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Republicans lose Obamacare as campaign prop

Republicans lose Obamacare as campaign prop

04/07/14 11:05PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the history of Scott Brown as the first Republican candidate to run after Obamacare and how that issue has disappeared as a campaign issue for Republicans now that Obamacare has successfully reached enrolment targets. watch

This photo taken March 22, 2013, shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington.

Issa accused of 'cherry-picking evidence' and 'disregarding documents'

04/07/14 04:45PM

As recently as two weeks ago, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) seemed to be annoying just about everyone with his increasingly pointless investigation into the IRS "scandal." Democrats were publicly frustrated with Issa's partisan antics and belligerent witch hunt, while Republicans were quietly complaining about Issa's incompetence.
 
If the California Republican thought he'd get things back on track with a new report, he's mistaken.
The IRS singled out conservative Tea Party groups for scrutiny, according to a new report released Monday by Rep. Darrell Issa and Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.
 
The report argues Democrats are pushing a "myth" when they say the IRS closely examined groups of all political stripes.
The Republican report is available in its entirety here. Note that it says it's "flat out wrong" to claim progressive groups received similar treatment from the IRS. "[T]here is simply no evidence," the document states, "that any liberal or progressive group received enhanced scrutiny because its application reflected the organization's political views."
 
Soon after, I heard from Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whom Issa refused to let speak at a recent hearing on the matter, who said in a statement, "Chairman Issa has in his possession -- right now -- IRS documents that show definitively that both progressive and conservative groups were highlighted for scrutiny. Unfortunately, the Chairman insists on cherry-picking evidence and simply disregarding documents that directly contradict his partisan narrative, instead promoting misleading claims that hurt his own credibility and that of the Committee."
 
This seems like a knowable thing, doesn't it? There's nothing subjective about the underlying question: Republicans on the committee believe there is no evidence progressive and conservative groups were subjected to the same scrutiny, while Democrats on the committee believe there's all kinds of evidence progressive and conservative groups were subjected to the same scrutiny. So who's right?
 
I'll give you a hint: it's not Issa.
New Jersey Governor Christie speaks to local residents of Belmar, New Jersey and other shore towns in Monmouth County during a Town Hall meeting to discuss federal funds for recovery from hurricane Sandy, in Belmar

Christie's simmering scandals grow more serious in NJ

04/07/14 03:51PM

Two weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) handpicked legal team issued a report -- it was more taxpayer-financed propaganda than legal analysis -- clearing their client of wrongdoing. As part of the public-relations push surrounding the stunt, Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked the governor, "So this report has just come out, it exonerates you completely. Do you feel exonerated?"
 
Christie responded, "Yes, I do. But I also always knew that this is where it would end."
 
Except, literally nothing about the governor's ongoing scandals has "ended." On the contrary, as Rachel noted on the show on Friday night, the probe is growing more serious, not less.
A federal grand jury has begun hearing testimony in the criminal investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal, and Gov. Chris Christie's chief spokesman is among those who have testified, his lawyer said Friday.
 
The grand jury action is considered a major development in the ongoing controversy that has enveloped the Christie administration for months. What began as a preliminary inquiry into whether federal laws might have been "implicated" has morphed into a deepening criminal probe to determine whether federal laws have actually been broken.
And really, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Since these revelations on Friday, the developments have grown even more alarming.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

A dejecting pattern of behavior in Wisconsin

04/07/14 12:58PM

Up until fairly recently, Wisconsin's Bill Kramer was the Republican Majority Leader in the state Assembly. As Rachel noted on the show on Friday, that changed when the state lawmaker was charged with two counts of felony second-degree sexual assault -- charges that cost Kramer his GOP leadership post
 
The charges were not, however, enough to compel Wisconsin lawmakers to throw Kramer out of the state Assembly all together. He's no longer the Republican Majority Leader, but he's still a voting member of the legislative body. Some in the party have called on Kramer to quit, but for now, he seems to be determined to stay in office, and his colleagues aren't prepared to force the issue, at least not yet.
 
Perhaps they'll be interested to know that the recent sexual-assault allegations are not the first time Kramer has been accused.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, his chief of staff and a Waukesha County GOP official were all told three years ago of allegations that a then-aide to the senator had been sexually assaulted by state Rep. Bill Kramer, but none of them took the matter to the police or Assembly leaders.
 
The woman told her supervisor in Johnson's office and a number of other people, but decided at the time to have her attorney send a letter to Kramer rather than go to the police, records show. Last month -- nearly three years after the alleged assault outside a Muskego bar -- the woman learned of Kramer's alleged mistreatment of other women and filed a complaint with Muskego police that has resulted in two felony charges of second-degree sexual assault.
According to the weekend report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a woman who worked for Ron Johnson was allegedly assaulted by Bill Kramer in 2011, who then quickly informed several people, including her supervisor in Johnson's office, Tony Blando, the senator's chief of staff, who informed the senator himself.
 
But they didn't tell anyone and remained silent when Republican state lawmakers elevated Kramer to the Majority Leader's office. The aide in the 2011 incident only came forward after the 2014 allegations against Kramer came to public light.
 
So why didn't the senator say something at the time? Initially, Johnson and his office didn't want to comment, but after the Journal Sentinel was published online, the senator's office changed its mind.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio reacts in animated fashion to criticism by conservative groups of a bipartisan budget bill, December 12, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Boehner scrambles to appear less constructive

04/07/14 11:47AM

For generations, it's been common for policymakers to tweak major new laws soon after they're implemented. After lawmakers created Social Security, they returned to the system repeatedly to make it better and more effective. The same is true of Medicare. Even "Romneycare" in Massachusetts received multiple touch-ups after taking effect.
 
And for the most part, this probably seems like common sense -- policymakers implement a major new law, they see how it's going, and they look for ways to modify it along the way to make it as effective as possible, keeping what works and tweaking what doesn't.
 
This traditional model hasn't applied to the Affordable Care Act, however, because congressional Republicans haven't let it. They don't want to "fix" the ACA; they want to destroy it. To go along with simple tweaks -- even minor changes they like, which will help consumers -- is to betray their commitment to hating Obamacare at all times and in all ways, rational thought be damned.
 
With this in mind, however, the AP has an item this morning that raised some eyebrows on the right.
At the prodding of business organizations, House Republicans quietly secured a recent change in President Barack Obama's health law to expand coverage choices, a striking, one-of-a-kind departure from dozens of high-decibel attempts to repeal or dismember it.
 
Democrats describe the change involving small-business coverage options as a straightforward improvement of the type they are eager to make, and Obama signed it into law. Republicans are loath to agree, given the strong sentiment among the rank and file that the only fix the law deserves is a burial.
 
"Maybe you say it helps (Obamacare), but it really helps the small businessman," said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., one of several physician-lawmakers among Republicans and an advocate of repeal.
Remember, for conservatives, this isn't an acceptable response. If you help "the small businessman" by improving the way in which the ACA is implemented, you are, by definition, helping make Obamacare's implementation more effective. For the right, this is backwards -- the goal should be to make the ACA as punishing and ineffective as possible, in the process creating demand for destroying the law in its entirety.
 
In other words, for GOP lawmakers to make the law better is necessarily the same thing as making the politics surrounding the law worse.
Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld 'courted by' would-be GOP presidents

04/07/14 11:05AM

When a candidate launches a presidential campaign, it's the beginning of a long, difficult process. But what's often easy to overlook is the fact that these announcements are also the end of a different kind of process -- candidates in both parties routinely spend months, if not years, laying the groundwork for a national race.
 
And a key element of this pre-campaign phase involves spending time with -- and ideally, impressing -- party leaders and insiders who will help shape broader perceptions about the candidates' credibility. Philip Rucker and Robert Costa referred to this as the "credentials caucus," as Republican presidential aspirants "quietly study up on issues and cultivate ties to pundits and luminaries from previous administrations."
 
The jockeying and relationship-building is well underway. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and others have been cultivating ties with a parade of scholars, pundits, and veterans from the Bush/Cheney era.
 
But perhaps no tidbit stood out more than this one.
Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, known for his controversial decisions during the Iraq war, has been courted by several potential candidates and plans to meet with Cruz. Cruz has hired former Rumsfeld aide Victoria Coates as his national security adviser.
If this seems unsettling, there's a perfectly good reason for that.
Natalia Pollack, uninsured since 1999, is assisted to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, by Carlos Tapia, a certified application councilor in New York City, March 31, 2014.

ACA 'appears to be accomplishing its goal'

04/07/14 10:14AM

In one of the strangest columns on health care policy I've seen in a long while, Peggy Noonan on Friday characterized the Affordable Care Act as "a catastrophe like no other." She insisted that if observers "step back and view the thing at a distance," one "cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration."
 
Such a sweeping condemnation was certainly in line with Beltway assumptions roughly five months ago. When healthcare.gov was dysfunctional for a couple of months -- remember when that seemed like a big deal? -- Americans were told this was Obama's Katrina, Obama's Iraq, Obama's Watergate, Obama's Iran-Contra, and in one especially memorable analysis, Obama's Bay of Pigs.
 
But given what we now know, if honest observers step back and view the thing at a distance, the ACA is working.
In the U.S., the uninsured rate dipped to 15.6% in the first quarter of 2014, a 1.5-percentage-point decline from the fourth quarter of 2013. The uninsured rate is now at the lowest level recorded since late 2008.
 
The uninsured rate has been falling since the fourth quarter of 2013, after hitting an all-time high of 18.0% in the third quarter -- a sign that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare," appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage.
The trick of surveys like these is that it's tough to say with certainty exactly why the uninsured rate is falling so quickly. Some of this may be the result of an improving jobs landscape, with more Americans moving from unemployment (with no insurance) to full-time jobs (with coverage).
 
But given the available evidence, "Obamacare" certainly has something to do with the sharp improvement in covering the uninsured, Indeed, Jonathan Cohn looked at the new Gallup data alongside related reports from HHS, Health Reform Monitoring Survey, and the Rand Corporation, and concluded, "In short, it seems pretty clear that, because of Obamacare, more people have health insurance. And, yes, that accounts for people who lost existing coverage because insurers cancelled old policies."
 
Consider a brief tale of the tape:
File photo: Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama Goodyear Tire &Rubber Co. worker, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by: Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Fight over pay equity isn't a 'myth' or a 'meme'

04/07/14 09:11AM

On Friday night, Fox News' Megyn Kelly hosted a lively segment on pay equity, in which viewers were told that it's a "myth" that American women receive unequal pay for equal work. The host herself defended those who "question that meme about equal pay."
 
The segment aired just two days after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asked what the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act would do for men and a week after Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) described the debate over wage discrimination as "nonsense."
 
The White House apparently doesn't see it that way.
A Presidential Memorandum due to be signed Tuesday will require federal contractors to submit wage data by sex and race, which the Department of Labor will use "to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, reducing burdens on other employers." [...]
 
In order to create more pay transparency in the workforce, Obama will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who share salary data, according to a memo from a White House official.
This will coincide with Equal Pay Day, which is tomorrow, and which Obama will commemorate at an event alongside Lilly Ledbetter.
 
What's more, it's not just the White House.
Walking through a basement corridor while talking to reporters about a budget deal Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.

Dems: 'Thank you, thank you Congressman Paul Ryan'

04/07/14 08:39AM

After months of feeling pretty dour, Democrats seemed to start walking with a spring in their step last week. The fact that Affordable Care Act enrollment managed to exceed projections, giving the party a much-needed policy and political victory, gave Dems something to brag about for a change.
 
And as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted, it was soon followed by another development that brought smiles to Democratic faces: the release of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan.
 
''[The political conditions are] changing. If you've been around awhile, and I've been around awhile, you can sense it,'' Durbin said. ''You're not going to turn away seven or 10 million people from insurance coverage -- doesn't work anymore. And then comes Ryan. Thank you, thank you Congressman Paul Ryan, for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control.''
 
How excited are Democrats about the far-right Ryan plan? President Obama devoted much of his weekly address over the weekend to highlighting its provisions, making the case that it "shrinks opportunity and makes it harder for Americans who work hard to get ahead."
"The Republican budget begins by handing out massive tax cuts to households making more than $1 million a year. Then, to keep from blowing a hole in the deficit, they'd have to raise taxes on middle-class families with kids. Next, their budget forces deep cuts to investments that help our economy create jobs, like education and scientific research.
 
"Now, they won't tell you where these cuts will fall. But compared to my budget, if they cut everything evenly, then within a few years, about 170,000 kids will be cut from early education programs. About 200,000 new mothers and kids will be cut off from programs to help them get healthy food. Schools across the country will lose funding that supports 21,000 special education teachers. And if they want to make smaller cuts to one of these areas, that means larger cuts in others.
 
"Unsurprisingly, the Republican budget also tries to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- even though that would take away health coverage from the more than seven million Americans who've done the responsible thing and signed up to buy health insurance. And for good measure, their budget guts the rules we put in place to protect the middle class from another financial crisis like the one we've had to fight so hard to recover from."
In this sense, Paul Ryan didn't just release a budget plan for no particular reason; he also packaged a Democratic election-year message for the rest of 2014. No wonder Dick Durbin is so eager to thank him.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., listens to testimony from Gen. Keith B. Alexander as he answers questions before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 2013.

An 'emotional' debate over Bush/Cheney-era torture policies

04/07/14 08:00AM

The Senate Intelligence Committee last week easily approved a measure last week to declassify part of its report on Bush/Cheney-era torture policies. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee's chairwoman, explained, making the findings public is important to "ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted."
 
Yesterday, former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden pushed back against Feinstein's comments in a deeply unfortunate way.
Hayden, who led the CIA and NSA under former President George W. Bush, told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, "Now that sentence that the motivation for the report may show deep emotional feeling on the part of the Senator. But I don't think it leads you to an objective report."
 
Wallace countered, "Forgive me because you and I both know Senator Feinstein. I have the highest regard for her. You're saying you think she was emotional in these conclusions?"
Hayden didn't answer that directly, responding, "I, what I'm saying is, first of all, Chris, you're asking me about a report that I have no idea of its content."
 
But that only seemed to make matters worse. Hayden began by suggesting the woman who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee was too "emotional" in her role investigating Bush/Cheney torture policies, which in his mind led to a dubious, bipartisan report. He then followed that up by mentioning a minor detail: Hayden hasn't read the report he's criticizing.
 
For her part, Feinstein issued a statement soon after Hayden's interview aired, and while she sidestepped his concerns about the senator being overly "emotional," the California Democrat strongly defended her committee's work, calling the completed report "objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits."
 
Her statement added that the years-long investigation produced a report based on "documents provided by the CIA and the result is a comprehensive history of the CIA program. The only direction I gave staff was to let the facts speak for themselves."
 
And then there were the Cheneys.

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