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Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013.

House Republicans take aim at key family planning program

06/17/15 11:20AM

In the wake of the Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, House GOP lawmakers quickly prioritized the elimination of all Title X funding. Not surprisingly, the efforts faced massive Democratic resistance.
 
But now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, far-right members are pursuing their goal with renewed vigor. Laura Bassett reported yesterday for the Huffington Post:
The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee released a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016 on Tuesday that zeroes out funding for the Title X family planning program, the only federal grant program that provides contraceptive and other preventive health services to poor and uninsured individuals who would otherwise lack access to that kind of care.
 
The program subsidizes 4,100 health clinics nationwide and provides no- or low-cost family planning services to individuals who earn less than about $25,000 a year. The largest demographic the program serves is reproductive-aged women between 20 and 29 years old.
Those who said the so-called "Republican war on women" is over may want to re-think their thesis.
 
ThinkProgress' Tara Culp-Ressler added, "According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, about 20 million women in the United States need access to publicly funded contraception, and Title X clinics have historically only been able to meet about a third of that need. The situation has been getting even worse in recent years. After the most recent economic recession, more Americans slipped into poverty and Title X's patient load increased -- but its budget didn't."
 
By most responsible measures, Title X deserves additional resources, not a 100% budget cut.
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) walks to the House Chamber for a vote on Oct. 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Boehner not above playing a little hardball

06/17/15 10:49AM

When John Boehner ran for re-election as House Speaker earlier this year, two dozen of his own members voted against him. It was the poorest showing for any Speaker in nearly a century.
 
The question was what Boehner intended to do about it. Soon after, some of the mutineers started receiving their punishments -- some were denied subcommittee chairmanships, some were removed as lead sponsors of important bills, and a couple were kicked off their committees altogether.
 
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who ran for Speaker and received two votes – including one from himself -- complained that retribution was "something I would assume Vladimir Putin would do." The whining, however, was misplaced. As we talked about at the time, in every democratic legislature in the world, there's an expectation that a party's members will, at a minimum, elect the party's leaders. Failure to do so puts a member's career in jeopardy.
 
The same is largely true on procedural votes, where leaders also expect rank-and-file members to follow the party's lead. That didn't happen on Friday, and as National Journal reported, some key members are now paying the price.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis, Steve Pearce, and Trent Franks have been removed from the [House Republicans'] whip team after they sided with GOP rebels to vote against a rule governing debate on a trade bill, according to sources close to the team.
 
Lummis, a deputy whip and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was perhaps the whip team's highest-ranking bridge to the conference's most intransigent members. Pearce and Franks also are very close to House conservatives.
I can appreciate why this may seem like inside baseball, but for all the recent Beltway chatter about "Democratic divisions" and a "Democratic civil war" on trade, it's worth appreciating that we've seen some bipartisan disarray lately.
Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is reflected in a mirror as he departs after speaking to the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce in Salem, N.H. May 21, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Jeb Bush's line on Social Security draws scrutiny

06/17/15 10:09AM

Jeb Bush's position on Social Security was already controversial. The Republican presidential hopeful, just two weeks ago, emphasized his support for raising the retirement age for Social Security eligibility -- a broadly unpopular position. Making matters slightly worse, the former Florida governor was mistaken when talking about what he thinks is the current retirement age.
 
Yesterday, Bush's position drew even more scrutiny, when the International Business Times published this video from American Bridge, recorded at an event in New Hampshire. In response to a question about Social Security, the GOP candidate told an audience:
"I appreciate the question because it relates to, not that Social Security is an entitlement -- I've learned that from town hall meetings -- it's a supplemental retirement system that's not actuarially sound, how about that.
 
"And certainly Medicaid and Medicare are entitlements and they're growing at a far faster rate than anything else in government, so it will overwhelm us. The contingent liabilities are clear. We can ignore it as we've done now -- my brother tried, got totally wiped out, both Republicans and Democrats wanted nothing to do with it. The next president's going to have to try again."
The line is arguably open to some interpretation. Some Bush critics pounced, arguing that he effectively endorsed his brother's failed privatization scheme.
 
A more charitable interpretation is that Bush supports some kind of "reforms" to the Social Security system. When he said the next president is "going to have to try" to change Social Security, he may not have been referring specifically to the other Bush plan.
 
Presumably, either candidate or his campaign team will clarify matters fairly soon. But if Team Jeb responds to questions by saying he wasn't referring specifically to his brother's gambit, that shouldn't necessarily end the controversy.
The US Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Trade proponents turn to Plan B

06/17/15 09:30AM

After President Obama's trade agenda faced an important setback in the House on Friday, the stage was set for an important Round Two. On Tuesday, House Republican leaders announced, they would bring Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the floor for another key showdown.
 
That was supposed to be yesterday. Nothing happened. In fact, late Monday it was clear the policy wasn't close to having the necessary support, so it hardly came as a surprise when the vote was scrapped. Instead, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave the chamber another six weeks to figure something out.
 
So what's happens now? According to the Huffington Post, Vox, and others, congressional Republicans who agree with the White House on trade have a Plan B in mind.
Days after the House dealt a setback to President Barack Obama's trade agenda, GOP leadership is considering plowing ahead with stand-alone legislation that would give the president so-called fast-track authority to shepherd trade deals through Congress.
 
The House could take up the fast-track bill as early as this week, two House GOP aides told The Huffington Post, after which it would be sent to the Senate.
This gets a little complicated, but stick with me, because it's important.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and other members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speak to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015.

Some GOP drama at latest Benghazi hearing

06/17/15 08:44AM

In case anyone's forgotten, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, already having overseen one of the longest congressional investigations in American history, still exists. In fact, the panel, in its 405th  day, has evidently spent over $3.5 million to examine a deadly terrorist attack that's already been investigated by seven other congressional committees.
 
The panel's Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, however, featured a little drama -- not during the actual hearing, but as The Hill reported, before the proceedings even began.
Former House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to crash former Hillary Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal's deposition before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Tuesday.
 
Issa marched into the closed-door deposition and remained inside for about a minute before he was escorted out by the panel's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). The pair briefly exchanged hushed words in a nearby hallway before Issa stormed off, throwing an empty soda can into a nearby trash bin.
There's a brief video of the exchange, captured by NBC News' Frank Thorp. For those who can't watch clips online, the video shows Issa leaving the hearing room, exchanging a few words with Gowdy, and then storming off while Gowdy gives the "C'mon, don't be like that" gesture.
 
It's worth noting that yesterday's hearing was a closed-door gathering, unavailable to the public and the press. Issa, whose own Benghazi hearings turned up nothing, apparently wanted to attend anyway, which led Gowdy to remind him that this wasn't allowed. The far-right Californian clearly wasn't pleased.
 
After that drama was over, what did we learn from the hearing itself? Well, it's an interesting story, actually.
President Barack Obama arrives in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 2, 2015. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The scope of Obama's counter-terrorism successes

06/17/15 08:03AM

Whenever the political world's attention turns to matters of national security and terrorism, Republican criticisms of President Obama feature familiar talking points. The president isn't "aggressive" enough, they say. His approach must be "tougher," like the policies adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration.
 
Obama's counter-terrorism policies are so ineffective, the right insists, that the White House won't even use the specific words -- "radical Islamic terrorism" -- that Republicans demand to hear.
 
But the gap between GOP rhetoric and national-security reality continues to grow. We learned yesterday, for example, that a U.S. airstrike killed Nasir al-Wuhaysh, al Qaeda's No. 2 official -- and the top guy in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As Rachel noted on the show last night, his death is a "huge deal," especially given the terrorist plots al-Wuhaysh has helped oversee.
 
NBC News had a helpful report yesterday on the frequency with which U.S. strikes have successfully targeted al Qaeda's top leaders.
Since Navy SEALs killed [Osama bin Laden] in 2011, American drone strikes have taken out seven potential candidates to succeed him as the leader of what was once the most-feared terror gang.
 
The targeted attacks started within weeks of bin Laden's death. Three al Qaeda higher-ups were killed in June, August and September of 2011, followed by another three in late 2012 and early 2013.... Now, the death of 38-year-old Wuhayshi -- killed in a strike on Friday -- is seen by American intelligence officials as a major blow to al Qaeda, which is struggling with decimated ranks and ideological competition from the Islamic State.
I'm reminded of this piece in The Atlantic last fall, when Jeffrey Goldberg, hardly a liberal, wrote, "Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency."
 
It's a detail Republicans simply don't know what to do with, so they ignore it and pretend the president is indifferent to matters of national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. While GOP officials and candidates continue to insist that what really matters is word-choice, Obama's counter-terrorism strategy includes so many successes, they no longer generate much attention. Notice, for example, just how little chatter al-Wuhaysh's death garnered yesterday.

GOP's Obamacare plan and other headlines

06/17/15 08:03AM

GOP leaders to brief lawmakers on what to do if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare subsidies. (AP)

Latino conference brings immigration reform back to the campaign trail. (NY Times)

Prosecutors outline case against Phoenix man in Texas attack. (AP)

U.S. cities running out of water. (USA Today)

NC teacher resigns after reading students a book about gay couple. (AP)

Astronomers report finding the earliest stars that enriched the cosmos. (New York Times)

A tiger that escaped a zoo after it was flooded has killed a man. (AP)

read more

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.16.15

06/16/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Counter-terrorism: "Al Qaeda confirmed Tuesday that its No. 2 official — a former aide to Osama Bin Laden who rose to lead the terror group's powerful Yemen affiliate — was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Rumors about Nasir al-Wuhayshi's death first circulated on social media and in the Yemeni press."
 
* The mission to date: "The Department of Defense has identified six American service members who have died supporting the operation to eliminate the Islamic State militant group. It confirmed the death of the following American recently: Daniel, Monterrious T., Pfc., Army; 19, of Griffin, Ga., Fourth Infantry Division."
 
* Water matters: "Twenty-one of the world's 37 largest aquifers – in locations from India and China to the United States and France -- have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water is being removed than replaced from these vital underground reservoirs. Thirteen of 37 aquifers fell at rates that put them into the most troubled category.
 
* TAA vote postponed: "After successful Democratic efforts to block the president's trade package, Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke by phone and consulted their respective top lieutenants as they tried to find a path to success, according to senior aides. Their first call was to abandon plans for a second vote Tuesday on a piece of legislation that must also pass for the entire package to advance to Obama's desk."
 
* It's been days since the last sports scandal: "The FBI and Justice Department are investigating members of the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals to determine whether the organization hacked the computer network of the Houston Astros in order to steal player personnel information."
 
* FDA: "The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday gave the food industry three years to eliminate artery-clogging, artificial trans fats from the food supply, a long-awaited step that capped years of effort by consumer advocates and is expected to save thousands of lives a year."
 
* Coffman really shouldn't have gone this far: "A VA spokeswoman chided U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman on Monday for statements the Aurora Republican made recently in which he imagined the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs running the terrorist group ISIS."
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Senate votes against torture, but not unanimously

06/16/15 04:55PM

It's been six months since the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the time led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), released a detailed report on Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques." Among the many gut-wrenching findings was realization that torture program "was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public."
 
Soon after, Feinstein proposed a series of recommendations "to prevent the future use of torture by the government," and part of the California Democrat's agenda came to the floor today. MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported:
The bitterly divided Senate came together Tuesday to ban the U.S. from ever returning to the use of Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques," now widely recognized as torture.
 
By a margin of 78 to 21, the upper house passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would restrict the interrogation practices of every federal agency to those explicitly sanctioned by the Army Field Manual; a handbook that provides no entries for waterboarding, "rectal feeding," or any of the other innovative brutalities employed by the CIA under the previous administration.
The policy, specifically requested by Feinstein in January, was co-authored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured after his capture in Vietnam. "I know from personal experience that abuse of prisoners does not provide good, reliable intelligence," McCain said today. "I firmly believe that all people, even captured enemies, are protected by basic human rights."'
 
The Huffington Post called today's vote "a landmark showing."
 
That seems entirely fair, though it's important to emphasize that the outcome was hardly unanimous.
"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.

Public unaware of Supreme Court's healthcare iceberg

06/16/15 04:14PM

Those who pay close attention to current events no doubt realize that, before the end of the month, the Supreme Court will rule on a case called King v. Burwell. For millions of families, the decision will be critically important -- for some, it may even be a matter of life and death.
 
But the fact remains that much of the public doesn't pay close attention to current events. The Kaiser Family Foundation's new report suggests most Americans have no idea there's an iceberg ahead, and the high court may be aiming right for it.
Most of the public continues to say they have not heard much about the case. About 7 in 10 say they've heard only a little (28 percent) or nothing at all (44 percent) about the case. Fourteen percent say they've heard something about it and 13 percent say they've heard a lot about the case.
 
These shares are slightly higher than late last year when the Supreme Court announced they would take the case and earlier this year when the Court heard arguments, but still most say they haven't heard much about the case.
That's no small detail. Possibly as early as Thursday, several Republican justices may tell 6 million Americans, "Sorry, we've decided you'll no longer be able to afford health security." And many of those 6 million have no idea this possibility is looming.
 
We've been raising the prospect of systemic chaos for quite a while, and these national survey results reinforce the threat: if five partisan jurists take a brazenly stupid case seriously, states aren't prepared to address the ensuing mess; federal lawmakers have made no plans on how to proceed; and millions of consumers will be very surprised to learn their coverage is suddenly unaffordable because some Republicans on the Supreme Court say so.
 
As for the political implications, it's certainly possible the public, upon learning about all of this, will blame Republicans -- after all, it was Republicans who filed this ridiculous lawsuit; Republicans who championed the case; Republicans who filed briefs with the court pleading with the justices to rule against consumers; and Republican judges who might swing the sledgehammer at the American health care system.
 
But there's also that other possibility. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent considered the prospect of Republicans rolling out "the old Obamacare Fog Machine" for another run.

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