|11:34 AM, Mar 16, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
This weekend’s hymn appears to be “Democrats in Trouble.” Follow along with Jonathan Martin and Ashley Parker of the New York Times:
Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed about their midterm election fortunes amid President Obama’s sinking approval ratings, a loss in a special House election in Florida last week and millions of dollars spent by Republican-aligned groups attacking the new health law.
Appearing in the chorus:
With the health care sign-up period coming to an end this month, Democrats in Congress are looking over at the White House and realizing that the president is not only incapable of saving them, but he looks like a big anchor tied around their necks.
The president is still a good fund-raiser for Democrats. But while the Koch brothers are pounding the party’s Senate candidates and a few House candidates around the country, congressional Democrats are wondering when Obama’s vaunted powerhouse national advocacy network, Organizing for Action, will finally step in with some money to offset the wave of outside spending by the Republicans.
“We have a turnout issue,” Plouffe said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “This is a screaming siren that the same problems that afflicted us” in 2010 when Democrats lost control of the House “could face us again.”
“It’s going to be very hard to hold the Senate — I think the Senate goes,” MSNBC's Chris Matthews said on Thursday morning's edition of 'Morning Joe'. “I think we heard from the Ghost of Christmas Future this week. They’re going to lose the Senate.”
Most of the doom is attributed to the damage done to the party’s brand by Obamacare’s troubles and (all together now) those horrible Koch brothers and all of their money. There is talk of going for turnout and scaring voters with stuff about how the Republicans are coming for their Medicare and Social Security. And surely this will happen, along with warnings of wars on women, the young, and the climate.
'Honesty--you can only go so far in Washington when you're employed.'11:14 AM, Mar 16, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Dan Pfeiffer, an advisor to President Obama, wasn't telling the truth:
"If [Obama] doesn't get more involved in raising money and making this a choice, as Dan Pfeiffer said, you lose the Senate. And if you lose the Senate, turnout the lights because the party's over," said Gibbs on NBC this morning.
NBC host David Gregory asked, "Is the Senate in danger?"
"Definitely," said Gibbs. "Absolutely."
"How come Dan Pfeiffer didn't say it?" asked Gregory, referring to Pfeiffer's appearance on the show earlier in broadcast.
"I did the same thing a few years ago on your show and I still have tire tracks from Nancy Pelosi for saying what I thought. Honesty--you can only go so far in Washington when you're employed. As a consultant I can say all these things now," said Gibbs.
2:16 PM, Mar 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The administration continues to jury rig the Affordable Care Act, which it sometimes calls “the law of the land.” The most recent fix is a 279 pager, released on Friday afternoon when the administration no doubt hoped most people would have better things to worry about. The 279 pages detailed changes in something called “risk corridors,” which is a charitable way of saying “bailout.”
As Elise Viebeck of the Hill writes:
Under the proposed rules, the administration would tweak the formula that determines how much money insurers pay and receive through the risk corridors.
The change will mean that some companies see higher payments, or higher charges than under previous rules. The calculations will correspond with insurers' administrative costs and on average, "suitably offset" any unexpected spending, according to the administration.
One wonders who gets to decide how much offset is “suitable." This week, that is.
These things are clearly subject to change, it seems, without much notice.
And three years of foreign policy missteps. 8:35 AM, Mar 15, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Today marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian rebellion, a popular uprising that started as a protest movement and degenerated into a civil war that has already claimed more than 146,000 lives. As the White House has come to enumerate the various reasons why it has balked at arming the rebels—they’re fragmented, they’re farmers, they’re al Qaeda—it’s worth remembering that even before the opposition picked up weapons to defend itself against a regime shooting at unarmed protestors, it took Obama nearly half a year before he called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The administration’s Syria policy has been incoherent from the outset. Instead of pursuing actions calibrated to advance American interests while preventing a humanitarian disaster affecting not just Syrians but U.S. allies on Syria’s borders, the White House has engaged in a three-year long messaging campaign meant to protect the president’s flank. The question that three years worth of evasion and disinformation from the White House raises is simply this: why the lies?
If, as Obama says, the American people are war weary and want no further involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East, why not just leave it at that? After all, with the majority of the American public against any military action in Syria—a public that, from his perspective, has elected him president twice to extricate the United States from regional bloodshed and not further implicate us—why not just say that he won’t budge? Neither the torture of innocents can move him, nor the use of rape as an instrument of terror. The murder of children, killed by Assad’s barrel bombs in their sleep, cannot force his hand. Nor can the regime’s deployment of its chemical weapons arsenal force him to take action, as he showed in striking a deal with Vladimir Putin to get rid of Assad’s unconventional weapons. Nay, not pestilence, nor even the four horsemen of the apocalypse can move Obama. But if the president believes that the American public is in broad agreement to do nothing, why not just say plainly that he, in line with their way of thinking, is not going to do anything?
The history of the Syrian civil war is also a chronicle of White House mendacity. Taken as a whole, the breadth and audacity of the administration’s three-year-long misinformation campaign—waged against a U.S. public ostensibly friendly to its policy of non-intervention—is astonishing.
At first, the White House let on that things in Syria just weren’t that bad. As then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reasoned, unlike Libya’s Qaddafi, Assad wasn’t using planes to shoot his opposition. Clinton’s talking point on the use of fixed-wing aircraft was quietly dropped after Assad began to strafe and bomb civilian areas.
12:00 AM, Mar 15, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
President Obama might have been economical with the truth when he promised Americans they could keep their doctors when Obamacare takes effect, but he is proving a man of his word when it comes to the exercise of presidential power as he defines it. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” he told his cabinet, developing a theme of his State of the Union message. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation, or plans, or any logical idea of what will result in order to make sure we’re providing Americans the kind of help I’ve decided they need.” Liberals, or progressives as they now prefer to be called, found this activism cheering; conservatives and constitutionalists found it a chilling echo of some Latin American caudillo.
The presidential telephone so far has been deployed primarily in an effort to persuade Vladimir Putin to leave the Crimea, but a 90-minute call seems to have had little impact on an adversary who responds more to a display of power than of rhetoric. The pen, however, is proving mightier than the telephone: the president is using it to make changes in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) without bothering to obtain congressional approval, to tighten the regulatory noose around the neck of the coal industry, to prevent his Justice Department from enforcing a law that makes use of marijuana illegal, and now to drive wages up and profits down. For all his jacket-less, tie-less informality, Obama’s presidency is as close to an imperial one as we have had in modern memory.
Now the president is refilling his pen for an assault on what he feels is the second greatest problem facing the nation, the first being climate change. The background is important. Wall Street bonuses are up by an average of 15 percent, and average wages are “stagnant for too long,” according to Obama—median household income remains below the 2007 level when adjusted for inflation. Wages have declined sharply as a portion of national income, while profits are taking a larger share. Never mind that there are complex forces at work depressing wages of workers facing competition from low-paid Asian and Latin American workers, that the premium paid for education has risen, as has the premium for managerial skills in a globalized economy. Those complexities are best dealt with by policy pedants at cushy think tanks. Obama and the progressive wing of his party feel no need to worry about “any logical ideas of what will result” or to examine complex causes when simple, direct action on the results of these causes is at hand.
No one has ever argued that our labor markets work perfectly. At times employers have exploited desperate workers, at others trade unions’ excessive demands have brought down great companies and, lately governments. That’s why we have minimum wage laws and statutory penalties to protect against excessive work-weeks, procedures to assure a modicum of fairness in labor disputes, and lately a reconsideration of the structure of public-sector wage bargaining.
6:38 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who defeated Republican Scott Brown in 2012, has sent out a fundraising email to encourage supporters to donate to New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Brown announced Friday he is forming an exploratory committee to run against Shaheen for her U.S. Senate seat. Warren's email urges people to "beat Scott Brown again."
Read the email below:
It just happened: A few minutes ago, Scott Brown officially announced that he’s forming an exploratory committee to run against my friend Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate in New Hampshire.
Scott Brown may have moved to the Granite State, but we’re not going anywhere.
Will you help us raise $25,000 for Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign right now? Let’s remind Scott Brown what he’s still up against if he runs for the Senate in New Hampshire.
In 2012, we ran a campaign based on our values.
We said we were tired of a system rigged against working families, tired of values in Washington built on lobbyists' money and influence, tired of one of “Wall Street’s favorite congressmen.” We said we wanted real accountability even for the biggest banks, and that we wanted to build a better future where the rules don’t always tilt for the big guys.
We had that fight, and we won. Now we need to win again.
You are the strongest grassroots team in the country. Together we’ve stood up the most powerful special interests. We’re not afraid of a tough fight. So it’s time to get to work.
Make a donation to Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign right now.
Thank you for being a part of this,
P.S. I know Jeanne is a tough fighter, but please help me show Scott Brown what he’s up against by donating to Jeanne’s campaign right now:
4:49 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Scott Brown is officially exploring a run for U.S. Senate from the state of New Hampshire, he announced today. "I’m going to stop complaining and get involved again. So I am announcing that I have formed an exploratory committee to prepare a campaign for the U.S. Senate," Brown will say at a New Hampshire Republican gathering, according to prepared remarks sent out by his explorator committee.
4:31 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Elliott Abrams writes:
Last week’s meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama must have been tense. Two days before the meeting, the president publicly accused Israel of more “aggressive settlement construction . . . than we’ve seen in a very long time.” Only hours before the meeting, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published a report that cited a massive increase in settlement construction during 2013.
But the president had his facts wrong, and a careful reading of the CBS data proves it. The pace is not “aggressive,” and almost all of the construction took place within the major settlement “blocs” — areas that past negotiations have recognized would remain part of Israel (to be compensated for with land swaps).
The figures are online for anyone to see (the Web site is in Hebrew). Israel built 2,534 housing units last year in the West Bank. Of these, about a quarter (694) were in two major blocs near Jerusalem, Giv’at Ze’ev and Betar Illit, and 537 were in two other major blocs, Modiin Illit and Ma’ale Adumim, also near Jerusalem. These four, which will remain part of Israel, account for half of last year’s construction. They are not isolated outposts but instead are towns with populations in the tens of thousands, near the Green Line, as the 1949 armistice line and 1967 border are known.
The critical figure to monitor is the number of Israeli houses built outside such blocs in areas intended for the future state of Palestine. What the CBS data tell us on that question is that only 908 units were built last year in Israeli townships of 10,000 residents or fewer. And most of those units were built in settlement towns that are part of the major blocs. Units built in areas that would become part of Palestine number in the hundreds — and likely in the low hundreds. Given that about 90,000 Israelis live in the West Bank outside the blocs, that is approximately the rate of natural growth. So much for the president’s claim of “aggressive construction.”
Whole thing here.
3:28 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Expectations unexpectedly fell with is something many have come to expect … if you know what we mean.
As Kathleen Madigan of the Wall Street Journal reports:
The Thomson-Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary March sentiment index unexpectedly slipped to 79.9 from an end-February reading of 81.6, according to an economist who has seen the numbers. The early-March reading was well below the 81.8 reading expected by economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.
The numbers bounce around. Some are good and some are bad. Many are unexpected. Yesterday’s first-time claims number was good and gave hope to those who believe that there may be more jobs out there for people who are looking for work. But we have been traveling that road for a long time and one tends not to let those expectations get too far out ahead of reality.
Which is … more than half the country believes the economy is still in recession. Which makes for some not very hopeful expectations.
2:35 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Politicians out of power like to promise the moon and the stars to voters. They make contracts and pledges to America. Some vow to make the oceans recede and usher in a new era of hope and change. Others merely claim they have the power to make D.C. listen. But you don’t hear any grand promises coming from Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who hopes to become majority leader if the 2014 elections go the GOP's way. He just wants to put some points on the board.
“We’re hoping the American people will give us a chance to set the agenda,” McConnell told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an interview. “I’ve been the defensive coordinator for eight years. I’d like to have a chance to be the offensive coordinator. You can score on defense—I thought the Budget Control Act was an example of scoring on defense—but it’s harder to score on defense.”
But how many points can Republicans score—what can they practically achieve with majorities in the House and the Senate—as long as the White House is occupied by President Obama? “I think that will depend on him,” McConnell said, referring to the president. “If your definition of achievement is actually having something signed into law, we obviously have to be completely honest with our supporters that that will depend upon him being willing to support what we’ve done.”
McConnell mentioned free trade agreements and “comprehensive revenue-neutral tax reform” as areas where the president might be willing to drop his current demands (on tax reform, Obama wants $1 trillion in new revenue) and work with Republicans if they win a majority. That may be good policy, but it’s unlikely to inspire Tea Partiers. "In Washington, what passes for bold is, 'Hey, we're for revenue neutral tax reform.' It's like, I don't care. I would just as soon be back at home or practicing medicine," Kentucky's junior senator Rand Paul said in a recent speech.
What will Republicans do on immigration with a Senate majority? McConnell voted against “comprehensive immigration reform” earlier this year, but would he be willing to bring up a bill that included a path to citizenship? “I can’t imagine that a Republican Congress is going to be interested in giving the kind of bonus for an illegal entry,” he said.
What about a bill that stopped short of granting full citizenship but legalized the status of illegal immigrants? “I’m interested in the other parts of the bill,” McConnell said. “I think we ought to move to a merit-based legal immigration system and move away from things like country quotas and chain migration. There are improvements that ought to be made. I don’t think we’re there yet on border security. We’d be open to discussing the issue,” McConnell said. But, he added, such measures would be moved “in pieces,” not in a “comprehensive” bill.
On health care, Republicans will face a dilemma if they win a Senate majority. Will they pass a bill that both repeals Obamacare and replaces it with a conservative alternative? Or is it pointless to vote on a replacement plan until a Republican occupies the White House? McConnell didn’t give a definitive answer, saying, “we’ll have to see what it looks like. Our goal is to get rid of the entire thing.”
2:04 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Not exactly a victory lap when, as the AP reports, the president says:
… enough people have signed up for health care to make his signature law work.
And that he:
… tells medical web site WebMD that the 4.2 million people enrolled for this year "is already large enough that I'm confident the program will be stable.”
"Stable.” And recall that this was supposed to be a program that would cover the millions of uninsured (30 million, maybe) and may leave that number unchanged – at best. Also, under this plan, you were supposed to be able to keep you doctor if you liked your doctor … and so and so forth.
Then, it was supposed to be affordable. Says so, right there in the title. And, as the president has said, it is –as long as you get rid of some of the other things in your life. This is almost self-evidently true and not much solace for people who were led to believe that “affordable” meant “cheap.” The thing is, health care is not cheap and never will be. Obamacare was an attempt to finesse the question of who would be stuck with those big bills. Those who were – or would be – are not, unsurprisingly, happy.
Still, the program will be “stable." Let’s have a parade.
1:02 PM, Mar 14, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Fifty-two people in Wisconsin were un-enrolled in Obamacare due to a glitch. They all must now re-enroll in order to be covered by Obamacare. WKOW in Madison reports:
"52 Wisconsin residents who signed up for insurance on healthcare.gov are about to find out they're going to have to do it all over again," says a local newsreader. "There's another problem with the federal agency in charge of the Affordable Care Act," says the other newsreader.
Says the local reporter, "We've heard a lot about how the problems with healthcare.gov have been fixed, and while that's mostly true on the front-end, where consumers sign up, insurers say it's hardly the case on the back end. To understand this story, you have to learn a new term, known in the insurance industry as an 834s."
"Which are basically file transfers between the insurance companies and HHS," says an insurance expert.
"HHS is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One of the so-called front-end problems that's still occuring with the federal website is some people are getting signed up for plans with companies that don't cover their county."
"In other words, the insurer was going to offer coverage based on their zip code, where a zip code may cover multiple counties, that was where the issue ended up on the front-end problem. They bought a plan they weren't able to purchase," says the insurance expert.
HHS demanded that the "erroneous" 834s "be sent back to them." But there was a problem: "HHS apparently had no system in place to receive and store those files."
As a result, the consumer loses. "That means not only do those 52 people not have insurance, they are going to have to start the entire application process all over again with only two weeks left in the open enrollment period," says the local reporter.
11:25 AM, Mar 14, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
In the latest issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which went online early this morning, I have an article about the Nebraska Senate race. In a nutshell, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is trying to give a boost to one of the candidates due to some disagreements with outside conservative groups. This is problematic because there are two solid candidates in the race and it's an open primary -- and voters tend to resent meddling by the national party. Despite the intervention of the national GOP, both men in the race are running against "the establishment" and trying to claim the mantle of conservative purity.
The revelations in the article appear to have spooked Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn, who appears to be attempting to preempt the revelation in THE WEEKLY STANDAD that the securities firm he is a partner in is profiting off of TARP, the $400 billion taxpayer-funded bailout program.
Osborn--who is being funded by lobbyists aligned with the Senate Republican leadership--has long been trying to paint the other contender, former Bush administration Health and Human Services official Ben Sasse, as lacking in conservative bona fides because of favorable things he's said about Medicare Part D, which conservatives criticize as an unfunded entitlement.
In the course of reporting all of this, I noted that Shane Osborn has his own issues with conservative purity. He says he's opposed to all government bailouts, yet he's the chief marketing officer and a partner in a firm, Academy Securities, that got a contract from the Treasury Department last year to sell a billion dollars worth of GM stock. Osborn says he's only licensed to sell municipal bonds and the compensation structure at the firm is such that he doesn't profit off of the GM sale. As far as I can tell, Osborn's connection to TARP was a new revelation.
So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to see a story in Politico headlined, "Ben Sasse aided firm implementing Obamacare." Sasse has run hard against Obamacare, so the idea that he'd help implement it is potentially damaging. Here's the crux of the allegations:
Sasse provided early “strategic advice” to former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt’s health care consulting firm while the firm pitched itself to clients in early 2010 to help implement the Affordable Care Act. Sasse is listed, along with his photograph and biography, as a “senior advisor” under the heading “Leavitt Partners team” in PowerPoint presentations from April and May 2010 in which Leavitt’s firm sold its Obamacare expertise. ...
The extent of Sasse’s involvement with Leavitt Partners is unclear — both the Sasse campaign and Leavitt’s firm insist he was never paid by the firm. But two former Leavitt managing directors recall appearing with him on company-sponsored panels. And a Leavitt official said the firm used the “senior advisor” designation “very loosely, but only in order to avoid confusion with our clients.”
Sasse and Leavitt have until now denied the Senate candidate had any involvement in Leavitt Partners.
11:03 AM, Mar 14, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
White House spin doctors and a sea of lawyers have somehow managed to schedule a presidential appearance:
… at two super PAC events this election cycle to help support Democratic candidates.
But it does not qualify as political fund raising! As the Huffington Post reports:
The officials, who would speak only on condition that they not be quoted or identified, said that these events would not be fundraisers. Instead, the president would speak before gatherings hosted by House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC in order to draw an audience to their cause (electing House and Senate Democrats, respectively). After he was done and gone, they added, the checks would be exchanged.
So the President of the United States is just a warm up act?
Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard