatter with a grain of salt. Far-right lawmakers may very well want to oust Boehner and move the House Republican leadership even further off the right-wing cliff, but there's literally nothing to suggest they have the wherewithal to pull it off.

Gun controversies and other headlines

04/23/14 07:56AM

Georgia governor to sign controversial gun bill today. (NBC News)

Meanwhile AZ Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed 2 gun bills. (Arizona Republic)

Missouri House panel to discuss impeaching Gov. Jay Nixon today over marriage equality and guns. (Kansas City Star) 

Meet the winner of the Republican special primary for fmr. Rep. Trey Radel's seat. (Washington Post)

Not one Republican running for Senate in NC thinks climate change is a proven fact. (TPM)

Republican filibuster derails student loan bill

CFPB, hard at work

04/22/14 04:44PM

It doesn't get enough attention, but I still consider the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) one of the more important breakthroughs for progressive governance in the Obama era. That its work on our behalf tends to happen far from the spotlight somehow makes it more impressive -- the agency's work isn't showy, it's just effective.
It was the CFPB that recently announced multi-million dollar fines for four mortgage insurers for "doling out illegal kickbacks to mortgage lenders in exchange for business." It was the CFPB that cracked down on a lender for allegedly "paying illegal bonuses to employees who steered home buyers toward higher-interest loans." It was the CFPB that ended 2013 with "a string of enforcement cases ... on lending discrimination, mortgage servicing, online lending and credit card products."
And it's the CFPB that keeps adding to its to-do list.
Federal regulators are investigating reports that lenders are pressuring thousands of college graduates to immediately repay their full student loan debt when a relative who co-signed the loans dies or files for bankruptcy.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said Tuesday it is probing the phenomenon, which can damage the credit reports of borrowers who are otherwise in good standing.
Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman at the CFPB, told The Hill, "Private student loans can sometimes take many years to pay off, and these parents or grandparents may be unaware that their own financial distress or death can lead to a sudden default and demand for payment."
Here's the situation in a nutshell: young people lacking in collateral often receive student loans with a co-signer, usually a parent. It works like any other debt -- the lender figures that if the student struggles to keep up on the payments, the co-signer will be obligated to pick up the slack.
But if the co-signer dies unexpectedly, the lender panics. "We're sorry for your loss," the bank says, "but if you could give us all our money immediately, that'd be great."
It doesn't matter if the young person hasn't missed a payment and it doesn't matter if he/she can't afford to pay the balance.

Birth control sure is popular

04/22/14 03:44PM

When Republican policymakers condemn the provision in the Affordable Care Act condemning contraception coverage, they should probably realize they're up against an American public that's largely come to the opposite conclusion.
Most Americans -- 69 percent -- support the requirement that health insurance plans pay for birth control, a new survey shows.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to pay for contraception as part of 10 essential benefits, including vaccines and cancer screenings.... [T]he survey of more than 2,000 people, conducted by Dr. Michelle Moniz and colleagues at the University of Michigan, suggests the mandate is popular.
The entirety of the report, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, is available online here.
It's worth noting that while Americans support the contraception policy by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, there are other mandated policies that are actually more popular. For example, in the same survey, when respondents were asked whether all U.S. health plans should be required to include coverage for preventive services like mammograms, support is even higher at 85%. Screenings for diabetes and cholesterol do nearly as well, with support at 82%.
By this measure, the fact that only 69% back contraception coverage might seem less impressive, but that's foolish -- when more than two-thirds of the public supports a health care policy, that's pretty one-sided.
And the closer one looks, the clearer it becomes that the right is taking a big risk by ignoring public attitudes on the subject.