Democrats Beating Expectations In Congressional Races

The fundamentals are certainly against the Democrats this year. Democrats are expected to do poorly in the sixth year of an unpopular presidency, in a midterm election where young and minority voters are less likely to turn out. The conventional wisdom has the Republicans picking up seats in the House and many are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. Both could still happen, but so far the Republicans are not doing as well as expected.

Politico looked at House races today and found that it is likely that the Republicans will pick up only about half of their goal of eleven seats. It is probably overly optimistic to hope for the Democrats to actually retake control of the House, as some are predicting, but beating expectations this year might make this more feasible in 2016.

The Senate race remains more interesting as control is up for grabs. Sam Wang pointed out last week that, looking at the polls, the Democrats are outperforming expectations. Many web sites which include factors such as history of a state are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. As polling is limited in some states, it is certainly possible that their historical-based predictions might be right. Still, it is a positive for the Democrats to see them doing better than would be expected in the polls. Today electoral-vote.com, which is based purely on polls, has both Democrats and Republicans winning fifty seats. This would leave the Democrats in control, with Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote. Many states are very close, but each party has seats which can easily go either way.

As I’ve said many times before, the Democrats have a chance to hold on to the Senate due to benefits of incumbency. The vulnerable Democrats in red states have won before, although it might have only been in 2008, which was a much more favorable year for Democrats. PBS looked at this topic:

Why Democrats can still win: Republicans are only favored, though, to win between four and eight seats. And Democrats still have a chance of retaining the Senate. But how can that be with the fundamentals described above and a president with among his lowest approval ratings, and even lower in these 12 states on average? Because candidates matter. Incumbents traditionally have an advantage because voters in those states have already elected them statewide, giving them natural bases — and fundraising networks and turnout operations — to get 50 percent. What’s more, the candidates Democrats have in some of these red states are legacy candidates. In other words, not only are they personally well known, their families are too. The Landrieus, Pryors, Begiches, and Udalls are near political royalty in their respective states. But will their personal dynasties pay the dividends needed this fall and be enough to overcome the national environment? It could be for some but not for others. How many survive could be the difference between a Democratic and Republican Senate for the last two years of Obama’s presidency.

Despite many predictions for the Republicans to take control of the Senate, between the overall unpopularity of the GOP and the advantages of incumbency, I still think this is a toss up.

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Hillary Clinton And The Left

Hillary Clinton and the Left

The Hill has an article on Hillary Clinton which, as is the case with many of their articles, recites the conventional wisdom with little real insight or new information. Most of their five points are trivial, such as that anything Hillary says, or doesn’t say (as in the case of Ferguson) makes the news. The only point in the article which I think is worthy of any discussion is the second, their claim that “The left doesn’t really hate her after all.”

In recent weeks, critics and even some Democratic allies have worried that Clinton has failed to satisfy some on the left.

On Vox.com earlier this month, Ezra Klein wrote that “liberals walk away unnerved” after almost every interview Clinton had done around her recent book tour.

“She bumbled through a discussion of gay marriage with [NPR’s] Terry Gross. She dodged questions about the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had a lot of trouble discussing income inequality,” Klein asserted.

Other progressives have expressed a desire to see a candidate rooted within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), challenge Clinton.

But poll numbers provide succor to Clinton supporters.

A CNN poll conducted in late July showed that there was essentially no difference in the backing Clinton received from self-identified liberal Democrats over Democrats as a whole. Sixty-six percent of liberal Democrats supported her, as did 67 percent of all party supporters.

Clinton allies object to the notion that the former secretary of State is in trouble with the left.

“She is progressive and has support from the vast majority of progressives, which I would argue spans from the left to the middle, including some conservative Democrats along the way, too,” said one longtime aide.

Another ally who has worked for Clinton took it a step further, insisting that the he idea of widespread unease about her on the left was a “fictional plot that people want to believe is true.”

For all practical purposes this might as well be true, but it is an over-simplification. I certainly would not consider Clinton to be a liberal, but the right has moved to so such extremes that she could not be classified as a conservative today either. She may be a former Goldwater girl, but the Republicans have moved far to the right of Barry Goldwater. One significant factor is that while the Republican Party is pulled to the right by a strong conservative movement, the Democratic Party is a centrist party which often ignores liberal influence. Many liberals I discuss politics with  are very concerned about Clinton’s relatively conservative views, but we also make up a tiny percentage of the centrist-dominated voters for the Democrats.

Clinton also benefits from the widespread realization that there is not much choice other than to support her. The faction of the left which would vote for the Green Party or a Ralph Nader like challenge from the left is even smaller than those of us who feel Clinton is too conservative. Most of us anti-Clinton Democrats realize that whatever faults Clinton has, the Republicans will be as bad on foreign policy and far worse on domestic policy.

Clinton also probably benefits from factors such as a favorable view among Democrats of electing the first female president. Plus there is nostalgia for the period of peace and prosperity when Bill Clinton was president. However the times have changed and electing a Clinton will not mean returning to the Clinton economy.

I suspect that these factors also blind many Democratic voters to how conservative Clinton is on many issues, even if given warnings in recent interviews. She is likely to be seen as more socially liberal than she actually is do her position on “women’s issues” but being even Republican women are more liberal than the Republican establishment in this area. While Clinton has received criticism for appearing dishonest and calculating for naming the Bible as the book with the greatest influence on her thinking, that might not really be out of character considering her past participation with the religiously conservative Fellowship while in Congress.

I also suspect that many liberals fail to realize how conservative she is on foreign policy issues. Being Obama’s Secretary of State blurs the distinctions between Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration, but during her tenure as Secretary of State the common pattern was for Clinton to push for a more hawkish position which was countered by others in the administration.

Clinton’s hawkish views on Iraq are also obscured by the fact that many Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. However, while all who voted yes were terribly mistaken, there were still significant differences in views within that group. On the left was John Kerry, who voted yes but clearly laid out the conditions under which war would be justified, and then spent the next several months pushing Bush not to go to war. On the extreme right of the Democratic Party there was Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, being unique among Democrats in pushing to go to war based upon the fictitious arguments connecting Saddam to al Qaeda:

Indeed, in Clinton’s October 10, 2002, speech about her vote she said of Saddam: LINK

“He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.”

As Don van Natta and Jeff Gerth have written in their book about Clinton and the New York Times, Clinton’s linkage of Saddam and al Qaeda was unique among Democrats and “was unsupported by the conclusions of the N.I.E. and other secret intelligence reports that were available to senators before the vote.” LINK

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said it was a spurious claim: “I don’t think any agency pretended to make a case that there was a strong linkage between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. It wasn’t in the N.I.E.”

“Nevertheless,” van Natta and Gerth write, “on the sensitive issue of collaboration between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Senator Clinton found herself adopting the same argument that was being aggressively pushed by the administration. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials had repeated their claim frequently, and by early October 2002, two out of three Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, most of the other Senate Democrats, even those who voted for the war authorization, did not make the Qaeda connection in their remarks on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., “actively assailed the reports of Al Qaeda in Iraq, calling them ‘much exaggerated.’ Senator Dianne Feinstein of California described any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as ‘tenuous.’ The Democratic senator who came closest to echoing Clinton’s remarks about Hussein’s supposed assistance to Al Qaeda was Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Yet even Lieberman noted that ‘the relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community.’”

How could Clinton get this key point so wrong?

“My vote was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances that I had at the time,” she said in February.

But what facts and assurances?

If someone were to mount a serious primary challenge to Clinton I suspect that opposition to Clinton would increase on the left, based upon foreign policy, economics, and social issues, along with questions about her competence and judgment. The 2008 race showed that deep down many Democrats do have reservations about Clinton and would support a viable challenge. Unfortunately, at least so far, I do not see such a challenge emerging. Many liberals who are concerned about Clinton’s Wall Street connections would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Bernie Sanders is talking about possibly running, but a self-described socialist has zero chance of winning in this country. Joe Biden is traveling to New Hampshire, leading to speculation about him running. While he is far from the ideal candidate, and I never really thought of backing him, as I read about how Biden was a strong voice against Clinton’s hawkish views in the Obama administration, Biden increasingly looks like a far more favorable alternative if he can mount a viable campaign and no better options arise.

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Federal Court Throws Out Abortion Restrictions In Texas

Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:

A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.

The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.

Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:

One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.

On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”

Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.

The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.

Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”

The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:

If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.

Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

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Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

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Hundreds of Thousands More People To Obtain Health Care Coverage Under Obamacare With Pennsylvania Joining Expanded Medicaid Program

Pennsylvania has become the 27th state, and 9th with a Republican governor, to accept the expanded Medicaid program. This significantly increases the number of people to receive health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting with about 300,000 and increasing to over a half million over the next two years. Some Republican governors are vulnerable for failing to join the program, especially considering that the federal government will pay 100% of the expense for expanding health care coverage through 2016, and afterwards it will gradually fall to 90 percent. Corbett is in danger of losing his reelection bid in Pennsylvania but it does not appear that his late adoption of the program will be enough to save him.

Currently three additional states, Indiana, Missouri, and Utah, are considering expansion and twenty states are not  considering Medicaid expansion at this time.

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Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Update: Taylor drops out of race

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Quote of the Day: Conan on What Republicans Do For Fun

“Disneyworld has become a popular location for Republican fundraisers. A favorite activity is to ride through It’s a Small World and deport most of the dolls.” –Conan O’Brien

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Tea Party Has Republicans Afraid To Discuss Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

ocean temperature increase

Republicans must say idiotic things to get elected, often denying science, but that does not mean that all elected Republicans are idiots. Bloomberg has discussed the scientific consensus on climate change with many Republicans. While well ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree on how human action has caused global warming, rank and file Republican remains in denial, often seeing this as stemming from a left wing conspiracy. Republicans must play to this attitude even if they know better:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem…

In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system…

While environmental groups continue to search for Republican candidates to back, Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Chris Miller, who served as a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with Goldston’s assessment that the Tea Party has made it “impossible” for Republicans to speak on the issue.

“I have had no or very few private and honest interactions with Republicans on the topic,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re all too scared of speaking the truth.”

It is ironic that Republicans are now afraid to express support for cap and trade considering that this was largely a Republican idea in the past, similar how Republicans now oppose aspects of the Affordable Care Act which were initially advocated by Republicans such as the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

In order to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, conservatives frequently spread false claims and distort statements from scientists. For example, Rebecca Leber recently described how conservatives misquoted climate scientists to promote their claims that global warming is on hiatus:

Norman Loeb, an atmospheric scientist with NASA, gave a crash course in climate change science for the public at Virginia Air and Space Center on Tuesday. He talked about all the evidence that the planet is warminglike the fact that temperatures right now are the hottest they’ve been since record-keeping began in 1850. He also noted that the rise in surface temperatures has slowed considerably since 2000. This doesn’t contradict the theory of global warming, he explained. Land temperature regularly varies, and much of the warming in the last decade is happening unseen in the ocean.

The same day, the frequently conservative-leaning Washington Times ran a short story on the talk. It said that a prominent NASA scientist had admitted global warming is on “hiatus.” As the writer explained, “The nation’s space agency [has] noticed an inconvenient cooling on the planet lately.”

It was pretty much the opposite of what Loeb was trying to say. But it’s not an isolated incident. Conservatives love to cite the relative stability of global surface temperatures for the last 15 years as proof that climate change is a hoax. And they frequently twist the words of scientists to do it. I read or hear versions of this argument all the timefrom outlets like Forbes, National Review, and Fox News. Sometimes the conservatives even talk about “global cooling,” joking that maybe we should be more worried about that, instead. This sort of commentary probably helps explain why still find that just 67 percent of Americans accept that humans cause climate change, even though there is nearly unanimous scientific consensus.

Needless to say, the conservatives have it all wrong. And the science really isn’t that hard to understand…

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Biggest Lies About Obamacare Debunked Once Again

Michael Tomasky described how, despite all the predictions and lies from opponents, the Affordable Care Act is working and the dire predictions are all failing to come true. He suggested why all the predictions of doom have failed to come true:

…maybe it’s not just dumb luck that the law seems to be working, especially in the states that took the Medicaid money and set up well-run exchanges. Maybe it’s working because bureaucrats (!) anticipated all the potential problems and planned for them in the writing of the law. Nancy-Ann DeParle, one of the administration’s chief architects of Obamacare, put it this way: “When President Obama took office, there were 42 million uninsured Americans, premiums that were unaffordable for families and businesses, a delivery system with the wrong incentives, and unsustainable cost growth. The Affordable Care Act was the product of nearly two decades of bipartisan analysis and discussions among health policy experts and economists to address these problems, and most–indeed, virtually all–of the policies in the law had widespread agreement from these experts.” In other words, writing this law wasn’t guesswork.

He then listed what he considered to be the five biggest lies about Obamacare and why they are not true:

1. Healthy People Won’t Sign Up

Or call this “Death Spiral Part I.” The idea here, spread lustily by many conservatives since 2010 but especially during last fall’s disastrous roll out, was that healthy people simply wouldn’t buy insurance. Senator Orrin Hatch said last November that “at this pace, the Obama administration will never be able to meet their enrollment goals.” Speaker John Boehner at the time groused that “the idea that the federal government should come in and create a one size fits all for the entire country never was going to work.”

Their hope was that only really sick people would sign up, which would lead rates to spike—the much-feared death spiral (more on that later). But lo and behold it turned out that millions of healthy people did want health insurance. As noted above, the precise numbers are hard to come by. But Gallup’s estimate is that the country has roughly 10 million newly insured citizens under Obamacare. And insurance companies report that around 80 to 85 percent of them are paying their premiums (this was another canard spread on the right, that people would sign up but never pay).

In sum, the law’s advocates were right, and its critics wrong, that health insurance was something normal Americans did in fact want. “There never was any realistic prospect of a death spiral,” says Jon Gruber of MIT, one of the country’s top health-care economists.

2. You Won’t Be Able to Choose/Keep Your Doctor/Plan

It’s true that this happened in a limited number of cases—maybe six or seven million people who bought policies on the individual market got cancellation letters from insurers telling them that their plans didn’t meet the minimum requirements under the new law, as NBC News explosively reported last fall.

It harmed the administration’s credibility, and rightly so. But it didn’t represent much of a change from the past — the “churn-rate” in the individual market has always been high. More importantly, no one seems to have followed up with this population to try to figure out what percentage did, in fact, lose coverage and/or have to pay considerably more for a new plan, so we don’t actually know how many of those six or seven million walked away satisfied or dissatisfied.

But more broadly, in a country where some 260 million people have health insurance, no one has adduced any proof that the ACA has resulted in anything remotely like the cataclysm opponents predicted. In fact, last fall, Factcheck.org rated such claims as outright falsehoods. And Gruber noted to me that if some people are “losing” their doctors, it’s often by their own choice, because now that they have so many different coverage options, many are choosing less expensive or so-called “limited network” plans. “No one is making people buy these plans,” Gruber says. “They’re cheaper alternatives. This is capitalism at its finest. For the right to criticize that is just ludicrous.”

3. Obamacare Will Explode the Federal Deficit

You heard this one a jillion times back when the law was being debated. Still today, Republicans and conservatives are deft at cherry-picking numbers out of official reports that can convey the misleading impression that fiscal watchdogs think the law will be a disaster.

The truth is that the Congressional Budget Office said in 2010 and reaffirmed this summer that the Affordable Care Act’s budget impact would be positive. The 2010 estimate was that the ACA would cut deficits by $124 billion over its first decade. And in June, CBO head Douglas Elmendorf reported that his experts “have no reason to think that their initial assessment that the ACA would reduce budget deficits was incorrect.”

Now, he throws in a number of caveats, as any bureaucrat should, having to do with the fact that many provisions of the act will kick in later. But Elmendorf sees no hard evidence to suggest that initial estimates were wrong. In fact, says Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The CBO has estimated that the law will especially reduce the deficit in its second decade, and there’s every reason to believe that those estimates are on course.”

4. Okay, Then, It Will Bust States’ Budgets

Texas’ Rick Perry, Florida’s Rick Scott, and numerous other Republican governors have said that Obamacare will bust their budgets. They’re basing that on the fact that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion through 2016, but a little less than that thereafter (although never less than 90 percent). So states are going to have to start shelling out (that is, states that take the money in the first place, which Texas and Florida did not).

That’s true as far as it goes. But here’s the part Perry and Scott leave out. All states have, of course, an existing relationship with the Medicaid program in which states pay for some portion of the program’s implementation. And a number of studies estimate that in that pool of funds, states will save significant amounts of money that will offset most of the new expenses incurred under Obamacare. For example, Massachusetts found that after implementation of Romneycare, its costs for “uncompensated care”—charity work, basically—decreased considerably. And one study released in June found that uncompensated care costs are already dropping dramatically under the ACA—but only in the states that have taken the Medicaid money.

Thus, Perry, Scott, et alia are perhaps agents of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Yes, the ACA might bust the budgets of their states—the states trying to kill off Obamacare. But in the states trying to make it work, the budgetary impact, say most nonpartisan experts, will be a little bit negative, but pretty small.

5. Premium Rates Will Shoot Through the Roof

This is the big enchilada, and the culmination of the alleged death spiral. The charge here is that the lack of healthy enrollees will force insurers to jack rates up to the heavens, because they’ll have all these sick and dying people on their hands. Premium hikes for this year were all over the map, because they were based on guesswork by the insurance companies about who was enrolled. But now, the companies have hard data. So just watch, critics say, as the rates go boom.

To be sure, you can go to your Google machine and enter “insurance premium increases 2015” and find a lot of scary headlines from earlier this year. But you can ignore them all, because no one really knows yet.

Here’s how it works. By roughly this past Memorial Day, insurance companies submitted their 2015 rate requests to the states. These could range from tiny to huge—but they’re just requests. State insurance commissioners are now reviewing the requests. Final, approved rates will be made public in November (before November 15, when Obamacare’s second enrollment period begins). By the way, the ACA, for the first time ever, rationalized this “rate season,” so that everything happens in almost every state at the same time and in more or less the same way. Before, there was no national logic to the process at all.

Again, to echo back to what DeParle said: The people writing the law knew all this was coming, and understood very well that rate shock would be a risk. As a result there are numerous provisions in the law designed to guard against it. The most notable one carries an obvious name: “rate review.” Under rate review, any request for an increase of 10 percent or more has to be approved by a board, to which the insurer has to offer copious documentation proving that such a hike is necessary. Prior to the ACA, there was no such review.

Before we go any further, let’s step back. What’s a typical, pre-ACA rate increase? Good question. In 2008 it was 9.9 percent; 2009, 10.8 percent; 2010, 11.7 percent. Within those broad averages, numbers were all over the map: In 2010, rates went up in Kentucky by just 5.5 percent, but in Nebraska by 21.8 percent.

The numbers released in November will similarly be all over the map. There are just too many variables to say otherwise—how much competition there is among insurers in any given state (in general, it’s increased); what the risk pool looks like in a state (how old, how sick); and other factors. So undoubtedly, there will be some isolated hair-raising increases.

We don’t know, but we do have some early indications and studies, and they are pretty hopeful. The Health Research Institute at PricewaterhouseCoopers looked at rate requests from insurers that have been filed across 29 states and the District of Columbia and found that the average increase is 8.2 percent, which is impressively low and definitely not “sticker shock.” And remember, these are mostly just requests (in Rhode Island and Oregon, the rates are final), which aggressive state insurance commissioners might seek to make still lower.  “So far, the filings suggest modest increases for 2015, well below the double digit hikes many feared,” says Ceci Connolly, the managing director of the institute.

All the above is about the individual market—people buying insurance on their own, either through state exchanges or the federal marketplace. For a host of reasons, that’s the best barometer by which to measure the law’s success. But there are other markets, too, notably the small-business market, where employers with fewer than 50 employees buy for their workers. There has been some grumbling among conservatives that this “small-group” market will take an especially hard hit, but that seems not to be the case either.

Again, there will be great variance in the small-group market, according to Jon Kingsdale, of the Wakely Consulting Group in Boston. He says the biggest impact will be that, because of some technical changes made by the law, employers with older employees and larger families will likely see rates increase, while employers with younger workers and smaller families may see rates decrease.  But overall, says Kingsdale, “I do not believe there will be a significant jump in rate in the small-group market, because the underlying body of people being insured is not so different from the prior year.”

One last point on rates: This is another area where Republican saboteurs of the law can, if they choose to, make it not work. That is, Republican state insurance commissioners can approve big premium hikes just to make the law look bad. Says Sally McCarty, the former Indiana state insurance commissioner, now at the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms: “States that are in earnest about implementing the law will likely see lower increases, and states not so concerned about seeing the law succeed will see higher increases.”

 

 

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Left and Right Join Together To Oppose Militarization Of Police

Police Missouri

The militarization of the police force seen with the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri has led to another case of portions of the left and right joining together. This includes a push for legislation in Congress with the backing of both the American Civil Liberties Union and Gun Owners of America.:

Groups on the left and right are uniting behind calls to end what they say is the rise of a “militarized” police force in the United States.

They say the controversial police tactics seen this week in Ferguson, Mo., are not isolated to the St. Louis County Police Department and warn the rise of heavily armed law enforcement agencies has become an imminent threat to civil liberties.

“What we’re seeing today in Ferguson is a reflection of the excessive militarization of police that has been happening in towns across America for decades,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU is aligned with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and groups on the right who are calling for an end to a controversial Defense Department program that supplies local police departments with surplus military equipment, such as armored tanks, machine guns and tear gas.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, more than $4 billion in discounted military equipment has been sold to local police departments since the 1990s.

“Why are those guns available to the police?” asked Erich Pratt, spokesman for the conservative Gun Owners of America. “We don’t technically have the military operating within our borders, but they’re being given the gear to basically operate in that capacity.”

Gun Owners of America and the ACLU are both backing a forthcoming bill from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would curtail the sale of DOD weapons to local police departments.

More libertarian factions of the Republican Party are speaking out on this issue:

The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., has produced a rare and surprisingly unified response across the ideological spectrum, with Republicans and Democrats joining to decry the tactics of the city’s police force in the face of escalating protests.

Most notably, the reactions reflect a shift away from the usual support and sympathy conservatives typically show for law enforcement in such situations. Although possibly unique to the circumstances of the events in Missouri this week, the changing reaction on the right is clear evidence of a rising and more vocal libertarian wing within the Republican Party.

No better sign of that came Thursday than in an article by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) published on Time’s Web site.

“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off,” he wrote. “But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

In his piece, Paul criticized what he called the growing militarization of local police forces. “There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace,” he wrote, “but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.”

This comes as a change from what we generally expect from Republicans:

Since Richard M. Nixon made cracking down on crime a central issue of his 1968 presidential campaign, Republicans have held themselves up as the alternative to a Democratic Party they have derided as soft on issues of law and order. But an appetite for changes in the criminal justice system has been building among Republicans, many of whom believe the tough-justice approach has run its course.

Mr. Paul, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin are among those who say that the federal and state governments need to rethink the way convicts are sentenced and imprisoned, arguing that the current system is inhumane and too costly.

Mr. Paul’s remarks on Thursday were similar to those of other leading conservatives who have weighed in on the events in Ferguson.

“Reporters should never be detained — a free press is too important — simply for doing their jobs,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, reacting to news that journalists from The Washington Post and The Huffington Post had been held by the police. “Civil liberties must be protected, but violence is not the answer.”

Erick Erickson, a conservative writer, took to Twitter to question why the police needed to display so much firepower. “It is pretty damn insane that people who spend all day writing speeding tickets,” he wrote, “hop in tanks with AR-15s at night.”

But not all conservatives are as concerned about the civil liberties aspects:

Other conservatives have focused on instances in which chaos has broken out in the streets. Images and headlines on The Drudge Report and Breitbart.com have singled out acts of violence among demonstrators and shown looters breaking store windows…

In much of the conservative news media, the protesters in Ferguson are being portrayed as “outside agitators,” in the words of Sean Hannity, the Fox News host.

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