Last week, after House Republicans announced an upcoming vote on undermining the Affordable Care Act, President Obama took some time to mock GOP lawmakers for their pointless hobby. "You know what they say: 50th time is the charm," he joked at a DNC event. "Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free. We get it. We understand. We get you don't like it. I got it."
But by all appearances, Republicans aren't concerned about mockery. They're proceeding today with their plan to go after the ACA's individual mandate -- again. By most counts, it will be the 50th time House Republicans have voted to gut some or all of the health care law since 2011, even though they fully realize their bill has no chance of being signed into law.
The House is set to vote Wednesday on a bill by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) to effectively delay the individual mandate for one year by reducing the penalty in 2014 for not buying insurance from $95 to $0.
The Republican-led chamber passed a similar bill last July, capturing 22 Democratic votes. Now that it's an election year, it's plausible that a significant number of Democrats will defect, given the unpopularity of the individual mandate and the likelihood that Senate Democrats will throw the bill in the garbage once it arrives.
House Republicans are under no illusions about the legislation's prospects, but governing isn't the goal. This is about an election-year stunt intended to help GOP lawmakers feel better, maybe motivate the base a bit, and create the basis for some new attack ads against Democrats.
Whether or not one approves of this waste of time, it remains a ridiculous display.
About a month ago, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) team decided to go after its former ally, David Wildstein, with a bizarre attack memo. In the document, Christie aides targeted Wildstein's credibility by shining a light on his teenaged high school antics -- in 1977.
It quickly became obvious how foolish this was. If you're forced to go back several decades to find damning evidence against a perceived foe, literally relying on materials he or she produced as a student, then you really don't have much.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday drew from a new source in arguing that President Barack Obama has been too 'soft' on Russia: An article Obama wrote back when he was in college. [...]
[McCain] shifted his attention to a 1983 article called "Breaking the War Mentality," which Obama penned for a campus magazine as a senior at Columbia University. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg resurfaced the article on Monday in a USA Today op-ed.
In his article, Obama blamed "U.S.-Soviet tensions largely on America's war mentality and the twisted logic of the Cold War," McCain said, quoting from Goldberg. "President Reagan's defense buildup, according to Obama, contributed to the 'silent spread of militarism' and reflected our 'distorted national priorities' rather than what should be our goal: a 'nuclear free world.'"
"That's what student Obama said," McCain added.
Now, one could certainly make the case that "student Obama" was raising a legitimate argument about Cold War geopolitics, years before the collapse of the USSR. At a minimum, it was worthy of academic debate in an academic setting.
But for McCain, it's actually a potential political attack three decades later. In the midst of a crisis, the senator believes it's important to invest time considering what an undergraduate said about the Soviet Union (which no longer exists) and the Cold War (which no longer exists) in 1983.
Yesterday was arguably the first big Election Day of the 2014 cycle, with Texas holding Republican and Democratic primaries statewide. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) stepping down after 13 years as the state's chief executive, voters saw competitive contests up and down the ballot, creating frenzied races Texans hadn't seen in a while.
As the dust settles, it appears most of the establishment candidates prevailed. This New York Timespiece helped summarize the conventional wisdom about the larger implications.
Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.
Similarly, the headline from The Hill reads, "Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out."
With candidates like Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott (R) easily dispatching rivals from the fringe, the notion that the GOP establishment reasserted itself certainly makes sense.
But it's best not to push these assumptions too far. Ed Kilgore had an item on Monday -- the day before the primary -- about the likely results, which rings true two days later: "If no Tea Party insurgents ... score a major victory, you will hear some observers declare the movement dead or dying, right there in Ted Cruz's backyard. Others (myself included) will note that thanks to Cruz and following Rick Perry's earlier lead, the 'Republican Establishment' in Texas has largely coopted the Tea Party movement with its own savage rhetoric and policies."
If the top-line takeaway is that the GOP Establishment won and the Tea Party faltered, some might get the impression that more moderate conservatives prevailed over voices of extremism. That impression would be mistaken. Federal lawmakers like Cornyn and Sessions became some of the most conservative members of Congress in recent years as Republican politics in Texas became more radicalized.
In other words, yesterday pitted very conservative Republicans against hyper-conservative Republicans. That the former scored victories isn't exactly a win for the American mainstream.
Ukraine talks expected today in Paris. (USA Today) House Intelligence plans to look at why we didn't foresee Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (LA Times) This is an interesting year for Vladimir Putin to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Reuters) Fascinating details in a fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. (NY Times) A Bridgegate figure talks. (NY Times) read more
Shawn Boburg, reporter for the Record of Bergen County, NJ
Tonight's show is going to be even more awesome than usual -- because we've got the birthday power of both executive producer Bill Wolff and web producer extraordinaire Will Femia! Happy birthday, Williams!
Arkansas struck a creative deal with the Obama administration last year, allowing it to embrace Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and bringing coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Arkansans. This year, however, state Republicans were poised to take it away.
Because of a quirk in the state policymaking process, last year's vote that expanded access needs to be reauthorized this year, and many of the same GOP policymakers who backed the policy in 2013 are facing primary challengers in 2014. Arkansas' state House has therefore voted down Medicaid expansion several times in recent weeks.
In a minor miracle, the policy somehow prevailed today. Apparently, the fifth time was the charm.
The state House on Tuesday voted 76-24 to approve a new round of funding for the so-called private option, resolving the issue that has dominated the fiscal session.
The Senate passed the appropriation last month in a 27-8 vote. The House failed in four previous attempts to pass it, each time falling a few votes short of the three-fourths majority, or 75 votes in the 100-member House, needed to approve any appropriations bill.
Senate Bill 111 goes next to the governor, who has said he will sign it.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's report quoted one Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Kim Hammer, who had voted against the policy, but ultimately changed his mind.
"There are people who will be hurt if I don't vote for this," Hammer said. "And I don't want to see those innocent people hurt because of that."
But Arkansas isn't the only state with Medicaid expansion news.
Late last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded to the crisis in Ukraine in the most John McCain way possible. "We are all Ukrainians," he told Time.
And today, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) turned to Twitter to address the Ukrainian crisis in what can fairly be described as Peak Lindsey: "It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. #Ukraine"
There was no indication that Graham was kidding. The senator, sometimes considered one of the more constructive voices among Senate Republicans, actually seems to see a connection between Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory and a terrorist attack in Libya a year and a half ago.
I realize it's an election year and Graham is facing some primary opponents. I also realize that Republicans worried about primary challengers are often pushed into making foolish comments, especially in deep-red states, in order to impress far-right activists.
But this is awfully nutty, even by 2014 standards.
Just last week, a federal judge in Kentucky issued a final ruling that requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. Kentucky's constitutional amendment on the issue, Judge John Heyburn ruled, violates state residents the right to equal protection under the law.
The court's decision would ordinarily fall to the state Attorney General's office to appeal in order to defend state law, but as it turns out, that's not going to happen.
Kentucky will hire outside attorneys to appeal a federal judge's ruling requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from outside the state, Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday.
His announcement came minutes after a tearful Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said his office will not appeal the ruling, calling it a waste of taxpayers' money.
Conway told reporters he prayed over what to do and decided to put "people over politics." He added, "I can only say that I'm doing what I think is right."
Coincidentally, he's doing what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder thinks is right, too.
On the surface, immigration reform is simply dead for the foreseeable future. House Republican leaders have retreated from their own policy "principles," which rank-and-file GOP lawmakers chose to either ignore or reject. Barring unexpected Democratic gains in this year's midterm elections, it would appear reform advocates will have to wait a long time for legislative relief.
Even the discharge-petition idea, which would seem to offer hope, is an unlikely path to success --- no Republicans are willing to sign it, at least not yet.
And yet, the nation's leading Republican lawmaker isn't done talking about the issue, as if there's still some chance of success. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) referenced immigration during an interview yesterday with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In January, he and other GOP leaders outlined a set of principles to reform the immigration system. But shortly afterward, Boehner said he didn't think he could move an agreement this year, arguing that Republicans didn't trust Obama enough to implement border security measures.
On Monday, he told The Enquirer immigration was a key area of agreement between him and Obama and they talked about it at the White House last week. "He wants to get it done. I want to get it done," he said. "But he's going to have to help us in this process."
It's difficult to take any of this seriously. If Boehner wants to get immigration reform done, he can bring a bill to the floor and let the House work its will. The last I checked, he's the Speaker of the House.
But it's this notion that President Obama is needs to "help" House Republicans that's especially misguided.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been pretty aggressive in recent months about leaking word of his recent policy focus on poverty. The far-right congressman has periodically let major newsoutlets know he now hopes to "help" those who would suffer most under his own budget plan: low-income families.
And so, as Ned Resnikoff reported, it didn't come as much of a surprise when Ryan yesterday issued a 204-page report, called "The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later," condemning a variety of federal efforts to reduce poverty in the United States. It's apparently intended to serve as a precursor to the congressman's next budget blueprint, which, predictably, will seek more cuts to Medicaid, Head Start, and food stamps.
Ryan will justify his efforts, working from the assumption that many federal programs, aimed at helping those struggling, unintentionally make matters "worse."
The editorial board of the New York Times did a nice job summarizing the degree to which Ryan's ideas are "small and tired."
It's easy to find flaws or waste in any government program, but the proper response is to fix those flaws, not throw entire programs away as Mr. Ryan and his party have repeatedly proposed. It might be possible, for example, to consolidate some of the 20 different low-income housing programs identified in the report, but Congressional Democrats have no reason to negotiate with a party that fundamentally doesn't believe government should play a significant role in reducing poverty. (Similarly, Republicans complain endlessly about flaws in health care reform, but their sole solution is to repeal the entire program, not improve it.)
The report notes that some programs, including the earned-income tax credit, have been effective, but it fails to draw the proper lessons from those examples. The most successful programs, including the tax credit, Medicaid and food stamps, have been those that are carefully designed, properly managed and well-financed. For all their glossy reports, Republicans have shown no interest in making these or any other social programs work better.
It's a fair critique, but digging in a little closer, even more glaring issues arise.
From time to time, some on the right still question the merit of President Obama's 2009 rescue of the American auto industry. But as a rule, Michigan Republicans know better.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Gary Peters planned Monday to put Republican Terri Lynn Land on the defensive in their U.S. Senate race by highlighting her 2012 opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, which is widely credited with saving the U.S. auto industry.
Peters and other Democrats were expected to draw attention to statements Land made at a Republican National Convention event two years ago in which she backed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's anti-bailout position. Asked at a Washington Times-sponsored event about Romney and the bailout, she said "I'm with him on that" and noted that Ford survived without the rescue package.
For the record, Ford did not participate in the rescue, but it endorsed the policy and benefited from it indirectly.
Land, the Republican Senate hopeful, echoed a familiar conservative refrain, arguing that GM had come to be known as "Government Motors."
A spokesperson for the GOP candidate said yesterday in a written statement that Land wanted something to be done during the crisis, "but was not convinced on the specific plan that was proposed."
That's an odd position to take given the circumstances.