Friday, March 26, 2010

Begging for a Reasonable Republican Party

Summary: Paul Krugman articulates what every liberal is currently feeling about the GOP.

I was hoping to bring you the final results of the Iraqi election today, but it appears that they haven’t quite finished counting the ballots on time.

So instead, I thought you would like to read Paul Krugman’s latest editorial for the New York Times. Simply put, it puts what every liberal is feeling into words.

From his piece:

I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn’t seem quite as entertaining — and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America’s future, you can’t be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties.

To be sure, it was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats “will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.”

Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable.

And it’s been a hoot watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. His best shot was declaring that enacting reform was an “unconscionable abuse of power,” a “historic usurpation of the legislative process” — presumably because the legislative process isn’t supposed to include things like “votes” in which the majority prevails.

A side observation: one Republican talking point has been that Democrats had no right to pass a bill facing overwhelming public disapproval. As it happens, the Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they perceive as the merits.

But in any case, the message from the polls is much more ambiguous than opponents of reform claim: While many Americans disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that it doesn’t go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform’s enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming pleased that it passed.

But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

No, to find anything like what we’re seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president.

Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy — Dick Armey, the second-ranking House Republican (and now a Tea Party leader) referred to him as “your president.” Threats were common: President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, “better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.” (Helms later expressed regrets over the remark — but only after a media firestorm.)

And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.

Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it’s clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.

For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan — not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It’s a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans’ economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It’s a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side — Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions — are mainstream. And, as a result, it’s a party that fundamentally doesn’t accept anyone else’s right to govern.

In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it’s a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t.

Another good piece on this subject, by journalist Beth Arnold, is currently on the Huffington Post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How Healthcare Reform Can Still Hurt Senate Democrats

Summary: Democrats in the upper chamber will have to defend some indefensible votes this November.

As you may have heard by now, the healthcare reconciliation bill will have to go back to the House of Representatives. The fear among proponents of the bill was that Senate Republicans would offer amendments that Democrats could not pass up, which would automatically mean it would need to go back to the House for approval.

What actually happened: the Republicans won on a point of order at 3:00 AM this morning using a parliamentary rule that by necessity changes the bill in question. Democrats have thus far been resilient to resist tempting amendments.

This means that little in the bill changes, it will likely be passed about an hour from now, and be approved by the House later tonight. President Obama will then likely sign this last piece of healthcare legislation in to law by next week.

And as we mentioned Monday, healthcare reform success should help Democrats in the midterm elections this November.

At least in the House - the Senate may be a different story.

So far the Senate GOP has introduced no less than 146 amendments to the reconciliation bill that Democrats have had to vote against to guarantee swift passage. They’ve been steadfast, but it comes at a price.

Among some of the amendments:

S.AMDT.3556 - Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment “prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists” under the government’s health insurance exchange.

S.AMDT.3639 - Senator John Thune (R-SD) introduced an amendment to “ensure that no State experiences a net job loss as a result of” healthcare reform.

S.AMDT.3564 - Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment that guarantees “the President, Cabinet Members, all White House Senior staff and Congressional Committee and Leadership Staff are purchasing health insurance through the health insurance exchanges” established in the overhaul.

Now who would disagree with these measures?

Most people wouldn’t. And that’s exactly the point. Republicans are making sure that Democrats have to choose between a rock and a hard place.

The rock: the healthcare bill faces a tougher time getting passed.

The hard place: Democratic Senators at risk in 2010 have to face attack ads that say “Senator So-and-So voted to give rapists Viagra at the taxpayer’s expense.”

The hard place is a lot more important.

According to Nate Silver’s most recent Senate Forecast, there’s more than a 50% chance that the Democrats will lose at least 5 Senate seats this year. There’s even some chance - albeit, a small one - that they could lose the majority.

Protecting our at-risk incumbents would be a lot easier if they didn’t have to make some of these votes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Fake Census to Watch Out For

Summary: A conservative interest group sends out a fake census for political purposes.

Back in January, the Republican National Committee raised criticisms for sending out a fundraising mailer labeled as an official “census document.”

WAYLA has recently uncovered a similar fundraising mailer from the Secure America Alliance, a project of the conservative (or even nationalist) U.S. Public Policy Council. Other projects include American Boarder Control and American Energy Independence.

The envelope it was sent in is marked “Phase 4 Census” and mentions the Secure America Alliance. However, it does not explicitly say anywhere on the envelope or in the enclosed documents that it is not an official 2010 Census form.

The following images are of the “census” document enclosed:

By the time you see Section 2 it should be obvious that this is not an official census form - the official census will not ask you if you support the sitting president’s agenda. Nor will the census ask you for money, like it does in Section 5.

Okay, so the mailer is specifically meant to raise awareness about a pending Totalization agreement with Mexico and to raise money for this obscure political organization.

According to an attached letter:

“This Census is built around one of the most important issues facing Social Security today: Totalization.

Totalization is the scheme that will give Social Security checks to illegal aliens…

…You have been carefully chosen to participate in this Census. And this Phase 4 Census has been officially registered with your name and a special identification number…”

That sounds a little suspicious, doesn’t it? What else does it say?

“…A lot of Americans don’t even know about this disastrous plan to give Social Security Checks to illegal aliens…

Most Americans don’t know just how dangerous the Social Security crisis is…”

I’ll say. A Google News search of “Totalization” doesn’t find anything regarding a U.S.-Mexico treaty.

A broader search, however, does find a 2004 news release from the Social Security Administration:

“[A Totalization] agreement with Mexico would save U.S. workers and their employers about $140 million in Mexican social security and health insurance taxes over the first 5 years of the agreement.

An agreement would also fill the gaps in benefit protection for U.S. workers who have worked in both countries, but not long enough in one or both countries to qualify for benefits.

Mexico is the second largest trading partner with the U.S. Agreements are already in effect with Canada, the largest trading partner with the U.S., and 19 other countries.

With Mexico, the U.S. now has signed agreements with eight of its top ten trading partners. Many of these agreements have been in effect for nearly two decades. The two exceptions are China and Taiwan. By law, the U.S. could not enter into agreements with these two countries because they do not have generally applicable social security systems that pay periodic benefits or the actuarial equivalent.”

Well, just in case that sounds reasonable, Ronald Wilcox (the Executive Director of the Secure America Alliance) signs his letter and adds “P.S. Social Security is for Americans. It’s not for freeloading illegal aliens who are looking for a handout.”

In a lot of ways, it all sounds too crazy to be taken seriously. Plus, the organization’s website doesn’t inspire confidence that this was conducted by a D.C. professional.

Yet the substance of the letter does include some classic indicators of astroturfing. Namely, it’s regarding an issue that absolutely no one has ever heard of. Additionally, a 2007 document connects this group to Stuart Grey, a conservative direct mail and fundraising consultant in Washington D.C.

Here are some other interesting notes about the “Census” they sent:

• In Section 1 they ask about gender, age, marital status, and employment. Then in Section 4 they ask about magazines the respondent reads. These questions will yield results that will be strikingly similar to the kinds of demographical and consumer-based data that the two main parties use in their voter files.

• The timeline they give (“within the next three days”) to submit the “Census” is awfully short.

• There is a TON of fine print under Section 5.

• The envelope clearly mentions “Registered for use by the addressee listed below…Tampering with mail is a Federal Crime.”

So a lot of things about this mailer should raise a few eyebrows. Either way, it is not a real Census document, and I would advise anyone receiving it to immediately throw it out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How the New Healthcare Law Changes the Dynamics of 2010

Summary: the Democrats’ legislative success means an electoral challenge for Republicans.

President Obama finally signed healthcare reform into law this morning. Soon, millions of uninsured Americans will have access to healthcare, sick Americans will be at lesser risk of losing coverage, and insurance prices will stop skyrocketing.

Over the past year, the healthcare debate has changed the political landscape entirely. It has led to the growth of the Tea Party movement, made members of Congress like Bart Stupak and Joe Wilson household names, and seriously depleted Obama’s approval ratings.

By the end of 2009, we warned that a failure to pass healthcare would mean more trouble than security for the Democratic caucuses in Congress.

Now that it’s passed, the tables have turned. Republicans warn that a “yes” vote on healthcare will mean trouble for Democrats come November, but it is the GOP that needs to start worrying.

They’ve been pursuing a strategy of “no” for the past year. Even now, they’re only suggestion is to repeal the law.

Except most of the legislation is quite popular. Measures that most voters would generally approve will be in place before July, including the end of pre-existing conditions. Young Americans could stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26, and insurance companies would be unable to drop someone from coverage when they get sick.

One of the demographics most afraid of the overhaul - the elderly - will see huge benefits very soon, such as free preventive care and the closing of the Medicare Part D donut hole.

Republicans won’t actually want to repeal all that, will they?

Democrats, meanwhile, saved themselves a lot of trouble by proving to their base they could accomplish something. Things were looking pretty dismal here and there throughout the debate, and Democrats around the country were becoming less and less confident in Congressional leaders.

They won’t be feeling quite so disaffected come November, knowing that near-universal healthcare was achieved as promised.

Watch the President's remarks here:

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