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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.27.15

01/27/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Libya: "Terrorists launched a bomb and gun attack on a Libyan hotel popular with government ministers and Western diplomats Tuesday, killing up to five people. One American citizen was among the dead, NBC News' Paul Nassar reported. A handful of other Americans were evacuated after the attack."
 
* The global chess match: "The reaction in China to the breadth of strategic and economic issues discussed by the United States and India during Mr. Obama's visit and to their obvious, though not publicly expressed, mutual anxiety about China has been cool but controlled."
 
* It's quite a delegation: "President Obama met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, leading a bipartisan delegation of prominent current and former officials to shore up an important relationship and offer condolences for the death of King Abdullah."
 
* Capital punishment: "A two-time killer is waiting to hear if the U.S. Supreme Court will stop his Tuesday night execution, which is being used to challenge the state's uniquely strict standard for intellectual disability. Warren Lee Hill's lawyers claim the 54-year-old has the mental capacity of a child -- but the state says that hasn't been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as it requires."
 
* Criminal justice system: "A record number of convicts were exonerated last year, fueled by a backlog of lab tests that cleared drug suspects in Houston and a string of murder cases linked to a single New York City detective."
 
* Economy: "The latest reading on consumer confidence rose to another milestone. The Conference Board's consumer-confidence index rose to 102.9 from 93.1 in December, the best reading since August 2007 and above the MarketWatch-compiled economist forecast of 96.9. Consumer assessment of both current conditions and the outlook for the future brightened. "
An Affordable Healthcare Act supporter (R) talks with a student (L) about the law on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013.

Obamacare price tag keeps shrinking

01/27/15 04:32PM

The Congressional Budget Office released a whole lot of information yesterday, all of which caused a fair amount of chatter, but some of it matters more than others.
 
Most of the coverage I've seen highlighted the CBO projections on the budget deficit, most notably an expected shortfall of about $468 billion -- 2.6% of GDP -- for this fiscal year. This puts the U.S. on track for the smallest deficit in eight years, and over $1 trillion in deficit reduction in the Obama era.
 
The same report noted that the era of extremely fast deficit reduction will probably end soon after, which will invariably lead deficit scolds to start demanding cuts to social-insurance programs. But that won't make any substantive sense it won't be social-insurance programs that cause the larger deficits.
 
What I found more interesting, however, is what the CBO had to say about the Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare, as it is commonly known, will cost 20 percent less than previously projected over the next decade, the CBO said Monday. The reason for the revised estimate is a result of a decline of healthcare inflation, the Los Angeles Times reported. In addition, the number of uninsured Americans has fallen by 12 million, the CBO estimates, and an additional 12 million are expected to gain insurance by the end of 2016.
 
Through 2019, the law's insurance provisions will cost an estimated $571 billion, down $139 billion from the CBO's initial estimates.
One of the more common complaints from the right is that the nation "can't afford" the ACA. Even if it's working, even if it's saving lives, the argument goes, the massive reform law simply carries too large a price tag.
 
That argument cannot be taken seriously. For one thing, "Obamacare" reduces the deficit -- repeal it and the shortfall conservatives sometimes pretend to care about gets worse, not better. For another, the price tag keeps shrinking, not growing, making the "we can't afford it" argument nonsensical.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Indiana, feds reach a deal on Medicaid

01/27/15 03:46PM

Every time a Republican-run "red" state embraces Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, the pressure increases a little more on the dead-enders to come to their senses. The latest news is out of Indiana, where the Indianapolis Star reported on the agreement between Gov. Mike Pence's (R) administration and Obama administration officials.
Indiana has been given the green light to expand its Healthy Indiana Plan, which would offer insurance to an additional 350,000 Indiana residents, who currently lack insurance.
 
The state will begin taking applications today for its so-called HIP 2.0 plan, for which coverage begins Feb. 1, Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday morning at a packed speech at St. Vincent Health.
 
His announcement culminates more than two years of back and forth between state government and federal health officials over whether to grant the state a waiver for the plan debuted in 2006.
With this announcement, 28 states have accepted Medicaid expansion -- an optional part of "Obamacare" thanks to a Supreme Court ruling -- a list that includes 10 "red" states.
 
And these totals are growing, not shrinking.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Add border security to the list of GOP 'stumbles'

01/27/15 01:04PM

In its first month, the Republican-led House, with its largest GOP majority in generations, has tackled a series of awful bills that have no chance of becoming law. We've seen Republicans splinter and complain about one another. We've seen GOP leaders schedule floor votes on some key priorities, only to pull the bills from consideration soon after.
 
It's probably not what the congressional majority party had in mind.
House Republicans are not off to a strong start, Speaker John A. Boehner acknowledged on Tuesday. Asked about the eleventh-hour withdrawal of bills related to abortion and, most recently, border security -- both of which were initially considered easy lifts for the emboldened Republican majority before intra-party divisions emerged -- Mr. Boehner attributed them to their attempts to fast-track the legislation without committee consideration to work out the disagreements.
 
"There have been a couple of stumbles," he said.
Um, yeah. Worse, these aren't "stumbles" Republicans can blame on the White House or the Senate -- the giant Republican majority, filled with optimism in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 midterms, is struggling to get its own act together.
 
Yesterday, much of the attention inside the Beltway seemed to be focused on the weather, but in the House, the day's "stumbles" actually helped capture much of what's gone wrong for the party.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.27.15

01/27/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* This is an unintentionally amazing sentence: "If he runs again in 2016, [Mitt] Romney is determined to re-brand himself as authentic."
 
* A new USA Today/Suffolk University Poll found Republican voters nationwide preferring Romney as their presidential nominee, but he's struggling with an embarrassingly low 16%. Jeb Bush is second with 13%, and while no other candidate is close to double digits, Ben Carson is third with 6%. [45% are undecided]
 
* The same poll asked Democratic voters about their party's preferred nominee and Hillary Clinton was the clear favorite with 51%. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Biden are around 5% each, while 31% of Democrats say they're undecided.
 
* In a quote that will no doubt make the rounds in GOP circles, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked about 2016 hopes, and referencing Mitt Romney, Pelosi said, "Let me put it this way -- I hope he's their nominee."
 
* Politico reports that social conservatives in Iowa are "determined" to have each of the Republican presidential hopefuls denounce marriage equality, regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court later this year.
 
* Bob Ehrlich, a former one-term governor of Maryland who also served four terms in Congress, is apparently serious about launching a Republican presidential campaign. He'd obviously be a longshot, but Ehrlich has been far more successful at the ballot box than Romney.
Speaker of the House John Boehner listens as his fellow Republicans speak to the media after a conference meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 21, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Boehner undermines his own minimum-wage argument

01/27/15 11:16AM

When policymakers debate increasing the minimum wage, there's nothing wrong with them drawing on their personal experiences when making a decision. Some members of Congress, however, really aren't good at it.
 
A couple of years ago, for example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued against raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour because, when she was a teenager, she made $2.15 an hour and she "appreciated that opportunity."
 
What Blackburn didn't realize is that inflation exists -- when she made $2.15 an hour as a teen, in inflation-adjusted terms, that was over $12 an hour in today's money. The Tennessee Republican was trying to argue against a minimum-wage hike, but she ended up doing the opposite.
 
A related problem popped up over the weekend, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on "60 Minutes" and CBS's Scott Pelley asked if Congress might increase the "federal minimum wage." The Republican leader replied:
"It's a bad idea. I've had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin' up and gettin' myself through school. And I wouldn't have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing [a] higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder."
Again, there's nothing wrong with Boehner, like Blackburn, drawing upon his personal experiences. The trouble is that Boehner, like Blackburn, is flubbing the details.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

The 'House Freedom Caucus' gets to work

01/27/15 10:40AM

Following up on a report from a couple of weeks ago, House Republicans continue to find new ways to splinter from their like-minded allies. For about four decades, far-right members of Congress have enjoyed a special group separate from the Republican mainstream -- the Republican Study Committee -- home to the House's most rigid ideologues and reactionary voices.
 
But the more radicalized House Republicans become, the easier it is for some GOP lawmakers to see their colleagues as not quite conservative enough. Sure, the Republican Study Committee is fine for most run-of-the-mill far-right members, but what about the right-wing elite who aren't sure about Republicans' commitment to the cause?
 
As of yesterday, they officially have their own little team.
GOP lawmakers who find the far-right Republican Study Committee too squishy now have a new clique to call home: the House Freedom Caucus.
 
"The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans," the group declared in its first official communiqué.
And just how big is the newly named House Freedom Caucus? As of yesterday, it has just nine members.
 
In fact, the group is small enough to list the full membership: Republican Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), John Fleming (La.), Scott Garrett (N.J.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) and Matt Salmon (Ariz.). Collectively, they issued a two-sentence statement of purpose that could probably have been endorsed by any nine members of Congress in either party or in either chamber.
 
The funny part, however, continues to be the process through which members can join the House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012.

Benghazi committee veers onto predictable path

01/27/15 10:05AM

When the House Intelligence Committee wrapped up its investigation of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, it was the seventh congressional committee to weigh in on the deadly terrorist violence that killed four Americans. The Intelligence panel's findings, all of which discredited right-wing conspiracy theories, were intended by its Republican authors to be the "definitive" congressional statement on the attack.
 
But GOP leaders didn't much care, and soon after announced they would continue to support an eighth committee to do what the other seven committees had already done. This other, select committee spent $1.5 million in taxpayer money last year to review facts that have already been reviewed, and the panel, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), is digging in for more unnecessary efforts in 2015.
 
The committee is off to a not-so-sterling start.
Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi are accusing Republicans of conducting crucial interviews in secret and withholding information.
 
The tensions between the two parties erupted into the open on Monday after a letter from the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), criticizing Chairman Trey Gowdy's (R-S.C.) handling of the investigation went public.
 
Cummings said Republicans were holding meetings with witnesses, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Maghreb Affairs Raymond Maxwell, who claims he was instructed to edit documents relating to the 2012 attacks. He said that Democrats were being excluded from these Republican-only meetings. Democrats say they have never asked Gowdy to require witnesses to meet with them, just that when witnesses are willing to sit down with both sides, they be included.
In a four-page letter to the far-right South Carolinian, Cummings told Gowdy, "You have had different standards for Republicans and Democrats participating in the investigation, secret meetings with witnesses, and -- perhaps most importantly -- withheld or downplayed information when it undermines the allegations we are investigating."
 
The response from Gowdy's office was a classic:
Texas Governor Perry, a possible Republican candidate for 2016 presidential race, talks several participants at business leaders luncheon in Portsmouth

Perry says jobless rate has been 'doctored'

01/27/15 09:17AM

The sharp improvement in American job creation clearly poses a challenge for Republicans. The GOP spent last year insisting that the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, and federal regulations were crushing the job market, and yet, 2014 saw the fastest drop in unemployment in literally three decades.
 
What's a Republican to do? As is too often the case, it appears resorting to conspiracy theories is easier than dealing with reality.
After a two-year hiatus from politics, unemployment trutherism made its return to the Republican campaign trail on Monday, making a brief appearance alongside Rick Perry at an Iowa breakfast.
 
According to Bloomberg Politics reporter Dave Weigel, the former Texas governor told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition that they couldn't trust the official unemployment rate coming out of Washington.
 
"It's been massaged, it's been doctored," Perry said, as quoted in a tweet by Weigel.
Weigel has not yet published a report with the full context, but he provided a transcript to  W. Gardner Selby. The former Texas governor explicitly said, in reference to the unemployed, "I mean, who is it standing up for these people that I call the uncounted? They've lost hope that they can even get a job, so they're not even counted. When you look at the unemployment rate today, that's not the true unemployment rate, it's been massaged, it's been doctored."
 
Actually, no, it hasn't.
David Koch

Koch brothers put a price tag on the 2016 elections

01/27/15 08:41AM

When it comes to campaign fundraising, it's easy for the numbers to start to blur together. One candidate raised several million dollars, but is struggling with cash on hand. Another had a subpar monthly report, but fared well in the quarterly report. There are PACs, super PACs, campaign committees, state parties, and on and on, each furiously trying to fill their coffers -- and in a "permanent campaign" environment, it seems to never stop.
 
I mention this because I understand how easy it is to start tuning out reports on the role of money in elections. Everyone gets it: there's a lot of money being raised and spent.
 
But some reports shouldn't be dismissed too quickly. This piece from Matea Gold, for example, was legitimately jaw-dropping.
A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
 
The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The question is not whether $889 million is a lot of money to invest in a single election. It is. Rather, the key here is understanding what such a sum represents in a democratic system of government.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence speaks during the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting Leadership Forum on April 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indiana's Pence readies state-run media

01/27/15 08:01AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a far-right former congressman who's rumored to be eyeing the 2016 presidential race, is hardly the only conservative Republican policymaker who's sometimes at odds with the press.
 
Pence appears to be, however, the only conservative Republican policymaker who hopes to circumvent -- and compete with -- independent news organizations with his own state-run media entity.
Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
 
Pence is planning in late February to launch "Just IN," a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.
According to the materials obtained by The Indianapolis Star, state agencies' communications directors were informed last week, "At times, Just IN will break news -- publishing information ahead of any other news outlet. Strategies for determining how and when to give priority to such 'exclusive' coverage remain under discussion."
 
It's hard to say exactly what this will look like in practice -- I suppose we'll see soon enough -- but state officials will apparently publish "news stories" they've written about their own administration's work, effectively erasing the line between press releases and actual reporting.
 
It'll be especially interesting to hear about the news-gathering process for "Just IN." Will press secretaries chase down quotes from their bosses? When agency chiefs host press conferences, will state officials sit among actual reporters? Will those officials scoop real news organizations before the press conferences even begin?

Coastal drilling proposal and other headlines

01/27/15 08:01AM

White House to propose allowing oil drilling off Atlantic coast. (New York Times)

Pres. Obama defends U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia. (AP)

The Kochs put a price on 2016: $889 million. (Politico)

The blizzard may be a bust in NYC, but New England is still getting hammered. (New York Times, The Weather Channel)

Sen. Harry Reid is recovering at home after eye surgery. (The Hill)

Alabama lawmaker threatens to reveal colleagues' affairs over marriage hypocrisy. (TimesDaily)

Gunmen at luxury Libyan hotel take hostages, kill three guards. (NBC News via AP)

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