Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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Republican Extremism And The Weakness Of Republican Leadership

The victory of David Brat over Eric Cantor was momentarily a cause for celebration, but the long term results might not be so favorable. Norm Ornstein warns that this will lead to further radicalization of the Republican Party:

First, it is clear that this moves the Republican Party even further to the right, in approach, attitude and rhetoric. Even if the overwhelming majority of incumbents, including establishment ones, have won renomination, even if broader Republican public opinion is more establishment conservative than Tea Party radical, all it takes is an example or two of the opposite to get all politicians jumping at their shadows and muttering to themselves, “That could happen to me.”

…American political parties always face a tension between their establishment and ideological wings. On the Republican side, going back more than a hundred years to the Teddy Roosevelt era, that was a struggle between moderate progressives and conservatives.

Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.

In our 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Tom Mann and I described the Republican Party as an “insurgent outlier.” That is even more true today. The energy and driving force in the party, in its House membership, media dominance, caucus and primary electorates and financial backers, is not its conservative wing but its radical side.

Ornstein is probably right that this will pull the Republicans even further to the right, but how far right can they go before even safe Republican districts are at risk? Will Republicans in these districts support any lunatic with an R after his name, or is there a limit? At the moment it appears that Brat should win, but the narrative would certainly change if the victory by such an extremists were to cause the Republicans to lose a safe Republican district.

Yesterday I noted Brat’s views on slashing spending on Medicare, Social Security, and education.  His plan to replace Obmamacare is just as absurd: “We need to also scrap employer-based health insurance, and give those incentives to individuals to carry their own portable health insurance. If we did that, the issue of pre-existing conditions largely goes away.” This makes absolutely no sense as the individual market has been dominated by insurance plans which have been the most abusive at denying coverage to the sick.

Brat’s campaign manager, Zachery Werrell, scrubbed his Facebook page after the victory but Yahoo News took screen shots while the page was still available:

From comparing George Zimmerman’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin to abortion to calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration and encouraging the adoption of the silver monetary standard, Zachary Werrell – one of just two paid staffers for the upstart campaign of Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat – sought in 2012 and 2013 to build a public profile as a socially conservative libertarian voice…

“Can someone who was outraged that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of ‘SOMETHING ANYTHING’ and who is simultaneously pro-choice explain the logical dissonance there? Ie. Why its not ok to kill someone who is banging your head into concrete but its ok to kill someone for simply existing who, through your conscious actions, you brought into the world?” Werrell had written in an Oct. 24, 2013, posting.

The month before, the campaign manager for the likely next congressman for Virginia’s 7th District – since no Democrat has represented that district since 1971 – questioned whether existing state lines were defensible. “Should sections of States be allowed to secede from a State if they feel they are un/underrepresented in the State Government?” Werrell asked. “I say yes. I derive that opinion from our first foundational document – the Declaration of Independence. What say you?”

On Oct. 25, 2013, he called for an end to the regulation of prescription drugs, citing a story from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. “Abolish the FDA!” he wrote.

On Oct. 29 of that year, it was a piece by Fred Reed from Lew Rockwell’s website on the wussification of boys that set him off. “There is a war on boys!” Werrell wrote. “Rough housing, playing soldier, etc, are all punished or medicated away. And we wonder why there is gender inequality in the classroom and in college/attendance/graduation rates.”

The Reed piece called for the end of women teachers in coed or boys’ schools. “It is time to get women out of the schooling of boys,” wrote Fred Reed. “It is way past time. Women in our feminized classrooms are consigning generations of our sons to years of misery and diminished futures.” The piece further argued that “women should not be allowed within fifty feet of a school where boys are taught” and that “Women are totalitarian. Men are happy to let boys be boys and girls be girls. Women want all children to be girls.”

Brat is far more likely than Cantor to make a major gaffe. It will be interesting to see his take on the views of his campaign manager.

If we can fantasize about a Democratic upset in this Congressional district, we might also fantasize about another upset in the general election. Peter Beinart looked at the weakness of the Republican leadership:

Cantor’s boss, John Boehner is, according to Nancy Pelosi, “the weakest speaker in history.” Less than 50 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Over the last two years, he has repeatedly retreated in the face of opposition from rank-and-file conservatives who treat him with barely disguised disdain. Until the defeat of Cantor, his most likely heir apparent, it was widely assumed that he would soon either step—or be pushed—aside soon.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell only avoided Cantor’s fate by attaching himself to his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul, whose upstart Senate candidacy McConnell had opposed. Like Boehner, McConnell is treated with striking disrespect in his own caucus.

David Frum wonders whether the Republican leadership will ever fight back:

At some point, Republican leaders must recognize that they have a fight on their hands whether they like it or not. If they refuse to join that fight, they will be devoured anyway. If they surrender, they condemn the whole conservative project in America to the destructive leadership of fanatics (and the cynics who make their living by duping fanatics).

I never thought there was much of a chance of Grimes to beat Mitch McConnell despite being close in the polls but today Political Wire reported that “A new Magellan Strategies (R) poll in Kentucky finds Allison Lundergran Grimes (D) leading Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) by three points in the U.S. Senate race, 49% to 46%.” Perhaps a major reason that Cantor was defeated is general bipartisan disgust with the Republican leadership, and if so this just might extend to knocking out McConnell.

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A Fact Checker Responds To Mitch McConnell’s Dishonesty On Obamacare

In response to the issue discussed yesterday where Mitch McConnell simultaneously opposed the Affordable Care Act and supported Kynect, the computer exchange set up in Kentucky as part of the Affordable Care Act, Glenn Kessler exchanged email with Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager. Benton made some absurd statements such as that,  “When Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky can choose to continue Kynect or alter it in a way that makes the best sense for Kentuckians.” As discussed yesterday, Kynect cannot exist without Obamacare.

Benton also tried to separate the benefits of the expanded Medicaid program from the Affordable Care Act:

Medicaid existed before Obamacare and will continue to exist after repeal. Kynect is not Medicaid. It is a state administered exchange that provides a marketplace for private insurance plans.  While some 300,000 Kentuckians discovered they were eligible for Medicaid through Kynect, they do not purchase private insurance through the exchange; they are enrolled in the state-administered program.

The expansion of Medicaid is another aspect of the Affordable Care Act, with the federal government paying the bulk of the cost of this expansion. If Obamacare is repealed, there would not be either Kynect or the expanded Medicaid program which many in Kentucky have benefited from.

Benton also claimed that people in Kentucky “would move back to HSA’s and other higher deductible plans they had pre-Obamacare to receive a higher quality of care.” However there were no previous plans for most of these people as 75 percent of the newly insured in both Medicaid and the exchange were previously uninsured. High deductible plans and HSA’s work well for upper income individuals, but they are not a good solution for those with lower incomes who cannot afford to pay high deductibles or place money in HSA’s.

Kessler concluded:

McConnell appears to have accepted the Medicaid expansion that has been so embraced by his state’s residents, while drawing a distinction with the Obamacare health plans sold on the statewide exchange. Given that three out of four of the newly insured in Kentucky ended up on Medicaid, that probably makes political sense—and also is newsworthy.

But the history of individual state exchanges shows it is not credible for McConnell to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the broad health-care system constructed by the Affordable Care Act, such as an individual mandate and subsidies to buy insurance. Given the popularity of the state exchange, McConnell appears to want to offer out hope it would continue even in the unlikely case the law was actually repealed. That’s likely not a tenable position, and we will pay close attention to McConnell’s phrasing on this issue in the future. The senator is clearly trying to straddle a political fence; when doing so, it’s easy to lose your balance.

I do find it strange that Kessler decided to review the exchange with the above conclusion “rather than a traditional fact check.” These statements from McConnell and his campaign manager are clearly dishonest. Kessler has declared statements which were far more ambiguous to be dishonest in the past. I do applaud his decision to concentrate on reviewing the facts as opposed to jumping to awarding Pinocchios, but hope that this new policy applies to both parties.

In related news, a new Wenzel Strategies poll (a Republican pollster with a reputation for a strong pro-Republican “house effect”) has Mitch McConnell leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by 47 percent to 44 percent. The closeness of the race is encouraging but it is hard to see Kentucky voting in a Democratic senator.

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Mitch McConnell Backs Kentucky State Exchange While Calling For Obamacare Repeal

McConnell

Now that people are experiencing the advantages of the Affordable Care Act it is becoming harder for Republicans to call for repeal. While people might tell pollsters they dislike Obamacare, they also oppose the consequences of repeal. In Kentucky, people might say they dislike Obamacare, but they certainly do like Kynect, their highly successful insurance exchange. This is resulting in problems for Mitch McConnell who has been calling for the repeal of Obamacare and is now up for reelection.

McConnell has been trying to express support for Kynect while continuing to oppose Obamacare. It is necessary for one to be either dishonest or quite ignorant about the Affordable Care Act to make claims such as the ones McConnell is making:

“If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told WFPL.

“But Kentuckians shouldn’t have been forced to lose the plans they had and liked, shouldn’t have seen their premiums skyrocket, shouldn’t have had their Medicare cut, and shouldn’t have had their taxes raised because of President Obama and his friends in Washington forced it down their throats.”​

McConnell is being dishonest with his claims that premiums are skyrocking and Medicare is being cut. One reason people in Kentucky support Kynect is that it is allowing them to obtain health insurance at a lower cost. Republicans are resorting to scare tactics with claims of Medicare cuts.

The Kentucky Herald-Leader had this editorial criticizing McConnell for attempting this deception:

Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible.

Repeal the federal law, which McConnell calls “Obamacare,” and the state exchange would collapse.

Kynect could not survive without the ACA’s insurance reforms, including no longer allowing insurance companies to cancel policies when people get sick or deny them coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as well as the provision ending lifetime limits on benefit payments. (Kentucky tried to enact such reforms in the 1990s and found out we were too small a market to do it alone.)

Kentucky’s exchange also could not survive without the federal funding and tax credits that are helping 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians gain access to regular preventive medicine, including colonoscopies, mammograms and birth control without co-pays.

As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.

Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services.

Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare — even if Kentuckians are confused about which is which.

The Louisville Eccentric Observer also responded to McConnell:

Just for the record, McConnell saying that Kynect can survive the repeal of Obamacare is like saying that the Oklahoma City Thunder can trade Kevin Durant, but keep his jump shot.

The Kynect website and call center was paid for with federal money from the ACA, specifically $252 million in federal grants. Without the ACA, Kentucky foots the bill for a website that is worthless.

Over 300,000 Kentuckians gained Medicaid coverage because the ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and Kentucky did not opt out, and that coverage is 100 percent paid for by federal money under the ACA, until it becomes 90 percent after a few years. Without the ACA they are no longer eligible, unless Kentucky changes their state law and pays through nose to cover these new people (that is not happening).

Most of the 82,795 Kentuckians who bought private insurance through Kynect were able to do so with the help of federal subsidies only made possible by the ACA. Without the ACA, those plans that have strong consumer protections on preexisting conditions, not being dropped from coverage for getting sick, and spending caps are no longer mandatory, so they’re gone. Gone as well is the requirement that children must be covered under their parents plans through the age of 25. Without the ACA many of these people won’t find someone to insure them, and many are forced to go back to junk plans that are worthless when you have a medical emergency or plans that are unaffordable without federal ACA subsidies.

Without the ACA, Kynect is nothing but a worthless website that would soon go dark, and roughly 400,000 Kentuckians will lose their coverage and the consumer protections it provides, and will therefore be thrown back into the old healthcare system that had failed them beforehand.

What McConnell is hoping to do with this strategy is deceive Kentucky voters who like what Kynect is doing but have a negative perception of the Affordable Care Act, and hope that the media here will do lazy “He said, She said” reporting that does not explicitly point out that what McConnell is saying is flatly false. He might turn out to be successful on that front, but this might also be a good opportunity for Alison Lundergan Grimes to get off of the sidelines and actually talk about health care with the media and voters so they know exactly what McConnell is trying to do, and have an honest conversation about what she would do. Or, she can continue staying out of this fight, and just hope for the best. Your call, Alison.

This should make it easier for McConnell’s opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to defend Obamacare. Instead it looks like she is trying to play it safe. Greg Sargent discussed how Grimes is talking about the Affordable Care Act:

Now the Grimes campaign is finally hitting McConnell over his gyrations on the issue, accusing him of “voting to destroy Kynect.” From Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst:

Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians.

This seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to “fix” the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” remains under water.

Lake suggests this to Grimes:  “She could say, `In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.”

The idea would be to focus people on something they like — the state exchange — separating it from the hated Obummercare, localizing the contrast between the two candidates’ positions. Her statement today does not mention Obamacare, signaling again that Kynect is far more popular in the state, and that it’s now somewhat safe to make an issue at least out of the state exchange. Indeed, elsewhere Grimes has said: “I am not and will not be for taking away insurance that 400,000 Kentuckians just recently got access to.”

Still, given the tentativeness of Grimes’ statement, clearly she is still not prepared to cross over into seriously making an issue out of that contrast, and it just won’t be a central point she makes. As noted here before, I understand all the reasons for Grimes’ reluctance.

While it is understandable that Democrats would show some reluctance to being associated with Obamacare, failure to speak out probably guarantees their defeat. Democrats need to go on the offensive and take credit for the benefits of the law their party passed. Trying to distance themselves will not work. Everyone knows that this is a policy passed by the Democrats. Acting scared only reinforces the negative views and makes Democrats look weak. As long as Democrats remain afraid to forcibly speak out about the benefits of Obamacare and explain its benefits, voters will fall for the type of deception Mitch McConnell is practicing. Voters do want the benefits of Obamacare, and the popularity of Kynect gives Grimes the perfect opportunity to speak out in its defense.

Update: Glenn Kessler reviewed the facts regarding the above issue.

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The 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner–Full Video And Best Lines

Above is the video of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Full transcript is here and excerpts follow:

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Slide of “Frozen”)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  I think they’re still searching for their table.

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.

Just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years. Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner. As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.

Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.a, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Captain America, Chris Christie, Community, Donald Trump, Facebook, Fox, George Bush, Health Care Reform, Hillary Clinton, House of Cards, Jeb Bush,

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  What is it going to take?

Joel McHale, star of Community and The Soup, did an excellent job. #sixtimesashostandamovie. He has followed a long line of top comedians who have roasted politicians and the media and previous events. The all time best speakers was Stephen Colbert who roasted George Bush in 2006. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Following are some of Joel McHale’s best jokes, with video above and full transcript here.

Good evening, Mr. President — or as Paul Ryan refers to you, yet another inner-city minority relying on the federal government to feed and house your family.

I’m a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all- time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. Please explain that to Jessica Simpson. You’re right. That was low.

All right, how about the president’s performance tonight, everyone?  It is — it’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. And my favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic. That was hilarious, hilarious. Still going.

All right, look, I know it’s been a long night, but I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.

It’s a genuine thrill to be here in Washington, D.C., the city that started the whole crack-smoking-mayor craze.

The vice president isn’t here tonight, not for security reasons. He just thought this event was being held at the Dulles Airport Applebee’s. Yes, right now Joe is elbow-deep in jalapeno poppers and talking to a construction cone he thinks is John Boehner. Also true.

Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience. She’s a natural leader. And, as our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less. That’s the savings this country could use.

Hillary’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to “Bad Grandpa.” It also raises the question, when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?

Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every-10- years surprise party for Iraq? Yes.

As it stands right now, the Republican presidential nominee will either be Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or a bag of flour with Ronald Reagan’s face drawn on it.  A bag of flour. All right.

People are asking, will Donald Trump run again? And the answer is, does that thing on his head crap in the woods?  I actually don’t know. I don’t know.I don’t know if that thing on his head has a digestive system.

Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.  Now, I get that. I’m sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it, just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now.

I’m appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I’m not responsible for it. Justice has been served. He’s going to kill me.

Mr. President, you’re no stranger to criticism. Ted Nugent called you a subhuman mongrel. And it’s comments like that which really make me question whether we can take the guy who wrote “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” seriously anymore.

Your approval rating has slipped. And even worse, you only got two stars on Yelp.

Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to get the president out of office. So, Mitch, congrats on being just two years away from realizing your goal. You did it — kind of.

But thanks to “Obamacare,” or, as the president refers to it, “Mecare,” millions of newly insured young Americans can visit a doctor’s office and see what a print magazine actually looks like. That’s awesome.

Now over 8 million people have signed up for “Obamacare,” which sounds impressive until you realize Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers. So that’s pretty good.

Sir, I do think you’re making a big mistake with Putin. You have to show a guy like that that you’re just as crazy as he is. He invades Crimea. You invade Cancun.  Russia takes back the Ukraine. America takes back Texas. Something to think about.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here. Finally I can put a face to the mysterious voice clearing its throat on the other end of the phone.  It was weird.

And CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months — their dignity.  Totally. That was just that table. At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a sad strip mall. You don’t know how it’s stayed in business this long. You don’t know anyone that shops there. And they just fired Piers Morgan.

Fox News is the highest-rated network in cable news.  Yeah. I can’t believe your table  — that far.  And it’s all thanks to their key demographic, the corpses of old people who tuned in to Fox News and haven’t yet been discovered.

Former “Inside Edition” host Bill O’Reilly is not here. He did host that. Bill’s got another book coming out soon, so he’s making his ghost writers work around the clock. Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity are the Mount Rushmore of keeping old people angry.

This event brings together both Washington and Hollywood. The relationship between Washington and Hollywood has been a long and fruitful one. You give us tax credits for film and television production, and in return, we bring much-needed jobs to hard-working American cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Vancouver again.

Hollywood helps America by projecting a heroic image to the rest of the world. We just released another movie about Captain America, or, as he’s known in China, Captain Who Owes Us $1.1 Trillion.

There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls. Look around. The cast of “Veep” is here. That’s a series about what would happen if a Seinfeld star actually landed on another good show. I like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” I swear.

I’m not going to spoil the shocking twist on “House of Cards,” but just know that it was so surprising that Nancy Pelosi’s face almost changed expression. Did you like that one, Nancy? I can’t tell.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, is here. So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis. Not now! Are you nuts?

And here’s why America is the best country in the world. A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy — and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I’m going to the Vanity Fair after-party. That’s right. This is America, where everyone can be a Pussy Riot.

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Obama Delivers “The Best Medicine” To Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann

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Barry Blitt said this about the above cover for The New Yorker: “This whole enterprise was just an elaborate excuse. I enjoyed drawing Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann as petulant children—and I especially wanted to draw an open-mouthed Mitch McConnell being spoon-fed his meds.”

Obama is certainly delivering the “medicine” as news comes in showing that enrollment in the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections of seven million, and the number of uninsured is falling to new lows. While good for the United States, this is certainly bitter medicine for Republicans. There is additional bitter medicine for Mitch McConnell as the number signing up in Kentucky exceeded 360,000 with 75 percent previously uninsured.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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First Insurance Data Shows Insurance Company Profiting From Obamacare

Conservatives opposed to the Affordable Care Act have over-emphasized the initial start-up problems with the exchanges, making false projections that Obamacare will fail. That appears highly unlikely. We are seeing many people obtain health coverage who have not been able to obtain coverage in the past, and the number is expected to grow as we get closer to the sign-up deadlines. Insurance companies can no longer drop people due to developing medical problems. Insurance plans now cover preventative studies which they did not cover before, and plans which took premiums without providing real medical coverage are being eliminated. All this can be counted as successes for Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act is also likely to result in larger profits for insurance companies due to the increase in business. So far we have limited data on plans sold, but today information released by WellPoint demonstrates that insurance companies are likely to see the predicted increase in profits:

The biggest player in the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance marketplaces delivered encouraging news to Obamacare supporters Wednesday.

After weeks of uncertainty about how many people have been applying for coverage that started Jan. 1, their age spread and whether or not they’re paying premiums, WellPoint disclosed higher-than-expected early membership growth and said it expects to make money on the new enrollees. It’s the most substantial information so far on how a key part of the health law is working out.

“We do feel good about what we’ve seen thus far on the exchanges,” WellPoint CEO Joseph Swedish told stock analysts on a conference call to report 2013 financial results. “While it is early, we are encouraged by the level of applications we’ve received” as well as by the health-risk profiles of new members, he said.

WellPoint bosses also disclosed:

  • As of last week about 500,000 people had applied for individual policies, mostly through its Anthem Blue Cross plans. The company expects another surge in late March, when enrollment closes for most people.
  • Most are new members, not customers rolling over previous WellPoint insurance. What WellPoint doesn’t know is if they were previously uninsured or had coverage somewhere else.
  • More than four-fifths applied through the subsidized, often-troubled online portals run by states or the federal government. The others enrolled directly with the company.
  • Thanks to computer troubles, WellPoint is still processing applications this week for coverage effective Jan. 1.
  • Most applicants had paid the first month’s premium, “but we’re not at what I’ll call a vast majority yet,” said chief financial officer Wayne DeVeydt.
  • New members are older on average than the general population but not more so than expected. WellPoint priced its plans anticipating an older and presumably sicker mix, executives said.

In related news:

Mitch McConnell might be vulnerable in Kentucky over his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel explained how the Republican proposal for health care provides less benefits, increase the chances of people being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, will lead to higher taxes for those receiving insurance through employers, and will lead to higher costs for buying their own coverage. On the other hand, from the Republican perspective, it isn’t Obamacare (although it copies many features from it).

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The Affordable Care Act, And Possibly Obama Poll Numbers, Off To A New Start In December

Barack Obama has had a bad month but told Barbara Walters that there is nowhere to go but up:

“I’ve gone up and down pretty much consistently throughout,” Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview at the White House. “But the good thing about when you’re down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up.”

Not necessarily. It seems there is no bottom with Congress at only a six percent approval rating in an Economist/YouGov Poll.

With the gridlock caused by Republicans in Congress only likely to get worse with regards to legislation, even if there is an end to the Republican near-automatic blocking of appointees with the change in Senate filibuster rules, it is hard to see how Congress could possible get anywhere near fifty-percent approval. Obama has a far better chance of recovering support if the relaunch of Obamacare is a success.

While some of the factors causing a drop in Obama’s support were his fault, the significance has been exaggerated way out of proportion by Republicans who are not only rooting for failure but doing everything possible to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.Timothy Egan wrote:

This organized schadenfreude goes back to the dawn of Obama’s presidency, when Rush Limbaugh, later joined by Senator Mitch McConnell, said their No. 1 goal was for the president to fail. A CNN poll in 2010 found 61 percent of Republicans hoping Obama would fail (versus only 27 percent among all Americans).

Wish granted, mission accomplished. Obama has failed — that is, if you judge by his tanking poll numbers. But does this collapse in approval have to mean that the last best chance for expanding health care for millions of Americans must fail as well?

Does this mean we throw in the towel, and return to a status quo in which insurance companies routinely cancel policies, deny health care to people with pre-existing conditions and have their own death panel treatment for patients who reach a cap in medical benefits?

The Republican plan would do just that, because they have no plan but to crush the nation’s fledgling experiment. Sometimes they bring up vouchers, or tort reform, or some combination of catchphrases. Here was Sarah Palin, who is to articulate reason what Mr. Magoo is to vision, on the Republican alternative, as she told Matt Lauer:

“The plan is to allow those things that have been proposed over many years to reform a health care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort-reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases. And those plans have been proposed over and over. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left.”

Yes, it is a big and legitimate news story, for a presidency built on technical expertise, that the federal exchange is not working as promised. Ditto Obama’s vow that people could keep their bottom-feeder health care policies.

But where were the news conferences, the Fox News alerts, the parading of people who couldn’t get their lifesaving cancer treatments under the old system? Where was the media attention when thousands of people were routinely dumped once they got sick? When did Republicans in Congress hold an oversight hearing on the leading cause of personal bankruptcy — medical debt?

Obama should not have said people can keep their own insurance without an admission that this will not apply to everyone, even if they will come out ahead by changing plans. The web site problems should never have occurred but web site problems say zero about the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to purchasing health care coverage which cannot be terminated at the whim of an insurance company should they develop medical problems. Besides, this would not have been an issue if the states had developed their own exchanges as intended. Enrollment under the Affordable Care Act has been going well in many states where a state exchange was developed. This is primarily in blue states, but Kentucky is a notable exception where Republican Governor  Steve Beshear went against his party and made Obamacare work in his state. (Correction: Steve Beshear is a Democrat)

He’s an unlikely champion, not least because Kentucky’s two U.S. senators are both implacable opponents of the program.

“I knew if I was going to make a huge difference in the health status of Kentucky, it was going to take some kind of transformational tool to do that, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is for me,” Beshear, white-haired and greyhound-lean, said as he sat behind a big maple desk in his office. “I think we’ve started something here,” he later added, “that a generation from now you’ll see a very different Kentucky than what you see today.”

Empowered to act without the Legislature’s approval, Beshear became the only Southern governor to embrace a provision vastly expanding Medicaid eligibility and open a state-run exchange for others seeking insurance. He conceded, with a small smile, that it was easier knowing he would never face voters again. “But,” he went on, “I’m convinced that in the end this is not going to [be] a negative political issue.”

He acted, Beshear said, only after independent analysts predicted the healthcare overhaul would inject more than $15 billion into Kentucky’s economy over the next eight years, create about 17,000 new jobs and produce about $800 million in state revenue. “You cannot afford not to do this,” he said he was told.

Obamacare does work when the Republicans don’t actively fight its implementation. Even with all the Republican attempts at sabotage, it appears that the most of the web site problems are being fixed and Obamacare will be running successfully. Of course a program of this complexity won’t work without some glitches, and Republicans will continue to make a lot of noise. Another factor working against Obama is that many people do not realize the risk they were at of losing their insurance in the past.

Hopefully the American people will trust their own experience over the lies from the right wing noise machine. A delay in getting a web site working properly is a minor matter. Once the web site is working and we move into 2014 most Americans will see that they really are either keeping their old insurance or replacing it with better coverage, generally from the same company if they desire, and frequently at a lower cost. They certainly are not being forced to give up their insurance for a government-run plan as many were misled to believe. Some of us will come out behind in terms of dollars spent, but generally the policies will cover more than in the past and have one huge advantage over plans prior to Obamacare–insurance companies will not be able to stop coverage due to medical problems. The real source of people losing their insurance is not Obamacare but the failed system it is replacing. Obamacare is the solution, not the problem.

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Mitch McConnell Calls Tea Party A Bunch Of Bullies

The Republicans can’t win with the Tea Party, but also can’t win without their money and grass roots support. This must be very frustrating for Republican leaders. Breitbart reported on what Mitch McConnell said during a conference call with Republican donors:

On the call, according to a donor who was on it, McConnell personally named Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) as Tea Party conservatives he views as problematic for him. “The bulk of it was an attack on the Tea Party in general, Cruz in particular,” the source, a prominent donor, said in a phone interview with Breitbart News.

But the most memorable line came at the end of the call.

“McConnell said the Tea Party was ‘nothing but a bunch of bullies,’” the source said. “And he said ‘you know how you deal with schoolyard bullies? You punch them in the nose and that’s what we’re going to do.’”

McConnell is right about the Tea Party but, needless to say, conservatives are unhappy with him. We are unlikely to have a working government which can seriously address our problems until the Republicans repudiate the extremist elements which oppose our system of self-government, but even the saner portions of the party have hardly been rational players in recent years. A war between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party may result in Mutual Assured Destruction which might lead to an improvement.

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The New Political Landscape–The House is Up For Grabs

Going into the budget negotiations, Barack Obama was at a disadvantage. He not only negotiated with the terrorists, he gave in to their demands more than he should have. Now the tables are turned. Obama has shown that he will not repeat that mistake, and the Republicans have shown that they will give in before making the United States dafault. The Republicans have come under so much criticism for even making this a possibility that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have both said they will not cause the government to default on its debts. All of this could have been avoided if Boehner had allowed the full House to vote on a clean budget bill from the start. In the end Boehner did exactly that, preventing the Republican majority in the House from crashing the economy with the help of Democratic votes. Being in an improved bargaining position could also help Democrats over the next year. Voters are more likely to vote for Democrats if the party appears strong, and less likely to vote for Republican if they continue to see them as the party of fiscal and political irresponsibility.

The political question now becomes whether the strong anti-Republican sentiment in the polls will hold until next year. It is possible that this will be forgotten by most voters. It is also possible that this could cause a sizable number of former Republican voters to permanently alter their view of the party, leading to a wave election in 2014. While all the pundits will weigh in, the truth is that nobody knows what will happen a year before an election.

That said, here’s what a few pundits are saying. First from National Journal:

The government shutdown and debt crisis has made 14 House seats more winnable for Democrats, according to new independent ratings released Thursday from The Cook Political Report. There are now—for the first time this cycle—more Republican seats “in play” than the 17 Democrats would need to win in order to take the majority in 2014.

The ratings from the highly regarded political handicapping group, whose founder, Charlie Cook, is also a columnist for the National Journal, is the latest sign that the shutdown has seriously damaged Republicans.

“Democrats still have a very uphill climb to a majority, and it’s doubtful they can sustain this month’s momentum for another year. But Republicans’ actions have energized Democratic fundraising and recruiting efforts and handed Democrats a potentially effective message,” Cook’s David Wasserman explains. Ten Democratic seats remain “toss ups,” meaning the party would probably need to win at least 20 seats to take back the speaker’s gavel…

It’s way too early to know if these movements will hold until November of next year, but its unusual for Cook to move so many districts in one direction all at once. Democrats were losing altitude in generic ballot tests until the shutdown, only to see their numbers climb 5.5 percentage points over the past two weeks. But thanks to gerrymandering, analysts say Democrats need somewhere closer to a 7-point generic ballot lead to retake the House.

From Stu Rothenberg:

The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

Republican operatives are worried that the showdown will improve Democratic House recruiting considerably for 2014, and it could well damage GOP fundraising, both among small-dollar donors and the party’s bigger hitters.

Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.

GOP insiders point out that while the party clearly has lost some ground in recent years among swing voters because of its position on cultural issues, the party’s great strength — at least up until now — was that it was generally seen by independents as fiscally responsible and prudent on economic matters. Now that argument may be more difficult for Republicans to make.

Harry Enten described how difficult it will be for the Democrats to take control of the House, but also pointed out the difficulty in making predictions this early:

The indispensable Cook Political Report has only has 13 Democratic-held seats listed in the relatively competitive tossup or “lean” category. Of course, Democrats need to take 17 seats to win the House. The ratings reflect, among other things, a lack of strong challengers for the Democrats and lack of retirements by Republicans.

The thing is that expert ratings (like most polling) are not all that predictive a year out from an election. At this point in the 2006 cycle, there were 17 Republican seats in the lean or tossup categories (pdf). That’s well short of the 30 seats that Democrats would ultimately take from Republicans. At this point in the 2010 cycle, there were 28 Democratic seats in the lean or tossup category. Republicans, of course, went onto gain 63 seats in 2010.

It’s not until later in the cycle when individual seat rankings become quite useful. That’s when potential challengers and incumbents read the national environment and decide to run or not. Chances are that if the 4-5pt Democratic lead holds, the individual seat rankings will reflect that edge. For now, individual seat ratings probably aren’t all that helpful to understanding which way and how hard the wind is blowing.

If Republicans remain as unpopular a year from now as they are now, Democrats can certainly exceed expectations. Another possibility is that the Republican margin will shrink dramatically in 2014, making it easier for the Democrats to retake the House in 2016 with their chances even better in a year with a presidential election.

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