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A statue of former President Ronald Reagan is seen February 6, 2014 at the entrance to Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Next stop, Planet Reagan

04/10/14 09:06AM

Not long after Ronald Reagan completed his two terms in the White House, conservative activists launched something called the "Reagan Legacy Project." The fear was that history would be unkind to the Republican icon -- when an administration sells weapons to an enemy to finance an illegal war in central America, then covers it up, then lies about its misdeeds, it leaves a mark -- so the right needed to give the president a public-relations boost.
It's worked out quite well. At Republicans' urging, Reagan's name is everywhere -- schools, bridges, courthouses, highways, airports, children, etc. -- and the former president's reputation is better now than when he was actually in office. Last year, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) even tried to rename nearly all of the water surrounding the United States after Reagan.
And the p.r. campaign isn't done yet.
Lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday advanced a bill that would name a Nevada mountain peak after the late President Ronald Reagan.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) proposed the legislation that would name part of Frenchman Mountain, located east of Las Vegas, "Mount Reagan."
Committee members approved the measure by voice vote Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Of course, the measure was only approved after committee Democrats openly mocked the GOP's preoccupation with the man the RNC once literally referred to as "Ronaldus Magnus." In fact, one unnamed Democratic lawmaker "suggested the entire planet be named after the 40th president."
Perhaps Dems shouldn't give Republicans any ideas.
It's worth noting that the United States already has a Mount Reagan -- it's in New Hampshire -- but for GOP lawmakers, that's apparently not quite good enough.
At this point, House passage appears likely, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the AP he has higher priorities for his home state.
But as we've discussed before, what I find especially curious about all of this is that today's Republican Party, radicalized to an extent unseen in the United States in recent history, has absolutely no use for the Reagan legacy. None.

Jobless claims drop to nearly seven-year low

04/10/14 08:38AM

Going into this morning, economists projected a slight improvement in initial unemployment claims, but the new figures from the Labor Department were far better than expected.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week fell to a nearly seven-year low of 300,000, a sign the labor market might be experiencing a spring revival. Initial claims in the seven days ended April 5 sank by 32,000 from a revised 332,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday.... Economists polled by MarketWatch expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 320,000.
The average of new claims over the past month dropped by 4,750 to 316,250, marking the second lowest read since the end of the recession.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner leaves a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after refusing to testify May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating allegations that the...

The manufactured IRS 'controversy' turns farcical

04/10/14 08:00AM

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday asked Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday to investigate Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS's tax-exempt division, the latest in a series of desperate moves intended to pretend this is a legitimate "scandal."
But it's not. In fact, the most striking thing about yesterday's House antics was the shamelessness with which Republican lawmakers conducted themselves. Dana Milbank was right to call out Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for organizing a pointless circus.
The House Ways and Means Committee chairman was ready to send the panel's files on former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for a possible prosecution -- a handover that could have been accomplished with a simple phone call to the attorney general. Instead, Camp put on a show.
The Michigan Republican invited the press and the public to the committee's storied hearing room Wednesday, only to call an immediate vote to kick them out. This way, the panel could meet in a closed session to debate Lerner's fate -- a dramatic but meaningless gesture because the sole purpose of the secret meeting was to authorize releasing the committee's files on Lerner to the public.
Good political theater can at least occasionally be entertaining, but the Ways and Means Committee put on an elaborate show for no reason, struggling to maintain the facade that this fiasco had substantive value.
Milbank added, that Camp, who recently announced he would not seek re-election after his own party ignored the tax-reform plan he spent three years writing, was "on course to retire with dignity -- at least until he allowed his committee room to be turned into a circus tent Wednesday. It was a folly wrapped in a charade and shrouded by farce."
If the point was to generate some media attention for a "controversy" that was discredited several months ago, Camp's manufactured drama had some of the intended effect.
But GOP members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has traditionally been home to a slightly more serious approach to policymaking, went through the motions while hoping that no one asked some pretty obvious questions:

Marriage equality test and other headlines

04/10/14 07:49AM

The House vote on the Paul Ryan budget today is a test of party unity. (WSJ) Russia didn't share all details on Boston bombing suspect, report says. (NY Times) Marriage equality's winning streak to be tested in higher court. (AP) GOP Connecticut mayor criticized for leaving gun control group. (TPM) Judge slaps State Department over Blackwater. (AP) We are one step closer to "Mount Reagan." (The Hill) read more

Ahead on the 4/9/14 Maddow show

04/09/14 07:25PM

Tonight's guest include:

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, (D) New Jersey, co-chair of the investigation committee into the George Washington Bridge lane closures

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, member of President Obama’s cabinet

A little tune for Wednesday -- after the jump, a preview of tonight's show featuring executive producer Bill Wolff:

read more


Koch Industries and its 'Obamacare' subsidies

04/09/14 04:32PM

When we talk about beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act, we tend to focus on certain groups of people: the uninsured who can now get coverage, seniors who can now better afford prescription medication, young adults who can now stay on their family plans; small businesses receiving tax breaks to cover employees; consumers benefiting from new protections related to pre-existing conditions, annual and lifetime caps, medical-loss ratio, etc.
But there are large businesses that benefit, too. In fact, the AP's Charles Babington reported yesterday on some notable enterprises have received "Obamacare" subsidies.
Several big corporations have reaped millions of dollars from "Obamacare" even as they support GOP candidates who vow to repeal the law. This condemn-while-benefiting strategy angers Democrats, who see some of their top congressional candidates struggling against waves of anti-Obamacare ads partly funded by these companies.
Among the corporations is a familiar Democratic nemesis, Koch Industries, the giant conglomerate headed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
There was a temporary program within the ACA called the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, intended to help businesses cover health care cost for retired employees who are not yet covered by Medicare. Among others, Koch Industries applied for subsidies under the program and received $1.4 million in taxpayer money.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed only too eager to highlight these details on the chamber floor this week, wondering aloud why "it's OK for Koch Industries to save money through Obamacare," even as the company's principal owners help finance a political movement against the health care law.
"If the Affordable Care Act is so awful," Reid added, "why did Koch Industries use it to their advantage?"
That need not be a rhetorical question.
Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC, speaks during

Don't know much about history, DeMint Edition

04/09/14 03:24PM

In theory, Jim DeMint's understanding of slavery and the Civil War is the sort of thing that should bother those who describe themselves as "constitutional conservatives."
Heritage Foundation head Jim DeMint appeared on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe of Truth In Action Ministries last week, where he insisted that "no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves."
DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina, told Newcombe that "the conscience of the American people" and not the federal government was responsible for the end of slavery.
I suppose it's possible DeMint wasn't prepared to discuss the topic during this interview, listening to the clip, the former senator made an effort to sound like an authority on the subject.
"[T]he reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution," the Heritage chief said. After noting court rulings like Dred Scott, DeMint added, "[T]he Constitution kept calling us back to 'all men are created equal and we have 'inalienable rights' in the minds of God."
For the record, it was the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, that says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."
Wait, it gets much worse.
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?