Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's about time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by the President on Hanukkah

Over the eight nights of Hanukkah, Jews across America, Israel, and the world will remember an ancient triumph of freedom over oppression, and renew their faith in the possibility of miracles large and small. 
Even in the darkest, shortest days of winter, the Festival of Lights brims with possibility and hope.  The courage of the Maccabees reminds us that we too can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.  The candles of the Menorah remind us that even the smallest light has the power to shine through the darkness.  And the miracle at the heart of Hanukkah – the oil that lasted for eight nights instead of only one – reminds us that even when the future is uncertain, our best days are yet to come. 
May this Hanukkah embolden us to do what is right, shine a light on the miracles we enjoy, and kindle in all of us the desire to share those miracles with others.  From my family to yours, Chag Sameach. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Immigration action, part 2

I am more sympathetic to John Boehner's plight than a lot of my liberal friends. He has an almost impossible job holding his fractious caucus together. He can't make alliances with the Democrats, or the right wing elements of his caucus will depose him, and he can't give in totally to those elements either, or else they will force him to do crazy things like defaulting on the national debt or impeaching the president. Democrats should be more sympathetic to the Speaker's position than they are, because there have been times in our history when Democrats were as fractured as Republicans are now. Remember the civil rights movement or Vietnam?

But on the issue of immigration, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for Boehner's predicament. The Senate has already passed a bi-partisan immigration reform bill. All Boehner has to do is call the bill up for a vote and it would most likely pass, with support from both parties. If more people recognized this, they would understand just how false ring the complaints of president's opponents, who are moaning all over cable news about overreaching executive action. If they wanted to stop President Obama taking unilateral action to limit deportations, they could fix the problem in about two days.

Just call the Senate immigration reform bill up for a vote. If Speaker Boehner wants to keep the Tea Party caucus in line, the best way to do that might be to simply call the immigration bill up for a vote, so those Tea Party members will understand how outnumbered they are. If Boehner wants to do something to prevent the Republican Party from limiting its support to a declining base of angry old white men, he should call the immigration bill up for a vote. And if he gives a thought to securing a place in history for getting something important done during his term as speaker, he should just put the Senate immigration bill up for a vote.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Immigration action

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Gruber tapes

The Affordable Care Act passed Congress after one of the most grueling series of hearings, debates, and votes in American history. House committees and Senate committees held record numbers of hearings. The bill was in the news practically every day. The debate could not have been more public. And if people wanted to find out what was in the bill as it worked its way through both houses of Congress several times, that information was available.

Of course the law is complicated, and few people, even members of Congress, bothered to become familiar with every detail. But if they did, they would have understand such features as the tax on "Cadillac" health care plans, or the medical device tax, or the individual mandate, or the many other features that, taken in isolation or out of context, were made to sound threatening.

So why are people so stirred up by the comments of some MIT professor, who thinks that some of the features of the law were downplayed or obfuscated in order to gain the support of the American people? To be cynical for a moment, which I think is appropriate, it's an opportunity for the president's opponents to feed into an assortment of conspiracy theories about this law in particular and the Obama administration in general. What's ironic is that the people peddling these conspiracy theories are the same people who had no problem with misleading the American public about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, or the giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry in Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit, or about the effects of tax cuts on the deficit, etc., etc. Not to mention all the distortions they promoted about the health care act itself ("death panels," "government takeover," etc.) These are major perpetrators of misleading information in the service of conservative causes.

So the proponents of the Affordable Care Act might have wanted to present that bill in a way that people would support. This is news? Those trying to make it news know or should know that it was up to the bill's opponents, and they were legion, to point out any distortions, and they had ample opportunity to do so.

I think the central distortion was always this: The Affordable Care Act was sold, in large part, as a means of solving the enormous problem of the tens of millions of uninsured in this country: those who are not provided insurance by their employer, those who are unemployed, those who were turned down because of pre-existing conditions, those who simply couldn't afford health insurance. This law was touted as a way to help those millions of uninsured get insured. And it does that. That's why liberals supported it. That's why conservatives, who are suspicious of that kind of government help, opposed it.

In fact, however, although the Act does contain a lot of subsidies to help people afford health insurance, it does that by forcing a lot of free riders on our health care system--those who can afford to pay but don't or won't get insurance because they can always rely on the "free" services of emergency rooms or hospitals in case of catastrophe--to pay their fair share into the system. To gain the support of conservatives, maybe the bill should have been called the Personal Responsibility for Healthcare Act, or the Hospital Reimbursement Act, or something like that. The political problem was that even though Obamacare always had some great moderate and conservative bona fides (it was based on Governor Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts for crying out loud), conservatives were never going to support the president's bill anyway. So it had to be sold to liberals as a way of helping the uninsured. (Which it does. And it also makes the uninsured pay what they can for their coverage.) Was that misleading? Only if you don't take the trouble to understand the law in the first place.

It's ironic that conservative heads are exploding now at revelations that the White House might have strategized about downplaying features of the health care law that had a more conservative bent. Are they suggesting that they might have supported the law if they had only better understood these aspects? Seems doubtful. But then, it's also ironic that John Boehner wants to sue the president (if he can only find a law firm to take the case) for delaying the implementation of a law that the House voted 50 times to repeal. Politics!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Post-midterms press conference

Perpetual conflict

Adopting a magnanimous tone in his victory speech Tuesday night, the presumptive future Majority Leader of the Senate had this to say on conflict in the political system:
“We do have an obligation to work together on issues on which we agree . . . .  I think I’ve shown that to be true in critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again. . . . Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”
Senator McConnell's emphasis on finding common ground with political adversaries sounds commendable, and seems to represent a break from the strategy he pursued as Minority Leader. I'm not sure I would agree, however, that the two parties in our system do not have to be in perpetual conflict. It seems rather that perpetual conflict is built into the system. That is the whole point of having two parties. It's hard to think of any times in our country's history when the political parties have not been in conflict, and it seems unrealistic to expect that such conflict will end anytime soon.

The real question, and one I'd love to hear Senator McConnell expound upon at greater length, is how to deal with that perpetual conflict. How do two political parties, always at loggerheads, find a way to move forward together? Do the Republicans, now that they are assuming the majority, need to manage the Senate differently from the way the Democrats did when they were in the majority? Do the Democrats need to act differently as the minority party from the way the Republicans acted when they were in the minority? Do individual Senators from both parties need to abandon the kind of party discipline that McConnell himself attempted to enforce as Minority Leader?

Does McConnell have some ideas in mind for reaching agreement even when the views of the two parties differ, or was he only talking about making agreements in cases where the parties already agree? As Senator McConnell assumes the title of chief cat herder in the Senate, let's see if he can show us how to work together with the opposition and break the gridlock.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Election eve prayer

Tomorrow is the day for voting in the midterms, and may everyone get the chance to exercise that power. Potential voters ought not be turned away because they forgot to bring their driver's license, or because their name is spelled differently thereon than on the voting rolls. Or at least they should be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Deliver us an election day filled with a spirit of hope and the will to participate in the political process. And let us not give in to despair and cynicism. Let us remember that our votes count.

May the voters erase from their minds all political advertising, especially that one featuring a smiling pig castrator. And may they instead pay attention to the endorsements of enlightened newspapers like the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Allow us to remember the dark days before the 2008 election, when the economy was crashing and wars were raging, and let us appreciate the positive changes that moved us away from those dark times. Let's remember that the deficit is down; the stock market is up; and everyone has access to affordable health insurance.

And finally, may election day not turn into a debacle for the Democrats. We do not need another 2010, for that election did not bring us any blessings.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Senate in the balance

Most forecasts show that control of the Senate will probably shift to the Republicans after the midterm elections. But these elections are still very close, which in itself is somewhat remarkable given that the political makeup in most of the contested seats favors the Republican candidates, and that the president's popularity ratings are at a relatively low level right now. If these elections are still close, that means there must also be some trends favoring Democrats this year.

I think Republicans are right about one thing, which is that looking ahead for the next two years (probably as far as most people can foresee anyway), this election really is about Obama. If you support the president, you should want the Senate to remain in Democratic control so that the president can at least get his judicial and executive branch nominees confirmed, get a budget passed, keep the government open, and other stuff that most Americans probably support. And so you should favor the Democratic or Independent candidate over the Republican Senate candidate in your state.

The preceding 11 posts feature the candidates whose fortunes will determine whether the president will have a Senate he can work with, or a Senate that will act as his enemy. Since I support the president, I would like to see enough of these candidates get elected to keep the Senate in the Democrats' hands. But I must say I am disappointed that most of these moderate Democratic (and one Independent) candidates seem to be running scared from the president, refraining from inviting him to campaign events, distancing themselves from his positions, and being afraid even to admit that they voted for him. I'm not a political professional, and so I haven't tested whether that strategy plays well with focus groups, but it still seems like a mistake to me. I mean, if the main effect of the election you're in is to determine whether your party controls the Senate or not, which in turn will determine whether the Senate is going to be cooperative or confrontational with the president, well then, that is what the election is about. You can't hide from that.

In that case maybe you should tell people that you support the Affordable Care Act because it has brought millions of people real benefits, or that you are pleased that we have extricated ourselves from two wars in the Middle East, or that you appreciate the benefits of one of the longest expansions of the economy in history. People might be suffering from a little bit of Obama fatigue (that is typical in the sixth year of any presidency), but that's all the more reason why they need to be reminded of the president's accomplishments, and why he deserves a lot more credit than he has been given. That kind of talk will at least fire up the base, and get them to vote, which is half the battle. And it might carry some weight with independents, who upon reflection, might decide that they are tired of the obstructive attitude Republicans in Congress have played, and just might want to give the president a little easier time in his last couple of years in office.