2011 - %3, June

Has Chris Christie Set a New Low for Medicaid?

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 11:55 AM EDT

Governors across the country are trying to roll back Medicaid in the name of slashing spending. But New Jersey's Chris Christie has just proposed benefit cuts that may be even more extreme than the rest. In attempt to cut a whopping $300 million from the program, Christie has put forward a proposal that could eliminate Medicaid coverage for any adult who makes more than $5,317 a year, or 25 percent of the national poverty level, the Associated Press reports.

The cut would throw some 23,000 New Jersey residents out of the program, on top of the 1,400 who are already losing their state-subsidized coverage this year due to Christie's budget cutbacks. In recent years, the state had been aggressive about expanding coverage for the needy and vulnerable through Medicaid and New Jersey FamilyCare, another program for low-income families—at one point covering families up to 185 percent above the federal poverty line, according to Joan Alker, co-executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown's Health Policy Institute.

Though Republicans haven't been shy about pushing Medicaid cuts, Christie may have set the bar at a new low, Alker adds. That said, it's highly unlikely that Christie's proposal will ever take effect, even if it passes the New Jersey statehouse. The Obama administration would have to grant the state a waiver to make such drastic cutbacks, and presumably it won't be inclined to do so. But Christie's plan could push the goalposts even farther to the right on Medicaid.

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The Michele Bachmann Fact-Checking Challenge

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 11:37 AM EDT

CNN has an interview up today with Ed Rollins, the veteran conservative political consultant whom Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has tapped to run her presidential campaign. Rollins, who guided Mike Huckabee's campaign to a victory in Iowa in 2008, predicts that the Minnesota GOPer's campaign will take more or less the same approach. That's not surprising; this is surprising:

Asked about Bachmann's past controversial comments, Rollins said the congresswoman would "have a good team around her and we'll basically make sure that everything is 100 percent fact checked."

Fact-checking is all the rage these days; even Cosmopolitan is doing it! But it's also tedious and time-intensive; to give you a sense, it took me three weeks to nail down all of the details in this article about imported insects that eat invasive plants. If Rollins really wants to 100-percent fact-check everything his candidate says before she says it, that's fantastic. It would probably be a first in American political history—and given Bachmann's record, a Herculean task.

It's also unclear just which comments Rollins intends to fact-check. CNN's link to "past controversial comments," for instance, actually directs you to a Bachmann gaffe in which she says the American Revolution began in New Hampshire. That's wrong, but it's not "controversial." Controversial would be saying something like "almost all, if not all, individuals who have gone into the [gay] lifestyle have been abused at one time in their life, either by a male or by a female"—which Bachmann did say, in 2004, in the same speech in which she expressed the hope that a breast-cancer-stricken Melissa Etheridge would take advantage of her illness to quit being a lesbian.

And then there's the sheer scope of Bachmann's factually challenged statements, which, even in the political world, are in a category of their own. Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact, recently told Minnesota Public Radio that "we have checked her 13 times, and [found] seven of her claims to be false and six have been found to be ridiculously false." That's a pretty bad record, and according to Adair, Bachmann remains the only high-profile conservative politician to never have a statement ruled "true" by the outfit.

Bachmann could stop serving up apocalyptic, overheated rhetoric to socially conservative audiences. But as Rollins knows, that's no way to win in Iowa. Plus, with all the time and energy devoted to double-checking statistics, verifying quotes, and tracing everything back to at least one primary source, would there even be any time left to campaign?

Evan Bayh Drops the Other Shoe

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 11:27 AM EDT

When Evan Bayh announced he was retiring from politics because the Senate had become a disfunctional pit of partisan rancor and he wanted to be "engaged in an honorable line of work," I didn't really believe him. Still, signing up with a private equity firm and then Fox News was a little more blatant on the cashing-in front than I expected. And now Andy Kroll passes along word that the other shoe has dropped:

Bayh has signed on with one of the most corporate-friendly, anti-environment shops in all of Washington, DC: the US Chamber of Commerce. According to an internal memo penned by Chamber president Tom Donohue, Bayh, along with former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card, are now part of the Chamber's anti-regulation messaging team, doing "speeches, events, and media appearances at local venues."

The Chamber's hiring of Bayh, a big name in Washington circles, will only help its efforts to delay or kill new regulatory legislation in Congress....Bayh and Card, the memo says, will help the Chamber push this pro-corporate agenda in Washington and beyond.

Fine. Bayh is tired of living like a peon and wants to make some money while the making is good. And the best source of money for an ex-Senator is the bottomless checkbook of the U.S. corporate sector and its cheerleaders.

Like I said: fine. But no more sanctimonious speeches and op-eds, OK? I really don't think I could stomach that.

Weiner Abandoned, Left for Dead

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 11:00 AM EDT

I continue not to care much about Anthony Weiner's travails, but I thought this was interesting:

Caught in a maelstrom of his own making, Representative Anthony D. Weiner saw his support on Capitol Hill crumble after he admitted having inappropriate online exchanges with women. A brash and talented New York politician with many admirers on the left, but few close allies, he suddenly finds himself alone on a hostile stage.

No sooner had Mr. Weiner delivered a startlingly abject admission and apology — carried live on television Monday from a circuslike news conference in Manhattan — than top Democrats on Capitol Hill began distancing themselves from him and his behavior..... Nancy Pelosi of California.... Steve Israel of Nassau County.... Others said it would be impossible to support Mr. Weiner given the outrageous things he had admitted.

....Then there was the fact that his confession had occurred, in the words of one top Democratic Congressional official, a week too late. “It’s hard to trust in an individual who already lied,” said the official, who like others interviewed insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivities surrounding the matter.

Is this the way Republicans normally act? It seems like they're usually much quieter about this stuff, making a few pro forma comments about bad behavior and the need to pray and reflect, but basically sticking by their fellow sinners regardless of what they've done. Is that right? Or am I just imagining it? Republicans have obviously abandoned colleagues before, but it seems like it takes longer and it's the exception rather than the rule. Look how long John Ensign lasted.

Evan "Revolving Door" Bayh Signs On With US Chamber

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 10:02 AM EDT

Not long after announcing his plans to retire in 2010, then-Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) offered this bit of commentary on why he'd opted to leave Congress after two terms in office: "I want to be engaged in an honorable line of work." It was taken as a biting critique of the increasingly polarized and dysfunctional Senate, and a hint that Bayh's post-Senate plans might include a quiet career in academia, away from politics.

Now Bayh is eating his words. As iWatch News' Peter Stone reports, Bayh has signed on with one of the most corporate-friendly, anti-environment shops in all of Washington, DC: the US Chamber of Commerce. According to an internal memo penned by Chamber president Tom Donohue, Bayh, along with former Bush White House chief of staff Andy Card, are now part of the Chamber's anti-regulation messaging team, doing "speeches, events, and media appearances at local venues."

The Chamber's hiring of Bayh, a big name in Washington circles, will only help its efforts to delay or kill new regulatory legislation in Congress. Indeed, Donohue's memo touts how the Chamber has filed legal briefs to challenge the validity of President Obama's health care reform bill; successfully delayed a new Securities and Exchange Commission rule on giving shareholders a say on corporate directors; unveiled plans to undermine the clout of the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and delayed a rule forcing companies to disclose when they use conflict minerals from the Congo in their products. Bayh and Card, the memo says, will help the Chamber push this pro-corporate agenda in Washington and beyond.

Here's more from iWatch News:

Tom Collamore, who is handling communications for the regulatory advocacy drive told iWatch News that Bayh and Card will participate in a conference call next week with a few hundred members of the Chamber’s grassroots network to discuss plans and messaging. Collamore added that on June 22, the Chamber will formally announce the Bayh and Card road show and then "we'll fly these guys around."

For the Chamber, the team of Bayh and Card is a big catch: it could help gin up pressure on moderate Democrats in Congress for regulatory relief.

"We don’t see this effort as an 'us versus them' issue," said Collamore. “Having a Democrat of his stature gives the effort more heft and an important perspective."

Then again, it's not entirely surprising to see Bayh go to work for the Chamber. After all, his first gigs out of politics before the Chamber were at a massive private equity firm and as a contributor at Fox News. So much for teaching.

Pawlenty's Economic Plan: Just "Google" It

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 9:22 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is set to deliver a major economic address at the University of Chicago this afternoon. There's a lot of the usual stuff in the prepared remarks, and one big idea. Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and everyone's second choice for the nomination, unveiled something called "the Google test" as a means to downsize government:

We can start by applying what I call 'The Google Test.' If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it. The post office, the government printing office, Amtrak, Fannie and Freddie, were all built for a time in our country when the private sector did not adequately provide those products. That's no longer the case."

The US Postal Service's problems are well documented, although it provides a public service that its competitors simply don't aspire to do—and a quick Google search for "Amtrak competitors" doesn't yield much of anything. But beyond that, Pawlenty's Google Test seems to have one very serious failing: you can find a lot of things on Google.

Here, for instance, is a very short list of goods and services that would also fail Pawlenty's Google Test:

Some of these are serious points of contention—Republicans governors are making a huge push in the direction of private prisons, for instance, and the debate over private school vouchers isn't going away any time soon. Some of them aren't. The point is that "can you find it on Google?" is really a pretty useless question to ask when you're evaluating the value of a government service.

In other words, the only Google-related story worth talking about in the 2012 race still involves Rick Santorum.

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President Obama's Approval Tanks on Economy, Deficit

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 9:10 AM EDT

That was fast. The boost in President Obama's approval ratings following the killing of Osama bin Laden last month has melted faster than a popsicle on a summer day in Abbottabad. Now Americans, by a two to one margin, say the nation is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

To no one's surprise, Americans are most pessimistic about the health of the US economy, the poll found. A staggering 90 percent of respondents view the economy negatively, and nearly 60 percent say the economic recovery hasn't even begun. It's not hard to see why: job growth is underwhelming, the unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, long-term unemployment (out of work six months or more) is worse than in the Great Depression, youth unemployment is through the roof, the housing market is bottoming out (again), and on and on. So gloomy are recent economic indicators that talk of a full-blown double-dip recession has picked up.

President Obama received equally dismal marks on his handling of the US deficit, with 60 percent of respondents rating him poorly. But here's the figure that'll keep Obama's 2012 campaign advisers up at night: Among political independents, that coveted bloc of voters who play an increasingly vital role in American elections, almost 66 percent criticize Obama's handling of the economy. Within that independent bloc, a majority of independents "strongly" disapprove of Obama's economic policies, a first in a Washington Post/ABC News poll during Obama's tenure.

There's some good news in the new poll for Obama and his team. Stacked up against six 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls, Obama enjoys stronger backing than five of them. He is, however, tied with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, largely seen as the GOP frontrunner and a candidate who's made economic issues his number one issue.

This poll hammers home what was already known: that Obama's weakness is the economy, and that, barring a miraculous turnaround for the US labor force, a candidate who runs an economy-heavy campaign will pose a serious threat to Obama's re-election. Granted, as New York Times data wizard Nate Silver recently noted, the relationship between the jobless rate and re-election is "maddeningly inexact"—that is, there's no threshold or single figure that dooms a president's re-election bid. But gloomy approval ratings like these and an economy that simply doesn't work for most Americans right now leaves President Obama with the mightiest of obstacles between now and November 2012.

Morgan Stanley <3s Pawlenty

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

In Chicago later today, Republican presidential candidate and bank bailout flip flopper Tim Pawlenty will deliver his first major speech on the economy, an address his campaign promises will offer a "specific plan for boosting the economy and creating jobs." Central to that grand vision: stimulating innovation and investment by slashing cumbersome, job-killing regulation.

Which, as the Center for Public Integrity's Peter Stone reports, should be music to the ears of Pawlenty's friends on Wall Street—particularly those at Morgan Stanley. In the 2010 election cycle, executives at the banking giant donated nearly $80,000 to Pawlenty's PAC. Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, was paid over $700,000 in 2009 for managing stocks for the Minnesota State Board of Investment, the group that oversees the state's government pension fund. Adding to Pawlenty's ties to the company: Morgan Stanley executive Bill Strong is one of the co-chairs for Pawlenty's campaign, and has led his fundraising effort.

This could prove problematic, writes Stone, given Morgan Stanley's current legal woes:

Late last month in a deal with the Justice Department, a unit of Morgan agreed to pay $2.35 million to settle charges that it wrongfully foreclosed on 17 active duty military personnel. 

Back in 2009, Morgan struck an agreement with the SEC to pay a $500,000 fine to settle allegations that its Nashville office misled customers by not revealing ties it had to money management firms it recommended and then received commissions from.

In May 2010, Morgan Stanley was reportedly facing a criminal probe by the SEC and Justice into whether it misled investors about its packaging of mortgage-backed securities. Last month New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman opened a similar probe into Morgan Stanley and two other Wall Street firms.

Despite his anti-bailout stance-of-the-moment (and curious history of going back and forth on the matter), Pawlenty's going to have a tough time explaining to Iowa caucusers why a tainted institution like Morgan Stanley has played such a central role in getting his presidential campaign off the ground. And if they end up taking a closer look at his pro-busness, anti-regulation gubernatorial record, they'll quickly gain a much sharper understanding of the interests he represents.

The Bush Tax Cuts: Ten Years Later

| Tue Jun. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

You probably didn't realize it, but June 7, 2011, is a momentous day in US history. It marks the 10-year anniversary of the signing into law of the Bush tax cuts, a day when President George W. Bush helped replace an unprecedented federal budget surplus with a mountain of debt in order to slash taxes for rich people (including dead ones). The anniversary of the cuts comes at a particularly fortuitous moment, with the political classes deep in debate over the increase in the federal deficit. Now is a good time to take a look back to see just how well those tax cuts have worked out for the country. Some highlights, with data from the Economic Policy Institute:

Big debt: Between 2001 and 2010, the Bush tax cuts added $2.6 trillion to the public debt, 50 percent of the total debt accrued during that time. Over the past 10 years, the country has spent more than $400 billion just servicing the debt created by the cuts.

Supply-side failure: Far from paying for themselves with increased economic activity as promised, the tax cuts have depleted the public treasury. Tax collections have plunged to their lowest share of the economy in 60 years.

No jobs: Between 2002 and 2007, employment increased by less than 1 percent when the economy was supposed to be expanding. Employment growth barely kept pace with population growth. Between the end of 2001, when the country was in a recession, and the peak of the real estate bubble, er, economic expansion in 2007, the US economy performed worse than at any time since the end of World War II.

Rich people benefit: The best-known result of the Bush tax cuts is that virtually all the benefits were conferred upon people who didn't need them at all and who didn't use the money to, say, create more jobs or pay their workers better. Median weekly earnings fell more than 2 percent between 2001 and 2007. Meanwhile, people making over $3 million a year, who account for just 0.1 percent of taxpayers, got an average tax cut of $520,000, more than 450 times what the average middle-income family received.

Entitlements for trust-fund slackers: For a party that likes to talk about the virtues of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, personal responsibility and entrepreneurship, the Bush tax cuts were like an entitlement program for the already entitled. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way to create a lazy leisure class than by eliminating the estate tax. But that's what Republicans did when they reduced and then phased out the estate tax, ensuring that the country would be plagued by people like this guy for decades to come.

For a graphic view of the dramatic change in wealth inequality fueled in part by the Bush tax cuts, check out these amazing charts created by Mother Jones editor Dave Gilson.

Meanwhile, a few liberal groups are going to commemorate the tax-cut anniversary by holding protests around the country highlighting the sorts of things that didn't get funded while Republicans were slashing taxes for rich people. Activists in Fredericksburg, Virginia, will have a mock toilet on hand that partipants can flush money down, symbolizing money that went to rich people rather than to schools or other critical services.

The Every Child Matters Education fund, which is urging people to participate in the rallies, points out that in 2001, before the tax cuts went into effect, the federal government invested $8,634 in inflation-adjusted dollars for every four-year-old in Head Start, the Great Society-era early childhood program designed to help prepare poor kids to do well in school. In 2011, that investment declined to $7,824 per child. Funding for the Social Services Block Grant, which funds programs that combat child abuse and neglect, among other things, has dropped more than 20 percent in real dollars. In the long run, it's clear that the legacy of the Bush tax cuts will be a huge debt that this generation of children will be largely unprepared to do much about.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 7, 2011

Tue Jun. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

A group of local Afghan children bump fists with U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 1775th Military Police Company during a mission to Kuchi village, Afghanistan, May 27, 2011. The purpose of the mission is to distribute radios and flyers to local villagers, and to evaluate the needs of the locals. Photo via US Army.