The right's election-year attack on the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be pretty straightforward: it's big government, it raised taxes, the website didn't work for a couple of months, and it falls under some strange definition of "socialism."
But as "Obamacare" starts to look a whole lot better than it did a few months ago, conservatives are switching gears a bit. In fact, the new argument from the right is nothing short of amazing: conservatives are attacking the ACA for not being liberal enough.
Yesterday, for example, Freedom Partners, a political operation that enjoys financial support from Charles and David Koch, launched a new attack ad in Michigan's U.S. Senate race, targeting Rep. Gary Peters (D). The voice-over tells viewers:
"Congressman Gary Peters says he's standing up to health insurance companies. The truth? Peters voted for Obamacare, which will give billions of taxpayer dollars to health insurance companies."
Got that? After years in which the right screamed at every opportunity that the Affordable Care Act was a socialized government takeover of the American health care system, these exact same conservatives now want the public to believe the exact opposite: the ACA is a sweetheart deal for the private health insurance industry that tried to kill the law before it passed.
Maybe now would be a good time to mention that this is bonkers. The Koch brothers' operation and its allies can argue that the Affordable Care Act is socialism or they can argue it's a giveaway to Corporate America. They can claim the "Obamacare" is radical liberalism or they can claim it's too conservative.
But to argue all of this at the same time is to treat Americans like idiots.
Looking back over the last year or so, how many national polls have shown a majority of Americans endorsing marriage equality? Just about all of them. For much of the right, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice, and there's nothing they can do to bend it back.
But the religious right movement is nevertheless filled with dead-enders, who can commission a poll of the slice of the population that might still agree with the conservative culture warriors.
Two conservative groups are pushing back on moves by the GOP to drop opposition to same-sex marriage from party platforms, releasing a poll of base voters taken last month that found in favor of defining marriage "only" as between a man and a woman.
The poll, commissioned by groups led by conservatives Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins, runs counter to a wide variety of opinion polls that show movement on the question of same-sex marriage, with more voters favoring it than opposing it.
Bauer's and Perkins' groups specifically polled Republican and Republican-leaning independents last month, and wouldn't you know it, they found that 82% of respondents believe marriage should be between "one man and one woman." The same poll found 75% of respondents don't want "politicians" to "redefine" marriage to include same-sex couples."
Touting the results, Bauer issued a statement insisting the debate over equal marriage rights "is far from over," adding that policymakers shouldn't "misread the convictions of the American people."
And that, right there, underscores the circumstances that have pushed conservatives further from the American mainstream.
It's been well documented that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is an extremely good deal for states that choose to embrace it. The policy improves state finances and bolsters state hospitals, all while providing struggling families access to medical care. We're occasionally reminded it's even good for creating jobs.
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped design both Mitt Romney's health care system in Massachusetts and President Obama's ACA recently said he wasn't overly concerned when the U.S. Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for states. After all, he thought to himself at the time, "It's not a big deal. What state would turn down free money from the federal government to cover their poorest citizens?"
We now know, of course, that nearly half the states have done exactly that for partisan reasons that the right struggles to explain. This week, however, the policy fight became even more one-sided -- the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noticed that a Congressional Budget Office analysis found that Medicaid expansion is "an even better deal for states than previously thought."
CBO has sharply lowered its estimates of the costs to states of adopting the Medicaid expansion.
* CBO now estimates that the federal government will, on average, pick up more than 95 percent of the total cost of the Medicaid expansion and other health reform-related costs in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the next ten years (2015-2024).
* States will spend only 1.6 percent more on Medicaid and CHIP due to health reform than they would have spent without health reform (see Figure 1). That's about one-third less than CBO projected in February. And the 1.6 percent figure is before counting the state savings that the Medicaid expansion will produce in state expenditures for services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment provided to the uninsured.
There is no actual competition to see which Republican-led state legislature can govern in the least responsible way possible, but if such a contest existed, Missouri would have to be considered a credible contender.
To be sure, many of these efforts have fallen short, thanks in part to Missouri's Democratic governor, Jay Nixon. But given Republican extremism, perhaps it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Missouri's GOP lawmakers have responded to the governor's objections to their agenda by raising the specter of impeachment.
A Missouri state House committee will hold hearings Wednesday into three proposed articles of impeachment against Gov. Jay Nixon (D), whom some Republicans say has committed offenses worthy of being removed from office. [...]
Even if the House succeeds in impeaching Nixon, it would require five of seven judges appointed by the state Senate to convict Nixon and remove him from office.
And by all accounts, that's not going to happen.
But my point in highlighting these developments isn't to suggest that Nixon's tenure is actually in peril, because it almost certainly is not. Rather, the point is that even pursuing the possibility of impeaching a sitting governor without good reasons reinforces a larger truth: these Missouri Republican lawmakers appear to have gone completely over the edge.
There were reports a couple of weeks ago that "several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming" behind the scenes, holding "discreet" meetings about possibly trying to oust House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) before the start of the next Congress.
Conservatives are increasingly -- and not so quietly -- showing the early signs of a speakership revolt. But short of a sudden groundswell of opposition from the GOP rank and file, or a magic wand, Speaker John A. Boehner is the one who controls his fate.
Just don't tell that to the Ohio Republican's foes.
"I think pretty well everybody's figured Mr. Boehner's going to be gone, and the question is Cantor and McCarthy," said Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. "But most conservatives are saying it's not just at the top; it's all the way through."
Huelskamp, who was more than an active player in the last Boehner coup, told CQ Roll Call there are "a lot of meetings going on" about who could be speaker in the 114th Congress, and if Boehner should decide to say, conservatives are discussing how to remove him.
The dirty little secret is that just about everyone on Capitol Hill sees value in this scuttlebutt. For right-wing members, chatter about their efforts to choose new House GOP leaders makes them feel important. For the Republican establishment, the gossip not only helps rally the rank-and-file membership against extremists, but also becomes a convenient excuse for the GOP's complete failure to govern.
And for Democrats, the specter of Republican infighting is always welcome.
But at the risk of spoiling everyone's fun, I'd recommend taking all of the chatter with a grain of salt. Far-right lawmakers may very well want to oust Boehner and move the House Republican leadership even further off the right-wing cliff, but there's literally nothing to suggest they have the wherewithal to pull it off.
It doesn't get enough attention, but I still consider the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) one of the more important breakthroughs for progressive governance in the Obama era. That its work on our behalf tends to happen far from the spotlight somehow makes it more impressive -- the agency's work isn't showy, it's just effective.
It was the CFPB that recently announced multi-million dollar fines for four mortgage insurers for "doling out illegal kickbacks to mortgage lenders in exchange for business." It was the CFPB that cracked down on a lender for allegedly "paying illegal bonuses to employees who steered home buyers toward higher-interest loans." It was the CFPB that ended 2013 with "a string of enforcement cases ... on lending discrimination, mortgage servicing, online lending and credit card products."
Federal regulators are investigating reports that lenders are pressuring thousands of college graduates to immediately repay their full student loan debt when a relative who co-signed the loans dies or files for bankruptcy.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said Tuesday it is probing the phenomenon, which can damage the credit reports of borrowers who are otherwise in good standing.
Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman at the CFPB, told The Hill, "Private student loans can sometimes take many years to pay off, and these parents or grandparents may be unaware that their own financial distress or death can lead to a sudden default and demand for payment."
Here's the situation in a nutshell: young people lacking in collateral often receive student loans with a co-signer, usually a parent. It works like any other debt -- the lender figures that if the student struggles to keep up on the payments, the co-signer will be obligated to pick up the slack.
But if the co-signer dies unexpectedly, the lender panics. "We're sorry for your loss," the bank says, "but if you could give us all our money immediately, that'd be great."
It doesn't matter if the young person hasn't missed a payment and it doesn't matter if he/she can't afford to pay the balance.
When Republican policymakers condemn the provision in the Affordable Care Act condemning contraception coverage, they should probably realize they're up against an American public that's largely come to the opposite conclusion.
Most Americans -- 69 percent -- support the requirement that health insurance plans pay for birth control, a new survey shows.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to pay for contraception as part of 10 essential benefits, including vaccines and cancer screenings.... [T]he survey of more than 2,000 people, conducted by Dr. Michelle Moniz and colleagues at the University of Michigan, suggests the mandate is popular.
The entirety of the report, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, is available online here.
It's worth noting that while Americans support the contraception policy by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, there are other mandated policies that are actually more popular. For example, in the same survey, when respondents were asked whether all U.S. health plans should be required to include coverage for preventive services like mammograms, support is even higher at 85%. Screenings for diabetes and cholesterol do nearly as well, with support at 82%.
By this measure, the fact that only 69% back contraception coverage might seem less impressive, but that's foolish -- when more than two-thirds of the public supports a health care policy, that's pretty one-sided.
And the closer one looks, the clearer it becomes that the right is taking a big risk by ignoring public attitudes on the subject.
The ruling on affirmative action in Michigan did not come as too great a surprise, but it's nevertheless one of the year's big cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court upheld a Michigan voter initiative Tuesday banning racial preferences in admissions to the state's public universities.
The justices ruled 6-2 Tuesday that the affirmative action ban, approved by voters in 2006, allowed Michigan the right to prohibit public colleges and universities from using race, ethnicity or gender as a factor for admissions.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court did not have the authority to throw out the election results of the voter-approved initiative. Those joining the majority opinion -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- stressed, however, that the ruling did not address the constitutionality of affirmative action itself.
And that distinction is extremely important when evaluating the scope of the ruling.
"This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved," Kennedy wrote for the majority. "It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court's precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters."
In other words, affirmative action in college admissions hasn't been banned. Indeed, the role of considering race in admissions policies remains in place -- except in states that choose to prohibit affirmative action policies.
The ruling will be especially relevant in states that have chosen to ban affirmative action -- msnbc's Amanda Sakuma noted the policies have been curtailed in Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and the state of Washington -- while also signaling to other states that they can now do the same without fear of judicial intervention.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stinging dissent.
At a press conference last week, a reporter asked President Obama whether "it's time for Democrats to start campaigning loudly and positively on the benefits" of the Affordable Care Act. The president suggested the larger political discussion should start to include other issues, but he nevertheless gave Dems some direction.
"I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud" of the Americans benefiting from the ACA, he said, "I don't think we should apologize for it, and I don't think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell."
And with increasing frequency, Democrats have become eager to tell this strong, good, right story. In Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) launched this new spot today, which Greg Sargent fairly characterized as "probably the most aggressively pro-Obamacare ad of the cycle."
Far from keeping the ACA at arm's length, Schwartz actually boasts about having supported the law, takes some credit for helping write it, and features a brief snippet of her departing Air Force One with the president.
The context, of course, matters. In this case, Schwartz is in a competitive primary in which she's no longer the frontrunner, so an ad like this one is intended to connect with the Democratic base, not a statewide, general-election audience.
Still, the Beltway conventional wisdom has said for months that ads like these simply wouldn't happen -- Democrats would have no choice but to run from, not run on, the unpopular "Obamacare."
Schwartz's new ad shows otherwise and it's hardly the only piece of evidence that suggests the conventional wisdom was wrong.
In early March, the Senate rejected Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee as an assistant attorney general, in large part because members in both parties forgot a rather basic American principle: attorneys are not supposed to be judged by the crimes of their clients.
In the case of Adegbile's nomination, we saw an extremely well-qualified attorney with a classic American background -- he's the child of a mixed-race family, who overcame poverty to become an accomplished Supreme Court litigator -- who was nevertheless rejected by the Senate. Adegbile worked on the legal team that successfully persuaded a federal court to commute Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence.
Fox News labeled him a "cop killer coddler" and soon after, every Republican in the Senate opposed his nomination. They were joined by seven Democrats -- enough to derail Adegbile's confirmation hopes.
It was a shameful display, which apparently is repeating itself, not in the Senate, but in South Carolina.
If you want to run for office someday, you better not believe that everyone is entitled to legal counsel before the government locks them away. Or, at least, that's the message sent by a new Republican Governors Association ad targeting Vincent Sheheen, a former prosecutor who now represents civil and criminal clients in private practice. Sheheen is a Democratic candidate for governor against incumbent Nikki Haley (R-SC).
The RGA's ad attacks Sheheen for "defend[ing] violent criminals" and ends with the tagline, "Vincent Sheheen protects criminals, not South Carolina."
Ed Kilgore noticed, "In an especially despicable little twist, the anonymous narrator of this ad twice notes that Sheheen was paid for defending 'violent criminals who abused women.' Would it have been better if he had represented them for free?"
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) filed a fairly ridiculous lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in January, and even at the time, even conservative Republicans seemed annoyed. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R), who's part of the same Wisconsin congressional delegation as Johnson, called the senator's lawsuit "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
Three months later, however, a few dozen congressional Republicans have decided they love this unfortunate political stunt, frivolous or not.
Thirty-eight Republican lawmakers, including such unlikely bedfellows as John McCain of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas, have joined to support a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Affordable Care Act and accusing the president of repeatedly ignoring the law he signed for political reasons.
The lawmakers have signed onto a legal brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who is asking a federal court to overturn Obamacare's special treatment for members of Congress and their staffs.
As these lawmakers see it, they're fighting for the preservation of the republic. "The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident," the brief states. "Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the executive branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on a wholesale basis."
The courts must side with Johnson, the GOP lawmakers' brief added, because the administration's campaign "threatens to subvert the most basic precept of our system of government."
It's difficult to fully capture how strikingly dumb this latest effort is. Whether one loves, hates, or is generally indifferent towards the Affordable Care Act, this brief is just embarrassing.