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A patient speaks with Doctor Leon Yeh in the Emergency Room at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois, Nov. 26, 2013.

The politics of a health care ruling

07/22/14 03:49PM

Republican-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit today took a step towards gutting the Affordable Care Act, ruling that consumers that receive coverage through the federal exchange marketplace are ineligible for subsidies. If the ruling stands, the effects on "Obamacare" could be catastrophic, which is why it matters that the ruling may not stand.
 
While we wait for the appeals process to continue -- the status quo of the ACA will remain in place as the case continues -- the politics of today's developments are worth appreciating.
 
When the right supports tax hikes
 
Conservatives are absolutely delighted today for reasons that are rather twisted -- for the right, it's terrific news that millions of families, many of them in red states, are poised to lose tax breaks. After all, by contemporary Republican rules, if Americans are receiving a tax subsidy, and policymakers try to take that subsidy away, that effectively constitutes a tax increase.
 
So let's pause to note the oddity of the circumstances: Republicans nationwide are thrilled by the prospect of millions of working-class families facing a tax hike that may push basic medical care out of reach.
 
Judicial activism
 
Too often, "judicial activism" is little more than a lazy criticism -- a euphemism of sorts that means "court ruling I don't like." But when a couple of Republican-appointed jurists, who sounded like Fox News pundits during oral arguments, decide to gut the American health care system based on their interpretation of a drafting error, "judicial activism" seems like the only fair assessment.
 
The D.C. Circuit duo ignored the context of the statute, ignored Congress' intent, ignored the administration's position, and ignored the findings of lower courts. Since conservatives generally claim to find such activism offensive, I'll be eager to see how many on the right concede today's decision was ridiculous.
 
An elusive moral center
 
The right is cheering the prospect of soaring premiums, families facing financial hardship, and more Americans lacking access to basic medical care, all because of the ambiguity of a possible drafting error. If your values guide you towards celebrating others' hardship -- if your character tells you to rejoice at the misfortune of working families -- it's probably time for a long look in the mirror.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Judicial whiplash as 4th Circuit contradicts D.C. Circuit

07/22/14 01:04PM

Following up on an earlier item, Republican-appointed judges on the D.C. Circuit have taken a step towards gutting the Affordable Care Act, ruling that consumers that received coverage through the federal exchange marketplace can't receive subsidies. In a 2-1 ruling, a pair of conservative jurists said there was ambiguity in the language of the law, which they chose to exploit to push "Obamacare" towards catastrophic failure.
 
And in an interesting twist, while many of us were still reading the decision, the 4th Circuit announced the opposite ruling.
In a separate challenge also decided Tuesday, a three judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the IRS rule allowing subsidies in federal exchanges. Federal Judge Roger Gregory wrote that the challengers could not "rely on our help to deny to millions of Americans desperately-needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose, as revealed by the wholeness and coherence of its text and structure, could not be more clear."
Well then.
 
We're starting to see a pattern here. Two federal district courts rejected the lawsuits as ridiculous. A unanimous ruling from the 4th Circuit rejected the lawsuit as ridiculous. And yet, this morning two Republican-appointed activist judges said they have no choice but interpret a possible drafting error in the most foolish way possible.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.22.14

07/22/14 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:
 
* Republican voters in Georgia will go to the polls today to decide several primary runoff elections, including choosing the party's U.S. Senate nominee. There are also congressional runoffs in the 1st, 10th, and 11th districts. Polls close at 7 p.m. (ET).
 
* In Montana, it's been widely assumed that appointed Sen. John Walsh (D) faced insurmountable odds in his race against Steve Daines (R), but PPP shows Walsh narrowing a 17-point gap to a 7-point disadvantage since November.
 
* While Democrats had been quite confident that Iowa's U.S. Senate race would break their way, the contest has quickly become a toss-up. With this in mind, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching a major new ad buy to boost Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), reminding voters of state Sen. Joni Ernst's (R) extremism on issues like Social Secuirty.
 
* In Texas, Planned Parenthood's political arm is reportedly "embarking on the most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas," with plans to invest $3 million to turn out voters for Democratic state Sens. Wendy Davis for governor and Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor. (Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but played no role in this piece).
 
* Any chance the Republican Governors Association will try to boost Rob Astorino (R) in his bid against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)? No. RGA Chair Chris Christie said yesterday his group won't invest "in lost causes."
 
* Speaking of Christie, the New Jersey governor was in Connecticut last night for a fundraiser, where he was confronted with nearly 200 protesters, condemning his recent decision to veto legislation to reduce gun violence.
"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

Appeals court swings a sledgehammer at the ACA

07/22/14 11:13AM

Most of the nation has been working under the assumption that the fight over the Affordable Care Act's existence is over. The Supreme Court has already endorsed the law's legality; Congress has effectively given up on its repeal crusade; and the law's implementation is proving to be a great success. End of story, right?
 
Well, no. There's one last court case that we've been following that, in theory, could still destroy much of the federal health care system. At a distance, it's a genuinely ridiculous case, but as Adam Serwer reports this morning, its absurdity didn't stop Republican-appointed judges from making the wrong call this morning.
A federal court has struck down a rule from the Internal Revenue Service making Americans in federally-run health insurance marketplaces eligible for subsidies, a decision that could seriously imperil implementation of the Affordable Care Act. [...]
 
The ruling was a 2-1 decision by a three judge panel. Judge Harry Edwards, the lone Democratic-appointed judge on the panel, dissented.
If you've been ignoring this lawsuit, it's understandable. In January, a federal district court heard the case and not only sided with the Obama administration, the ruling practically mocked conservatives for filing such a ludicrous case. A separate federal judge recently reached the same conclusion.
 
But arguably the two most far-right jurists on the D.C. Circuit nevertheless overruled the lower courts, effectively swinging a sledgehammer at the core of the Affordable Care Act. If the ruling stands, there would be a very real possibility that this one outrageous decision could unravel much of the ACA itself.
 
Which is why it matters a great deal for millions of American families what happens next.
File Photo: Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for governor of Florida, as he campaigns at the Sweetwater Youth Center on August 31, 2010 in Sweetwater, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/File)

Florida's Scott finds himself in hot water

07/22/14 10:19AM

Exactly how many Republican governors have found themselves embroiled in various scandals this year? It's getting tough to count, but there's New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. That doesn't even include  former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who's facing corruption charges.
 
And then there's Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), in the middle of one of the nation's most competitive gubernatorial races, who's suddenly found himself in the middle of three unrelated controversies.
 
Issue #1 came up last week, when the Republican governor was accused of coercing on-duty police officers to play the role of political props at a campaign event. (I hope everyone caught his unintentionally amusing response.)
 
Issue #2 came up yesterday, when Scott was accused of personally profiting from a gas pipeline he supported.
Upon his election in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott's transition team included a Florida Power & Light executive who pitched his company's plan to build a major natural gas pipeline in North Florida to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in places like Port Everglades. [...]
 
In May and June 2013, he signed into law two bills designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission -- a controversial, 474-mile natural gas pipeline that's to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando.
 
Five months later, the Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Scott, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state's third major natural gas pipeline.
What wasn't known at the time is that Scott owned a stake in in Spectra Energy, which was chosen to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. The governor's team insists the investment was made through a blind trust, though there are unanswered questions about when the shares were acquired and just how blind that trust really is.
President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting focusing on the importance of the My Brothers Keeper Initiative at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, D.C, on July 21, 2014.

A day in the life

07/22/14 09:37AM

At 10:39 a.m. (ET) yesterday, President Obama hosted an event at the East Room of the White House, where he signed a sweeping anti-discrimination executive order. Just 29 minutes after the gathering was over, Obama spoke from the South Lawn, addressing the crises in Ukraine and Gaza.
 
Literally just 35 minutes after those remarks, the president kicked off a town-hall event on his "My Brother's Keeper" program, where he announced an additional $100 million in funding for his racial justice initiative, "a public-private program that focuses on the unique challenges faced by young men of color." And two hours after that, Obama was back in the East Room, this time to present the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts.
 
I think it's fair to say that was a fairly busy day for the president.
 
Indeed, for all the talk about gridlock and Washington paralysis, Obama demonstrated yesterday that he's more than capable, not only of governing effectively, but of tackling a variety of subjects at once. Watching the president pivot from issue to issue yesterday, we were reminded of Obama's willingness and eagerness to lead, govern effectively, and pursue a clear vision. And it's not just yesterday -- the president will unveil a series of executive actions today on job training.
 
Congressional inaction is a time-honored tradition in the months before an election. But the stagnation in this Congress -- even in the face of mounting national and international challenges -- only bolsters the perception that this is really the least productive in history. And a thaw doesn't appear to be in the offing as each party commits to seeking an elusive, post-election upper hand.
The contrast between an active president, appearing almost desperate to get things done, and a passive Congress, spinning its wheels without direction, is stark.
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

An 'unfortunate political stunt' goes awry

07/22/14 08:35AM

Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thought he'd come up with a great idea: he'd file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of making coverage more expensive for Capitol Hill staff. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson's home state of Wisconsin, conceded the senator's lawsuit was "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
 
Yesterday, in a development that was arguably even more important than it appears at first blush, a federal judge threw out the case.
A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson's Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.
 
The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia's Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.
 
Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government's lawyers.
The hurdle for Johnson's lawyers was always going to be difficult to clear: how would the Republican senator demonstrate he'd been harmed by the health care policy he doesn't like? Remember, when filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, plaintiffs can't just say, "I don't like it." They need to show how they've been adversely affected by it.
 
Johnson couldn't, so his case was dismissed. But this is more than just a setback for one Republican senator with a partisan axe to grind; this is also likely the start of things to come for the GOP's anti-Obama litigation.
Rick Perry

Rick Perry's 'Operation Strong Safety'

07/22/14 08:00AM

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) recently appeared on Fox News, stressing his support for deploying National Guard troops to address the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border. Brit Hume asked the governor to explain what the Guard would actually do. Perry struggled to explain.
 
Hume reminded Perry, "[I]f these children who've undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won't shoot them and can't arrest them?"
 
At this point, Perry changed the subject.
 
But that was last week. This week, the Republican governor and likely presidential candidate is moving forward with his idea, whether he can explain its merits or not.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday requested the immediate deployment of as many as 1,000 service members to assist with security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
The soldiers, from both the Texas National Guard and State Guard, will mobilize throughout the next 30 days to carry out "Operation Strong Safety" along the border region.
 
"I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault," Perry said Monday during a press conference.
First, there's very little to suggest Texans are "under assault." Second, "Operation Strong Safety" is an unintentionally amusing phrase. As Paul Waldman joked, "'Operation Strong Safety'? Why not just go ahead and call it Operation America Macho TestosteReagan?"
 
But even putting that aside, at its core, the most meaningful concern here is that Perry's solution doesn't match the problem.

Supersonic impact and other headlines

07/22/14 07:56AM

Jet wreckage bears signs of impact by supersonic missile, analysis shows. (NY Times)

Israeli soldier missing in Gaza. (AP)

Where is the Obama administration housing the immigrant kids? (Washington Post)

Georgia holds primary runoffs today, which could mean the return of Bob Barr to congress. (AP)

Working-class whites lose voting dominance in Ohio. (AP)

Many Americans still think Obama not a citizen. (Political Wire)

New information deepens the mystery of the missing IRS emails. (Wall Street Journal)

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Diplomacy is Middle East's only path to peace

Diplomacy is Middle East's only path to peace

07/21/14 10:45PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the recent history of violent clashes between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and points out that each time the violence ended it was because of a brokered ceasefire, not because war and fighting won the peace. watch

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