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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.
U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Michigan Affirmative Action Ban

Supreme Court upholds Michigan's affirmative action ban

04/22/14 12:45PM

The ruling on affirmative action in Michigan did not come as too great a surprise, but it's nevertheless one of the year's big cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court upheld a Michigan voter initiative Tuesday banning racial preferences in admissions to the state's public universities.
 
The justices ruled 6-2 Tuesday that the affirmative action ban, approved by voters in 2006, allowed Michigan the right to prohibit public colleges and universities from using race, ethnicity or gender as a factor for admissions.
 
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court did not have the authority to throw out the election results of the voter-approved initiative. Those joining the majority opinion -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- stressed, however, that the ruling did not address the constitutionality of affirmative action itself.
And that distinction is extremely important when evaluating the scope of the ruling.
 
"This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved," Kennedy wrote for the majority. "It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court's precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters."
 
In other words, affirmative action in college admissions hasn't been banned. Indeed, the role of considering race in admissions policies remains in place -- except in states that choose to prohibit affirmative action policies.
 
The ruling will be especially relevant in states that have chosen to ban affirmative action -- msnbc's Amanda Sakuma noted the policies have been curtailed in Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and the state of Washington -- while also signaling to other states that they can now do the same without fear of judicial intervention.
 
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stinging dissent.
Obamacare supporters react to the  U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obama's health care law, on June 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Dems doing the unexpected: embracing the ACA

04/22/14 11:06AM

At a press conference last week, a reporter asked President Obama whether "it's time for Democrats to start campaigning loudly and positively on the benefits" of the Affordable Care Act. The president suggested the larger political discussion should start to include other issues, but he nevertheless gave Dems some direction.
 
"I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud" of the Americans benefiting from the ACA, he said, "I don't think we should apologize for it, and I don't think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell."
 
And with increasing frequency, Democrats have become eager to tell this strong, good, right story. In Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) launched this new spot today, which Greg Sargent fairly characterized as "probably the most aggressively pro-Obamacare ad of the cycle."
Far from keeping the ACA at arm's length, Schwartz actually boasts about having supported the law, takes some credit for helping write it, and features a brief snippet of her departing Air Force One with the president.
 
The context, of course, matters. In this case, Schwartz is in a competitive primary in which she's no longer the frontrunner, so an ad like this one is intended to connect with the Democratic base, not a statewide, general-election audience.
 
Still, the Beltway conventional wisdom has said for months that ads like these simply wouldn't happen -- Democrats would have no choice but to run from, not run on, the unpopular "Obamacare."
 
Schwartz's new ad shows otherwise and it's hardly the only piece of evidence that suggests the conventional wisdom was wrong.
Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Rick Scott

The Assistance of Counsel

04/22/14 10:14AM

In early March, the Senate rejected Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee as an assistant attorney general, in large part because members in both parties forgot a rather basic American principle: attorneys are not supposed to be judged by the crimes of their clients.
 
In the case of Adegbile's nomination, we saw an extremely well-qualified attorney with a classic American background -- he's the child of a mixed-race family, who overcame poverty to become an accomplished Supreme Court litigator -- who was nevertheless rejected by the Senate. Adegbile worked on the legal team that successfully persuaded a federal court to commute Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence.
 
Fox News labeled him a "cop killer coddler" and soon after, every Republican in the Senate opposed his nomination. They were joined by seven Democrats -- enough to derail Adegbile's confirmation hopes.
 
It was a shameful display, which apparently is repeating itself,  not in the Senate, but in South Carolina.
If you want to run for office someday, you better not believe that everyone is entitled to legal counsel before the government locks them away. Or, at least, that's the message sent by a new Republican Governors Association ad targeting Vincent Sheheen, a former prosecutor who now represents civil and criminal clients in private practice. Sheheen is a Democratic candidate for governor against incumbent Nikki Haley (R-SC).
 
The RGA's ad attacks Sheheen for "defend[ing] violent criminals" and ends with the tagline, "Vincent Sheheen protects criminals, not South Carolina."
Ed Kilgore noticed, "In an especially despicable little twist, the anonymous narrator of this ad twice notes that Sheheen was paid for defending 'violent criminals who abused women.' Would it have been better if he had represented them for free?"
 
The entirety of the ad is online here.
 
Those responsible for airing it really ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Ron Johnson - 09/26/13

An 'unfortunate political stunt' gets broad GOP support

04/22/14 09:21AM

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) filed a fairly ridiculous lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in January, and even at the time, even conservative Republicans seemed annoyed. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R), who's part of the same Wisconsin congressional delegation as Johnson, called the senator's lawsuit "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
 
Three months later, however, a few dozen congressional Republicans have decided they love this unfortunate political stunt, frivolous or not.
Thirty-eight Republican lawmakers, including such unlikely bedfellows as John McCain of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas, have joined to support a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act and accusing the president of repeatedly ignoring the law he signed for political reasons.
 
The lawmakers have signed onto a legal brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who is asking a federal court to overturn Obamacare's special treatment for members of Congress and their staffs.
As these lawmakers see it, they're fighting for the preservation of the republic. "The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident," the brief states. "Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the executive branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on a wholesale basis."
 
The courts must side with Johnson, the GOP lawmakers' brief added, because the administration's campaign "threatens to subvert the most basic precept of our system of government."
 
It's difficult to fully capture how strikingly dumb this latest effort is. Whether one loves, hates, or is generally indifferent towards the Affordable Care Act, this brief is just embarrassing.
A woman points a handgun with a laser sight on a wall display of other guns during the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 13, 2007, in St. Louis.

CDC still can't get funding for research on gun violence

04/22/14 08:41AM

In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, a longstanding issue came into sharper focus: when it comes to public research on domestic gun violence, the nation was largely flying blind.
 
It's well known that the National Rifle Association and its allies have fought to kill any kind of restrictions on firearm ownership. What was less recognized was the fact that the gun lobby also helped block basic data collection, to the point that there's "no current scientific consensus about guns and violence," in large part because the NRA "has been able to neutralize empirical cases for control."
 
There is no mystery as how this happened. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began expanding its research into gun-related deaths as a public health issue, so conservatives in Congress added language to the appropriations bill that finances the CDC: "None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control." That language never changed.
 
After the events in Newtown, policymakers, including some Republicans like Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), conceded that it's probably time to revisit this ban on CDC research.
 
That was last year. This year, as Lois Beckett reported, the slayings at Sandy Hook are further away and Republican opposition to CDC has returned.
In a statement to ProPublica, Kingston said he would oppose a proposal from President Obama for $10 million in CDC gun research funding. "The President's request to fund propaganda for his gun-grabbing initiatives though the CDC will not be included in the FY2015 appropriations bill," Kingston said.
 
Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), the vice chairman of the subcommittee, also "supports the long-standing prohibition of gun control advocacy or promotion funding," his spokeswoman said.
 
CDC's current funding for gun violence prevention research remains at $0.
Remember, Kingston, just last year, said the parties could find "common ground" on areas like these when trying to prevent mass gun deaths. This year, however, the congressman -- who just happens to be in a heated red-state Senate primary -- has returned to stale, eye-rolling cliches about "gun-grabbing initiatives."
Job fair for unemployed or underemployed workers over 50

White House dismisses GOP throwing 'spaghetti against the wall'

04/22/14 08:00AM

When congressional Republicans cut off extended unemployment benefits a few days after Christmas, about 1.3 million Americans immediately lost the assistance they need. But the total of those affected was just a floor -- the number goes up by roughly 72,000 every week.
 
To that end, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a running clock yesterday, showing that the figure increases every eight seconds. As of this morning, over 2.5 million Americans -- nearly double the total when the deadline passed in late December -- have lost benefits.
 
What are House Republicans prepared to do about it? At this point, not much. Two GOP lawmakers presented an offer last week: Dems can get jobless aid (a policy that used to enjoy bipartisan backing), but only if they give Republicans the Keystone XL pipeline, an anti-ACA provision that would cause 1 million Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance coverage, and the repeal the medical device tax, which would raise the deficit by $109 billion.
 
As of yesterday, the White House isn't impressed.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears to be throwing "spaghetti against the wall" in an attempt to win concessions in exchange for extending emergency unemployment insurance.
 
Earlier this month, Boehner told reporters that it was up to the White House to propose job-creation provisions to attach to a Senate bill reauthorizing unemployment benefits if the president wanted the House to take up the legislation.... Carney insisted Congress "ought to take action" on its own.
We know the affected Americans are struggling without these benefits. We know the aid used to enjoy broad, bipartisan support. And we know the existing policy isn't doing the economy any favors.
 
What we don't know is what the Speaker's office wants in exchange for a vote.

Biden to Russia: "Time is short" and other headlines

04/22/14 07:58AM

VP Biden tells Russia "time is short" for progress on Ukraine. (Reuters)

After visiting the site of the mudslide in Washington state, (Seattle Times), Pres. Obama leaves for Asia tonight. (WSJ)

Intelligence chief issues limits on press contacts. (NY Times)

How retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens would change the U.S. Constitution. (AP)

There's a special primary in Florida today for fmr. Rep. Trey Radel's House seat. (Washington Post)

Missouri death row appeal focuses on execution drug. (Springfield News-Leader)

North Korea shows signs of planning a nuclear test. (NY Times)

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Kansas AFP screengrab

Statement from Americans for Prosperity today

04/21/14 09:56PM

We asked Americans for Prosperity today about their campaigns in various states to attach surcharges to renewable energy or repeal standards for utility companies to use it. The full statements from Levi Russell of AFP are below.

On the new surcharge for solar in Oklahoma, signed into law tonight by Governor Mary Fallin:

Most of our involvement on net metering and other state energy issues has been on the ground though grassroots engagement, less in the airwaves through paid advertising. Our state directors have been weighing in on energy legislation through office visits in their state houses. AFP activists are very engaged on energy issues; they're overwhelmingly opposed to government policies that restrict their access to affordable energy. 

On the failed effort to repeal the 2009 law Kansas passed to require that utility companies get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources:

We're currently calling on state governments to repeal their renewable portfolio standards. Our Kansas chapter has been very active in opposing Kansas’s renewable portfolio standard.  Led by our state director Jeff Glendening, AFP-KS has spent just over $300K on a campaign that calls on the state legislature to repeal its RPS. The campaign involves TV, radio, direct mail, online, phone calls.  

The significance of being the first state in the nation to repeal the RPS would be a major achievement for the state legislature and for the Kansas families and businesses who will benefit with greater access to more affordable energy and less burdensome regulations.  Clearly, the state legislatures in Oklahoma and Kansas are leading the way towards a more competitive energy policy and a stronger economy. Lawmakers in other states would be wise to follow suit.

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Ahead on the 4/21/14 Maddow show

04/21/14 08:24PM

Tonight's guests include: Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project in Kansas; Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Washington editor-at-large for “The Atlantic” and MSNBC contributor read more

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