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U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) listens in a Senate hearing. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Ron Johnson's guess on premiums wasn't close

10/31/14 11:37AM

When we last checked in on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), he was telling a far-right media outlet there's a "real and present danger" about terrorists contracting Ebola on purpose and then attacking the United States. This week, as Igor Volsky reported, the senator returned to the same conservative news station to share some thoughts on health care.
Responding to a question [on NewsMax TV] about premium increases under the law, Johnson related his own experiences with voters. "I'm driving around Wisconsin, I'm talking to business owners and I'm talking to health care providers and insurance agents as well and they're seeing that same kind of range [of premium increases for 2015], anywhere from 16 to 60 percent," he explained. "Kind of with an average of around 30 percent here just anecdotally in Wisconsin."
 
But Johnson's anecdotes appear to be outliers at best and fabrications at worst. Actual rate filings submitted to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) just last month show that the average premiums in health care plans offered through the law's federal exchange will increase by an average of just 3 percent in 2015, with two insurers registering decreases for the coming year.
Presumably, before the senator started speaking publicly about premium hikes, he probably should have looked beyond the evidence he discovered by "driving around." An average "of around 30 percent" isn't even close to the actual average of 3 percent.
 
As for the big picture, Johnson isn't the only Republican whose talking points on health care need some work.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

For Senate GOP, 'Right Turn Ahead'

10/31/14 11:15AM

There's uncontested data that suggests today's Senate Republicans are further to the right than any GOP Senate conference in the history of the party. Indeed, given there used to be some moderate-to-liberal Republicans in the upper chamber, all of whom are now gone, the radicalization of GOP senators seems pretty obvious.
 
And with that in mind, it's tempting to think Senate Republicans just couldn't move any further to the right, having hit some kind of ideological peak. That assumption would be wrong -- Ron Brownstein explains this week that the 2014 elections now seem likely to push the GOP even further off the ideological cliff.
[A] look at the candidates' agendas this year finds an almost indivisible consensus behind deeply conservative positions among the 14 non-incumbent Senate Republican contenders with a plausible chance of winning. (The 14 include the challengers for the 11 most threatened Democratic seats and the GOP nominees for Republican open seats in Georgia, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.) [...]
 
Ernst may hold the pole position on conservative aspiration, but the other Republicans racing toward the Senate are not far behind.
Within this crop of GOP candidates, most of whom seem likely to win, all oppose raising the minimum wage. All reject climate science. Nearly all hope to destroy the Affordable Care Act. All reject bipartisan compromise on comprehensive immigration reform. Nearly all oppose background checks on firearm purchases. All oppose marriage equality.
 
The conventional wisdom is that the party nominated unelectable extremists in 2010 and 2012, limiting Republican gains in the Senate, and learned a valuable lesson in 2014. Those assumptions are, at best, suspect. As Brownstein put it, "While some analysts have theorized that a GOP Senate takeover would encourage the party to cut more deals with President Obama, the unswervingly conservative tilt of the Republicans likely to join the upper chamber points instead toward continued -- even heightened -- confrontation."
 
Right. The more the party is rewarded for extremism, the more extremist the party will be. GOP primary voters didn't nominate pragmatic centrists to run in Senate races this year; they nominated very conservative candidates who are arguably to the right of the median in the current Republican Senate conference.
Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal picks an unfortunate fight over intelligence

10/31/14 10:12AM

Looking back at the last year or so, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) effort to raise his national profile has run into occasional pitfalls. The far-right governor, for example, has suggested Americans have a guaranteed right under the First Amendment to appear on reality-television shows, while also refusing to say whether he believes in modern biology.
 
The Louisiana Republican has filed a federal lawsuit in opposition to an education policy he recently endorsed; he said Israel would be safer if Secretary of State John Kerry was "riding a girl's bike or whatever it is in Nantucket"; and he made up a ridiculous argument about Medicaid hurting Americans with disabilities, making it seem as if he doesn't understand the policy.
 
It's against this backdrop that Jindal is now arguing that President Obama isn't "smart" enough for his taste.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) attacked President Barack Obama's intelligence on Tuesday, claiming Obama deserves a tuition refund from Harvard since he didn't learn "a darned thing while he was there." [...]
 
"There's actually one lawsuit I'm happy to endorse. You see we have gotten so used to saying we have a constitutional scholar in the White House, we've gotten so used to saying we have a smart man as president. But I'm beginning to wonder if that's really true," Jindal said, according to video posted by the Louisville Courier-Journal.
As part of his indictment against the president's intellect, Jindal insisted that Obama is the "first president ever to occupy the White House who does not believe in American exceptionalism." He made the comments shortly after President Obama told a White House audience, "I'm a firm believer in American exceptionalism" -- an issue he spoke on at some length.
 
Part of the problem is Jindal's lazy combination of irony and hypocrisy. The Louisiana governor, desperate to rally right-wing support in advance of a likely national campaign, routinely makes comments that can charitably be described as dumb. For Jindal to pick a fight about the president's intellectual acuity is like New Jersey Chris Christie (R) accusing someone of being a bully -- it's a topic probably better left to others.
Image: Obama Nominates Hagel For Defense Secretary, Brennan For CIA Chief

Hagel balks at Obama's Syria strategy? Not really

10/31/14 09:32AM

The headline on The Hill's homepage late yesterday raised the prospect of an important rift within the Obama administration: "Hagel memo criticized WH Syria strategy." The article referenced a CNN report with a similarly striking headline: "Hagel wrote memo to White House criticizing Syria strategy."
 
Kevin Drum was flipping around the channels yesterday and came upon "a CNN chyron informing me breathlessly that Chuck Hagel had just 'blasted' President Obama's Syria policy."
 
It all sounds quite serious, doesn't it? If the president's own Defense secretary, during a war, is openly criticizing the administration's Syria policy, that's a pretty important development for U.S. foreign policy.
 
Except, one gets a different picture by actually reading CNN's piece.
Earlier this month, while on an [sic] trip to Latin America to discuss climate change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sat down and wrote a highly private, and very blunt memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice about U.S. policy toward Syria.
 
It was a detailed analysis, crafted directly by Hagel "expressing concern about overall Syria strategy," a senior U.S. official tells CNN.... The focus of the memo was "we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime," the official said.
So, where's the part in which the Pentagon chief "criticized" and "blasted" the White House policy? As it turns out, there really is no such part.
 
Kevin added, "That's it? Hagel wrote an internal memo suggesting that we should have a 'sharper view' of what to do about Assad? And some sympathetic White House official kinda sorta agreed that Hagel felt we might be in trouble if 'adjustments' aren't made?"
Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks at a luncheon at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada March 29, 2014.

The gag rule Kasich doesn't want to talk about

10/31/14 08:50AM

The editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, hosted a meeting recently with the state's gubernatorial candidates: incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich, Democrat Ed FitzGerald, and Green Party Candidate Anita Rios. The discussion got a little ... odd.
 
FitzGerald, behind in the polls, not surprisingly stayed on the offensive, and noted the Kasich approved a law that restricts what rape-crisis counselors can tell victims. "Why was it important to have a piece of legislation that literally imposed a gag rule on rape crisis counselors?" the challenger asked.
 
The governor, slumped in his chair and visibly annoyed, decided to pretend that FitzGerald wasn't in the room. Wonkette did a nice job summarizing the scene.
One of the editors prompts him: "Would you like to answer that, governor?"
 
"Do you have a question?" Kasich responds. The editor then tries to explain the question FitzGerald just asked. As much as the editor understands the question, anyway.
 
"I assume that it had to do with, uh, there were limits on what they could say about having abortions," the editor says.
 
Kasich still says nothing, possibly because the reporter made the mistake of mentioning FitzGerald's name while summarizing the question. Once more, Kasich spreads his hands and asks, "I mean, did you have a...?" At which point FitzGerald jumps in and explains to the clueless reporter, "He's trying to pretend he didn't hear me say it, so you need to repeat it."
The discussion, such as it was, continued for a while, with the governor repeatedly saying he's "pro-life," while (a) refusing to answer the question; (b) refusing to acknowledge his rivals were sitting next to him; and (c) refusing to recognize the policy he imposed on his state.
 
Kasich, the chief executive one of the nation's largest states, did all of this while adopting the mannerisms of a petulant child who's been told to take a time out.
 
But the story took an even weirder turn when the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided it didn't want voters to see any of this.

Parties confront mixed signals as Election Day nears

10/31/14 08:00AM

At this point in the 2010 midterms, the evidence of a Republican wave was hard to miss. Over the last two weeks of the cycle, literally every national poll showed the GOP leading on the generic congressional ballot, and most showed the Republican advantage in double digits.
 
Four years later, the GOP is well positioned to have a very good night next Tuesday, but 2014 is clearly not 2010.
Among all registered voters, the Democratic congressional candidate is preferred over the Republican by five points, 45%-40%. But among those who indicate in a series of questions that they are likely to vote, that advantage shrinks to a single point, 43%-42%.
That's from a USA Today poll released yesterday afternoon, showing a plurality of voters actually preferring Democratic candidates, prevailing political winds notwithstanding.
 
Perhaps it's an outlier? It's possible, though over the last two weeks, eight national polls have published generic-ballot results, and in half of them, Dems had a narrow edge -- including, oddly enough, the Fox News poll. (I pulled those polls together in the above chart.)
 
How many national polls showed Democrats with any kind of generic-ballot lead at this point four years ago? Zero.
 
Early-voting data also shows a political landscape that's far from one-sided.
Polls unsettled as Election Day looms

Polls unsettled as Election Day looms

10/30/14 09:32PM

Rachel Maddow points out that unlike past elections when political polls forecast outcomes relatively reliably, many races in the 2014 midterms remain close, with a winner still hard to predict. watch

Ahead on the 10/30/14 Maddow show

10/30/14 08:13PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Andy Mehalshick, WBRE Investigative Team Reporter
  • Gordon Smith, the executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association
  • Steve Kornacki, host of Up with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC

read more

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.30.14

10/30/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Kaci Hickox: "The nurse who has been (technically) quarantined in Maine because she treated Ebola patients went for a leisurely bike ride Thursday morning, following through on her vow to ignore the voluntary quarantine order."
 
* The story isn't over: "Several hours after the bike outing, Gov. Paul LePage said that efforts to negotiate with Hickox had failed. Citing confidentiality laws, he did not specify his next steps. But his office pledged in a statement: 'The governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law.'"
 
* Pakistan: "An American drone strike killed at least six militants early Thursday in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan, a senior Pakistani security official said."
 
* Syria: "More than 1,000 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has so far been unchanged by airstrikes against the Islamic State and efforts by other countries to stem the flow of departures, according to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials."
 
* Israel: "Under heavy pressure and the threat of new Israeli-Palestinian strife, Israel announced on Thursday that it would reopen a contested holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning, a day after closing it for the first time in years."
 
* And speaking of Israel: "Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm."
 
* In still more news about Israel: "Secretary of State John Kerry is condemning remarks from an administration official who labeled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as 'chickens**t,' calling the comment 'disgraceful' and 'damaging.'"
 
* Wall Street: "It would be the Wall Street equivalent of a parole violation: Just two years after avoiding prosecution for a variety of crimes, some of the world's biggest banks are suspected of having broken their promises to behave."

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