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Maine Gov. Paul LePage during a news conference March 10, 2014, in Brunswick, Maine.

LePage vetoes Medicaid expansion for all the wrong reasons

04/10/14 04:58PM

Maine's Democratic state House Speaker, Mark Eves, noted the circumstances this week surrounding Medicaid expansion. "We have a bipartisan plan for life-saving health care for tens of thousands of Mainers," he said. "It creates jobs, it save lives, it saves money."
 
All of this happens to be true. Every state north of Virginia has either embraced Medicaid expansion or is working towards doing so -- except Maine, where Gov. Paul LePage (R) refuses to cooperate. More than 60,000 low-income Mainers would benefit from the policy, on top of the economic and fiscal benefits, but the Republican governor nevertheless vetoed Medicaid expansion yesterday.
The measure also would have established a managed care system for all 320,000 beneficiaries, an effort to control costs in the $2.5 billion program, which is Maine's version of the Medicaid health insurance program.
 
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the federal government offered to reimburse states for 100 percent of the cost of expansion for at least three years, then gradually reduce reimbursements rates to about 90 percent.
 
But in his veto message to the Legislature, LePage wrote that Maine could neither afford expansion nor trust the federal government to deliver on its promises.
The rejection didn't come as a surprise, and Democratic state lawmakers will try to override LePage's veto. By all accounts, however, they face an uphill climb -- some GOP state lawmakers are on board with the policy, but probably not enough to generate a two-thirds majority.
 
But what was somewhat surprising was just how awful LePage's defense was. The governor, struggling in his re-election bid this year, had plenty of time to come up with a credible rationale for blocking Medicaid expansion, but he didn't come up with much.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Issa embraces McCarthy-era tactics

04/10/14 03:42PM

Once in a while, when Democrats refer to Republican tactics as "McCarthyite," they're being literal.
 
As part of the ongoing effort to make the discredited IRS "scandal" interesting, the House Oversight Committee voted to today to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. Every Republican on the panel voted for it; every committee Democrat voted against it.
 
But in a situation like this, the details matter. Lerner was called to testify 11 months; she said she had done nothing wrong; but she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in response to lawmakers' questions. Lerner was called back to the committee two months ago and she again took the Fifth.
 
Republicans are now targeting the former IRS official, saying she should be prosecuted for pleading the Fifth. The last time this came up? The era of Joe McCarthy and his notorious witch hunts.
According the records retrieved by the Congressional Research Service, no American has been successfully prosecuted for invoking their Fifth Amendment rights before Congress.
 
Congress brought contempt cases 11 times from 1951 to 1968, according the CRS.... Most of the cases involved the House Un-American Activities Committee and its communist witch-hunts in the 1950s.
The full CRS report is online here (pdf).
 
One case is of particular interest -- and makes Issa's over-the-top tactics look a little worse.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., gestures as he walks through a basement corridor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.

House passes GOP budget plan despite bipartisan opposition

04/10/14 12:47PM

Because federal spending levels for this fiscal year and the next are already set, there was no practical reason for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to unveil a budget blueprint last week. Indeed, since it'll never be approved by the Democratic Senate, the mere introduction of the plan was an obviously political exercise -- more a statement than an attempt at governing.
 
House Republicans put an exclamation point on that statement in a vote this afternoon.
The House narrowly approved Rep. Paul D. Ryan's spending blueprint Thursday, 219-205. It's an important symbolic victory for the Wisconsin Republican and potential GOP presidential contender.
 
No Democrats voted for the 10-year-spending plan and the bill won't go anywhere in the Senate, but the document has come to represent a marker for where the Republican Party, its leaders and rank-and-file House members stand on fiscal policy.
 
Twelve Republicans defected.
There was some chatter last week that House GOP leaders were worried about a possible defeat, but it appears members largely fell into line after some behind-the-scenes lobbying and arm-twisting. That said, 12 defections is a little high -- when Ryan budgets came to the floor in 2013 and 2012, 10 Republicans broke ranks and opposed the plans in each instance. [Update: here's the roll call for today's vote.]
 
Regardless, this is a very far-right budget plan, which drew the backing of 95% of the House Republican caucus -- even in an election year, even though they knew its provisions have no chance of becoming law.
 
And that's a vote that will very likely launch a thousand Democratic TV ads. As Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said last week, "Thank you, thank you Congressman Paul Ryan, for reminding us what Republicans would do if they had control."
Florida Gov. Scott Visits Opening Of Advanced Pharma Facility- 09/25/13

Rick Scott doubles down on ACA falsehood

04/10/14 11:30AM

What's worse than a politician saying something that's demonstrably untrue? The politician repeating the falsehood after learning it's demonstrably untrue.
Gov. Rick Scott is standing by two misleading campaign ads that falsely suggest 300,000 people in the state already lost their health insurance plans due to Obamacare.
 
"Clearly, the ad's accurate," Scott told reporters Wednesday in Miami, declining to elaborate.
Clearly, Scott isn't being honest with the public.
 
At issue is Florida Blue, the state's largest private health insurer, which has already said Florida's Republican governor, in the middle of a tough re-election fight, is wrong.
 
In a public statement, Florida Blue spokesman Paul Kluding said, "To date, most of the members in our pre-ACA plans have kept their plans.... Technically, there were a couple of hundred members with unique plans that were not continued. We chose to migrate those plans to new ACA-complaint ones instead of making changes to their existing benefits."
 
The statement added, "Other than those unique members, no one else lost coverage due to the ACA."
 
Also note, Florida offered an extension to Florida Blue to leave the old plans in place until 2015, making the governor's claim that much less believable.
 
Confronted with facts, Scott repeated the falsehood -- and then expanded it.

Obama blasts 'least productive Congress in modern history'

04/10/14 10:48AM

A few hours after a Senate Republican filibuster killed the Paycheck Fairness Act, President Obama spoke at a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates in Houston, and Congress' inability to legislate was apparently on his mind.
President Barack Obama sharply criticized what he called the least productive U.S. Congress in modern history on Wednesday in a fund-raising speech that he used to try to energize Democrats to vote in November congressional elections.
 
Obama blasted Republicans in the U.S. Senate for blocking a Democratic-supported bill earlier in the day aimed at addressing a gap in pay between male and female workers. Republicans argued that pay discrimination is already illegal.
 
Obama also cited Republicans' refusal to agree to an immigration overhaul and an increase in the minimum wage as examples of what he called obstruction by his political opponents.
Though the president's remarks were not recorded, the pool report quoted him as saying, "This has become the least productive Congress in modern history, recent memory. And that's by objective measures -- just basic activity."
 
The notion of a do-nothing Congress comes up from time to time, so it's probably worth pausing occasionally to ask whether Obama's criticism is true.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) arrives for his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2014.

Boehner faces trouble from far-right flank

04/10/14 10:07AM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is widely seen as an unusually weak Speaker because his ostensible followers routinely ignore him. Boehner has no meaningful legislative accomplishments after three years with the Speaker's gavel in large part because he's found it difficult to legislate with far-right members who have no use for his attempts at leadership.
 
Indeed, when Boehner sought a second term as Speaker last year -- a vote that was supposed to be a foregone conclusion -- his margin on victory was narrow enough to cause some intra-party heartburn.
 
But Boehner continues to muddle through, passing no bills, occasionally shutting down the government, and watching assorted extortion plots fall apart, all while overseeing a restless caucus that tells him not to govern, compromise, or any concessions on any issue, ever.
 
National Journal's Tim Alberta reports today that this may not last much longer.
Several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming to infiltrate the GOP leadership next year -- possibly by forcing Speaker John Boehner to step aside immediately after November's midterm elections.
 
The conservatives' exasperation with leadership is well known. And now, in discreet dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and in winding, hypothetical-laced email chains, they're trying to figure out what to do about it.
There are reportedly competing options, but the most "audacious" move would look to oust Boehner from his post at the end of this Congress. According to the organizers of this far-right contingent, 40 to 50 far-right House Republicans would commit to electing a new Speaker, which would deny Boehner the GOP support he'd need for another term.
 
The same article added that "the masterminds of this mutiny are trying to stay in the shadows for as long as possible," though if they're talking to National Journal about their possible plot, they're obviously not making too great an effort.
 
The obvious question, then, is how serious a threat this might be.
A statue of former President Ronald Reagan is seen February 6, 2014 at the entrance to Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Next stop, Planet Reagan

04/10/14 09:06AM

Not long after Ronald Reagan completed his two terms in the White House, conservative activists launched something called the "Reagan Legacy Project." The fear was that history would be unkind to the Republican icon -- when an administration sells weapons to an enemy to finance an illegal war in central America, then covers it up, then lies about its misdeeds, it leaves a mark -- so the right needed to give the president a public-relations boost.
 
It's worked out quite well. At Republicans' urging, Reagan's name is everywhere -- schools, bridges, courthouses, highways, airports, children, etc. -- and the former president's reputation is better now than when he was actually in office. Last year, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) even tried to rename nearly all of the water surrounding the United States after Reagan.
 
And the p.r. campaign isn't done yet.
Lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday advanced a bill that would name a Nevada mountain peak after the late President Ronald Reagan.
 
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) proposed the legislation that would name part of Frenchman Mountain, located east of Las Vegas, "Mount Reagan."
 
Committee members approved the measure by voice vote Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Of course, the measure was only approved after committee Democrats openly mocked the GOP's preoccupation with the man the RNC once literally referred to as "Ronaldus Magnus." In fact, one unnamed Democratic lawmaker "suggested the entire planet be named after the 40th president."
 
Perhaps Dems shouldn't give Republicans any ideas.
 
It's worth noting that the United States already has a Mount Reagan -- it's in New Hampshire -- but for GOP lawmakers, that's apparently not quite good enough.
 
At this point, House passage appears likely, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the AP he has higher priorities for his home state.
 
But as we've discussed before, what I find especially curious about all of this is that today's Republican Party, radicalized to an extent unseen in the United States in recent history, has absolutely no use for the Reagan legacy. None.

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