* Some deadlines can be moved: "It's the last few days before a pre-holiday deadline, so Congress is doing what it does best: procrastinating. Congress could be poised to give itself a few extra days to fund the government before the current spending package - which expires on December 11 - runs out."
* In the meantime: "Congressional leaders are expected to unveil a massive $1.1 trillion spending agreement later Tuesday and then race the clock in hopes of approving the deal before a spending deadline late Thursday night."
* There's no shortage of detailed overviews of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Bush/Cheney-era torture. I found the NYT's timeline approach to be quite good.
* Iraq: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday to consult with Iraqi government officials and confer with U.S. commanders about the campaign to defeat Islamic State fighters. In remarks to a group of U.S. and Australian soldiers, Hagel said the U.S. wants to help Iraq regain the territory it lost to Islamic State militants earlier this year, but said the only lasting solution must come from the Iraqis themselves."
* A surprising 9-0 ruling: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that a temp agency was not required to pay workers at Amazon warehouses for the time they spent waiting to go through a security screening at the end of the day. The workers say the process, meant to prevent theft, can take as long as 25 minutes."
* Speaking of the high court: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected BP's challenge to a settlement agreement over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which the oil giant said allowed certain businesses to get payouts despite being unable to trace their losses to the disaster."
* FOIA: "Legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act passed the House of Representatives unanimously back in May, and similar legislation gained unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. But now Politico reports that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has placed a hold on the legislation that could block it from getting approved this year."
* This is what's become of congressional oversight: "At one point in the hearing, Issa asked Gruber, 'Are you stupid?' 'No, I don't think so,' the economist said."
* It's a real fight: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made clear on Tuesday that she is not swayed by supporters of Obama administration nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic policy Antonio Weiss."
Given just how little actually happens in Congress, and how many good bills die for no apparent reason, it's easy to get a little cynical about what's possible in the area of federal legislation.
Once in a while, though, a good idea actually passes. Take this afternoon, for example.
The House on Tuesday passed legislation to help prevent suicides of people who served in the military.
Passed by voice vote, the bill would require a third party to conduct an annual evaluation of suicide prevention programs at the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) and Defense Department.
The measure was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), and enjoyed the enthusiastic support of veterans' groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). There is no roll call to link to because support was broad enough that the bill passed by voice vote.
To be sure, this wasn't the highest-profile legislation to be taken up this year, and there wasn't much of a lobbying campaign against it, but when worthwhile bills, which will make a real difference in the lives of people who deserve our support, are able to advance in this Congress, it's cause for some relief.
And the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act is a worthwhile bill.
For the most part, congressional Republicans have no use for the Senate Intelligence Committee's comprehensive report on the torture policies employed by the Bush/Cheney administration. Some GOP lawmakers are uncomfortable with the release of the findings; others are offended by the condemnations of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Republicans on the Intelligence panel itself issued a "minority views" document (pdf), praising the efficacy of the prisoner abuses in the wake of 9/11. Jane C. Timm noted, "The dissenting committee members ... are just some of the many Republican lawmakers up in arms over the comprehensive review of controversial CIA interrogation techniques, which they warned would lead to violent reprisals that would endanger American personnel and jeopardize intelligence interests."
But it'd be a mistake to suggest Republicans are unanimous on the subject. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the only senator who has actually been subjected to abuses as a prisoner of war, delivered powerful and eloquent remarks from the Senate floor this afternoon, praising the report and the work that led to its completion.
The right decided weeks ago that Jonathan Gruber is the Single Most Important Person In America, which necessarily means House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) show trialhearing this morning should be considered the Single Most Important Story, at least according to conservatives.
But I continue to believe that while Republicans' Gruber-mania is no doubt great for fundraising and right-wing mobilization, it's also a pointless distraction from the one fact the GOP is desperate to avoid: the Affordable Care Act is working.
Dylan Scott noted yesterday, for example, the success of the "medical loss ratio" provision of the law, which is "working exactly as it's supposed to."
A key provision of the Affordable Care Act that was designed to keep insurers from overspending on administrative costs or else be forced to rebate premiums to customers looks to be succeeding in not only reducing those costs but in lowering premiums.
A new report from federal health officials, which concludes that health spending had grown at a historically slow rate in 2013, says the so-called MLR provision is helping drive the broader easing of spending growth in the industry.
The medical loss ratio may sound obscure and complicated, but as long-time readers may recall, it's pretty straightforward: private insurers are required to spend 80% your premiums on your medical care, and 20% on everything else (overhead, advertising, corporate salaries, etc.). When an insurer spends less than 80% on care, the company is required to send you a check for the difference.
This has led to plenty of American consumers receiving unexpected checks in the mail, but as the TPM report makes clear, the 80/20 ratio is also having a positive impact system-wide.
All of which adds up to a simple truth: Gruber may be political catnip, but as a substantive matter, "Obamacare" is enjoying one success after another. Indeed, it's probably time for a new T-chart:
As promised, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its full report this morning on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the Bush/Cheney administration. The document is online here (pdf), but note that it's quite long and delays in load time should be expected.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee's chairwoman, summarized the four key findings of the report this way:
1. The CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" were not effective.
2. The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
3. The CIA's management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
4. The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.
Note, the link is to a 500-page executive summary of a longer, more comprehensive set of materials. It also includes plenty of redactions.
We'll have more after reviewing the document, but for now, here's msnbc's coverage; here's a report from NBC News on the findings; and here's our report from this morning on why it's important to disclose the committee's findings, despite concerns about violent repercussions.
I was also struck by Feinstein herself offering a compelling defense in support of disclosure:
A couple of years ago, a Bloomberg Politics Poll asked the public a good question about the deficit: "Is it your sense that this year the deficit is getting bigger or getting smaller, or is it staying about the same as last year?" It wasn't even close -- despite the fact that the deficit, in reality, was shrinking quickly, only 6% of the public knew that. A 62% majority said they believed it was getting bigger, which was the opposite of the truth.
Two years later, Al Hunt flags the results of the new Bloomberg Politics Poll, which offers some good news and some bad news when it comes to the public's recognition of reality.
"A quick question about the deficit -- which is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it takes in in taxes and other revenue each year. Over the last six years, do you think the deficit has been getting bigger or smaller?"
Not sure: 6%
The wording of the question is slightly different than in early 2013 -- this time, there was no option for those who believe the deficit is roughly the same size -- but at least in this poll, the number of people who are correct has grown. So, too, is the percentage of Americans who are wrong.
State officials in Florida, at the behest of power companies, recently agreed to gut the state's energy-saving goals and scrap Florida's solar-rebate programs. It's part of the larger effort to discourage renewable energy in the state, boosting power companies' profits.
What's striking is how proponents of these moves are trying to justify themselves. The Palm Beach Post's Frank Cerabino reported yesterday on a quote I hadn't heard before.
You might imagine that you live in the Sunshine State, but there are sunshine deniers among us. It's easy to find them. Just mention that Florida is woefully lagging when it comes to using solar energy.
"I think the whole 'Sunshine State' is just a license plate slogan," Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham said during a recent commission hearing. "When you look at it, we are No. 5 overall when it comes to rainfall of all the other states."
Graham's not alone as a sunshine denier. For years, state lawmakers have been scuttling renewable energy plans by claiming that "intermittent cloud cover" makes sunshine too unreliable in Florida.
Yes, we've officially reached the point at which Florida officials, so eager to undermine renewable-energy programs, are now publicly rejecting the idea that the Sunshine State has, well, sunshine.
It didn't get a whole lot of attention, but following up on a segment from last night's show, it seems the war in Afghanistan, in a way, ended yesterday.
American and NATO troops closed their operational command in Afghanistan on Monday, lowering flags in a ceremony to mark the formal end of their combat mission in a country still mired in war 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime for harboring those responsible for 9/11.
The closing of the command, which oversaw the day-to-day operations of coalition combat forces, is one of the final steps in a transition to a support and training role that begins Jan. 1.
And why is it that the end of the U.S. combat mission, 13 years after the start of the war, passed largely without notice? Probably because the end of the war isn't really the end of the war.
As the AP report added, President Obama has already authorized U.S. forces in Afghanistan "to carry out military operations against Taliban and al-Qaida targets," which in a practical sense, means the longest war in American history will continue "for at least another two years."
In other words, yesterday was the technical end of a U.S. mission -- "Operation Enduring Freedom" is, in a literal sense, now over -- the current security agreement leaves roughly 10,000 American servicemen and women in Afghanistan indefinitely.
As Rachel noted on the show, "there's no date for them to come home," though the mission did get a new name: "Operation Resolute Support."
A wide variety of Bush/Cheney administration officials, including former President George W. Bush himself, "decided to link arms" recently and defend the torture policies the U.S. used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. They have not yet seen the Senate Intelligence Committee report, due to be released today, but they've been eager to argue against disclosure, all while launching a p.r. campaign of sorts before the world better understands exactly what they did.
It's a curious argument: "We didn't do anything wrong, but for the love of God, please don't tell anyone what we did."
Leading the charge, not surprisingly, is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has not read the report, but is nevertheless comfortable dismissing it as "hooey."
"What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it," he said in a telephone interview. "I think that's all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program."
Referencing CIA officials responsible for executing the administration's torture policies, Cheney told the New York Times, "They deserve a lot of praise. As far as I'm concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized."
It takes a special kind of person to look back at morally reprehensible misconduct and feel a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Today is the day. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent years studying the details of the Bush/Cheney administration's torture policies, and today, following extensive bureaucratic wrangling, the panel's report will be released to the public.
The right is outraged, not by the alleged misdeeds, but by the willingness to, in effect, acknowledge and confess to those misdeeds.
On the eve of a long-awaited Senate report on the use of torture by the United States government -- a detailed account that will shed an unsparing light on the Central Intelligence Agency's darkest practices after the September 2001 terrorist attacks -- the Obama administration and its Republican critics clashed on Monday over the wisdom of making it public, and the risk that it will set off a backlash overseas. [...]
[S]ome leading Republican lawmakers have warned against releasing the report, saying that domestic and foreign intelligence reports indicate that a detailed account of the brutal interrogation methods used by the C.I.A. during the George W. Bush administration could incite unrest and violence, even resulting in the deaths of Americans.
I suppose at a certain level, I can appreciate why the right's argument may seem compelling: telling the truth about U.S. actions may inflame anti-American passions, enraging our enemies. It's therefore better, the argument goes, to quietly bury the truth in the name of public safety -- if people don't know the scope and scale of what the Bush/Cheney administration did, maybe we won't have to deal with the consequences.
The problem, of course, is that this argument is completely wrong. Indeed, when you're certain that documenting our actions is much worse than the actions themselves, your moral compass needs an adjustment.