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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol, Oct. 11, 2013.

GOP senators show how not to have a fiscal debate

10/21/14 12:55PM

Last year, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) claimed, to great fanfare in conservative media, to have real proof that the Affordable Care Act would create massive deficits and add trillions of dollars to the debt. This, of course, was the exact opposite conclusion of literally every other independent study of the law's fiscal impact, but Sessions said he was sure -- and that was good enough Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, National Review and Drudge.
They were all wrong. Sessions played a little game in which he only counted half the ledger -- the Alabama Republican noted the ACA's expenditures, but ignored the ACA's savings and receipts. It's comparable to the coach of the Miami Dolphins doing an analysis of the season, but only counting the points his team scored. "Good news, team! We we've won every game in a shutout!"
We're apparently running into the same trouble all over again, and this time, Sessions has apparently snookered one of his colleagues.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said President Obama's healthcare law would increase the federal debt by $131 billion.
"Instead of insulting the intelligence of Tennesseans by saying this law is working, this administration should admit ObamaCare is a failure and start working with Republicans to repair the damage it has done -- putting in place policies that move us step by step toward more freedom, more choices, and lower costs," Alexander said Tuesday.
Alexander cited a new report from Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that stated the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, would increase the federal deficit by approximately $131 billion by 2024.
Alexander, ostensibly one of the Senate Republicans who at least shows an interest in the details of public policy, was apparently in high dudgeon. He not only accused those pointing to reality of "insulting the intelligence of Tennesseans" -- an unfortunate choice of words given how very wrong he was -- but Alexander added that Democratic promises are at odds with reality.
"Today's Budget committee report says that ObamaCare is driving up the debt our children and grandchildren will owe by $131 billion," Alexander added.
It'd be a good point, if only Alexander didn't have his facts completely wrong.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.21.14

10/21/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* With two weeks remaining until Election Day, Republican officials in Wisconsin have decided to give up trying to reinstate their voter-ID law rejected by the courts.
* In Colorado, a new PPP poll shows Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D) by three, 46% to 43%. The same poll shows incumbent John Hickenlooper (D) with the narrowest of leads over former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), 45% to 44%.
* In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, the new Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA¸ shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) with a very narrow advantage over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, 44% to 43%. A few weeks ago, Grimes led in this same poll by two points.
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, PPP shows incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) clinging to a modest lead over state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), 46% to 43%.
* In Kansas, the latest Monmouth University Poll shows a tied-up U.S. Senate race, with Sen. Pat Roberts (R) and Greg Orman (I) each getting 46% support. In the gubernatorial race, the same poll shows Paul Davis (D) with a five-point lead over incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback (R), 50% to 45%.
* In Florida's gubernatorial race, the new St. Pete Polls survey, conducted after last week's bizarre debate, shows former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) leading incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R), with a two-point lead, 45% to 43%. The previous data from the same pollster showed Scott leading by one.
Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen arrives for a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington, on Sept. 17, 2014. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Fed chair shines a light on economic inequality

10/21/14 11:23AM

It's been a difficult month for the finance world, with global events and nervous investors creating some wild rides for the major indexes here and around the world. So when Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen delivered remarks on Friday, many wondered what she might have to say about the recent tumult.
As it turns out, she chose a different topic altogether.
Ms. Yellen did not mention recent market turmoil or monetary policy during her 30-minute speech. Instead, she painted a bleak picture of the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and income, warning that Americans already have relatively little chance to advance economically, and that the problem may be worsening.
"I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation's history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity," she said in her speech, which opened a conference on inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
Nick Perna, an economist who heads Perna Associates, a consulting firm in Connecticut, told the New York Times that Yellen is actually "the first Fed chair that has really gone out of her way to emphasize" the Fed's mandate to encourage economic opportunity.
Neil Irwin added, "If there was any doubt that Janet Yellen would be a different type of Federal Reserve chair, her speech Friday in Boston removed it."
Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, pictured in 2010. (Dave Martin/AP)

Alabama House Speaker faces multiple criminal counts

10/21/14 11:01AM

It was just last month when the Republican state House Speaker in South Carolina was indicted on multiple criminal counts, including "two counts of misconduct in office, six counts of using campaign funds for personal use, and one count of false reporting candidate campaign disclosures." This month, it happened again, this time in Alabama.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was arrested Monday on nearly two dozen felony ethics charges. The prominent Republican turned himself in to Montgomery, Alabama, authorities after being indicted on 23 felony counts, including the misuse of his public office for personal gain.
Hubbard, whose book "Storming the Statehouse" details the 2010 Republican takeover of the state's legislature, which had been led by Democrats for 136 years, was indicted as part of an ongoing investigation in Alabama.
Eleven of the charges against the politician allege that he solicited or received items of value "from a lobbyist or principal." Hubbard was also charged with using his office as Alabama Republican Party chairman for personal gain, voting for legislation despite a conflict of interest, and collecting a fee in exchange for his lobbying services.
If convicted, the GOP lawmaker faces up to 20 years behind bars.
Hubbard issued a statement, which dismissed the allegations as politically motivated. "Friends, if there was any doubt that this was a political witch hunt, I think it is pretty clear right now that is exactly what it is," Hubbard said. "This has been going on for two years, dragging on and on, and here they come two weeks before an election and make these allegations. The fact is that we've done some great things in this state and some powerful people don't like it."
He didn't specify who might be out to get him.
That said, the allegations are quite serious. The local report paints an alarming picture.
Pedestrians pass voting signs near an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas.

Adding the right to vote to the Constitution

10/21/14 10:28AM

The Bill of Rights, as the name implies, lists a wide variety of privileges of citizenship that cannot be taken from Americans without due process. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to bear arms, you have the right to a fair trial, etc. The right to vote, however, isn't mentioned.
In fact, though the Constitution offers some relatively detailed instructions on voting for president through the Electoral College, the document has far less to say about the right of Americans to cast a ballot in their own democracy. There are amendments extending voting rights to freed slaves, women, and 18-year-olds, and poll taxes are prohibited, but there's no additional clarity in the text about Americans' franchise.
Up until fairly recently, that wasn't considered much of a problem -- at least since the Jim Crow era, there was no systemic national campaign underway to undermine voting rights. But in the Obama era, the Republican campaign to suppress the vote has included restrictions without modern precedent, which in turn has started a new conversation about changing the Constitution to guarantee what is arguably the most fundamental of all democratic rights.
Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this yesterday.
When the constitution was enacted it did not include a right to vote for the simple reason that the Founders didn't think most people should vote. Voting laws, at the time, mostly favored white, male property-holders, and the rules varied sharply from state to state. But over the first half of the nineteenth century, the idea of popular democracy took root across the land. Property qualifications were universally abolished, and the franchise became the key marker of white male political equality. Subsequent activists sought to further expand the franchise, by barring discrimination on the basis of race (the 15th Amendment) and gender (the 19th) — establishing the norm that all citizens should have the right to vote.
But this norm is just a norm. There is no actual constitutional provision stating that all citizens have the right to vote, only that voting rights cannot be dispensed on the basis of race or gender discrimination. A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or dye it blue, or say "pretty please let me vote," all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement.
The legality of these kinds of laws hinge on whether they violate the Constitution's protections against race and gender discrimination, not on whether they prevent citizens from voting. As Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier has written, this "leaves one of the fundamental elements of democratic citizenship tethered to the whims of local officials."
All of which leads to the question about a constitutional amendment, making the affirmative right of an adult American citizen to cast a ballot explicit within our constitutional system.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 37th Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C, Oct. 2, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Criticism of Obama's pronouns falls apart

10/21/14 09:36AM

As odd as this may seem, President Obama's critics have taken a keen interest in his pronouns: for some on the right, carefully counting the number of times Obama uses the word "I" or "me" tells us something important about the president's arrogance. Or something.
This line of attack has been ongoing for years, though Charles Krauthammer, non-practicing psychiatrist, summarized the right's pitch about a month ago: "I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president.... You know, this is a guy, you look at every one of his speeches, even the way he introduces high officials -- 'I'd like to introduce my secretary of State.' He once referred to 'my intelligence community.' And in one speech, I no longer remember it, 'my military.' For God's sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon."
With this in mind, BuzzFeed put together an interesting research project.
BuzzFeed News analyzed more than 2,000 presidential news conferences since 1929, looking for usage of first-person singular pronouns -- "I," "me," "my," "mine," and "myself." Just 2.5 percent of Obama's total news-conference words fell into this category. Only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt used them less often. [...]
While Obama has shied from the first-person singular, he's leaned heavily on the first-person plural -- "we," "our," "ourselves," and "us." In fact, he's used it more than any president in the dataset.
Hmm. This would suggest Obama is actually the least narcissistic president in the modern era. Krauthammer, who specifically urged the public to "count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech," isn't just throwing around cheap criticism, the far-right pundit actually has the entire line of attack backwards.
In fact, this seems like a fine time for a new chart.
John Kasich

GOP governor: Obamacare has made 'real improvements in people's lives'

10/21/14 08:40AM

Once in a great while, a politician will slip and accidentally tell the truth. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), for example, who inadvertently praised the Affordable Care Act.
"Repeal and replace" has been a Republican mantra for nearly as long as Obamacare has been in existence. Yet one of the GOP's rumored 2016 front-runners isn't playing along.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to cruise to reelection this year and then seek the Republican nomination in 2016, recently told the Associated Press that repealing the Affordable Care is "not gonna happen." "The opposition to it was really either political or ideological," he said. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood, and real improvements in people's lives."
You could almost hear Kasich's national ambitions evaporating as the AP article made the rounds.
In context, it's hard to tell whether the Ohio Republican was speaking about the Affordable Care Act overall or specifically the part of the law related to Medicaid expansion, which Kasich has long supported. In either case, for a prominent GOP policymaker -- a former Fox News analyst, no less -- to admit out loud that all or part of "Obamacare" is making "real improvements in people's lives" is a striking development. Kasich's assessment, which happens to be true, is a reminder that the right's repeal crusade has already died with a whimper.
Of course, Kasich was forced to scramble last night, undoing the political damage done by his candor. The Ohio governor turned to Twitter to say, "As always, my position is that we need to repeal and replace," but the damage was already done. Kasich has already made clear -- in words and deeds -- that he sees no future in repealing the entirety of the federal health care system. Indeed, was fairly explicit on this, telling the AP that the right-wing arguments don't hold water "against real flesh and blood."
Image: Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio vs. scientists, Round III

10/21/14 08:00AM

A couple of years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked how old he thinks the planet is. The senator replied, "I'm not a scientist, man." Earlier this year, the Florida Republican said he rejects the way "scientists are portraying" the climate crisis.
And this week, Rubio has found a new way to thumb his nose at scientists.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Monday he will introduce legislation banning travel to the U.S. for nationals of Ebola-stricken African countries once Congress returns the week after the Nov. 4 elections.
The bill would immediately ban U.S. visas for nationals of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, to be lifted once the Centers for Disease Control certify that the outbreak has been contained. It would also subject other countries where the Ebola outbreak reaches "significant levels," Rubio's office said.
Once introduced, this will be the first Senate legislation mandating a West African travel ban, though a related bill has been announced for the House.
In a statement, the conservative senator said he was merely calling for "common sense restrictions on travel" -- though in this case, actual scientific experts are practically unanimous in their belief that travel restrictions would be counterproductive. Rubio is no doubt aware that scientists are urging policymakers to reject his preferred approach, but the Florida Republican apparently doesn't much care.
Did I mention that Rubio sits on the Senate committee responsible for overseeing science policy? He does.
Of course, Rubio isn't alone in this endeavor, and once he's able to introduce this legislation, it's likely to pick up quite a few co-sponsors.

Fan ban and other headlines

10/21/14 07:59AM

Fans won't be allowed at the Florida gubernatorial debate tonight. (CNN)

Top Alabama Republican indicted on felony corruption charges. (

Missouri State Senator arrested in Ferguson, MO during protest. (KSDK)

Ukraine used cluster bombs, evidence indicates. (NY Times)

Michele Bachmann given security detail over ISIS threat. (Politico)

What happened to a Syrian tribe that stood up to ISIS. (Washington Post)

Possible sighting of Pennsylvania fugitive suspected of shooting a State Trooper shuts down a school district. (Allentown Morning Call)

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Late 'churn' in voting rules sows confusion

Late 'churn' in voting rules sows confusion

10/20/14 11:03PM

Emily Schultheis, political reporter for National Journal, talks with Rachel Maddow about how early voting can affect the outcome of elections and how restrictions on poll access and last minute voting rule changes will affect voter turnout. watch

US learns lessons on Ebola, though at a cost

US learns lessons on Ebola, though at a cost

10/20/14 11:00PM

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, University of Pennsylvania Chair of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, talks with Rachel Maddow about the important, though difficult, lessons the United States has learned in its brief exposure to Ebola. watch

Ahead on the 10/20/14 Maddow show

10/20/14 07:41PM

Tonight's guest:

  • Emily Schultheis, National Journal Political reporter
  • Dr. Zeke Emanuel, University of Pennsylvania Chair of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and MSNBC Contributor

Check out a preview of tonight's show after the jump read more

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.20.14

10/20/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Texas: "More than three dozen people who were monitored for the last three weeks for possible contact with the Ebola virus were cleared Monday to return to work or school, leaving 133 others still being watched for symptoms of the disease, Dallas County officials said."
* The so-called Ebola Cruise: "In the end, there was never any risk of the Ebola virus aboard what became known as the Ebola Cruise."
* Ugh: "In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, a crowd of parents pulled their middle school students from class Friday after learning that the school's principal recently had traveled to attend a family funeral in Zambia, which is in southern Africa and about 3,000 miles from the outbreak in West Africa."
* Turkey "will allow Iraqi Kurdish forces, known as pesh merga, to cross its border with Syria to help fight militants from the group called the Islamic State who have besieged the Syrian town of Kobani for more than a month, the Turkish foreign minister announced Monday."
* Iraq: "Militants unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Shiite targets in Iraq on Monday, including a quadruple car bombing near two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam and a suicide attack inside a mosque, officials said."
* Syria: "The cost of turning against the Islamic State was made brutally apparent in the streets of a dusty backwater town in eastern Syria in early August. Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up against the extremists."
* Impressive results in Nigeria: "The World Health Organization declared Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, officially free of Ebola infections on Monday, calling the outcome the triumphal result of 'world class epidemiological detective work.'"
* Maybe we should do something: "The Earth is getting hotter. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released a new report Monday that showed the planet is on track to have its hottest year on record. The temperatures from January through September of this year tied with the highest period on record, previously reached in 1998."
* Try not to be surprised: "If Republicans gain the Senate majority in November, President Barack Obama could face pressure from Congress to send ground troops into Iraq and Syria. 'Frankly, I know of no military expert who believes we are going to defeat ISIS with this present strategy,' Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at a Pacific Council on International Policy conference on Saturday."