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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Senate Republicans again kill Paycheck Fairness Act

04/09/14 12:52PM

The third time was not the charm. Democratic efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to overcome Republican opposition in the 111th Congress and the 112th Congress, and as of this morning, it failed once again at the hands of a GOP filibuster.
Senate Republicans filibustered a debate on a Democratic pay equity bill backed by President Barack Obama Wednesday.
Sixty votes were needed to allow the bill to be debated on the Senate floor, but Republicans refused to allow the bill to come up for debate after complaining Democrats weren't allowing votes on their amendments.
The roll call from the vote is online here. Note that the final tally was 54 to 43 -- six votes shy of the supermajority needed to end Republican obstructionism -- but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) switched his vote for procedural reasons, leaving it at 53 to 44.
The legislation received exactly zero Republican votes, as was the case with previous efforts to pass the bill.I
In case anyone needs a refresher, the Paycheck Fairness Act is a perfectly credidble piece of legislation that would "enhance the remedies available for victims of gender-based discrimination and require employers to show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity. The measure would also protect employees from retaliation for sharing salary information, which is important for deterring and challenging discriminatory compensation."
As we've discussed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was an important step forward when it comes to combating discrimination, but it was also narrowly focused to address a specific problem: giving victims of discrimination access to the courts for legal redress. The Paycheck Fairness Act is a broader measure.
Republicans have responded that they endorse the idea of equal pay for equal work, but in recent years, much of the party remains opposed to policymakers' efforts to do something about it. (This morning, some GOP senators also raised procedural objections about amendments.)
As for the electoral considerations, aren't GOP lawmakers worried about rejecting measures like these in an election year?
Activists Demonstrate In Support Of Medicaid Expansion And The Affordable Healthcare Act

'Almost awesome in its evilness'

04/09/14 11:38AM

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber brings a unique perspective to the health care debate. He's not only an expert in health care policy and the director of the health care program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, he's also one of a small number of wonks who helped design both Mitt Romney's health care system in Massachusetts and President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Gruber sat down for a fascinating chat yesterday with Harold Pollack about where the broader policy debate stands, and while the whole discussion is worth your time, I was struck by their focus on Medicaid expansion in particular. Gruber insisted we "cannot talk enough" about the "life-costing tragedy [that] has taken place in America."
"...I'm offended on two levels here. I'm offended because I believe we can help poor people get health insurance, but I'm almost more offended there's a principle of political economy that basically, if you'd told me, when the Supreme Court decision came down, I said, 'It's not a big deal. What state would turn down free money from the federal government to cover their poorest citizens?' The fact that half the states are is such a massive rejection of any sensible model of political economy, it's sort of offensive to me as an academic. And I think it's nothing short of political malpractice that we are seeing in these states and we've got to emphasize that. [...]
"[Conservative policymakers in these states] are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness."
Those are, to be sure, strong words. They're also words that easy to defend.
Take, for example, the increasingly heated fight over Medicaid expansion in Virginia, where Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) campaigned on Medicaid expansion as a key element of his 2013 platform, but where Republican lawmakers in the commonwealth are prepared to do practically anything to block the policy -- including a possible shutdown of the state government.
Voters cast ballots inside a polling station at Cross Community Church in Elyria, Ohio, on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012.

Ohio Dem calls for investigation into voting restrictions

04/09/14 11:09AM

When it comes to imposing new restrictions on voting rights, Ohio Republicans haven't exactly been subtle. In February, GOP policymakers in the state ended the so-called "Golden Week," when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day, and at the same time, they also made it harder for voters to receive absentee ballots.
Soon after, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) curtailed early-voting opportunities and announced Sunday voting would be eliminated entirely statewide.
More recently, Ohio Republicans moved towards penalizing the state's largest county for making it easier for voters to participate in elections through absentee ballots. Zack Roth reports today, however, that on this front, state GOP policymakers appear to have backed off.
A spokesman for House Republicans said Tuesday afternoon that the GOP would drop a measure that would have cut funding by 10% for any county that doesn't follow state law regarding absentee ballots. The proposal, inserted Monday into a larger budget bill, was a direct shot at the state's largest county, Cuyahoga, which has asserted the right to mail absentee ballots to all registered voters -- in defiance of a recently passed state law barring counties from doing so.
Hours later, the Cuyahoga council voted to assert its "home rule" power, giving it the authority to send absentee ballots to all registered voters in the county.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat running against Gov. John Kasich (R) this year, told Roth that Ohio Republicans had defended the policy, but stopped "after we had our press conference in front of federal court this morning."
And what a press conference it was.
Kevin McCarthy, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor listen during a news briefing on Jan. 14, 2014.

GOP alternatives look 'a hell of a lot' like ACA

04/09/14 10:38AM

House Republican leaders have assured the public, more than once, that they're eager to present a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act. It's been in the works for nearly five years and it's going to be awesome -- any minute now.
Yesterday, however, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Bloomberg News that the plan is being delayed "at least a month." Of course, there was no target date in mind for its introduction, so no one has any idea what a one-month delay actually means in practical terms. For those of us who suspect the GOP plan will always remain just around the corner, yesterday's news simply meant adding "at least a month" to "never."
Regardless, from a Republican perspective, what seems to be the trouble? Sahil Kapur talked to a "congressional GOP health aide" who described the intra-party challenges.
He said devising an alternative is fraught with the difficulty of crafting a new benefits structure that doesn't look like the Affordable Care Act.
"If you want to say the further and further this gets down the road, the harder and harder it gets to repeal, that's absolutely true," the aide said. "As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act.... To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA."
Imagine that.
War On Poverty

Can presidents still do 'big things'?

04/09/14 09:44AM

Peter Baker makes the case today that Lyndon Johnson's legacy "looms large" over the Obama presidency -- two Democratic presidents with ambitious agendas, each eager to leave their mark on history with sweeping progressive successes.
Baker notes, however, that Johnson's "level of legislative success" -- the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act, immigration, education, gun control, and the environment -- "represented the high-water mark" that Obama and his supporters can only reflect on with envy.
Two days before joining other presidents in Texas to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, President Obama tackled enduring inequality himself on Tuesday, in this case economic disparity based on gender.
His action? Signing an executive order barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay and a memo seeking statistics on contractor salaries.
If the photo-friendly ceremony in the East Room was not exactly the stuff of Mount Rushmore, it did reflect a broader question about the state of the presidency a half-century after Lyndon B. Johnson enacted monumental change in American society: Is it even possible for a president to do big things anymore?
The article added that the Obama presidency has "become a symbol of liberal frustration over his inability to use government to bring about change."
I can appreciate where analyses like these come from, but I also continue to believe the "can presidents still do big things" question reflects a misunderstanding about institutional limits under the American system.
Dominguez, who does not have health insurance, reads a pamphlet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California

New ACA data bolsters system's success

04/09/14 08:57AM

Following last week's announcement from the Obama administration, the number most closely associated with the Affordable Care Act is 7.1 million -- the number of consumers who enrolled in exchange marketplaces during the open-enrollment period. Republicans, in a conspiratorial state of mind, quickly accused the White House of "cooking the books," certain that the 7.1 million figure just couldn't be correct.
And in a way, opponents of "Obamacare" may have been half right: the 7.1 million wasn't entirely right because it understated the system's success. Michael Hiltzik highlighted a new independent analysis that's likely to make those rooting against the ACA even more discouraged.
The long-awaited Rand Corp. study of Obamacare's effect on health insurance coverage was released Tuesday and confirmed the numbers that had been telegraphed for more than a week: At least 9.3 million more Americans have health insurance now than in September 2013, virtually all of them as a result of the law.
That's a net figure, accommodating all those who lost their individual health insurance because of cancellations. The Rand study confirms other surveys that placed the number of people who lost their old insurance and did not or could not replace it -- the focus of an enormous volume of anti-Obamacare rhetoric -- at less than 1 million.
The entirety of the Rand study is online here (pdf).
The report comes with important caveats, most notably the fact that it's based largely on survey data, which necessarily comes with a margin of error. But some of the caveats actually lean in the ACA's favor -- Rand concedes that the study likely missed some of the 11th-hour rush when enrollment totals soared.
To put it mildly, these aren't the figures Republicans were hoping for. On the contrary, it leaves their #1 talking point in tatters.
Job seekers wait in line to meet with employers at the 25th Annual CUNY big Apple Job and Internship Fair at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on April 26, 2013 in New York, NY.

House GOP poised to let jobless aid 'come to an end'

04/09/14 08:00AM

With the Senate easily approving a bipartisan compromise on extended unemployment benefits on Monday, the focus now shifts to House Republicans, who've struggled at times to come up with a compelling rationale to cut off millions of struggling, jobless Americans.
To date, arguably the worst argument was floated two weeks ago by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who said, "The extended unemployment benefits by the administration were to be in place until unemployment came down. Unemployment is down."
In other words, though it's been generations since Congress allowed jobless aid to lapse with an unemployment rate this high, Price is satisfied that the economy is now fine -- so unemployment benefits no longer matter.
This quote, by way of Laura Clawson, isn't much better.
"I don't think there is a great sense of pressure on our members," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a House deputy whip. "The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren't adequate pay-fors and it's time for this program to come to an end."
Putting aside the fact that the "pay-fors" are perfectly adequate and earned the support of several Senate Republicans, Cole's quote is a great example of why congressional policymaking is such a mess.
The unemployment rate is still too high. The Senate just passed a bipartisan bill to help millions of jobless Americans with a bill that the CBO believes will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But because the unemployed lack political capital and House Republicans aren't especially concerned with the policy merits of legislation, GOP lawmakers don't feel any real "pressure" to act.
On a certain level, I can at least appreciate Cole's candor -- he's effectively admitting that he and his Republican colleagues just don't give a darn unless they feel "a great sense of pressure" -- but that's cold comfort to those facing personal economic crises.
That said, the bill may not be completely dead just yet.

More pings and other headlines

04/09/14 07:49AM

Searchers hear more pings from the missing plane search site. (NBC News) GOP not fazed by paycheck fairness vote. (Politico) Rep. Jackie Speier pushes for lawmaker sexual harassment training. (TPM) Business groups counter Tea Party challenger in Idaho. (WSJ) NJ bridge scandal investigative committee wants tapes of interviews that led to the report that cleared Gov. Christie. (NJ Star-Ledger) read more

Sex scandal exacerbated by insider silence

Sex scandal exacerbated by insider silence

04/08/14 10:45PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a burgeoning sex scandal made even more outrageous by the mishandling of a police report and the silence of high level politicians who allowed a man with serious allegations against him to ascend in political rank. watch