Republicans Unable To Shift Blame For Their Recklessness

The Republicans have once again shown that they are incapable of governing responsibly by giving into the Tea Party extremists and bringing about the shutdown. They further show their lack of integrity by trying to place the blame for their actions on Barack Obama and the Democrats. This shut down is 100 percent the fault of the Republicans. There is no blame to share. The Republicans have no business trying to hold the Affordable Care Act hostage in these negotiations. Obama is right that “This perpetual cycle of brinksmanship and crisis has to end once and for all.”

The Republicans are having difficulty so far in placing the blame for their actions on others, fooling only right wing ideologues and sheep. While flipping through the channels after midnight last night I noticed Chuck Todd questioning the Republican line. If the Republicans lost Chuck Todd, this hopefully means that they will lose many in the mainstream media who practice the false objectivity of artificially placing the truth half-way between the claims of each party.

The Republicans are not fooling the American people, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing the Democrats leading the Republicans in a generic Congressional poll by 43 percent to 34 percent. We can’t read too much into a margin which will probably drop after the current crisis ends, but such a wide margin could mean that the Republicans really are risking control of the House. The Republicans have a built-in advantage in the House as Democrats tend to be more highly concentrated in urban districts. Gerrymandering after the 2010 election further strengthened the Republicans. After the 2012 elections, when more people voted for Democrats for Congress than Republicans,  Think Progress calculated that it would take over a seven point lead by Democrats to take control of the House.  That sounds quite difficult, but if the Republicans continue to act this recklessly a wave election which changes control of the House no longer looks impossible.

Polls Show Limited Support For Congress, the Tea Party, and Delaying Obamacare

As the irresponsible extremists in control of the Republican Party are bringing us to the brink of a government shutdown, polls show a majority opposing how the Republicans are handling the budget battle. A CNN/ORC International poll shows that the Republicans would receive the bulk of the blame:

According to the poll, which was conducted Friday through Sunday, 46% say they would blame congressional Republicans for a government shutdown, with 36% saying the president would be more responsible and 13% pointing fingers at both the GOP in Congress and Obama.

Support for Congress has dropped to 10 percent. Opposition to the Tea Party has increased to a new high:

The unfavorable numbers for the tea party movement are also at an all-time high in CNN surveys.

Thirty-one percent say they see the tea party in a favorable light, while 54% hold an unfavorable view of the of the movement now in its fifth year.

A poll from Morning Consult shows that only 33 percent believe the Affordable Care Act should be delayed, repealed, or defunded as the Republicans are demanding. A margin of  66-33 believe that the 2012 election “represented a referendum on moving forward with implementation of the 2010 health care law.” Two thirds also believe the law should be given a chance to succeed (even if skeptical or ignorant of what the law contains).

These numbers don’t tell the entire story. Republican members of Congress are often from Congressional districts were voters believe the Republican line on the deficit and the Affordable Care Act and these voters are more likely to reward than vote against members of Congress who are acting against the interests of the country. Republican politicians benefit from the manner in which they promote ignorance and misunderstanding of the issues.

The numbers are also not static, with some polls showing an increase in the number of people who blame both sides. This may be a consequence portions of the media which promote such a false equivalency, either due to a false concept of objectivity or due to conservative control.

This might turn out to be a question of whether Obama can utilize the bully pulpit of the presidency more effectively than he often has in the past. We are seeing some signs of this with comments such as these:

I’m always willing to work with anyone of either party to make sure the Affordable Care Act works better, to make sure our government works better. I’m always willing to work with anyone to grow our economy faster, or to create new jobs faster, to get our fiscal house in order for the long run.

I’ve demonstrated this time and time again, oftentimes to the consternation of my own party.

But one faction, of one party, in one House of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to re-fight the results of an election. Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you give to the other side…

he American people sent us here to govern. They sent us here to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make their lives a little bit better – to create new jobs, to restore economic security, to repair the prospects of upward mobility. That’s what they expect.

And they understand that there are differences between the parties. And we’re going to be having some tough fights around those differences. And I respect the fact that the other parties are not supposed to agree with me 100 percent of the time, just like I don’t agree with them.

But they do also expect that you don’t bring the entire government to a halt or the entire economy to a halt just because of those differences.

That’s what they deserve. They’ve worked too hard for too long to recover from previous crises just to have folks here in Washington manufacture yet another one that they have to dig themselves out of.

So Congress needs to keep our government open, needs to pay our bills on time, and never, ever threaten the full faith and credit of the United States of America.


Republican Threats To Shut Down Government Have Nothing To Do With Reducing The Deficit

Perhaps the Republicans will back down from harming the economy in the dangerous game of chicken they are playing, but for now John Boehner appears powerless to stop the extremists who effectively control the Republican Party. They still continue to push for a delay to Obamacare before they will agree to avoid a government shutdown. An example of why their demands really have nothing to do with fiscal responsibility can be seen in their demand to end the tax on medical devices.

The Affordable Care Act, in contrast to big spending measures which came from Republicans when George Bush was in the White House, was written with means to pay for the new costs it will generate. This includes a 2.3% tax on medical devices. The short-sighted medical device industry denies that having more people covered will lead to increased sales and  higher profits. They have been lobbying heavily to have the tax repealed. The Republicans have two choices. They can take up the cause of a business interest, or they can support fiscal responsibility and support this means of paying for the Affordable Care Act. There shouldn’t have been any doubt on where they would fall on that question.

The Republicans have no real interest in fiscal responsibility or reducing the deficit. As usual, Republican policies are purely centered on reducing taxes for their supporters.

Barack Obama has made some excellent responses to the GOP’s terrorist tactics:

“I’m not going to start setting a precedent, not just for me, but for future presidents, where one chamber in Congress can basically say each time there needs to be a vote to make sure Treasury pays its bills, we’re not going to sign it unless our particular hobby horse gets advanced.

Imagine if you had a Republican president and a Democratic speaker, and the Democratic speaker said, well, we’re not going to pass the debt ceiling unless we raise corporate taxes by 40 percent or unless we pass background checks on guns or whatever other list of agenda items Democrats were interested in. Does anybody actually think that we would be hearing from Republicans that that was acceptable behavior? That’s not how our constitutional system is designed. We are not going to do it.” (source)

“Paying America’s bills is not a concession to me. That’s not doing me a favor.” (source)

Reprehensible Republican Efforts To Keep People From Obtaining Affordable Health Care Coverage

There have been countless blogs from liberals regarding the efforts of Republicans to block Obamacare and, if they can’t succeed at that, try to impair implementation of the law. This might be seen as a subcategory of Republican efforts to block economic recovery since Obama took office. The argument might be more compelling coming not from a liberal writer, but from a moderate such as Norm Ornstein. He had this to say:

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous—just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing. A good example is the letter Senate Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell and Cornyn sent to the NFL, demanding that it not cooperate with the Obama administration in a public-education campaign to tell their fans about what benefits would be available to them and how the plan would work—a letter that clearly implied deleterious consequences if the league went ahead anyhow. McConnell and Cornyn got their desired result. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quickly capitulated. (When I came to Washington in 1969-70, one of my great pleasures was meeting and getting to know Charles Goodell, the courageous Republican senator from New York who took on his own president on Vietnam and was quietly courageous on many other controversial issues. Roger Goodell is his son—although you would not know it from this craven action.)

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable—unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better—not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate—even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists—takes one’s breath away.

Sarah Kliff writes that the Republicans are helping Obamacare by lowering expectations. After all, even under the best of circumstances, there are going to be some problems in developing programs such as the insurance exchanges. By claiming that they will not work, the bar has now been set very low.

Steve M has a theory that this might help Democrats continue to get elected.

Jonathan Bernstein has a low opinion of Republicans and Tea Party members who are trying to sabotage the program: “It’s just monstrous to actively discourage people from getting health insurance through the exchanges.”

Barack Obama Responds To Questions Regarding NSA Surveillance

Barack Obama has responded to some of the civil liberties concerns raised recently in an interview with Charlie Rose. He did provided two proposals to respond to the questions raised about the surveillance programs.  Here is a partial transcript via Buzzfeed:

Barack Obama: Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case…. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, “Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.” To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.

Charlie Rose: But there is a balance here.

Barack Obama: But there is a balance, so I’m going to get to your — get to your question. The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy. And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is “Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.” Now, with respect to the NSA, a government agency that has been in the intelligence gathering business for a very long time —

Charlie Rose: Bigger and better than everybody else.

Barack Obama: Bigger and better than everybody else, and we should take pride in that because they’re extraordinary professionals; they are dedicated to keeping the American people safe. What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….

So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule. There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus. Program number one, called the 2015 Program, what that does is it gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place. So that database is sitting there. Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the — did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI. At no point is any content revealed because there’s no content that —

Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

Barack Obama: Well, let me — let me finish, because I don’t. So, what happens is that the FBI — if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone — it’s got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court…. The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

Now, one last point I want to make, because what you’ll hear is people say, “Okay, we have no evidence that it has been abused so far.” And they say, “Let’s even grant that Obama’s not abusing it, that all these processes — DOJ is examining it. It’s being renewed periodically, et cetera — the very fact that there is all this data in bulk, it has the enormous potential for abuse,” because they’ll say, you know, “You can — when you start looking at metadata, even if you don’t know the names, you can match it up, if there’s a call to an oncologist, and there’s a call to a lawyer, and — you can pair that up and figure out maybe this person’s dying, and they’re writing their will, and you can yield all this information.” All of that is true. Except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that.

Charlie Rose: So, what are you going to change? Are you going to issue any kind of instructions to the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Clapper, and say, “I want you to change it at least in this way”?

Barack Obama: Here’s what we need to do. But before I say that — and I know that we’re running out of time, but I want to make sure I get very clear on this. Because there has been a lot of mis-information out there. There is a second program called the 702 program. And what that does is that does not apply to any U.S. person. Has to be a foreign entity. It can only be narrowly related to counter-terrorism, weapons proliferation, cyber hacking or attacks, and a select number of identifiers — phone numbers, emails, et cetera. Those — and the process has all been approved by the courts — you can send to providers — the Yahoos or the Googles, what have you. And in the same way that you present essentially a warrant. And what will happen then is that you there can obtain content. But again, that does not apply to U.S. persons. And it’s only in these very narrow bands. So, you asked, what should we do? …What I’ve said is — is that what is a legitimate concern — a legitimate critique — is that because these are classified programs — even though we have all these systems of checks and balances, Congress is overseeing it, federal courts are overseeing it — despite all that, the public may not fully know. And that can make the public kind of nervous, right? Because they say, “Well, Obama says it’s okay — or Congress says it’s okay. I don’t know who this judge is. I’m nervous about it.” What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.

Number two. I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them. And what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.

Charlie Rose: Let me just ask you this. If someone leaks all this information about NSA surveillance, as Mr. Snowden did…. Did it cause national security damage to the United States, and therefore, should he be prosecuted?

Barack Obama: I’m not going to comment on prosecution…. The case has been referred to the DOJ for criminal investigation… and possible extradition. I will leave it up to them to answer those questions.

Obama Also Cited a Prosecution in Defense of the Programs

This defense has been widely dismissed:

The one thing people should understand about all these programs though is they have disrupted plots, not just here in the United States but overseas as well. And, you know, you’ve got a guy like Najibullah Zazi, who was driving cross country trying to blow up a New York subway system. Now, we might have caught him some other way. We might have disrupted it because a New York cop saw he was suspicious. Maybe he turned out to be incompetent and the bomb didn’t go off. But at the margins we are increasing our chances of preventing a catastrophe like that through these programs. And then the question becomes, “Can we trust all the systems government enough as long as they’re checking each other that our privacy is not being abused, that we are able to prevent some of the tragedies that unfortunately there are people out there who are going to continue to try to — try to strike against us.

Obama’s two proposals, declassifying some of the information so that the public can better evaluate the surveillance programs and setting up a privacy and civil liberties advisory board, are steps in the right direction. We will need to see how much is really declassified and how effective this board turns out to be. While the system has not been as transparent as Obama suggests in this interview, the system has been more transparent under Obama than under George Bush.

I am not reassured by his response to the question on the FISA courts when Obama responded, “the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.” The number of requests would be expected to be lower when such massive amounts of data are being requested in a single request. Requesting all phone records, even if only metadata, is not indicative of a query with a good suspicion.

I do consider it a point in Obama’s favor that he is not commenting on prosecution of Snowden other than referring it to the Department of Justice. This is far preferable to people like John Boehner, Dick Cheney, and even Diane Feinstein calling him a traitor. I am not very worried about abuses occurring under Barack Obama (not that we can be certain they haven’t occurred). I am more concerned that we are building a infrastructure for a police state which could be misused by people like Dick Cheney or John Boehner

Let The Debate Commence: Calls For End To NSA Surveillance

Eighty-six civil liberties organizations and internet companies have called for an end to the NSA surveillance in the following letter:

Dear Members of Congress,

We write to express our concern about recent reports published in the Guardian and the Washington Post, and acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which reveal secret spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on phone records and Internet activity of people in the United States.

The Washington Post and the Guardian recently published reports based on information provided by a career intelligence officer showing how the NSA and the FBI are gaining broad access to data collected by nine of the leading U.S. Internet companies and sharing this information with foreign governments. As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.

Leaked reports also published by the Guardian and confirmed by the Administration reveal that the NSA is also abusing a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers. The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime. The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.

This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy.

We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs. We call on Congress to immediately and publicly:

1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;

2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;

3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.



Advocacy for Principled Action in Government

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties Union of California

American Library Association


Association of Research Libraries

Bill of Rights Defense Committee



Calyx Institute


Center for Democracy and Technology

Center for Digital Democracy

Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Media Justice

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Consumer Action

Consumer Watchdog


CREDO Mobile

Cyber Privacy Project

Daily Kos

Defending Dissent Foundation

Demand Progress

Detroit Digital Justice Coalition

Digital Fourth

Downsize DC


Electronic Frontier Foundation

Entertainment Consumers Association

Fight for the Future


Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom


Free Press

Free Software Foundation

Freedom of the Press Foundation


Friends of Privacy USA

Get FISA Right

Government Accountability Project

Greenpeace USA

Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA)

Internet Archive, LLC

Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

Law Life Culture

Liberty Coalition

May First/People Link

Media Alliance

Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia



National Coalition Against Censorship

New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC

Open Technology Institute

Participatory Politics Foundation

Patient Privacy Rights

People for the American Way

Personal Democracy Media


Privacy and Access Council of Canada

Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Ottawa, Canada)

Public Knowledge

Privacy Activism

Privacy Camp

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Privacy Times


Rights Working Group

Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association

Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic

Sunlight Foundation

Taxpayers Protection Alliance


The AIDS Policy Project, Philadelphia

TURN-The Utility Reform Network

Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center

William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI)

World Wide Web Foundation

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill to declassify FISA Court decisions:

Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), accompanied by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Begich (D-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced a bill that would put an end to the “secret law” governing controversial government surveillance programs.  This bill would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law,” Merkley said. “There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies.  We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”

“This bipartisan amendment establishes a cautious and reasonable process for declassification consistent with the rule of law,” Lee said. “It will help ensure that the government makes sensitive decisions related to surveillance by applying legal standards that are known to the public. Particularly where our civil liberties are at stake, we must demand no less of our government.”

meanwhile takes the opposite viewpoint, and calls Edward Snowden a traitor. Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee agrees, but then she also agreed with George Bush on invading Iraq and has been a strong supporter of the Patriot Act.

At least we are now getting the debate over security versus liberty which both Edward Snowden and Barack Obama want.

Republicans Spared Boehner Because God Told Them To

If you believe some people, God takes as great an interest in the Republican Party as he does in Notre Dame football. The Washington Post described how John Boehner managed to remain in power despite opposition in his own party:

Barely 36 hours after the caustic New Year’s Day vote, Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives. The cabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, said God told them to spare the speaker.

Boehner’s opponents might have remembered that God’s support for Boehner as Speaker does not necessarily preclude his support for additional people to move on to be Speaker. Before the last election, God wanted Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry to run for president.

I actually find this more disturbing than a politician telling the public that God wants them to run. Perhaps they might pick up some votes, but we hope that the candidate doesn’t really believe this.  In the case of the Republican revolt against Boehner, it appears we actually had members of Congress change how they voted for Speaker because either they believed God told them to spare Boehner or because they believed others when told that this is God’s will.

Republican Leaders Refuse To Make Appointments To Medicare IPAB

I have been concerned that the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board posed a potential risk to Medicare. Recommendations from the board to cut costs would be very difficult for Congress to override, requiring a 60 percent vote, giving excessive power to unelected officials. I would hate to see a Republican president and Congress pack the board with conservatives who would recommend changes to reduce costs which would be harmful to the program. In the long run this remains a concern, but short term we might not have to worry about Republicans on the Board. The president selects three member and the leaders of each party from each chamber of Congress also nominate three members.  In a letter to President Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said that they would not make any appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The IPPB can still function without the full fifteen members and any decisions in which the Republicans don’t take part might be preferable. As all fifteen members must be confirmed by the Senate, it will be interesting to see if the Republicans filibuster all appointments. They certainly have demonstrated a willingness to block Obama’s appointments just for the sake of blocking them.  If the IPPB fails to make recommendations, the Secretary of Health and Human Services could make the recommendations instead. The end result of Boehner and McConnell’s actions would then be to give more power to the Obama administration initially.

Quote of the Day

“John Boehner said today he wants to take away North Korea’s missiles, but he won’t because that’s a slippery slope from there to gun control.” –Bill Maher

Republicans Try To Pin Blame For Sequester On Obama

As the Republicans are unwilling to negotiate (having developed a philosophical opposition to this), sequestration is likely to occur. The spending cuts are going to be unpopular so the Republican response (as on so many issues) is to try to shift the blame for the problems they have created. John Boehner even has an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal which blames Obama. Boehner’s account, like Republican accounts of history typically are, is largely fictitious. He also blames Obama for not putting forth a detailed plan. In reality, Obama has offered a balanced approach containing both increases in revenue and spending cuts, cutting more than is actually desirable. In contrast, if Republicans such as Boehner believe the deficit can be reduced significantly by spending cuts alone, why do they refuse to be specific about what they will cut? The answer is that the Republicans know that most voters (even most Republican voters) would be highly unhappy about the cuts which would be necessary to balance the budget, and the Republicans want to be able to blame the Democrats.

There are many responses on line to Boehner’s false claim that Obama is to blame. This includes a direct response from the White House and a review of the history of the sequester from John Avlon. For those who desire a more detailed review of the facts, along with a description of the damage caused by the radicalization of the Republican Party form a centrist source, I’d suggest reading It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

Republicans have frequently succeeded in pinning the blame for their failures on others but many pundits do not believe they will succeed this time. Byron York responded to Boehner’s op-ed with a response entitled The GOP’s astonishingly bad message on sequester cuts. Here is a portion of his response:

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”

Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs?  Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen — and it seems entirely unlikely — the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing…

The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs.  The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them.  At the same time, Boehner is contributing to Republican confusion on the question of whether the cuts are in fact “deep” or whether they are relatively minor.

Could the GOP message on the sequester be any more self-defeating?  Boehner could argue that the sequester cuts are necessary as a first — and somewhat modest — step toward controlling the deficits that threaten the economy.  Instead, he describes them as a threat to national security and jobs that he nevertheless supports.  It’s not an argument that is likely to persuade millions of Americans.

Chris Cillizza has a simpler explanation as to why Obama will win politically on this one which can be further simplified to say that Obama is popular and Congress is not.