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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 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.

Fake Obama phone call and other headlines

04/07/14 07:50AM

Pres. Obama to take executive action on equal pay. (The Hill) Ship detects possible black box signals: official. (NBC News) Number of Americans without health insurance reaches a new low. (LA Times) Virginia lawmakers are fighting over whether to expand Medicaid. (Richmond Times Dispatch) GOP candidate touts fake phone call from Obama in new ad. (TPM) read more

Karen Fralich of Canada finishes a sand sculpture at the Sand Museum in the Tottori Dune on April 3, 2014 in Tottori, Japan.

This Week in God, 4.5.14

04/05/14 09:27AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a bizarre story out of South Carolina that would be hard to believe if it weren't 100% true.
Just about every state has official declarations honoring qualities that make it unique. South Carolina, for example, has an official state tree, state flower, state bird, state stone, state fish, state fruit, state dog, and even state opera.
It does not, however, have an official state fossil -- an oversight eight-year-old Olivia McConnell hoped to change.
The third grader at Carolina Academy in Lake City wrote a letter to her state lawmakers -- Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Sen. Kevin Johnson, both D-Clarendon -- asking them to sponsor a bill to make the wooly mammoth the official state fossil.
But, first -- before she could write the letter -- she told herself she had to come up with three good reasons that the mammoth should be the state fossil.
"We can't just say we need a sate fossil because I like fossils," McConnell said. "That wouldn't make sense."
So Olivia gave her reasons: 1. One of the first discoveries of a vertebrae fossil in North America was on an S.C. plantation when slaves dug up wooly mammoth teeth from a swamp in 1725. 2. All but seven states have an official state fossil. 3. "Fossils tell us about our past."
The girl's representatives liked the idea and introduced bills on her behalf. All seemed to be going well -- the effort passed the state House 94 to 3 -- right up until state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) said the bill needed to be amended. As he saw it, before South Carolina could have a state fossil, the legislation must also include language from the Book of Genesis, crediting "the creator" for having created woolly mammoths and everything else.
When Bryant's proposal was ruled out of order on procedural grounds, the Republican state lawmaker tried again, insisting that the bill describe the mammoth "as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field." Soon after, another GOP state senator, whose district includes Bob Jones University, put a hold on the legislation.
By this point, the fiasco was garnering national attention, to the annoyance of the South Carolina state Senate leadership. Towards the end of the week, an exasperated majority leader, Harvey Peeler, brought the resolution to the floor -- without the "creator" reference, but with the "sixth day" reference.
It passed unanimously.
Also from the God Machine this week:
New grand jury details in NJ bridge scandal

New grand jury details in NJ bridge scandal

04/04/14 10:43PM

Kendall Coffey, former United States attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about new reporting that the criminal investigation into the New Jersey bridge traffic scandal has entered a new phase, with witnesses being brought before a grand jury. watch

Pope inspires US bishops on immigration

Pope inspires US bishops on immigration

04/04/14 10:42PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a Catholic mass conducted by U.S. bishops at the U.S. border fence with Mexico, and the increasing pressure on President Obama to take action on immigration reform even as questions remain about what is possible. watch

Minimum wage offers advantage for Democrats

Minimum wage offers advantage for Democrats

04/04/14 10:42PM

Jeff Liszt, Democratic pollster, talks with Rachel Maddow about the advantages for Democrats of making an issue of raising the minimum wage, which not only encourages voter turnout broadly but has special appeal to younger voters. watch