The Affordable Care Act enrollment figures for February were released yesterday afternoon, and for the most part, the numbers looked pretty good for those hoping to see the U.S. system succeed.
But news consumers can be forgiven for thinking the opposite. The Hill ran this headline: "ObamaCare enrollments dip." The Washington Post had a similar message: "Obamacare enrollment drops off in February." The conservative Washington Examinertold readers: "Obamacare signups slow down in February."
Sounds discouraging, doesn't it? January's enrollment totals were heartening, but if you just skimmed the headlines out of D.C., you'd think February represented a step backwards.
The months HHS has been using for tabulation don't correspond precisely to the calendar, because of state reporting methods and where weekends fall. As it turns out, "February" is actually February 2 through March 1. That's 28 days. "January" is actually December 29 through February 1. That's 35 days. Plug in the numbers, and you'll see the average daily enrollment for January was 32,744 and for February it was 33,673. As you can see in the graph, the pace actually increased a bit. Among the very few who noticed were Charles Gaba of ACASingups.net and Sy Mukherjee of ThinkProgress.
At a superficial level, the raw monthly totals offer a misleading picture. Someone sees 1.2 million sign-ups in January, followed by 943,000 in February. That looks like a drop.
Until we're reminded that February is the shortest month.
Many Americans have probably become accustomed to hearing about televangelists and suspected misdeeds, but what we saw over the weekend was something altogether different.
The term "megachurch" is usually applied to houses or worship that draw 2,000 or more regular attendees, but even among megachurches, Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church stands out as unique. Estimates vary, but with around 40,000 attendees, this massive institution considers itself the largest church congregation in the United States -- a boast that generally goes unchallenged. What's more, Osteen's weekly services are then broadcasted to dozens of countries around the world.
With this in mind, when there's a massive heist at the nation's biggest megachurch, it's not a routine robbery (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
Lakewood Church -- the giant Houston headquarters of celebrity pastor Joel Osteen's evangelical empire -- alerted its congregants that as much as $600,000 in cash and checks were taken from the building over the weekend. Even more concerning: The stolen goods include envelopes on which congregants wrote down their credit card information. [...]
Police are investigating the alleged theft, and haven't yet arrested anyone. Church members who passed on their credit card information to Lakewood over the weekend were advised to "pay close attention to your accounts over the next several days and weeks and report any suspicious activity to your financial institution or credit card company immediately."
Based on the preliminary press accounts, it's unclear if there are even any suspects, though the investigation is ongoing.
But while the story unfolds, it's worth pausing to take a second look at that dollar figure.
At CPAC over the weekend, Republican strategist Kate Obenshain offered her party some reasonable advice about addressing the gender gap between the major parties.
"We cannot have any stupid comments this year. No stupid comments," she said. "Please think before you make pithy, obnoxious comments."
The suggestion may not be enough -- rhetoric matters, though I think public policy matters more -- but some Republicans continue to ignore the advice anyway.
New Hampshire state Rep. Kyle Tasker (R) went on a public Facebook forum Monday and posted a sexually explicit joke about women who have been the victims of domestic abuse.
The discussion on the Facebook page of the Greater Nashua Tea Party arose over the New Hampshire GOP's refusal to stand by another state lawmaker, Rep. Mark Warden (R), who has come under scrutiny in recent days for saying, "Some people could make the argument that a lot of people like being in abusive relationships."
Tasker defended Warden, and as the online discussion continued, he proceeded to publish a sexually explicit graphic with a joke about "battered women." I'm not comfortable republishing his message here, but the GOP state lawmaker was apparently trying to make a joke about abusive victims and oral sex.
Tasker later deleted the message, though the move doesn't make his conduct any less offensive. It also doesn't resolve questions about his judgment in publishing it in the first place.
The state representative was previously best known for accidentally dropping a gun during a legislative public-safety committee hearing.
Despite being a young man with only three years on Capitol Hill, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) career trajectory has changed course a couple of times. A year ago, the conservative Floridian was described as his party's "savior." A month ago, following a series of missteps, setbacks, and failures, one keen observer concluded, "The cumulative humiliations have transformed the former party savior into a figure himself in need of saving."
But Rubio remains determined to get back on track, and by all appearances, he intends to do so by focusing on foreign policy. And at a certain level, that's understandable -- Rubio's immigration-reform efforts have been broadly rejected by his allies on the right, and his support for a government shutdown last fall failed with the American mainstream. With his work on domestic policy faltering, it stands to reason the senator might start looking abroad.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) plans to introduce legislation to prevent a "takeover" of the Internet by the United Nations or another government regime.
Speaking Monday at Google's office in Washington, the possible presidential contender said he will introduce legislation to codify U.S. support of an open Internet as other countries attempt to control its growth.
"Many governments are lobbying for regulatory control by the United Nations or a governmental regime," he said, adding that "opposing this takeover and preserving Internet freedom must be a top national priority."
To be sure, there are foreign governments that censor their citizens' access to online content, but it's not at all clear why Rubio sees this as a domestic threat here in the U.S.
President Obama and his team have made no effort to hide their willingness to use executive-branch authority to advance the administration's agenda, at least incrementally, in the midst of historic congressional ineptitude. Republicans have generally responded with outrage -- for the White House to pursue policy measures without Congress is tyrannical, dictatorial, and unconstitutional.
To date, Obama has been entirely unfazed by the complaints. Indeed, the president is ignoring the complaints and moving forward with his plans.
President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.
On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as "executive or professional" employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.
If the goal is to put more money in more workers' pockets, this is the kind of policy that will help make a difference.
But because it's become so easy to internalize Republican talking points, we already know what the pushback from the right is going to sound like: this is an outrageous presidential abuse, using dubious powers to redistribute wealth away from job creators.
The trouble is, that's not what the right was arguing a decade ago.
An unexpected political dust-up unfolded yesterday after Funny or Die posted President Obama's appearance on "Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis." The point, of course, was to promote the Affordable Care Act in a fully six-minute clip, and depending on your sense of humor, the comedy was either effective or it wasn't. (I happened to like it, but your mileage may vary.)
Either way, the video was successful in driving viewers to healthcare.gov -- which, remember, was the reason for doing the video in the first place -- so whether or not it got laughs is secondary.
But the surprising part was the widespread handwringing from conservatives and some reporters about whether it was inappropriate for Obama to appear in the video at all.
ABC News's Jim Avila peppered White House Press Secretary Jay Carney with questions during a daily press briefing about President Obama's appearance on FunnyOrDie.com's interview series with actor Zach Galifianakis. The president plugged HealthCare.gov during the interview, a part of a concerted effort to reach young Americans.
"How much discussion was there in the White House about the dignity of the office and whether or not, in order to reach these people who don't watch us at 6:30, or who don't watch this briefing," Avila asked, according to a transcript provided to TPM, "how much the dignity of the office might be lost?"
Conservative media was more unreserved in its outrage. Bill O'Reilly went so far as to complain, "Abe Lincoln would not have done it." A Republican congressman seriously suggested the president shouldn't talk to Funny or Die, but should instead focus on Benghazi.
This is all a bit silly -- and I'm not referring to the comedy.
Yesterday's congressional special election was expected to be close and it was. The tricky part is answering the "what does it all mean?" question.
Republican David Jolly has won the special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District, defeating Democratic candidate Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby.
With all precincts reporting, Jolly holds a lead of about 3,400 votes, capturing 48.43% of the vote to 46.56% for Sink and 4.83% for Overby. Sink has conceded the race.
We've known for weeks that the prevailing party would over-hype the results -- Greg Sargent has insisted all along that this is a mistake, long before we knew who'd win, but most of the political world has ignored him -- and the spin machine has been largely out of control over the last 12 hours.
Part of the trouble in analyzing (or overanalyzing) a race like this is that Florida's 13th district is ... what's the word ... quirky. The Democratic message is mildly persuasive: this is a district Republicans have held for a half-century and which George W. Bush twice carried easily. Sink was a clumsy candidate who didn't even live in the district until quite recently, but she forced Republicans to spend over $5 million to narrowly keep a red seat red.
But the Republican message this morning also happens to be true: this is a district President Obama also carried twice. If Democrats expect to be avoid a very rough 2014 cycle, this is exactly the kind of competitive district they need to win -- and the fact that a well-known, well-financed Dem couldn't even get 47% of the vote is rather alarming.
If both spins are compelling, what's the broader takeaway from the results? I'd argue there probably isn't one.
It's only natural for the political world to study races like these. We want to look for trends and patterns. We want to see one event and be able to successfully extrapolate from it. But low-turnout special elections are inherently weird, especially in the middle of March. It's unsatisfying, but it's reality.
Meet the CIA lawyer at the center of the clash with the Senate Intelligence Committee. (AP) White House Chief of Staff made a surprise visit to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office after her CIA speech. (BuzzFeed) Some details of what's in the Senate's CIA interrogation report. (AP) CIA Director Brennan sends a message to his workforce. (McClatchy) Pres. Obama meets with Ukraine's Prime Minister at the White House today. (USA Today)
On the show tonight, Rachel talked about an ad featuring Julie Boonstra of Michigan saying that the costs of her health care under health reform are “unaffordable.” The Detroit News yesterday reported that in fact, she will save at least $1,200 a year.
Americans for Prosperity, which produced the ad, sent us this statement:
"Julie chose the security of knowing what her costs would be when she picked her original plan, and that choice has been taken from her, despite repeated promises that 'if you like you’re plan you can keep it.' Budgets don’t work well with unpredictable expenses, and now Julie is facing new costs such as expensive medication and out of pocket costs she can't plan for."