Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cutting Through The Nonsense

Over the past few days we have voiced our frustration over the “glitches” that continue to plague the roll out of the Affordable Care Act.
In hindsight perhaps we focused too much of our attention on the difficulties occurring within the website while failing to point out some of the more positive aspects of the law. 
After all, like FOXNEWS we like to be “Fair and Balanced.”
We decided that one of the things that might be helpful to our readers would be to put to rest some of what we will charitably call “misinformed statements” made by those who would like to see the legislation fail.
One of the most egregious misstatements made about the ACA is that it is killing jobs in America.  The law requires that employers with over 50 employees must provide health care for their full time employees or face a stiff fine.  A full time employee is defined as anyone working 30 hours or more. Republicans are saying that as a result of this mandate millions of employers across the country are being forced to reduce their employees’ hours because they can’t afford to make health care available.  They say that the ACA is turning us into a nation of part-time workers. 
That is simply a lie. The mandate for employers does not go into effect until 2015.  Any employer using that for an excuse to reduce its payroll is being disingenuous.
Part- time employment nationwide has been consistently higher than before the 2008 recession.  But that trend started long before Obamacare was signed into law in 2010.  Part –time employment has consistently decreased over the past three years while full-time employment has increased. 
The latest federal jobs report released Tuesday shows more of the same:  691,000 full-time jobs were added to the economy in September while 594,000 part time jobs were eliminated.  Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer announced that it will be moving 35,000 part-time workers to full-time hours shortly.
There are an estimated 150 million people in the job force.  Economists estimate that less than 100,000 will be forced into involuntary part-time employment over the next 12 months.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the Wall Street Journal, ADP, Moody’s, Business Insider and a host of other business journals echo the same message…”there is no evidence the ACA has had any impact on part-time employment.”
In addition to killing jobs, Republicans have charged that the entire law is a failure and that the ACA is having negative impact on our economy.  They assert that not only is the website a mess but once you manage to get thru you found “limited options and high prices.”
We stipulate that the website is a mess.  But the rest is nonsense.  Pull up any social media site or news outlet other than FOX and you will find glowing testimonials to the quality of the products and competitiveness of the pricing.  One woman in New York said that it took her several attempts over five days to finally get into the website.  But once she got in she found 50 plans to choose from.  She cut her deductible by 50%, eliminated her $2M annual cap and saved $5000 in annual premium.
While the federal site is going through its problems the state run exchanges are doing quite well.  There are 25 states plus the District of Columbia that have agreed to expand Medicaid under the ACA, making coverage available to millions of previously uninsured Americans.  Early reports show over 400,000 accounts created and 319,000 applications submitted.
On Monday the State of Ohio voted to accept $2.5 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid.  According to the Kaiser Foundation, over 330,000 low income adults who do not currently qualify for Medicaid will now be eligible.  This will improve the economic and health condition of poor residents while cutting the losses for hospitals that are not compensated for the care they provide to the uninsured.
According to an Ohio State University study, the program is expected to inject $1.4 billion into Ohio’s economy of the next nine years.
Ohio’s Republican Governor Kasich is the 8th Republican governor to accept the Medicaid expansion.  He dismissed criticism from his party saying: “The morality of a human being, who is blessed, helping a human being who has challenges, is just a moral imperative in our lives.  It just is.”
There are provisions in the ACA that we believe are really good for the country.  There are things we would change. It will be 3-5 years before we truly know the impact of the ACA on our economy and our quality of life.
Meanwhile turn down the noise and check it out for yourself.         
 





They're Workin' On it!

As we expected, the president went into damage control mode yesterday over the roll out of the Affordable Care Act.
Rose garden setting…backdrop of smiling satisfied supporters…blah, blah, blah…
Anger expressed over the failed website… assurances that everything possible was being done to rectify the situation as quickly as possible….blah, blah, blah…   
With great confidence he provided a phone number that applicants could use to by-pass the website and apply online:
1-800-318-2596.
He repeated it: 
1-800-318-2596.
Problem:  reporters who called the number said they either received a busy signal or were greeted by automated voice that referred them to the faltering website.
Not good!
Here’s the thing…
We went online at 7:45 eastern this morning.  
We got right into the site…created an account and shopped around.  It took less than 5 minutes.
Then we called the 800 number provided by the president.  We were immediately greeted by an automated voice they gave us several options.  We chose to talk to a representative and were put right through to a real person.  That took less than 2 minutes.
Conclusion:  They’re workin’ on it.    

Monday, October 21, 2013

This & That

I SEE BETTER THAN I HEAR – The president is scheduled to address the nation today from the Rose Garden.    His purpose…to address the trials and tribulations of the health care roll out. 
We are told that he will term the current difficulties experienced by those trying to access the program as “unacceptable.”  Indeed!  We expect that he will give us assurances that everything possible is being done to correct the “glitches” in the system.  We expect that he will enlighten us on all the benefits that millions of Americans are already experiencing as a result of this important piece of legislation.  “Keep calm and carry on” will be his message…no doubt delivered in front of a backdrop of middle class individuals and small business owners; all nodding their heads in agreement with the president’s message.  Stagecraft 101!
Unfortunately the reports that we are hearing do not paint the same rosy picture.  There are reports that the website was never beta tested.  There are reports that over 5,000,000 lines of code need to be re-written; a process that will take months to complete.  There are reports that the contractor in charge of developing the website was fired by the Canadian government before being hired by the US.  There are reports that he patch work repair job being done today will only make a long term fix take even longer and that the project is now 100% over budget.
Are any of these reports true?  We don’t know!  We don’t know because the government isn’t talking.  We find the government’s silence a damning affirmation that all is not going as well as the president would have us believe.
With all due respect Mr. President…enough!   Actions speak louder than words.  Get the thing fixed! 
Or take the political hit and delay the roll out until the program is ready for prime time.
BOUGHT AND PAID FOR – If you follow politics you are no doubt familiar with the term “influence peddling.”  Money is donated with the unspoken understanding that certain votes on certain issues will go a certain way.  Wink, wink…nod, nod!  That’s Washington politics.
But did you know that our elected officials can legally use monies contributed to their so called “Leadership PACs” for personal gain?
In a segment aired last night, “60 Minutes” unveils how lawmakers are funding their lifestyles through the legal use of campaign funds.  That’s right…it’s legal.  Apparently there is a loophole in the campaign finance reform legislation that allows lawmakers to set up “Leadership PACs” and use the monies deposited for their personal gratification.  Meetings at 5 star international resorts, golf outings at the country’s most elite and expensive clubs even hiring family members, qualified or not, to staff positions.  All legal…all paid for out of campaign donations.
Senator David Vitter, best known for engaging the services of a prostitute, has sponsored legislation to close this unseemly loophole.  Surprisingly, he cannot seem to find one co-sponsor among his self righteous colleagues.  Not one!
This report gives us a much better understanding why guys like Ted Cruz are willing to withstand withering criticism over their support of extremely unpopular issues. 
It’s not their ideology that they are clinging to…it’s their lifestyle.                  

Friday, October 18, 2013

A New Chapter Begins

Now that the government is open and its bills are being paid it is only natural to give a deep collective sigh of relief that the worst has passed.  Unfortunately what we have witnessed over the past few weeks is but the latest chapter in a book yet to be completed.
Ted Cruz has vowed that he is undeterred by his latest defeat.  He says that he will continue to do everything in his power to defund Obamacare.  He will have yet another bite of that apple in the very near future.
Members of both parties will begin budget talks in the next couple of weeks.  They have until December 13 to produce a budget compromise that has eluded congress for over five years.  You can be assured that the subject of defunding Obamacare will be at the center of those debates.
Meanwhile the rollout of the Affordable Care Act continues to be an embarrassment to the administration.  Word today is that the program is horrendously over budget.  There are reports that the core of the problems stems from the use of ten year old technology incapable of handling the requirements of the program.  Regardless of the cause, every day that the program fails to operate efficiently only serves to embolden Ted Cruz and his supporters.
We have only but turned the page on this story.  There is much yet to be written.       

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Congress Agrees To Do Its Job!

Well, it’s over!
After 16 days of pointless partisan rhetoric, the 113th Untied States Congress has magnanimously agreed to do its job and pay its bills.
87 House Republicans finally stood up to their Tea party masters and joined with all 198 House Democrats to approve a Senate bill to fund the government and increase the debt limit. 
The Senate bill, which passed earlier in the day by an 81-18 margin, is a temporary measure which funds the government until January 15 and increases the debt ceiling until February 7.  It also requires both chambers to appoint members to a negotiating committee charged with hamming out a ten year budget by no later than December 13, 2013.
And what did the Tea party caucus get in return for holding the country hostage for 16 days?
Nothing!
The Tea Party mistakenly believed that they could force the president to defund Obamacare.  They tried a government shutdown.  Democrats said “No.”  They threatened to take the country to default.  Democrats said “No.”  Backed into a corner and realizing that the Democrats were not going to move on Obamacare; the Tea Party folks placed a litany of demands on the table hoping to gain something… anything on which they could claim victory and go home.  Tort reform… tax reform…Reduced EPA standards…Keystone Pipeline…!  No! No! No! & No! 
Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) perhaps summed up the frustration in the Republican caucus best when he said:  “We’re not going to be disrespected.  We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”
The only thing that Republicans gained from this fiasco is an embarrassing defeat and damage to their brand; the full extent of which is yet unknown.  The voters will weigh in on that subject in 2014.
The president, not one to rub salt in the wound, said:  “There are no winners…no losers.”  He couldn’t be more wrong.
The players in this game have been living in a vacuum.  While politicians were bouncing talking points off one another and contemplating Boehner’s legacy, people were suffering. 
Economists estimate that $24 billion in economic activity was lost during the shutdown.  We’ll never get that back.  800,000 government workers furloughed…millions more in the private sector.  Tens of millions deprived of government services that they count on to survive.  The list goes on and on…
And for what?
For a deal that could have been made on day one if only those in charge had put country ahead of party.
Congratulations!  Job well done!

      
          

It's Up To Cruz And Boehner

In the past twenty four hours we have witnessed a glaring example of all that is wrong in Washington.  We have observed a confluence of special interests, self interest and money, crashing together in such a destructive way as to jeopardize the most the world’s most powerful economy.  All done to achieve a goal long since discarded as unachievable.
Here is a brief summary of what transpired in what may have been one of the most bizarre days in our history.
Senate leaders Reid and McConnell started the day by announcing that they had reaches an agreement on the framework of a shot term deal that would re-open the government and raise the debt limit.  Both gentlemen commented on how pleased they were with the progress.
Details of the Senate bill leaked to the House.  Suddenly Speaker Boehner announced that the House would bring a bill of its own to the floor.  The Senate suspended its negotiations in anticipation of the House bill.
Boehner took a straw count of his caucus and realized he didn’t have the Republican votes he needed to pass his bill.  So within a couple of hours of announcing that he would place a bill on the floor…Boehner withdrew the bill.
The chambers were still buzzing over this strange turn of events when Boehner announced that he would bring yet ANOTHER bill to the floor.  This bill dovetailed closely with the framework of the Senate bill except that it added a bizarre clause that would remove the subsidies under Obamacare for members of congress AND THEIR STAFFS.  Congressional staffers make $29,000 a year.  This clause would essentially cut staffer’s pay.  Boehner announces that a House vote on the bill will occur later that night.
The next thing we hear is that Jim Demint, president of the Heritage Foundation, a powerful conservative think and major donor to Republican candidates, has sent a letter to Boehner stating that the foundation opposes the House bill because it does not go far enough to defund Obamacare.  (Keep in mind that at this juncture the strategy of defunding Obamacare has long since been abandoned by the party rank in file as unachievable.)  The letter further states that the foundation will be scoring the vote…in other words keeping track of who votes “yea” or “nay”.  The letter assures Boehner that members who vote in support of the bill can expect a challenge from a foundation sponsored candidate come the 2014 elections.  Demint closes by informing Boehner that the foundation has set aside over $500,000 to run attack ads against any Republican who dares to support the bill.
Minutes later Boehner announces that he is withdrawing the bill and that the House will not be conducting any votes for the remainder of the day.  As the deadline looms, this schizophrenic behavior in the House has wasted valuable time.
Blindsided by the sudden and erratic turn of events in the House; Senate leaders who have been sitting on the sidelines, frantically take up negotiations.
Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings, the third largest of the major debt rating companies behind Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, announced that it was placing US Treasury bonds on a “Rating Watch Negative.”  This “warning” is often the first step taken by the rating bureaus before issuing a rating downgrade.
What happens next rests on the shoulders of Ted Cruz and John Boehner.
The Senate will in all likelihood reach a bipartisan compromise.  The question is will Ted Cruz allow a vote to take place?  Or will Cruz filibuster the vote; delaying the measure at least long enough to breach the deadline.  You have to remember that Cruz is one of many Tea Party members who do NOT believe that breaching the debt limit will have a disastrous impact on the economy.
If Cruz stands down and the senate passes the bill, the burden then moves to Speaker Boehner.  Will Boehner bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote…a vote which will pass with bi-partisan support but may cost him his speakership?  Or will Boehner invoke the Hastert Rule, refusing to bring the bill to the floor for a vote because it does not have the support of a majority of the majority.  Such a move will save his speakership…but by all accounts cause serious damage to the economy.
Today is D-day!  It’s all up to Cruz and Boehner.      
       

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

No Excuse For ACA Rollout Failure

QUESTION:  Who is the one guy who wants to see the government shutdown continue more than Ted Cruz?
ANSWER:  The guy who designed the Obamacare website.
When Barak Obama was running for president his staff engaged in a web- campaign unprecedented in the annals of American politics.  So cutting edge was this cyber-campaign, it was said that they not only knew where you lived and where you worked…they knew on which side of your mouth you chewed your gum.  The Obama web-campaign was acknowledged as a key component in Obama’s successful bid to win the White House…twice.
So given the Obama administration’s access to such savvy people…one has to ask why the rollout of the president’s most important initiative…the Affordable Care Act (ACA)…has proven to be such an unmitigated failure.
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.  The administration has had over three years to plan, design and test the implementation of this historic piece of legislation.  And yet, three weeks into the rollout, people are still unable to access the site after multiple attempts.
The Obama administration says that “they anticipated that these “glitches” would occur and we are working hard to fix them.”  These are not “glitches”.  “Glitches” are resolved in a matter of a few hours.  What we are witnessing are inherent problems in the core design of the website.
The rumor mill says that the website has received over 14 million “hits.”  The rumor mill says that only 4400 people have actually signed up for insurance.  These are only rumors because the administration has refused to release the actual figures.  They say that they will release them on a monthly basis beginning in November.  Translation:  either they don’t know what the actual numbers are…or the numbers are so bad that they don’t want to release them.  We know this because if the numbers were good the administration would be shouting them from the rooftops. 
Given the political, historic, economic and life changing implications hinging on the success of this program; the colossal train wreck that we are witnessing is unforgivable.
In the interest of self disclosure…we believe health care is a right not a privilege.  We believe that the self proclaimed greatest country in the world should provide quality health care for its citizens.  As a result we supported the ACA because it is the first viable attempt to provide all citizens with the care they need. 
We have commented on numerous occasions that the ACA is a flawed plan because it attempts to serve two masters:  health care for all and insurance coverage for profit.  It attempts to insert the concept of insurance for everyone into the existing free market delivery system.  As such, the ACA was bound to have difficulties that would require a bit of “tweaking” along the way.  But never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate that those difficulties would involve accessing the website or signing up for coverage.
This rollout has been an utter embarrassment for the administration. 
Today all eyes will be on the US Senate where party leaders are expected to bring a compromise bill to the floor that will end the shutdown and extend the debt ceiling.
Somewhere the Obama web guy is thankful for the distraction.
       
               

Monday, October 14, 2013

IMF Director Cuts Through The Noise

If you are a casual follower of all that has been going on in Washington over the past few weeks then you probably find it difficult to discern fact from fiction.   Are we going through a government “shutdown” or a government “slowdown”?   Would failing to raise the debt ceiling bring be an “economic disaster” or is the whole thing much a due about nothing?
So when we heard that “Meet the Press” was airing in interview with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde we thought we’d tune in and see if she could bring any clarity to the situation.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) describes itself as:  “an organization of 188 countries, working to foster global monetary co-operation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high unemployment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world”.  Ms. Lagarde has served as Managing Director since July of 2011.
Ms. Lagarde said that the IMF views the world’s largest economy as exhibiting slow but steady growth.   But there is real concern at the IMF that this latest round of political infighting in Washington could very easily take the US economy into another recession.  If that happens, the international economic community will fall into recession as well.  According to Lagarde, Washington’s failure to reach a deal on the shutdown and debt limit “would bring a massive disruption the world over”.
Host David Gregory asked Lagarde what she would say to those like Senator Rand Paul who assert that the whole debt ceiling hubbub is a “manufactured crisis”…who say the country will never default because “it will meet its obligations by paying the interest on the debt and deferring other payments to later dates”.  Lagarde: “when you are the largest economy in the world, when you are the safe haven in all circumstances, as has been the case, you can’t go into that creative accounting business.”
Lagarde was asked what advice she would give US lawmakers in dealing with the country’s economic issues.  “Move quickly but slowly” she said.  Move quickly (paraphrasing) to come to a long term solution to the solvency of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Reign in spending, but do it slowly over time; being careful not to gut spending in such a way that it harms the recovery.
Christine Lagarde and the members of the IMF are smart people who know a bit about economics and monetary policy.  They are unencumbered by partisan ideology.
We might want to listen to what they have to say.
           


Friday, October 11, 2013

Sometimes It Is Better To Be Lucky Than Good.

The Republican leadership went to the White House yesterday to meet with the President.  Their stated purpose was to negotiate the impasse over the debt ceiling and government shutdown.  In reality Republicans were there to negotiate the terms of their surrender.
Republicans believed that the President would cave over the shutdown…would cave over the debt limit…would cave over Obamacare.  Ted Cruz had all but guaranteed it.
But the President stood firm, and now Republicans find themselves staring up at an avalanche of unpopularity unprecedented in modern politics.
So Republicans trudged to the White House with hat in hand, hoping to save face and scratch some sort of win out of what has amounted to a colossal strategic blunder.
It appears Republicans have managed to get a six week extension of the debt ceiling and the President’s promise to sit down and discuss spending cuts, and tax and entitlement reforms.
That’s it!
As for as the Republican promise to keep the government closed until the President agrees to change the free spending culture in Washington...it appears that the government will re-open in a few days.
And then there is the defunding of Obamacare.  You may recall that the Republicans’ primary purpose for engaging in this political brinksmanship was to defund/repeal/kill the President’s signature piece of legislation.  But their reckless tactics raised such furor among the voters that Obamacare is not only off the table but it is poling at a higher favorability than it did before Ted Cruz embarked on his misguided mission.  Instead of the lead story above the fold being all about the problems the government is having with the health care rollout, all anyone is talking about is how badly they view the Republican Party.
And where is Ted Cruz, the architect of this suicide mission.  Silent!  After leading his troops blindly into a box canyon he has apparently run off to hide.  Cruz claims to be a history buff.  Perhaps he should have paid closer attention to the chapters on Custer’s Last stand and Pickett’s Charge.
A few short weeks ago the President was having a tough time leading the nation as well as his own party.  His favorability numbers were upside down in the polls.  His health care reform legislation was viewed in a negative light by the public.  His own Democratic caucus was gravitating away from him in anticipation of the upcoming mid-terms.  The Tea Party was at the White House gates, pitchforks and torches in hand.
Then Ted Cruz and the Tea Party took the Republican Party down the rabbit hole and suddenly things changed.
An angry President decided to stand firm on his convictions.  His approval ratings improved.  His health care initiative is growing in popularity even as it stumbles out of the gate.  His caucus has rallied behind him and his opponents are fighting among themselves.  Who knew?
Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.  The president can thank Ted Cruz for his good fortune.
   
   

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Could A Compromise Be On The Horizon?

There may be a small glimmer of compromise breaking through the dark clouds of obstruction that hover over Washington.  It would seem that the prospect of a short term increase in the debt ceiling has moved to the top of the agenda.
President Obama met with House Democrats yesterday.  Word from the White House is that the President is agreeable to a short term extension to allow the parties more time to work out their ideological differences.  Leaks from the Democrat caucus echoed the same sentiments.
The President invited all House Republicans to meet with him at the White House today.  Speaker Boehner, fearful of allowing some of his tin foil hat wearing members access to a microphone on the White House lawn, declined.  Republican Party leadership and committee chairman will go instead.  Word from the Republican caucus is that the votes are there for a short term extension.
House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan arose from his slumber to chime in.  Ryan is one of the few “establishment” Republicans that the Tea Party caucus will listen to.  Ryan favors a short term extension to allow time to forge a compromise on tax and entitlement reform.
Even grumpy old Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell spoke in favor of a compromise.  McConnell’s senate seat is in jeopardy.  He has been maintaining a low profile for fear of a primary challenge from the right.  McConnell is a pain in the ass…but he is a seasoned pain in the ass that knows when to hold and when to fold.  McConnell knows when and how to cut a deal in Washington.
You will notice that that we haven’t mentioned the phrase “Repeal Obamacare!”  Neither did Boehner, or Ryan or McConnell.  That’s because the grownups in the Republican caucus understand that the President is never going to give in on his signature achievement.  Ted Cruz and his Tea Party crew have lost this battle.  If they want to repeal Obamacare they are going to have to do it the old fashioned way…win a national election and put a Republican in the White House.
Perhaps you are wondering why this glimmer of compromise has suddenly appeared.  After all just 24 hours ago the President was calling Republicans “irresponsible” while Boehner  accused the President of demanding Republicans’ “unconditional surrender.”
Perhaps it was because the United States Chamber of Commerce, key advocate of all things business and large monetary contributor to all things Republican, came out with a statement that enough is enough.  The Chamber warned that contrary to assertions made by the tin foil hat bunch, a government shutdown would in fact have a disastrous economic affect on the business community.
Or perhaps this sudden glimmer of d├ętente came about due to a recent Gallup poll that said the number one concern of Americans is Washington’s inability to get things done.  Gallup noted that this was the first time since the 2007 crash that the economy was not the number one concern of those polled.
Or could it be that Republicans saw another Gallup poll which showed their approval ratings at a ghastly 28%...their lowest rating since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.
Or maybe it’s all just one big coincidence!
We will continue to remain skeptical until a deal is struck.  And there is certainly the very real prospect that a short term deal is just doing what Washington always seems to do at difficult times like this…kick the can down the road.  We shall see.
One thing is certain…the adults have entered into the conversation.

       


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Boehner Is Really Bad At His Job

Speaker Boehner wants to have a conversation. 
The Speaker spent the better part of a recent press conference whining about the president’s refusal to negotiate over the government shutdown and the debt limit. He referenced several instances in our country’s history where the parties have used the debt ceiling to negotiate matters of ideology.
The President has consistently said that he will not negotiate with Speaker Boehner until after the debt ceiling is raised and the government is re-opened.  Boehner likens this to demanding the “unconditional surrender” of the Republican Party.  “There WILL be a negotiation” the Speaker declared.
Boehner wants a play date.  So far the President has refused.
And why SHOULD the President negotiate with the Speaker.  To what end?
When the Speaker was providing the historical reference under which the parties used the debt ceiling to force compromise, he failed to mention that in each of the examples he referenced, the parties seated at the bargaining table had the power to bring their caucus in line in support of the agreement.  Speaker Boehner has shown repeatedly that he holds no such power over his caucus.
In 2011 Boehner and the President reached a “Grand Bargain” over the debt and deficit only to watch the Tea Party embarrass the Speaker by refusing to go along.
As recently as two months ago, the Speaker, the Senate and the White House agreed on a continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the government by cutting $80 billion from the current sequestration levels.  Boehner promised to bring a “clean” CR to the floor at the agreed amount.  Once again the Speaker was forced to tuck his tail when Tea Party members refused to agree to any CR that did not include the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (a law whose funding mechanism was set up completely separate from the CR to avoid just such a move by the president’s opponents.)
Time and time again, the Speaker has shown that holds no power over his caucus.  The President knows that.  So why would the President keep playing Charlie Brown to Boehner’s Lucy? 
If Boehner wants to have a serious conversation with the President, he needs to prove that he is in control of his caucus.  One way to do that would be to defy the Tea Party minority and bring a clean CR to the floor at the agreed upon July figures.  The measure would pass with bi-partisan support and give Boehner the credibility he needs to show that his words have meaning.
Boehner is bad at his job...this much is clear.    
If he wants to play with the President he has to bring something new to the game.
Otherwise it’s just more of Lucy and the football.

                              

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Opportunity To Govern

The Republican Party has an image problem.
Ever since Republicans wrested control of the House from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats they have embarked on a scorched earth policy designed to defeat the president’s agenda.  As a result, Republicans are largely viewed by the voters as a party of obstructionists; more interested in ideology and job security than in governing the country.  They are the party of “No;” losers of the popular vote in five of the last six national elections.
Now, in the middle of a government shutdown, Republicans have within their grasp an opportunity to alter that image in a positive manner.  The question is…will they make the most of this opportunity…or will they squander it.
There are two things that ALL Republicans agree on. 1.) They want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 2.) They want to reduce government spending.
Item #1 is not gonna’ happen.  There is no way that the president is ever going to agree to repeal his signature achievement.  To do so would end his presidency, destroy his legacy and irrevocably damage his party.  It’s not gonna’ happen.  Republicans know that.
Item #2, a reduction in government spending, is within reach.  The president has offered a bill to continue funding the government at pre-2008 spending levels.  This bill effectively wipes out all of the spending increases enacted by the Obama administration.  This is a huge concession by the Democrats.  Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called it “a major victory.”  All Republicans have to do is vote “Yes.”
The president challenged the speaker to allow a floor vote on the Democrat’s proposal.  Speaker Boehner should accept that challenge…put the measure to a vote…and when it passes claim victory.  Republicans would score a huge win, take a major step in repairing their party’s image and end an unpopular government shutdown that is killing the country.
This is an opportunity for the moderate majority in the Republican Party to wrest control from the radicals who have so damaged the Republican brand on the national stage.
This is an opportunity to govern.
       
              

Monday, October 7, 2013

Just the Facts...

As the government shut down enters its second week Republican leaders took to the Sunday talk shows to spin their story.  Listening to the partisan spin and half truths it became apparent to us how difficult it must be for the casual observer to discern fact from fiction. 
So let’s set politics aside for the moment.  For those of you just tuning in here are the facts as to why we have a government shutdown.
The Republican Party, led by the Tea Party Caucus believed that their best opportunity to reduce the size of government and block President Obama’s agenda centered around two dates.  The first was September 30 when the government ran out of money and needed to pass a continuing resolution to continue its funding.  The second was October 17 when the governments’ borrowing limit (debt ceiling) needed to be raised so the government could borrow the funds necessary to pay its obligations.  The Tea Party Caucus believed that they could use these two events to leverage a reduction in the size of government and defund the President’s signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The Republican led House has refused to pass a continuing resolution unless it excludes funding for the ACA. As a result the government has shut down leaving tens of millions of Americans dependent upon the government to suffer.  The President has refused to negotiate the funding of the ACA.  His argument is that the ACA was passed by congress, confirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court and affirmed by the voters in the last national election. 
So we are at a stalemate with the debt ceiling deadline looming 10 days down the road.
Speaker Boehner, in a Sunday talk show interview said that there were not enough votes in the House to pass a clean continuing resolution to fund the government.  He placed blame for the shut down “on the President’s refusal to negotiate.”
Senator Rand Paul, on Sunday’s Meet the Press, said that the government had more than enough money to pay its debts and for the president to even suggest that we might default was “irresponsible.
Here is the truth.  The government shut down and impending debt limit crisis lie squarely at the feet of the Republican Party.  Speaker Boehner and Senator Paul’s statements are simply lies. 
Here is why this is all on the Republicans.
It is the Republican Speaker of the House that refuses to bring a clean continuing resolution to the floor for a vote.  22 Republicans have stated publically that they will vote with Democrats to re-open the government.  That is enough to pass the CR.  Six independent polls have said that there are another 40-50 Republicans that have stated off the record that would vote for a clean CR.  Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said that if the vote were held in secret, 150 Republicans in the House would vote for a clean CR.  The votes are there and the Speaker knows it.  But he is more interested in saving his speakership from a Tea Party challenge than he is about saving the country.  Boehner could end this misery today if he only had the courage.
It is Tea Party Republicans that hatched this plan and started this fight by leading their Republican colleagues down this dangerous dark alley with no exit strategy; threatening a primary challenge against any moderate Republican who stood in their way.  And it is the moderate Republican lemmings that cowed to Tea Party pressure and blindly went along.
It is Republican Senators like Cruz and Paul who spin party rhetoric to rally the lemmings in the House to fall on their sword but back down when it is time to fall on own.  Paul says the government has plenty of money to pay its debts.  True, if you shut down social security and virtually every other federal agency.  Cruz feigns dismay over the impasse; blaming politicians for playing politics.  This is the puppet master blaming the puppet.      
Now Republicans find themselves in a political box; resorting to lies and half truths to deflect blame for the damage they have caused.
Republicans started this mess on a political whim.  They have the power to end it today.
Those are the facts!
 

    

    

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This Makes Me Sick!

If you are a regular reader of this space you know that I do not like to write in the first person.  There are a number of reasons for this quirk; one being that writing in the third person helps me to keep my personal feelings and emotions from interfering with the facts.
Today I will make an exception.
Today I witnessed American politics at its very worst.
Honor Flight is a non-profit organization “created solely to honor America’s veterans for all of their sacrifices.”  Honor Flight transports veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials that were dedicated to their service.
Today Honor Flight brought several bus loads of WW II veterans to DC to visit the WWII Memorial.  When they arrived the found the entrance barricaded; closed as a result of the government shutdown.
Never fear…the Tea Party Republicans came to the rescue.
Republican Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, along with Republican Representatives, Michelle Bachman, Louie Ghomert, Steve King and a handful of their colleagues, showed up…with TV cameras in tow…and removed the barriers, allowing the veterans to tour the magnificent memorial that had been dedicated in their honor.  It was a truly moving scene as these octogenarians, many aided by walking canes and wheelchairs, openly wept as they reflected on those difficult days of the past.  Afterward the congressmen shook hands and posed for photos with our nation’s heroes.  Ms. Bachman was seen bussing several of the blushing G.I.s on the cheek.
Representative Bachman then took the opportunity to berate the president for shutting down the government and depriving the veterans of the opportunity to visit the memorial.  Chairman Priebus, proudly waving a check, announced that the Republican National Committee had raised enough money to pay for security guards to patrol the memorial and assure that it would remain open in the future.
This makes me sick!
Today the self proclaimed “Tea Party Patriots” shamelessly used the country’s true patriots as a political prop!
I wonder if any of these gentlemen knew that the very politicians who were shaking their hands and bussing their cheeks were the same politicians that had voted time and time and time again to cut veterans health benefits, job programs, and education assistance initiatives.
I wonder if any of these gentlemen knew that these very same politicians were the ones who refused to fund the government… which caused the shutdown…which caused the memorial to be closed.
I wonder if any of these gentlemen knew that the woman kissing their cheek when asked earlier how she felt about the shutdown said:  “I’m happy!  We are finally right where we want to be.”
If these “Tea Party Patriots” really cared about these veterans they could have opened the memorial without all the fanfare…without the TV cameras…without all the political gamesmanship.  But they didn’t show up here with a TV crew because they believed it was the right thing to do.  They did it to gain a political advantage…and they used these selfless gentlemen as window dressing.
Words cannot describe how truly vile I find this despicable, shameful act.
Bachman and her crew owe these veterans an apology.

   
  
      

And so it begins...

The Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges opened for business yesterday; seemingly oblivious to the havoc they wreaked upon Washington insiders. At the end of the day the insurance exchanges proved themselves to be either a huge success or an abject failure depending on one’s political persuasion.
Government officials reported that the health insurance website received almost 3,000,000 hits in the first day…over 1,000,000 before 7:00 AM.  The site was overwhelmed by the traffic causing users to experience 10-20 minute delays in accessing the information.
If you are a proponent of Obamacare the day was bitter sweet.  On one hand 3,000,000 hits far exceeded the expected number and proved Democrat’s right in predicting that the people ARE interested in finding affordable health care.  On the other hand, having the system crash plays into the hands of critics who say that the president’s health care plan simply won’t work.
From our prospective, better to have a huge demand and glitches in the website than a shiny new website and little demand.  Given the 6 month enrollment period, there is plenty of time for the government to get it right.  But you have to wonder why they couldn’t get it right in the first place.  They had almost five years to build the system.
Meanwhile the shenanigans on the Hill continued.  Republicans staged a photo-op showing them seated on one side of the negotiating table with eight empty seats on the other.  The message: ”We are ready to negotiate. Where are the Democrats?”  Apparently Republicans have forgotten that Harry Reid spent the last six months asking Republicans to appoint members to a conference committee to negotiate the government shutdown.  Republicans refused.  Now, having followed Ted Cruz down a blind alley they want to talk.
In another desperate political move, Republicans in the House floated three separate continuing resolutions: to open the national parks, pay veterans benefits and fund the Washington district.  The Senate quashed all three. 
Republicans are feeling pressure from all sides to capitulate to the president.  The media is reporting story after story of the hardship being caused by the shutdown.  Polls show that 72% of Americans oppose the government shutdown as a means to defund Obamacare.  87% of the country disapproves of the manner in which congress is handling the shutdown.  People are beginning to feel the pain…and they blame the Republicans.  Any solace they gleaned from the website difficulties is hollow at best.
Obama is not going to give up his signature piece of legislation.  So as far as we are concerned there are only two ways this can end.
The Speaker can put a vote for a clean continuing resolution on the floor.  It will pass with bi-partisan support.  But it will cause the Speaker his job and will make life difficult for more conservative members when they return home to their districts.
Or Republicans can hunker down, take the abuse and await the debt ceiling battle looming two weeks hence.  Perhaps tying Obamacare, re-opening the government and raising the debt ceiling into one big package will work for them.
Meanwhile people are suffering.  And they will remember this when they vote.
  


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's Official!

It’s official!  The federal government has shut down until further notice.
As the sun rises this morning 800,000 federal government workers will be furloughed. 
Another 1 million will continue working without pay.
Tens of millions of Americans dependent on government services will wonder how they will get through the day.
The finger pointing will begin in earnest.  Who is to blame for this travesty?
For our money there is plenty of blame to go round.
Ted Cruz certainly shoulders some responsibility.  His calculated willingness to put his ideology and personal political aspirations ahead of the good of the country has left us with…what.  The government is closed while Obamacare, the very subject of Cruz’ ranker, opens for business today.
Then there is the Tea Party caucus in the House.  Thirty to forty Republicans sent to Washington by gerrymandered districts have brought the government to its knees.  Through the use of fear mongering and obstructionist tactics they have swept aside the results of two national elections to impose their will.   
Certainly Speaker Boehner shares some responsibility.  Unable to control his own caucus he has allowed the inmates to run the asylum.  As Speaker he had the power to avoid the shutdown.  He could have brought a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor and it would have passed with b-partisan support.  He refused, because to bring such a bill to the floor would have in all likelihood cost him his speakership.  Instead, like Cruz, he put his personal ambitions ahead of the country.  He may well be remembered for his efforts as the most ineffective Speaker in our history.
Finally, there is the president.  For five years he has refused to participate in the deal making and cloakroom bargaining  that for over 230 years have been an integral part of Washington politics.  Instead he made speeches hoping to persuade the people to do what he was loath to do…twist the arms of their local lawmakers.  When push came to shove the lack of any personal relationship with members on the Hill cost him and the country.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is out with a new book today titled “Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked” by Simon & Schuster.  Its release today of all days could not be more appropriate.
Matthews served as a long time top aid for the Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill.  In the book, Matthews gives his firsthand account of how O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan worked together to get things done.
By Matthews account O’ Neill was the consummate Democrat’s Democrat…Reagan, of course, the icon of Republican conservatism.   O’Neill and Reagan hated the other’s politics.  They fought tooth and nail and publically railed against one another.  But behind the scenes they worked together to move the country forward.  They respected the office and understood that they each had a job to do. 
Matthews tells us that for all their public disagreements it was O’Neill’s quiet behind the scenes support that helped Reagan forge his cold war ending bond with Gorbachev.
When Reagan was shot, O’Neill was one of the first to reach the fallen president at the hospital.  The government had downplayed the president’s condition which in fact was quite serious.  Matthews recounts how the Speaker knelt at the side of Reagan’s gurney, held the president’s’ hand, and the two of them together recited the 23rd Psalm.  O’Neill then kissed the president on his forehead and withdrew.
Can you imagine such a relationship in the poisoned atmosphere of today’s Washington?
What we observed last night could have…should have…been avoided.  It is the result of a political atmosphere devoid of respect; an atmosphere in which compromise is viewed as treason.
Until that changes things won’t get any better.