As the administration struggles to put in place the final, complex piece of President Obama’s signature health care law, an endeavor on a scale not seen since Medicare’s creation nearly a half-century ago, Democrats are worried that major snags will be exploited by Republicans in next year’s midterm elections. Many Democrats also want to see a more aggressive and visible president to push the law across the country. This week Mr. Obama is returning to the fray to an extent unseen since he signed the law in 2010, including a White House event on Friday to promote the law’s benefits for women, the first in a series of appearances for health care this year. A number of health insurance changes have already taken place, but this fall, just as the 2014 election season heats up, is the deadline for introducing the law’s core feature: the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, where millions of uninsured Americans can buy coverage, with subsidies for many.
Yes, because highly "visible" speechifying from the president has been such a boon to this cause in the past. In any case, the introduction of central changes in 2014 puts the lie to the president's recent assertion that the Obamacare process is already over for up to "90 percent" of Americans. It's next year's implementation, which promises to be messy, that continues to stir Democratic jitters:
For the third time, Republicans are trying to make the law perhaps the biggest issue of the elections, and are preparing to exploit every problem that arises. After many unsuccessful efforts to repeal the law, the Republican-led House plans another vote soon. And Republican governors or legislatures in many states are balking at participating, leaving Washington responsible for the marketplaces. Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short. The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level. “There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,”said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”
Despite lawmakers on Capitol Hill vowing to secure the border in exchange for a new pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants, voters do not believe the federal government will follow through on that promise even if a reform bill passes. From Rasmussen Reports:
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55% of Likely U.S. Voters still favor the plan that would give legal status to those here now illegally who have otherwise obeyed the law as long as the government really secures the border to prevent future illegal immigration. Thirty percent (30%) oppose the plan even with the guarantee of tougher border security. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.
Support for the plan is down four points since April.
But now just 30% of voters think it’s even somewhat likely that the federal government would actually secure the border and prevent illegal immigration if the reform plan became law. That’s down from 38% in March and 45% in January.
Fifty-seven percent (57%) now believe the government is unlikely to secure the border if the law is passed.
A leading Democrat in the U.S. Senate said the bones of an immigration reform bill will remain in place despite some anticipated tweaks. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said some adjustments to the bipartisan measure were inevitable but the "basic agreement" needed to remain intact. "We have got to basically stick to the standard of what we've established, what we've agreed over the last three months," Durbin said...
One wonders what Durbin thinks of fellow 'gang' member Sen. Marco Rubio, who's been talking up changes to the bill that could very well amount to more than mere "tweaks:"
Rubio, who is the chief emissary to conservatives on the contentious legislation, said in a radio interview and in an opinion piece being published in Friday's Wall Street Journal that he's been hearing concerns in recent days that more work is needed to boost the bill's language on the border and he said he's committed to trying to make those changes. In his Wall Street Journal piece, Rubio cited "triggers" in the bill that aim to make new citizenship provisions contingent on border security accomplishments. Critics say those provisions are too weak, because in some cases the Homeland Security secretary is tasked with undertaking studies — but not with delivering results — before millions in the U.S. illegally can obtain legal status. Rubio also mentioned revisiting "waivers" in the bill that give federal officials discretion in applying the law, another flashpoint for conservative critics; concerns about the bill's cost; and the possibility of making legalization provisions for immigrants already here "tougher, yet still realistic." He didn't offer details.
Foes and friends of reform are set to offer a slew of amendments to the mammoth immigration bill this week as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins to mark it up. But observers believe that between Democrats, who hold the majority on the committee, and the two Gang of Eight Republicans who wrote the bill, it will emerge from committee largely unscathed. The parade of amendments expected to be offered to the 844-page bill — all of which are due by 5 p.m. on Tuesday — could number dozens or more. The amendments offer a preview of the floor fight over the most sweeping changes to immigration laws in more than two decades.
How to reconcile these numbers? Eighty-three percent of respondents favor a "path to citizenship" in question 43, but one question earlier, only a low-40s plurality seems to embrace that approach. A 53-percent majority opines that illegal immigrants working inside the US should either (a) be allowed to stay legally without being eligible to apply for citizenship, or (b) face effective deportation. So that's a pretty soft 83 percent for the 'amnesty then citizenship' track. But wait, question 44 asks if illegal immigrants should be able to obtain legal status while the border is being strengthened, or only after that task is complete. A paltry 35 percent of respondents favor the "border security first, then legalization" path -- almost the exact opposite of a recent Fox News poll, which asked virtually the same question. Perhaps the lesson to derive from these disparate and muddled responses is, beware of dramatic immigration-related polling results offered by either side. Public opinion is neither as good nor as bad as it may seem, depending on your perspective. In all likelihood, many Americans are genuinely confused and torn on the issue, which is why words like "bipartisan" and "consensus" are so potent in this debate.
UPDATE - Yuval Levin has a characteristically thoughtful piece detailing possible improvements to the bill.
Amid a dark tale of alleged abduction and a decade of captivity, there is a delightful side-story -- a rescuer, Charles Ramsey, who is quickly becoming an internet sensation. On a day when the shadow of the Benghazi betrayal grows larger and darker, it is a welcome reminder of how much good there is in the overwhelming majority of Americans. There's something profoundly likable about Mr. Ramsey -- although it's a little sad to hear him conclude that something must be wrong for a white girl to run into the arms of a black man. As far as I'm concerned, a good man is a good man, whatever his color -- especially when, like Mr. Ramsey, he's got the guts to do the right thing.
Watch and enjoy:
Yesterday on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid called Cruz a "schoolyard bully" after he dared to question Reid over tactics being used to raise the debt ceiling. Cruz responded by saying, "I wasn't aware we were in a schoolyard."
Cruz is concerned about Reid raising the debt ceiling without a proper vote or input. Imagine that.
Cruz said he was concerned that the conference report—which cannot be filibustered—would be used to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. He asked that Reid amend his motion to go to conference to make out of order any provisions raising taxes or raising the debt ceiling.
Reid said Cruz had a chance to amend the Senate budget—which raises $975 billion in new tax revenue from tax reform—when it was considered on the floor.
He said Cruz’s request to eliminate all taxes in a final House-Senate budget was absurd.
As a reminder, the U.S. National Debt is getting pretty darn close to $17 trillion with no end in site.
Mr. Tingles is at it again. Last night on his show while discussing the National Rifle Association, MSNBC host Chris Matthews claimed people who don't want to criminilize the private transfer of firearms, better known as universal background checks, are racist and can't stand that fact we have an African-American president. I'd like to point out that Matthews also said "it is about this war going on in this country." How so vitrilolic! You can watch the video from RealClearPolitics here:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: To everybody watching, this isn't just about guns -- is about guns. It is about this war in this country, that's gotten more divided, more polarized. And it's about symbols like telling you you can't have certain kinds of gun. You need certain kinds of freedoms with your gun, like no background checks. Or that you have an African-American president.
Now, here's an example, the birther thing. It all ties together. You have to explain to me how they see the overlap of birtherism and guns, because I see it. Here's the new NRA president, Jim Porter. He also doesn't sound like he's willing to go in that middle line there across the aisle. Last year he made a speech not only referring to Civil War as the war of northern aggression, here we go again, but also invoked birther language. Now, I missed this last week. Birther language. Watch him here talk about our fake president.
JAMES "JIM" W. PORTER II, NRA PRESIDENT: The NRA was started 1871 right here in New York state. It was started by some Yankee generals who didn't like the way my Southern boys had the ability to shoot, what we called the war of Northern aggression. Y'all might call it the Civil War, but we call it the war of Northern aggression down South.
I get so sick and tired of all these people with this fake president that we got who wants to say, 'Well, you know, he hasn't done anything bad for gun owners.' I say, let me tell you something bad he's done. His entire administration is anti-gun, anti-freedom, anti-second amendment.
MATTHEWS: I don't know if he's burning books there or not. Let me tell you, Kasie [Hunt], it's a lot that lays on your shoulders. I have to tell you this. I see a far bigger fight than over background checks and gun shows. It's culture war. They don't accept an African-American president or president of color who has some antecedence in Africa. No. It has to be us or him. And our guns or him. And everything is totemic; everything is iconic; everything's fighting words. What was it feeling like down there? Didn't they react when they hear this kind of talk?
Apparently Matthews didn't get the memo that the whole birther thing is so two years ago. Not to mention, Matthews said he can't believe "how far right this country has gotten." Did he miss that Barack Obama, one of the most progressive preidents in history, just got reelected?
Meanwhile, gun control advocates are having a tough time getting anything done after multiple pieces of gun control legislation failed to pass the Senate three weeks ago.
Gun control forces are targeting Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Max Baucus and others as they struggle to persuade five senators to switch their votes and revive the rejected effort to expand background checks to more firearms buyers.
With Congress back from a weeklong recess, the bottom line remains familiar: Advocates of broadened checks lack the new votes they need and Congress has moved on to other issues. A few lawmakers who opposed expanding the checks when the Senate defeated the measure last month say they'd consider changes the sponsors might offer but haven't committed to backing anything, while others show no signs of switching.
"I stand by my vote," one prime target, Ayotte, R-N.H., said Monday.
As Kevin wrote last night, the Heritage study released yesterday that pegs the amnesty portion in the Gang of Eight legislation to a cost of $6.3 is getting a lot of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. But the truth is, the Gang of Eight has failed to give its own estimate of what the legislation would cost taxpayers.
Over a month ago, Senators Sessions, Grassley and Roberts wrote a letter asking for the following:
According to the framework released by your group, illegal aliens would not be eligible for certain benefits during a period of probationary status. The rejection of that principle by the Democrat members of your group during a vote on an amendment to the budget raises significant concern. Moreover, even if the bill does contain strong, loophole-free language to this effect, it will only succeed in delaying—not reducing—the cost to taxpayers. In addition, a work requirement as a condition of amnesty would do little to nothing to protect taxpayers over the long term.
Once the present illegal population receives green cards, they will be eligible under current law for a wide array of federal welfare programs including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid. By their very nature, these programs necessarily represent a net fiscal cost to taxpayers. The long-term costs, and the strain on resources for low-income Americans, could be enormous. This was contemplated by lawmakers when crafting and then reaffirming the public charge statute in 1996. These fiscal costs could grow once today’s illegal population is granted citizenship, and could include substantial costs imposed on Medicare and Social Security as low-income former illegal immigrants retire and draw benefits in excess of what they paid into those programs.
Given these concerns and our congressional oversight responsibilities, we therefore ask that you provide the following information regarding the long-term costs of your bill:
1. Please list all federal benefits, means-tested aid, and other assistance programs explicitly denied to illegal immigrants during their probationary status.
2. Please list all federal benefits and aid programs former illegal immigrants become eligible for once granted green cards, or permanent residency.
3. Please provide an estimate of the cost to taxpayers in the first full 10-year window after illegal immigrants are granted green cards and become eligible for federal assistance.
4. Please provide an estimate of the cost to taxpayers in the first full 10 years of citizenship, including the costs of chain migration.
5. Please provide an estimate of the increase in cost to our nation’s long-term unfunded obligations, including Medicare, Social Security, and Obamacare, of a pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrant population. This should be the recognized 75-year window.
6. Please provide the specific language your legislation includes to ensure enforcement of the currently unenforced section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
7. Please provide our offices, which have the relevant expertise to analyze fiscal effects, any legislative language concerning the aforementioned questions.
These questions still remain unanswered and estimates of how much the Gang of Eight legislation will cost have not been provided by the Gang itself. Grassley, Sessions and Roberts also requested the Gang of Eight send their legislation to the Congressional Budget Office for scoring.
The intra-conservative war over the working immigration reform legislation was ramped up today when the Heritage Foundation's economic analysis gave the opposition a major piece of ammunition in the form of a study showing that the reform legislation could cost $6.3 trillion.
Conservatives who have been proponents of immigration reform legislation jumped to discredit the Heritage study as it made the rounds this morning. Rep. Paul Ryan questioned its methodology, saying "the Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration could help our economy grow. A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects.”
The principal criticism of the Heritage study is precisely that it does not take into account the effects of immigration on economic growth. Conservatives in the past have criticized economic modeling for leaving out projections of economic growth - on tax cuts, for example - but some are defending the Heritage Foundation's methodology.
Sen. Jeff Sessions trumpeted the results of the study. "The study puts to rest the contention that the bill will benefit American taxpayers, reduce our deficits, or strengthen our already endangered Social Security and Medicare programs," Sessions said in a statement. Sen. Sessions has been one of the leading skeptics of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill.
Other conservative coalition groups like Americans for Tax Reform and the American Action Forum jumped on the dynamic scoring issue today, noting the inconsistency apparent in the Heritage Foundation's approach. ATR's Josh Culling said on a media call this afternoon that "though Heritage is a treasured ally... this report looks only at the cost side of the economic equation and completely ignores any economic benefit."
The Heritage Foundation report acknowledges a certain amount of growth that would take place but cautions growth-enthusiasts that the prosperity might not be widely-shared:
While it is true that unlawful immigrants enlarge GDP by roughly 2 percent, the problem with this argument is that the immigrants themselves capture most of the gain from expanded production in their own wages. Metaphorically, while unlawful immigrants make the american economic pie larger, they themselves consume most of the slice that their labor adds.
Former CBO director and President of the American Action Forum Douglas Holtz-Eakin challenged that line of thinking in an AAF policy brief last month:
There would be effects above and beyond that of greater population as well. Labor force participation rates are higher among the foreign born, especially among males and later in work careers. Similarly, the rates of entrepreneurship among immigrants are higher than among the native born population, raising the possibility of greater innovation and productivity growth in the aftermath of immigration reform. Finally, the combined effect of these impacts on economic growth would allow greater productivity growth through the embodiment effect on quality of capital goods.
While the Heritage Foundation has stood by their study's methodology as sound with regard to National Academy of Sciences standards, Holtz-Eakin questioned their defense today. "Their methodology is absolutely not the same as the National Academy of Sciences... the NAS tries to estimate the impact of immigration on the size of the economy, which Heritage does not do."
The debate over the comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been crackling ever since Marco Rubio emerged as the conservative face of the Gang of Eight, and among Capitol Hill staffers it threatens to explode to a full blaze. The Heritage Foundation's report today adds fuel to the fire. As Mediaite's AJ Delgado tweeted,
It's clear that the Gang of Eight will need more conservatives beyond its four Republican members in order to pass through the Senate - to say nothing of how a comprehensive immigration reform legislation would pass through the House of Representatives. Today's Heritage Foundation study could prove the dividing line between grassroots conservatives who see the legislation as a sellout and Republicans who see it as full of the compromises necessary to get something passed.
The so-called "Marketplace Fairness Act" passed the Senate today on a 69-27 vote, meaning that businesses with more than $1 million in sales will be subjected to tax collection laws no matter where they're located in the United States. The bill would give state governments the blessing to collect tax on retailers across state lines.
Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute ran down some of the major problems with the bill and detailed some of the straw men arguments used by the tax legislation's proponents:
MFA would close a tax “loophole” - Supporters often say that the MFA exists to close a 20-year old “Internet loophole,” to stop government from “picking winners and losers” among different types of retail businesses. But there is no loophole and government isn’t attempting to advantage one type of business over another. The 1992 Supreme Court decision Quill v. North Dakota is what established current law, which says that a state can only force a business to collect its sales tax if it is physically present within its borders. That’s the law for online and traditional retailers alike.Some, like Walmart, chose a business model that included a physical retail storefront in every state and they’ve benefited handsomely from their ubiquity and uniform shopping experience. Some, like Overstock.com, have chosen a business model that (generally) included a web interface instead of a physical store, with a handful of warehouses across the country to facilitate shipping to consumers. It should be incumbent upon legislators to treat them consistently under existing rules, NOT to equalize their tax burdens at the end of the day.
MFA’s $1 million small seller exception means only big businesses will have to comply – Another whopper MFA supporters tell is that only really big businesses will have to comply with its mandates since they included a $1 million small seller exception. But if you do some back-of-the-envelope math, the claim falls apart rather quickly. Industry data says that the specialty retail sector (which includes businesses like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Amazon) enjoys an average net profit margin of just 2.1%, while catalog and mail order retailers (which include eBay and Overstock) average 1.7%. For those of you not quick with a calculator, that means that the average such entity would have only $21,000 and $17,000 left over, respectively, after accounting for all the costs of doing business on $1 million worth of sales. Does a business with $17,000 in profit at the end of the year sound big enough to easily comply with 9,600 taxing jurisdictions across the country?
The internet sales tax bill split some online retailers down the middle, with Amazon supporting the bill and eBay lobbying against it. Amazon is the country's largest online retailer - and since their infrastructure exists in almost every state already, they're already subject to a lot of same-state sales taxes.
The legislation will now go to the House of Representatives, where anti-tax proponents are more hopeful that the more conservative majority will be able to either delay and fix the bill or kill it altogether.
You met Greg Hicks earlier. He's the career State Department official whose "jaw hit the floor" when Susan Rice went the 'Full Ginsburg' to spread bogus talking points in the immediate wake of the 9/11 Benghazi attacks. If you thought exposing and debunking the administration's initial dishonest spin was the biggest bombshell Hicks was preparing to drop on Wednesday, you'd be wrong. CBS News reports:
The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa. The account from Gregory Hicks is in stark contrast to assertions from the Obama administration, which insisted that nobody was ever told to stand down and that all available resources were utilized. Hicks gave private testimony to congressional investigators last month in advance of his upcoming appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday. According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound "when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, 'you can't go now, you don't have the authority to go now.' And so they missed the flight ... They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it." No assistance arrived from the U.S. military outside of Libya during the hours that Americans were under attack or trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles. Hicks told congressional investigators that if the U.S. had quickly sent a military aircraft over Benghazi, it might have saved American lives. The U.S. Souda Bay Naval Base is an hour's flight from Libya.
This explosive testimony -- which will play out under the bright lights later this week -- corroborates earlier allegations that support teams were repeatedly instructed to get ready, then to stand down, throughout the eight-hour slaughter. The Obama administration has claimed they deployed "all available resources" during the attack, an account that does not align with several pieces of countervailing evidence:
(1) We've just learned from another whistle-blower (Mark Thompson) that Secretary Clinton actively cut the State Department's counter-terrorism bureau out of the loop during the terrorist attack. (Why?) CBS News reported last November that the Obama administration also didn't convene the inter-agency Counter-terrorism Security Group (CSG) during the raid. Gen. Dempsey has asserted that the State Department never requested any military assistance from DoD that night. Might that have been because Clinton and the White House were already committed to a political posture of downplaying the terrorism angle?
(2) A separate unnamed whistle-blower says an elite US task force training in Croatia could have arrived prior to the latter stages of the siege, during which Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were murdered. (Remember, Doherty and Woods responded to the consulate attack on their own initiative).
(3) The US had unmanned predator drones hovering overhead throughout much of the attack. One Democratic Senator couldn't or wouldn't say whether those drones were armed.
(4) CBS News, in late October:
The Pentagon says it did move a team of special operators from central Europe to the large Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy, but gave no other details. Sigonella is just an hour's flight from Libya. Other nearby bases include Aviano and Souda Bay. Military sources tell CBS News that resources at the three bases include fighter jets and Specter AC-130 gunships, which the sources say can be extremely effective in flying in and buzzing a crowd to disperse it..."You find a way to make this happen," Berntsen says. "There isn't a plan for every single engagement. Sometimes you have to be able to make adjustments. They made zero adjustments in this. They stood and they watched and our people died."
(5) Then there is today's aforementioned revelation from Hicks. Taken together, this information points to a scenario in which the Washington-based chain of command declined to exercise several contingencies that could have saved American lives. Let's recall what Gen. Dempsey told Sen. Lindsey Graham in Congressional testimony two months ago:
GRAHAM: My question is, did anybody leave any base anywhere to go to the aid of the people who were under attack in Benghazi, Libya before the attack ended.
DEMPSEY: No, because the attack ended before we could get off the ground.
Hicks will reportedly also tell Congress that special forces reinforcements were urgently needed in Benghazi, in light of the US diplomatic mission's "bare minimum" security capacity. That threadbare security presence is a scandal in and of itself; terrorists had launched escalating attacks one numerous Western targets in Benghazi in the weeks and months leading up to September 11, including two attempts against the US consulate. Four gravestones offer a clear justification for Amb. Stevens' numerous requests for more resources; far less apparent are the reasons why those petitions were summarily denied. I'll leave you with White House spokesman Jay Carney ducking questions on these new developments earlier today:
Shorter Carney: Take your beef up with the Pentagon (who is the Commander-in-Chief, again -- and isn't embassy/consulate security within the Secretary of State's purview?), and kindly refer to our internal investigation (which is now being investigated by an Inspector General for ignoring evidence from whistle-blowers like the men coming forward this week).
UPDATE - On a related note, guess where Al Qaeda's new (unofficial, of course) Northern African regional "headquarters" is?