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January 31, 2011
MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:
* Egypt: "The political forces aligned against President Hosni Mubarak appeared to strengthen sharply Monday when the Army said for the first time that it would not fire on the protesters who have convulsed Egypt for a week demanding his resignation. The announcement was shortly followed by the government's first offer to talk to the protest leaders. Egypt's new vice president said on state television that he had been authorized to open a dialogue with the opposition for constitutional and political reforms."
* Some economic fallout from the uprising: "Political turbulence in Egypt is casting a pall on global financial markets and creating new risks for the shaky world economy in the months ahead. Higher prices for oil and food, a problem intensified by the Egyptian uprising, could cause further unrest in the Muslim world. Analysts also are concerned that movement could be restricted through the Suez Canal, controlled by Egypt and a crucial link in world trade."
* Oh, for crying out loud: "Fraud and mismanagement at Afghanistan's largest bank have resulted in potential losses of as much as $900 million -- three times previous estimates -- heightening concerns that the bank could collapse and trigger a broad financial panic in Afghanistan, according to American, European and Afghan officials."
* Let's just say the White House wasn't impressed with the Republican court ruling on the Affordable Care Act today.
* Consumer spending climbs higher: "Americans spent at the fastest pace in three years in 2010, boosted by a strong finish in December."
* I'd characterize this as a one-sided vote: "Southern Sudan's referendum commission says more than 99 percent of voters in the south opted for secession according to the first official primary results released since the vote was held earlier this month."
* Income inequality in Egypt is a real problem. As it turns out, though, income inequality is actually worse in the United States right now.
* In an apparent terrorist plot, Roger Stockham was arrested last week after police found him with explosives in the trunk of his car in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of America, a Dearborn, Michigan, mosque.
* Former Sen. Evan Bayh becomes a lobbyist. Try not to be surprised.
* A far-right blogger, Paul Mirengoff of Powerline, blasted the Native American invocation at the recent memorial service in Tucson, despite working at a law firm with American Indian clients. As part of the fallout, Mirengoff is no longer a part of the prominent right-wing blog.
* Are America's state universities are too cheap? Actually, no, they're not.
* And Richmond Ramsey tackles a common contemporary problem: an inability to have reasonable conversations with older relatives who watch Fox News. Ramsey labels is "Fox Geezer Syndrome," which is actually a pretty good name for it.
Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.
Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

REACHING 'NEW FRONTIERS IN PARTISAN JUDGING'.... That Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson would fine the individual mandate unconstitutional was a near certainty going into today. What was unexpected was Vinson, a Republican appointee, deciding that this one provision in the massive law necessarily means that the entirety of the Affordable Care Act must be voided.
Brian Beutler noted today that this is a legal standard that even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts hasn't embraced, and Roberts isn't exactly a moderate.
Simply ruling against the mandate puts any judge on the opposite side of the vast majority of expert legal opinion. But given just such ruling, a less "activist" judge could have stricken just the mandate, along with directly relevant provisions -- like guaranteed issue and the ban on discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. Vinson decided instead to "legislate from the bench" and scrap the subsidies, regulations, marketplaces, and other goodies the law creates that really have nothing to do with the mandate as well.
It's new frontiers in partisan judging.
Vinson's ventures into new frontiers in partisan judging actually go even further that this today. The ruling goes so far as to reference a ReasonTV.com video on page 47.
Hell, the guy even makes a not-so-subtle Tea Party reference in the ruling: "It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place."
For a federal judge to put this in print is rather foolish. Federal regulatory power has been used this way for centuries. Nuclear power plants to purchase liability insurance, whether they want to or not. The Civil Rights Act mandated businesses engage in commercial activity that owners found objectionable. George Washington even signed a law requiring much of the country to purchase firearms and ammunition.
It's precisely why Republicans didn't think the health care mandate was unconstitutional when they came up with the idea -- it's consistent with how the government has operated for generations.
For whatever reason, Vinson also seems oddly preoccupied with founding fathers like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, perhaps unaware that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson supported legislation that required private citizens to pay into a public health-care system, and included a "regulation against a form of inactivity."
I'll gladly admit there are legal scholars who can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but at first blush, this ruling appears to be a complete mess, seemingly crafted by an activist who started with the answer, and then worked backwards to justify the ideologically acceptable answer.
The only way to reject the mandate is to take a "fairly radical" reexamination of the Commerce Clause, so Republican state attorneys general found a fairly radical judge who wrote a ruling that reads like a piece published by a far-right blogger.
All of this is interesting, as far as it goes, but I should emphasize the point that renders at least some of this trivial: the Supreme Court will have the final call. Between now and then, we're left to marvel at the extremism of some misguided Republican judges.
Steve Benen 4:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

REPUBLICAN JUDGE STRIKES DOWN ENTIRE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT.... Today's biggest domestic political development is also the least surprising.
A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that requires all Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at two-to-two in the lower courts as the conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.
Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., ruled that the law will remain effect until all appeals are concluded, a process that could take two years. However, Judge Vinson determined that the entire law should fall if appellate courts agree with his opinion that the insurance requirement if invalid.
It can be tough to keep track of all the health care litigation -- there are nearly two dozen cases -- but this was the one brought by conservative state officials from 26 states, who carefully chose the venue.
Vinson had already telegraphed the outcome, so the ruling just makes official what everyone expected anyway.
More soon.
First Update: Note that when Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia, a Bush appointee, reached a similar conclusion in December, in a ruling that no one seemed to think made any sense, he said the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but left the rest of the law intact. Reagan appointee Vinson, however, took a far more activist approach, striking down a massive piece of legislation because of one provision.
Republicans are thrilled, of course, because activist court rulings are to be celebrated, just so long as it's activism the right can agree with.
Second Update: It's also worth emphasizing that two Republican-appointed federal district court judges have now found that the individual mandate -- an idea Republicans came up with -- is unconstitutional. And while that's important, let's not forget two other federal district court judges, appointed by Democratic presidents, came to the opposite conclusion.
Indeed, overall, about a dozen federal courts have dismissed challenges to the health care law.
In other words, when you hear on the news that "courts" have a problem with the Affordable Care Act, remember that it's actually a minority of the judges who've heard cases related to the law.
Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

'PIVOTING TO JOBS'.... Practically every national poll taken recently says the exact same thing about the public's top priorities: job creation and economic growth are far more important than everything else.
With that in mind, MSNBC's First Read noted this morning that the White House and congressional Democrats have their eyes on the prize.
Turning to domestic politics, the White House has quickly pivoted to jobs after the president's State of the Union -- even if it's being overshadowed by the situation in Egypt. This week, the Obama administration will be holding several events tied to Obama's call for innovation. And today, the White House is launching what it calls "Startup America" -- an effort to promote entrepreneurship across the country.
Also today, Senate Democrats are holding a conference call to push for reauthorization of the nation's aviation/airport programs, which they're calling "the first jobs bill of the 112th Congress." But as we've noted before, it's striking how congressional Republicans haven't made this pivot yet.
Republican efforts are often inexplicable to me, but First Read's right -- this really is just bizarre.
For a year and a half, job creation was ostensibly the GOP's top goal. In March, almost immediately after the Affordable Care Act became law, John Boehner asked, "When are we going to address the number one issue on the minds of our fellow citizens? When are we going to focus on the economy and getting people back to work?"
Nearly a year later, Boehner and his caucus have stopped asking, and appear eager to tackle just about every issue other than job creation. Nearly a month into the new Congress, we've seen Republican leaders commit to gutting the health care system, an anti-abortion bill, school vouchers, tackling marriage rights in the District of Columbia, and make plenty of vague threats about spending cuts, all of which would undermine job creation.
But not a word about actually creating a job for anyone.
The GOP is barely maintaining a pretense here. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) wrote an op-ed recently on "economic policy," and literally didn't mention jobs at all. There were two Republican responses to the State of the Union address, and neither one presented specific ideas about job creation. The Republican Study Committee presented an economic plan of sorts, and it's intended to deliberately put more Americans out of work.
Indeed, ask Republican leaders about their priorities, and they're quite candid -- they want to cut spending and reduce the massive deficit they created.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic jobs agenda is modest, but at least it exists. The State of the Union address emphasized areas like infrastructure, energy, and education, all of which are intended to improve American innovation and competitiveness in the long run, while creating jobs in the short term.
Can anyone, anywhere, actually describe the Republican plan to reduce unemployment? Has anyone even heard the GOP try?
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Republicans actually don't want to have a jobs plan -- not because they're unpatriotic, but because they have an ideological blind spot. They supported the tax deal approved in December, and that necessarily was the full extent of their policy ideas on creating jobs. Anything else might involve some public investment, and as far as the GOP is concerned, that means "spending" ... and spending is bad.
The result, to borrow First Read's word, is only one party "pivoting" to jobs. Dems and the GOP aren't just offering different answers, they're asking different questions. The White House and congressional Republicans obviously disagree on nearly everything, but to a certain extent they're talking past one another -- Democrats focused on job creation, without too much regard for the deficit, while Republicans are focused on the deficit, with willful disregard for job creation.
Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

DEMS SEE AN OPENING -- AGAINST SPENDING CUTS.... As part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Drive for 25" campaign, intended to help Dems reclaim their House majority, the party's new ad campaign is poised to get underway. The DCCC, using a variety of media, is targeting 19 GOP incumbents, nearly all of whom represent districts won by President Obama in 2008.
But at least as important as the effort is the message underscoring the offensive. Greg Sargent took a closer look at how Dems are going after vulnerable Republicans.
Rather than running from the issue [of government spending] -- which has obvious perils for Dems, given that Republicans are trying to tar them as Big Government liberals -- they are treating this as an argument that can be turned to their advantage, if it's framed in the right way.
The latest sign of this is the new DCCC radio ad that is targeting multiple House Republicans in targeted districts. The ad attacks Republicans for supporting plans to "cut education" and "cut science and technology research," defending the latter as the way "we get the new products that create new jobs."
Crucially, the ad cites specific programs that Republicans would target, and frames the cuts as threats to job creation, an effort to cast Dems as defenders of popular programs and to undercut the GOP case that government spending is inevitably a "job killer."
This ad comes after Obama's State of the Union speech, which aggressively doubled down on the role that robust "government investment," a.k.a. government spending, should play in securing the country's future.
If Republican rhetoric is to be believed, Democrats are making a horrible mistake. The lesson of the midterms, the GOP insists, is that Americans are desperate for sweeping spending cuts, and will reward policymakers who cater to those demands.
The DCCC isn't buying -- and it shouldn't. Americans tend to like the idea of slashing spending, right up until they're asked about specific areas of the budget, at which point most of the country thinks otherwise. Even rank-and-file Republicans aren't on board with spending cuts to farmers, domestic security, defense, combating poverty, Medicare, education, and Social Security.
It's why the new push makes a lot of sense, especially with a new House Republican majority that's so desperate to take an axe to the budget, some in the GOP are even recommending cutting veterans' benefits.
Dems see an opportunity here, and they're smart to take advantage of it.
Steve Benen 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

ISSA'S OVERREACH ALREADY UNDERWAY.... The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was tasked with an unpleasant job: identify and explain the events that caused the global economic crash in 2008. Last week, the panel largely wrapped up its work, and blamed ... just about everyone.
Wall Street banks and their widespread mismanagement shared responsibility in the final report with law federal regulators, credit rating agencies, the Clinton and Bush administrations, the Federal Reserve, and a motley crew of thousands.
But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the grand inquisitor chairman of the House oversight committee, has a few questions of his own. The conservative Republican has decided the investigation needs an investigation, and according to the Financial Times, has demanded that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission turn over its emails and related records to the committee for review.
Keep in mind, there have been no accusations of wrongdoing on the part of the commission; Issa says he just wants to look around and see what, if anything, he can turn up.
Paul Krugman explained the motivations behind a move like this one.
[W]hat this is really about is intimidation -- in much the same way that investigations of climate scientists are about intimidation.
What the GOP wants is to make people afraid even to do research that produces conclusions they don't like. And they don't stop at trying to undermine the research -- they go after the researchers personally. The goal is to create an environment in which analysts and academics are afraid to look into things like financial-industry malfeasance or climate change, for fear that some subcommittee will either dig up or invent dirt about their private lives.
McCarthy had nothing on these guys.
This is, by the way, the same Issa who, just three weeks on the job, announced that he wants his committee to have a running list of everyone who files Freedom of Information Act requests. If this makes you uncomfortable, you're not alone -- it "just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking," said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. "It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good."
And for good measure, let's also note that Issa last week compared his GOP predecessor -- the melon-shooting Dan Burton of Indiana -- to Abraham Lincoln.
It's going to be a long two years.
Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* As part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Drive for 25" campaign, the House committee is launching a round of radio ads, web ads, phone calls, and emails this week, targeting 19 GOP incumbents for their support of Republican spending cuts. Nearly all of the 19 GOP House members represent districts won by President Obama in 2008.
* The far-right American Future Fund has launched an attack ad in Nebraska, targeting Sen. Ben Nelson (D) on health care. The dishonest spot is ostensibly about urging support for health care repeal.
* It's not entirely clear if the Tea Party Express intends to bring down Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in a primary next year, but Club for Growth has made up its mind, and it intends to go after the incumbent senator.
* Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) has another official challenger in Missouri, with failed congressional candidate Ed Martin (R) launching his campaign this morning.
* All evidence suggests U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman really is planning a presidential campaign in 2012 as a Republican. No ambassador in American history has ever served an administration, and then resigned to run against the president he served.
* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is apparently moving closer to his own presidential bid, and is calling major GOP donors, urging them to "keep their powder dry" until he makes a formal decision.
* The latest surveys from Public Policy Polling show Mike Huckabee leading the 2012 Republican pack in West Virginia and North Carolina. Mitt Romney, who fares well in many other states, is trailing badly in both of these contests.
* And former President George W. Bush was nowhere to be found in the 2010 midterm elections, and apparently plans to keep an equally low profile in 2012. Democratic officials are likely disappointed by the news.
Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM.... As if Oklahoma's efforts weren't quite ridiculous enough, the madness is spreading.
Lawmakers in South Carolina have introduced a bill that would "prevent a court or other enforcement authority from enforcing foreign law in this state." This effectively makes South Carolina the latest state to consider legislation that would ban sharia law, though one of the bill's sponsors insists it's more than that.
"This bill has been called anti-sharia law, and I suppose it does deal with that," State Sen. Michael Fair (R-Greenville), who introduced the bill in the Senate, told TPM in an interview. "There are some localities around the country that have imposed sharia law in lieu of local laws."
Um, no. He's making that up. There isn't a single location in the United States in which sharia law has been imposed in lieu of local laws. It's simply never happened.
Indeed, generally right-wing proponents of this nonsense don't go quite this far. When activists in Oklahoma successfully pushed an "anti-sharia" ballot measure, proponents said it was a "preemptive strike" against a problem that may someday arise. Of course, "preemptive strike" was little more than a euphemism for "threat that does not exist."
But the responses to the imaginary problem keep spreading anyway. In addition to Oklahoma and South Carolina, we're finding similar efforts underway in Wyoming, too.
State Rep. Gerald Gay (R) is proposing a similar ballot measure that would prevent judges from using sharia, or Islamic, law in their decisions. Like the Oklahoma measure, it would also block "international" law -- which could cause unseen effects for Wyoming's American Indian population.
And, again like in Oklahoma, Gay admits that sharia has not been a problem in his state. Echoing the works of Okla. State Rep. Rex Duncan (R), he calls it a "pre-emptive strike." He told the Billings Gazette that he doesn't want judges using Islamic tenets in cases involving honor killings or arranged marriages.
Keep in mind, the number of court rulings in Wyoming in which sharia law was applied is zero.
And that's not because Wyoming is unique -- it's because we already have a law that prohibits U.S. officials from imposing religious rules on Americans through legislation or court orders. It's called the First Amendment.
Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

THE ONLY MODERN PRESIDENT TO ENDORSE 'EXCEPTIONALISM'.... In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized principles of "American exceptionalism" rather explicitly, a fact more than a few observers acknowledged, even on the right.
Kathleen Parker, a conservative pundit for CNN and the Washington Post doesn't see it that way. Unless Obama uses the word "exceptionalism" literally and repeatedly, she's argued, the president's motivations deserve to be held suspect. Conservatives, she said, "long to hear" the word, not just the principles behind the word. Obama, Parker added, "studiously avoided using the word" and asks, "So why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?"
Robert Schlesinger did some worthwhile digging over the weekend on this point, and discovered something interesting.
Only one sitting president in the last 82 years has publicly uttered the magical phrase "American exceptionalism" -- care to guess who it is? Ronald Reagan, he of the "shining city on a hill?" George W. Bush, who closed his speeches by asking that "God continue to bless" America? Nope. The only president to publicly discuss (and for that matter embrace) "American exceptionalism" is Barack Obama.
This would be the same president, of course, who is subject to a steadily rising stream of suspicion because of his supposed refusal to give voice sufficient voice to his love of country.
Yes, the one word conservatives "long to hear" has been uttered at the presidential level, but it wasn't a Republican who said it. Ironically, it was Obama who did what Reagan and Bush did not, though he's facing baseless attacks for doing what his detractors choose to ignore.
Bush, in case you're curious, twice used the word "exceptional" to describe Harriet Miers, his failed, ridiculous Supreme Court nominee, but never referenced American "exceptionalism," Republican longing notwithstanding.
For her part, Parker acknowledges that Obama repeated the word she's desperate to hear, but said it didn't count because she disapproved of the context. "Why won't Obama just deliver the one word that would prompt arias from his doubters?" Apparently because they won't be satisfied when he does.
Schlesinger's research, however, does cast this in a new light. I'm sure Obama's critics will feel compelled to call out his predecessors for "studiously avoiding" use of the "e" word, too, right?
Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

COMING TO TERMS WITH A MISGUIDED BASE.... The NYT's Kate Zernike had a good item over the weekend, noting the Republicans' Tea Party base targeting three incumbent GOP senators -- Richard Lugar of Indiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- for primary defeats in 2012. The efforts in Indiana were of particular interest.
Lugar has long been a very conservative lawmaker, though he's also been the kind of statesman who can work with his Democratic colleagues. This approach has apparently drawn the ire of far-right activists -- 70 or so Tea Party organizations have created a conservative coalition that will meet over the summer to pick Lugar's primary challenger. The coalition is also launching an aggressive effort to get the message out about Lugar's imaginary "liberal" record.
The coalition, Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, is also in communication with FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Express, and the Club for Growth, as part of a coordinated effort to bring down the respected, veteran Republican senator.
For his part, Lugar doesn't think highly of his right-wing detractors.
Mr. Lugar said at a breakfast with reporters this month that he believed that many Tea Party supporters were motivated by anger "about how things have turned out for them." They want to express themselves, but their complaints often boil down to nothing more specific, he said, than "we want this or that stopped, or there is spending, big government."
"These are all, we would say, sort of large cliche titles," he said, "but they are not able to articulate all the specifics."
The senator didn't get around to saying, "These people have no idea what they're talking about," but I think the sentiment was pretty clear.
The problem, of course, is that Lugar's right. The Republicans' Tea Party base, like many of its allies on Fox News and in Congress, can spout cliches, memorize ridiculous talking points, and wave silly placards, but there's no depth of thought or seriousness of purpose. They don't like various policies and personalities, but they can't say why. They demand creative solutions, but can't recommend any. They decry big government and dependence on the state, and see no contradiction embracing and living off of government largess.
As I've noted before, if you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.
Indeed, the Republican activists have been encouraged to think this way. Those who offer reliable evidence and information -- credible journalists, policy experts, academics, scientists -- have been deemed untrustworthy eggheads and/or enemies of all that is good and pure. Who needs reason when the GOP base has conspicuously unintelligent cable news personalities to help them make sense of the world?
With that in mind, I share Lugar's concerns, but hope the senator isn't too surprised by any of this. His party created this monster, and now it's on the loose in his state.
Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

ROMNEY PROBABLY DOESN'T WANT AXELROD'S PRAISE.... David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, is departing the White House, helping shape the president's 2012 re-election efforts. As he makes the transition, Axelrod chatted with USA Today about the political landscape in general.
In particular, Axelrod reflected on the state of the Republican presidential field -- he characterized it as the most unpredictable field in his lifetime -- and made one observation about a GOP contender that we're likely to hear again.
He pointedly praised one of the leading contenders, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in a way that spotlighted Romney's vulnerability within the GOP for signing a state health care law that parallels the new federal law in some ways.
Romney "did some interesting things there on health care, you know," Axelrod said. "We got some good ideas from him."
Well, that's likely to leave a mark.
The problem, which Axelrod is well aware of, is that the observation happens to be true. For all the right-wing hysterics about the Affordable Care Act being radical communism, the health care reform law is awfully similar to the reform package adopted in Massachusetts, as part of an agreement between Romney and Democratic state lawmakers.
It was Romney's signature accomplishment during his one term as governor -- his only experience in public office. At the time, his success on health care cast Romney in a positive light, demonstrating his ability to tackle major policy challenges and work with members of both parties to pass a sensible, mainstream legislative milestone.
Now, however, Republicans despise the policies that serve as the foundation of Romney's policy. During his 2008 campaign, this didn't come up too much -- the GOP didn't realize it hated these ideas, and never bothered to press Romney on his support for measures like the individual mandate. (They didn't see the point -- the mandate was a Republican idea.) In 2012, Romney won't be as fortunate, and he's already being pressured to apologize for the one big thing he got done during his only experience in government at any level.
The irony for Romney is that he's flip-flopped on practically every issue I can think of, but the one position he's inclined to stick to is the one the GOP base finds wholly unacceptable.
Axelrod knows this, so he's twisting the proverbial knife, just a little bit.
Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

THE SERIOUS FLAWS IN THE GOP'S ANTI-ABORTION BILL.... Still avoiding efforts to create jobs, House Republicans are poised to move on their next major initiative: the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
Nick Baumann did some great work on this last week, highlighting an outrageous provision in the legislation that would redefine rape. Existing law already restricts public funds for abortions, but there are exemptions for impregnated rape victims. This new effort, written by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would severely limit what would legally be considered rape -- if a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, for example, she couldn't use Medicaid funds to terminate the pregnancy.
But this isn't the only problem with the law. In the Affordable Care Act, proponents were forced to accept measures that make it extremely difficult to purchase a private health plan that covers abortion. This new "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" intends to make matters much worse, barring outright "the use of federal subsidies to buy any insurance that covers abortion well beyond the new exchanges."
The tax credits that are encouraging small businesses to provide insurance for their workers could not be used to buy policies that cover abortions. People with their own policies who have enough expenses to claim an income tax deduction could not deduct either the premiums for policies that cover abortion or the cost of an abortion. People who use tax-preferred savings accounts to pay medical costs could not use the money to pay for an abortion without paying taxes on it.
The only tax subsidy left untouched is the exclusion that allows workers whose premiums are subsidized by their employers to avoid paying taxes on the value of the subsidy. Many, if not most, employer-sponsored insurance plans cover abortions. There would have been a huge political battle if workers were suddenly told they had to pay taxes on the benefit or change their policies.
Of course, one of the great ironies of this misguided push is that it comes from the same lawmakers who complain constantly about big government. And yet, as the NYT editorial noted yesterday, these same lawmakers "have made it one of their highest priorities to take the decision about a legal medical procedure out of the hands of individuals and turn it over to the government."
Realistically, proponents of this bill are wasting time with another symbolic gesture -- the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" almost certainly can't pass the Senate, and would surely draw White House opposition if it looked like the bill might pass.
But the legislation nevertheless speaks to Republican priorities, and given the seriousness of the bill's flaws, those priorities are pretty odious.
Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

BOEHNER SEES THE RISK, BUT DOESN'T CARE.... Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) explained yesterday on CNN that his Republican colleagues are "playing with fire" with threats over the debt ceiling. The GOP's tactics, he added, "could lead to terrible, terrible problems."
Oddly enough, House Speaker John Boehner agrees, but appears willing to accept catastrophic consequences anyway.
The possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debt due to congressional inaction isn't on the table, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday.
Boehner said it would mean "financial disaster" for the global economy if Congress were unable to come to a deal to raise the debt ceiling this spring.
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy," Boehner said on "Fox News Sunday" of the risk of default. "I don't think it's a question that's even on the table."
Pat Garofalo has the video of the Speaker's comments.
The response sounded quite encouraging. There are plenty of Republican members who seem entirely oblivious to the dangers associated with failure on the debt limit, but Boehner apparently isn't one of them. He knows what has to be done, he realizes the consequences of failure, and he wants to avoid the looming disaster.
But Boehner couldn't leave well enough alone. In the same Fox News interview, the House Speaker added his caucus might very well defeat a debt-limit vote, inviting catastrophe, unless the White House agrees to Republican hostage demands and accepts "significant reductions in spending."
Boehner didn't specify what "significant" means or what spending he wants to cut -- the Speaker isn't really a "details guy" -- but offered the vague warning anyway. Give Republicans what they want, or they'll wreak havoc on the global economy, on purpose.
It seems like this keeps coming up. A few weeks ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said failure to raise the debt limit would lead to "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." In the very next breath, Graham said he and his GOP colleagues would deliberately invite this calamitous fate unless Democrats agreed to slash spending, taking money out of the economy in the midst of a fragile recovery.
In many respects, this is the worst, and least defensible, of the various GOP positions on the issue.
Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

FROM THE WEEKEND.... We covered a fair amount of ground over the weekend. Here's a quick overview If you may have missed.
On Sunday, we talked about:
* Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei emerges as a voice for protestors in Egypt.
* David and Charles Koch's right-wing gathering over the weekend is pretty significant.
* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants the U.S. to be on the right side of history in Egypt, but doesn't seem to know what side that is.
* Kathleen Parker just can't let go of this "exceptionalism" nonsense.
* Elliott Abrams looks at events in Egypt and concludes, predictably, that Bush was right. (He wasn't.)
* There is no Republican Party line on Egypt, at least not yet, with several fairly-prominent voices urging the U.S. to back the Mubarak regime.
And on Saturday, we talked about:
* Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) not only rejects the basics of modern biology, he does so with breathtaking ignorance.
* News organizations just love House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). They shouldn't.
* Republican efforts to take credit for economic growth just keep getting sillier.
* If Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) wants to be considered Congress' most corrupt member, he's doing a great job.
* In "This Week in God," we covered, among other things, an interesting breakup within the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques.
* Sarah Palin's call for a "spudnut moment" is very dumb.
* Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) plan to cut veterans' benefits isn't going over well.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) told an African-American lawmaker, who hopes to help bring some diversity to the governor's team, "I don't need your people."
Steve Benen 7:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

January 30, 2011
TURMOIL IN EGYPT.... As I get ready to step away from my desk for the afternoon, it occurs to me I can't say with confidence whether Egypt's Mubarak government will still exist by the time I get back in a few hours. Indeed, as of this afternoon, there's apparently a credible presidential alternative.
The Egyptian military reinforced parts of the capital on Sunday with tanks, jets and helicopters as tens of thousands of protesters flooded central Cairo for the sixth day, defying yet again government orders of a nationwide curfew.
The uprising, which began as a spontaneous grass-roots movement, appeared to coalesce, at least for the moment, as the largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, threw its support behind a leading opposition figure, the Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, to negotiate on behalf of the protesters.
Mr. ElBaradei arrived in Liberation Square, the center of the protests, shortly after nightfall and addressed the crowd through a bullhorn.
"We are beginning a new era in Egypt," he said. "What we have begun cannot be reversed.
"We have a key demand: for Mubarak to step down and to start a new era."
Watching Al Jazeera English, it's also important to emphasize that the unrest is not limited to Cairo -- the protests were massive and boisterous in Alexandria today as well.
In the meantime, the police in the capital effectively gave up today, raising fears of lawlessness, and reinforcing the notion that the government itself was on the verge of collapse.
As for the closely-watched Egyptian army, troops took no action against protestors today.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have not called for Mubarak's ouster, though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this morning called for "an orderly transition" in Egypt to a system that can "meet the democratic and economic needs of the people." She added that Egypt needs a "real democracy."
If Mubarak was looking for hints of U.S. support for the status quo, he didn't get one.
Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)


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