Mojo - March 2011

Eyeing Medicaid, Republicans Sharpen Their Knives

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 9:17 AM EDT

While Congress is still mired in a debate about funding the government for the rest of the year, Republicans are planning to raise the stakes even higher. Having rolled out their spending plan for the rest of 2011—their controversial budget that guts $61 billion in spending—the GOP also has drastic plans for their 2012 budget. Politico's Mike Allen reports that they're planning to go after entitlement spending.

House Republicans plan to introduce their budget -- the new majority's biggest counter yet to President Obama -- in the first week of April, possibly slipping to the following week. Aides tell us the budget will include, in order of specificity, plans to rein in the cost of Medicaid (quite specific), Medicare (also detailed, and branded as "Medicare 2.0," a modernization of the program), and Social Security (more vague).

Despite deep rifts that have opened up in the party over the budget, it still looks like the GOP is itching to continue the fight. Half of Senate Republicans have vowed not to raise the debt ceiling for the government unless there are cuts to Social Security as well—a prospect that liberal Senate Democrats say is a non-starter. 

Knowing that any real cuts to Social Security will result in immediate deadlock, Republicans are looking elsewhere. Based on Allen's account, it seems clear that the party's plans to slash Medicaid are going to be the most concrete—and most drastic. As I've reported earlier, they'll probably propose converting the health care entitlement for the poor into a "block-grant" system that will allow states to slash benefits and beneficiaries from the rolls. 

When it comes to Medicare, there are signs that they'll push privatized solutions—perhaps reviving Medicare Advantage, which allows private insurers to peddle plans to seniors, as former McCain campaign advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin's American Action Forum is discussing with members of Congress this week. But when it comes to courting senior voters, drastic cuts to entitlements is still political kryptonite, making the GOP unlikely to push a full voucherization of Medicare as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has proposed, and it's not surprising that reforms to Social Security will remain "vague." But when it comes to cutting benefits to lower-income families—well, that's another story.

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Donald Trump: Birther?

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 9:00 AM EDT

Here's Politico:

Trump seemed to throw his lot in with the discredited rumors that President Obama wasn't born in America, saying he's a "little" skeptical of Obama's citizenship and that every so-called birther who shares the view shouldn't be so quickly dismissed as an "idiot."

"Growing up no one knew him," Trump told ABC's "Good Morning America" during an interview aboard his private plane, Trump Force One. "The whole thing is very strange."

Very strange, indeed. He also explained that "Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich." So there you go.

WI Dems: Walker's Frank Luntz Visit Broke the Law

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 8:09 AM EDT
Flickr/WisPolitics.com

The day after he got punked by a prank caller pretending to be right-wing billionaire David Koch, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker met with prominent GOP pollster Frank Luntz in his Capitol office. The Feb. 23 meeting with Luntz was a secret to the public and press until this week, after a Milwaukee newspaper obtained Walker's calendars and revealed the meeting. Today, the Wisconsin Democratic Party will announce that it believes Walker broke the law by meeting with Luntz, a party rep tells Mother Jones.

The party plans to file a complaint today with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board alleging that the advice Walker got from Luntz, the right's political messaging guru, amounted to something of value as defined by Wisconsin state statute and thus violated state ethics and political contributions laws. The Democrats point to state law that prohibits requesting political contributions in state-owned buildings, and bans any state officials from obtaining "financial gain or anything of substantial value" for their private benefit, their immediate family's benefit, or for an organization with which they're associated. "Scott Walker is using public buildings as cloisters to plot partisan gain," says Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party. "Wisconsin cries for better."

Luntz, who reportedly paid his way to Madison, met with Walker and the governor's chief of staff, and had not done any polling for the governor, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Walker's spokesman said the governor and Luntz had never met before.

On the right, Luntz is the man behind the message. He described last year's much-needed financial reform bill as "a permanent bailout fund." (Which it wasn't.) He urged GOPers to paint President Obama's health care reform bill as a "Washington takeover." (Wrong again.) He also coined the phrase "death tax" to replace estate tax. In their fights against Democrats, Republicans have eagerly latched onto each of these Luntz-isms and more. And he likely offered Scott Walker, whose public support had begun to erode at the time of their meeting, some tips on how he, too, could rework his message.

The Democratic Party's latest complaint comes as Walker and his allies in the Wisconsin legislature face multiple challenges to the legality of their "budget repair bill," the controversial legislation passed last week that cut collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions. On March 11, a local county executive filed a complaint alleging that the bill "contains substantive fiscal items within it, and the Wisconsin Senate did not have the required three-fifths of its members to vote." The state Senate's 14 Democrats fled Wisconsin on Feb. 17 to block a vote on the bill, denying GOPers the necessary quorum, but instead Republicans used a constitutional end-run to vote on their own—a move now being challenged.

And on Wednesday, Dane County Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a suit alleging that the Senate's vote on the "repair" bill violated state open records law by not giving sufficient notice before the vote. Ozanne wants an injunction preventing the publishing of the law and, ultimately, the law itself overturned.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 17, 2011

Thu Mar. 17, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Cesaitis, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, secures an area at a bridge construction site in the Zabul province of Afghanistan. Members from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to inspect the progress and quality of several bridges being built in the area. The PRT consists of members from the Air Force, Army and civilian agencies. Photo via US Army.

Does Haley Barbour Back Obama's Libya's Strategy?

| Wed Mar. 16, 2011 10:23 AM EDT

Most of the GOP's likely 2012 presidential contenders are staking out hawkish positions on the conflict in Libya, supporting military intervention like a no-fly zone and criticizing President Obama for not acting fast enough to prevent violence in the north African country. But one Republican weighing a presidential run, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, appears to be siding with Obama on the thorny issue of what to do about Libya.

In a Tuesday speech in which he ripped Obama's economic policies, Barbour also advocated for a more realistic, less reactionary response to the bloody crisis in Libya, where the military forces of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi are violently quelling a popular uprising: "I think we need to be cautious about being quick on the trigger." Barbour went on:

"The idea of nation-building, in my opinion, is something we need to be very, very, very careful about. I don't think it's our mission to make Libya look like Luxembourg...At the end of the day, we might have some role in Libya but it should not be to send American troops in there and knock heads and make Libya what we would like Libya to look like. Because it, no offense, is not ever going to look like what we'd like it."

For those of you keeping track, that's a noticeable break from Barbour's fellow GOP presidential hopefuls, who seem all too eager for America to swoop into Libya—and probably plenty of other countries, too—to save the day. The question is, will Barbour's foreign policy stance help or hurt him among increasingly polarized conservative voters?

Boehner's Government Shutdown Dilemma

| Wed Mar. 16, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

The House passed yet another short-term extension of the budget on Tuesday. But John Boehner faced a revolt by 54 Republicans who voted against the bill for not going far enough to slash spending, effectively forcing the GOP Speaker to rely on Democratic votes for the stop-gap measure to pass. As Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler explains, the vote now puts Boehner between a rock and a hard place: either he makes concessions to Democrats to pass a final budget, risking provoking greater fury from the tea party right, or he gives into the GOP's right flank—risking a government shutdown, as the Democratic Senate is unlikely to pass any bill that guts spending to satisfy hard-line conservatives. 

Conservative Republicans say that Americans will be on their side if they force a government shutdown, insisting they're simply carrying out the public's desire for fiscal restraint. But according to a new poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, the majority of Americans say a government shutdown would be harmful—and they're more likely to blame Republicans than President Obama, a distinct reversal from two weeks ago. The Washington Post explains:

Large majorities in the poll say a partial shutdown of the federal government would be a 'bad thing'" but each side squarely blames the other for not compromising in the budget negotiations...Among those who say a government shutdown would be harmful, about twice as many say they would hold the GOP, rather than the president, responsible. A similar question two weeks ago showed that about as many said they would blame Obama as the congressional Republicans for a such a stoppage.

So at the end of the day, Boehner's Republicans have overplayed their hand in gutting the budget, forced to face the wrath of their right flank or the wrath of the public. And Democrats still have a chance to come out on top in this protracted budget battle. 

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The Return of the Terror Babies

| Wed Mar. 16, 2011 9:49 AM EDT
Flickr: bagaball

Last summer, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) introduced America to the idea of "terror babies," the chilling process in which pregnant terrorists come to the United States to have children, which then become American citizens, and, presumably, little terrorists themselves. Think of them as the reverse Brangelinas. It's a really convoluted and time-consuming way to wage jihad, to be sure, but when your goal is to destroy Western Civilization, you'll stop at nothing.

The whole terror baby scare has fizzled a bit in months since Gohmert made his announcement on the House floor, but as Adam Serwer notes, it's returned with a vengeance—and footnotes. The Center for Immigration Studies, a legit-sounding organization aimed at restricting both legal and illegal immigration, is out with a new report targeting the 14th Ammendment—and more specifically, the possibility babies that have been granted birthright citizenship could one day grow up to become terrorists:

Imagine a young man born in the United States of non-immigrant parents and taken away at a very early age, reared in Waziristan, educated in Islamist madrassas and trained in the fundamentals of terror at one of the many camps in Southwestern Asia; someone who has flown under the radar of U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies and is therefore unknown to them. He would be entitled to walk into any American embassy or consulate worldwide, bearing a certified copy of his birth certificate and apply for — indeed, demand — a U.S. passport. That passport would entitle him to enter and reside in the United States whenever and wherever he chose, secretly harboring his hatred, an unknown sleeper agent of al Qaeda or any of the other multitude of terrorist organizations with an anti-Western bias and a violent anti-American agenda, waiting for the call to arms.

Waiting. Watching. Stewing. Plotting. Action verb.

The full report is here. The author, "a retired government employee," writes under a pseudonym, which is also something of a trend. When Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about the "critical issue" last summer, she cited information from former FBI agents, whom she also refused to name. "At this point, I'm not going to reveal that," Riddle explained. Gohmert, likewise, refused to give up his sources, choosing instead to compare Cooper to Neville Chamberlain.

So, is there anything to it? Well, no. In the spirit of bi-partisanship, I'll just direct you to this epic takedown of the anti-Birthright Citizenship crusade, from the folks at Reason.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 16, 2011

Wed Mar. 16, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Christopher Herndon of 623rd Engineer Company, Task Force Gridley, Nebraska Army National Guard, hands out wooden toys to village children in Paktika Province, Afghanistan on March 9. Photo by Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford

Survivalist GOP Rep.: You Should Probably Avoid Cities

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 2:35 PM EDT

Maryland GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is a child of the Great Depression, Nancy Pelosi's date to this year's State of the Union, and a member of the House Tea Party Caucus. As Alexander Carpenter points out, he's also something of a survivalist:

In a series of clips from a documentary called Urban Danger available on YouTube and 3AngelsTUBE, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)...shares his fear of impending threats to America and advocates that people move out of urban areas...

In the context of his surmising about the threat of living in urban areas, Bartlett states in the video that there are two strains of smallpox, one is the U.S. and one in the "Soviet Union".

You can watch the documentary online here. Urban Danger's official site takes pains to note that the film is not "survivalist," but rather a guide to "finding practical solutions to problems we face today."

Those problems, however, are dire: One speaker warns that American cities are about to experience something "a lot worse than what happened in New Orleans," suggesting that the situation could be Biblical in nature; the congressman, for his part, floats the possibility of of biological warfare, alleging that terrorists may have already obtained the aforementioned Soviet smallpox. "A storm is coming, relentless in its fury," the narrator explains. "Are we prepared to fight it?"

Is Your Drugstore Selling Your Private Information to Big Pharma?

| Tue Mar. 15, 2011 11:50 AM EDT

For years, the big drugstore chains have stoutly denied selling prescription information—patient names, contact information, doctors' names, and prescription details—to pharmaceutical companies for marketing use. Now, that charade has come to an end with two class action  suits, accusing CVS and Walgreen of doing just that.

In a civil suit in Philadelphia County Court, as Courthouse News reports, the city’s teachers union charged that consumers got unsolicited sales pitches after CVS allegedly sold customers’ private information to Eli Lilly and Co., Merck, AstraZeneca, Bayer, and other drug manufacturers. The union’s claim states:

 "Specifically, in exchange for the receipt of funds, direct promotional letters were sent to physicians of consumers by  defendant CVS Caremark in order to promote and tout specific prescription drugs of pharmaceutical manufacturers who contracted   with defendant CVS Caremark" for use of prescription information, according to the complaint.      

"While touted as an 'RXReview Program' by defendant CVS   Caremark, in reality, the physician communications were nothing more than a profit-making opportunity," the class claims.

CVS's scheme contradicts its "public pronouncements as to the sanctity of both consumers' privacy and the physician-patient relationship," according to the complaint.