2013...mewhat-popular - %2

House Dems Have a New Plan to Reopen Government

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 1:56 PM EDT

There's been a lot of chatter this week about Democrats using a discharge petition to force the House to hold a vote on a clean CR. The idea is that if you can get 218 signatures—200 Democrats plus 20 or so moderate Republicans—then the clean CR goes to the floor and gets a vote whether John Boehner likes it or not. Once those same 218 folks vote for it, it goes to the Senate and the game is over.

The problem is that even if you can round up 20 Republicans, which isn't clear at all, there are delays built in that would prevent a discharge petition from coming to the floor anytime soon. However, Greg Sargent reports that House Democrats have found an old bill lying around that could serve as the basis for a discharge petition that would take effect in about a week or so.

I have no idea if this is just more political theater, or if it has a genuine chance of working. But you can read all the details at the link. I expect to hear more about this over the next few days.

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President Obama and the Washington Monument Strategy

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 11:54 AM EDT

I have a question about the shutdown. This is real. I don't know the answer.

By far, the most visible aspect of the shutdown has been the closure of national parks. Republicans have been making endless hay out of this, especially the highly telegenic barrier crashing of the WWII Memorial by elderly vets a couple of days ago.

But it's not just Republicans. I've read a few more moderate voices claiming that this is just another example of the "Washington Monument strategy." That is, the Obama administration is deliberately shutting down high-profile government operations as a way of making the public mad. In turn, they hope that anger will be directed at Republicans who are making absurd demands as the price of re-opening the government.

During the sequester fight, this argument seemed at least plausible. Agencies didn't have a lot of discretion when the sequester cut their budgets, but they did have some discretion. Did Obama really have to cancel White House tours? Or did he do it because it was something that people would notice and yell at their congressional representatives about? It was unclear. It's certainly possible that there was enough discretion in the law to avoid this if anyone had wanted to.

But this time around, none of that is true. By law, the government is shut down. By law, only essential functions are allowed to continue operating. And by law, national parks aren't essential functions. They aren't being closed as part of a media strategy, they're being closed because there's no choice. Right? Or is there more to this?

The Obamacare Website Is Experiencing Technical Difficulties

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 11:17 AM EDT

Ezra Klein is blistering today about the continuing problems with the federal website used to sign up for Obamacare:

The Obama administration doesn't have a basically working product that would be improved by a software update. They have a Web site that almost nobody has been able to successfully use....Overwhelming crush of traffic is behind many of the Web site's failures. But the Web site was clearly far, far from prepared for traffic at anywhere near these levels. That's a planning flaw....Part of the problem, according to a number of designers, is that the site is badly coded, which makes the traffic problems more acute. 

....The Obama administration did itself — and the millions of people who wanted to explore signing up — a terrible disservice by building a Web site that, four days into launch, is still unusable for most Americans. They knew that the only way to quiet the law's critics was to implement it effectively. And building a working e-commerce Web site is not an impossible task, even with the added challenges of getting various government data services to talk to each other. Instead, the Obama administration gave critics arguing that the law isn't ready for primetime more ammunition for their case.

I'll stick to what I said a couple of days ago: these problems will all get fixed fairly soon and then everyone will forget about them. At the same time, I'll concede that the problems appear to be considerably bigger and deeper than I'd expected, even given the complexity of what HHS had to do. Underestimating demand is one thing, but some of the problems on the federal site make you wonder if it underwent any testing at all before it was launched. These aren't skeevy little bugs that only show up under weird circumstances. They're failures of basic functionality. It really does appear to be a cock-up.

But this too will pass. It's an embarrassment, but a short-term one. At least, it better be.

In Red States, More Heat Than Light Over Obamacare

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 10:53 AM EDT

Maeve Reston of the LA Times travels to Oklahoma to find out how Obamacare is doing in a deep red state:

The state attorney general is leading one of the last state challenges against the law in federal court. The state insurance commissioner issued a sharply worded warning to federally funded "navigators" who are helping people sign up for insurance. And frightening rumors about the law — uncountered by any positive spin — are dissuading some residents from considering it.

....States like California are spending millions to promote the law, but here it is difficult to find a trace of information about it beyond cable news....There are no billboards along the highways, no public service announcements on the radio. At a number of health clinics, there were no fliers last week about the law's insurance marketplaces.

....In dozens of interviews here, many said they feared they would be forced to buy insurance they couldn't afford. Some said they were told (erroneously) that insurance penalties would come out of their Social Security checks; others said they'd heard the law meant they'd soon have to travel several hundred miles to see a doctor.

....Leaders in the two consortiums that received federal money for a public education campaign in Oklahoma were still in the early phase of training as residents became eligible to sign up for insurance this week...."Around the first of the year," he added, "maybe we'll do some more speaking engagements, or hanging some signs, or maybe some advertisements on the radio."

The anti-Obamacare troops are well funded. Above-board advertising campaigns fueled by Koch money are joined by shadier rumor-mill campaigns that no one wants to publicly take credit for. Deliberate misinformation is rampant. You won't be able to see your doctor. The IRS will put a lien on your house. Old people will be denied care and left to die. All the money is going to undocumented immigrants. Part-time workers will lose their jobs. Doctors will be required to collect information about your guns. Microchips will be implanted in patients. Etc.

In the meantime, the pro-Obamacare troops, hobbled by their lack of enthusiasm for anything less than full single-payer national health care, have mostly left things in the hands of state and federal officials. These folks don't yell or scream, and they don't try to debunk crazy conspiracy theories. They have a more genteel approach, and in the long run it will probably work. In the meantime, though, the messaging war is a very one-sided fight indeed. In Oklahoma, it's hardly even a fight at all.

VIDEO: Elizabeth Warren Says Tea Party "Anarchists" Are Full of It

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 10:49 AM EDT

In recent weeks, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been fundraising off of the government shutdown and possible default. On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted out an appeal to raise $2.5 million in order to stand up "against Republican hostage-takers." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has used the occasion to make a bigger point about the ideology of those tea party hostage takers. On Friday morning, she sent out a missive to her supporters, not to ask for money, but to slam the hypocrisy of "anarchist," "extremist" GOPers who rage constantly about the ills of big government, and then beg for it when it's gone. Warren made similar remarks in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday.

"[N]ow that the House Republicans have shut down the government—holding the country hostage because of some imaginary government 'health care boogeyman'—Republicans almost immediately turned around and called on us to start reopening parts of our government," Warren says. And this is nothing new: "After the sequester kicked in," she adds, "Republicans immediately turned around and called on us to protect funding for our national defense and to keep our air traffic controllers on the job."

Here's more Warren debunking the myth of "boogeyman government":

When was the last time the anarchy gang called for regulators to go easier on companies that put lead in children's toys? Or for inspectors to stop checking whether the meat in our grocery stores is crawling with deadly bacteria? Or for the FDA to ignore whether morning sickness drugs will cause horrible deformities in our babies?

When? Never. In fact, whenever the anarchists make any headway in their quest and cause damage to our government, the opposite happens.

...

Why do they do this? Because the boogeyman government in the alternate universe of their fiery political speeches isn't real. It doesn't exist.

Government is real, and it has three basic functions:
    1.    Provide for the national defense.
    2.    Put rules in place rules, like traffic lights and bank regulations, that are fair and transparent.
    3.    Build the things together that none of us can build alone – roads, schools, power grids – the things that give everyone a chance to succeed.

...

We are alive, we are healthier, we are stronger because of government.

The supporters who received Warren's email obviously agree with her. Perhaps those Americans who disagree, but can't get a flu vaccination, or a home loan, or a disability payment with a shut down government, will eventually come around, too.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 4, 2013

Fri Oct. 4, 2013 10:25 AM EDT

Marines with Marine Corps Special Operations Command conduct a Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction exercise on a CH-53E aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Sept. 13, 2013. This training has helped the MARSOC MPC program in developing what will become the standard operating procedures. US Marine Corps photo.

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Watch the Governor of Pennsylvania Compare Gay Marriage to Incest

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 10:15 AM EDT

On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) was asked by a reporter a Harrisburg's CBS affiliate to clear the air about his views on same-sex marriage, after a legal brief filed on behalf of his administration compared same-sex marriage to letting 12-year-olds get married. But Corbett, who had previously called the comparison "inappropriate," wasn't in an apologetic mood. Instead, he offered up a comparison of his own. "It was an inappropriate analogy—I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don't you?" Commence awkward silence.

Watch:

The Business Community Doesn't Really Care About the Government Shutdown

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 9:54 AM EDT

Joshua Green writes in the current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek that business interests have lost their clout with the Republican Party. The evidence is the government shutdown: the business community is against it, but Republicans are prolonging the crisis anyway.

Fair enough. But I wouldn't take this too seriously. Here's a passage from Green's story that explains why:

But the shutdown and debt ceiling are both matters where they do—and the unwillingness of Republican lawmakers to shift course underscores the diminished clout of their traditional business allies, despite the financial largesse. Asked by the Associated Press if he had heard business groups express alarm about the economic impact of a shutdown, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California replied, “No. And it wouldn’t make any difference if I did.”

Rohrabacher says two things here. The part that Green is writing about is the second half of his sentence: Rohrabacher claims that even if he got a lot of pressure from business interests, he'd keep the government shut down anyway. That's big talk. But the more interesting part is what Rohrabacher said first: he hasn't gotten a lot of pressure from business interests.

In fact, to hear him tell it, he hasn't heard even a whisper from business groups. And I think that's the key to all this: the Chamber of Commerce might be against the shutdown, but they haven't made much of an issue out of it. My sense is that this is widespread. So far, anyway, the posture of the business community has been that, sure, they're against the shutdown, but they don't really care much. For now, they're fine with the GOP continuing to play its games and make trouble for Democrats.

Do Republicans no longer care about corporate interests? Don't be silly. This hasn't even been tested yet. If Wall Street and the Business Roundtable and other groups start screaming seriously about this—and they will if it goes on long enough to cause some kind of market panic—then we'll find out how much clout they still have. Right now, they're just shrugging their shoulders and doing a bit of tut-tutting. Nobody should interpret that as a failure of business lobbying. They haven't even been trying so far.

Why Congressmen Should Still Be Paid During a Shutdown

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 9:31 AM EDT

#richforever

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill can agree on at least one thing: Members of Congress shouldn't be paid during the shutdown. "If Congress can't do its job and put the American people first, then they certainly shouldn't get paid during a crisis that they are causing," said Rep. Ami Berra (D-Calif.), explaining his decision to donate his check to charity. "Why should Senators or House members be paid for failing to fulfill one of their most basic responsibilities?," asked Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), while announcing he would give up his own salary for the duration of the impasse.

The answer to Buchanan's question isn't as obvious as it might sound. For one thing, taking away paychecks from members of Congress wouldn't save anyone any money. Unlike the 800,000 government workers currently on furlough, congressmen are prohibited by the 27th Amendment from raising or lowering their own pay until after a congressional election; any action they take now wouldn't go into effect until 2015, by which time the shutdown will, presumably, be over. To get around that, senators and representatives choosing to forfeit their paychecks have simply donated them to charity. But that leads to another problem with the pay cut demand: Those members of Congress who do give up their pay are doing so because it's a stunt they can afford. As the National Journal's Matt Berman notes, the median member of Congress' net worth of $966,001 is about 12 times higher than the median American family.

But logistics aside, the idea that congressmen should work without pay is based on a faulty, if widely held premise—that congressmen aren't doing their jobs. It's certainly true that Congress as a body isn't functioning properly, but on a district-by-district level, residents are getting what they voted for. People who elected mainstream Democratic senators didn't send them to Washington to defund the Affordable Care Act; people who stocked the House with arch-conservative Republicans in 2010 and 2012 didn't send their representatives to Washington to keep the Affordable Care Act intact. Why should a powerless House Democrat have to rearrange his finances because of John Boehner's intransigence?

If people really disagree with what their congressmen have done, of course, they have the same option a private employer would: Fire them. In 2011, House Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government and risk a default. In 2012, their constituents sent them back to try it again. Right now, they're getting what they paid for.

The Shutdown in 10 Infuriating Sentences

| Fri Oct. 4, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

At its core, the dispute over the budget and the debt ceiling isn't complicated at all. But it is full of misconceptions and urban myths. Here are the 10 facts worth remembering past all the obfuscation:

1. Democrats have already agreed to fund the government at Republican levels.

2. Despite what you might have heard, there have only been two serious government shutdowns in recent history, and both were the result of Republican ultimatums.

3. Democrats in the Senate have been begging the House to negotiate over the budget for the past six months, but Republicans have refused.

4. That's because Republicans wanted to wait until they had either a government shutdown or a debt ceiling breach as leverage, something they've been very clear about all along.

5. Republicans keep talking about compromise, but they've offered nothing in return for agreeing to their demands—except to keep the government intact if they get their way.

6. The public is very strongly opposed to using a government shutdown to stop Obamacare.

7. Contrary to Republican claims, the deficit is not increasing—it peaked in 2009 and has been dropping ever since, declining by $200 billion last year with another $450 billion drop projected this year.

8. A long government shutdown is likely to seriously hurt economic growth, with a monthlong shutdown projected to slash GDP in the fourth quarter by 1 percentage point and reduce employment by over a million jobs.

9. No, Democrats have not used debt ceiling hostage taking in the past to force presidents to accept their political agenda.

10. This whole dispute is about the Republican Party fighting to make sure the working poor don't have access to affordable health care.