Monday, June 30, 2014

Obamacare's Pending Moment of Truth

As bad as the Hobby Lobby decision was to the ACA, there is a far greater threat to it lurking down the road; one which could completely destroy the whole statute. Over at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, three judges - two of them appointed by Republican presidents - are about to rule on whether the law allows the federal exchanges to provide subsidies to consumers.

The plaintiffs in the case, Halbig v. Sebelius, are arguing that the language of the statute is precise and clear when it says "through an Exchange established by the State under 1311." If they are successful in their challenge, then the subsidies in the 36 states - Republican states - that decided not to set up their own exchanges would be ruled invalid. That would mean millions of people who signed up for Obamacare thinking they would be entitled to subsidies would have to pay more for their healthcare plans. In plain language, such a ruling, if upheld, would be a sweeping victory for the law's opponents who have tried for more than three years to have it repealed.

If the oral arguments are any indication, then we are headed for another Supreme Court showdown. It was only two years ago that the law barely survived when Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the individual mandate as a tax. That decision infuriated conservatives and left even the law's supporters bewildered. The sixty-four thousand dollar question that begs to be answered is will Roberts, if he is once again the deciding vote, uphold the law or will he see it as a chance to atone for his "sin" to the far Right.

If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put too much stock in the former. Most scholars who looked at both the Roberts' and dissenting opinions have concluded, and I believe rightly so, that Roberts was this close to striking down the mandate, but abruptly changed his mind. It is speculated that the reason for his about face was that he refused to go along with Antonin Scalia and the other conservatives on the bench, who were in favor of chucking the entire statute. He felt that was excessive; that even though Congress did not include a severability clause in the law, it was still possible to strike the mandate and keep the rest of the law intact. This time, with no such burden to bear, I fully expect Roberts to side with his fellow brethren.

The only encouraging news is that the Court will not get the chance to hear oral arguments for quite some time. Assuming the three-judge panel rules against the law, the next stop would be for the Administration to petition the full D.C. Circuit to hear the case. And since four of those judges were appointed by President Obama, the likelihood of a favorable ruling is quite good. That means we may well have to wait until next summer to find out whether the Affordable Care Act will either survive intact or go down as the largest legislative footnote in history.

Remember when all those progressives were stubbornly insisting on passing a single-payer healthcare system? Well don't look now but they're shouting, "We told you so."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

So Much for Pushing Up Daisies

Apparently a 96% approval rating from the American Conservative Union wasn't good enough. Eric Cantor, House Majority leader, was defeated Tuesday by his Tea Party challenger, David Brat. That's right, the number two man in the House of Representatives, and the man many suspected would be the likely successor to John Boehner as the next Speaker, is out of a job. And here's the real shocker, it wasn't even close. Despite having a war chest of $5.4 million, Cantor just didn't lose, he got his ass kicked.

Make no mistake about it, this is a huge victory for the far Right. It's also a huge headache for the entire Republican Party. Don't get me wrong, I shed no tears for Cantor. Let's face it, he was a backstabbing weasel and a major irritant to both Boehner and his own House conference.  But even I didn't see this coming. Cantor, who rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 and became one of the movement's favorite sons, was ironically done in by his own kind. Talk about eating your young. 

This isn't just a Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock moment, this is a major sea change for the GOP and, yes, for Democrats too. By taking Eric Cantor down, the Tea Party threw down the gauntlet and served notice to any and all within earshot. We're alive and well and we're not going anywhere.

This, hopefully, should put to bed all the "establishment Republicans take back their party" drivel I've been hearing from the supposedly in-the-know pundits out there. With a few notable exceptions, the prevailing logic was that the Tea Party was on the outs. So much for being out.

So what was it that did Cantor in? Well, two things. One, he had the audacity to embrace some form of immigration reform. Among the Tea Party that has become a four-letter word, right up there with Obamacare and Benghazi. You might as well give a vampire sunblock as to even hint at "amnesty," which is what the natives call it in the land of Oz.

But the second thing was probably just as big. Cantor had become identified by the base as an establishment Republican, which is hysterical when you think about it. Of all the Republican leaders in the House, none was more of a dick than Cantor. He wasn't just your run-of-the-mill obstructionist, he was the self-proclaimed chairman of the obstructionist wing of the Party. It was Cantor, you may recall, who "urged" Boehner to walk away from the grand bargain deal he was trying to strike with President Obama back in 2011. That stunt almost brought about a debt-ceiling default.

But then Cantor did something unconscionable. He started behaving like a leader. He voted to end the government shutdown, which bitterly angered the base. Then there was all this talk about education reform. Cantor supported weighted student averaging, which a good many Democrats also support, and you just can't have that sort of thing in the land of Oz. Cantor forgot the golden rule: if a Democrat is for it, you have to be against it.

Adding fuel to the growing backlash against him was that fact that he rarely, if ever, spent any time in his own district, which, I might add, thanks to gerrymandering, was made even more conservative. How's that for poetic justice? Oh, death, where is thy sting? So confident was he of being reelected, he didn't even bother to show up in his own district the night of the election. Now that's ballsy, even for Cantor.

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, you can kiss goodbye any hope of bipartisanship in both Houses of Congress for the foreseeable future, not that there was much hope of that to begin with. Not only is immigration reform out the window, but just about any major legislative initiative, as well. The GOP, which has now been reduced to a shell of a party, won't dare pass anything out of fear of what the consequences could be to them. In the short term - 2014, that is - the Party might benefit from Cantor's ousting, especially if the base turns out in record numbers; in the long run, however, this will only move the Party even more to the right, thus setting up a nightmarish scenario for it in 2016. This is what happens when you create your own Frankenstein monster; it ends up turning on you and burning down the whole village.

In the meantime, Washington politics, which has been gridlocked for the last three and half years, will now come to a virtual standstill. Michael Tomasky is right. This is an earthquake.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why Republicans Keep Drawing the Wrong Conclusions About 2008 and 2012

You keep hearing it all the time from the far Right. The reason Republicans lost the last two presidential elections was that they didn't nominate candidates who were strong conservatives. If only they had nominated someone like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, the Party would control the White House.

You sometimes hear similar sentiments from the far Left. To this day, progressives still believe Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis were excellent nominees who were the victims of vicious mudslinging by their GOP opponents.  Right, and I'm sure there are some folkies left who still haven't forgiven Dylan for going electric. Fortunately, after getting shellacked in both the '84 and '88 elections, Democrats got smart and veered towards the center. Since then, they have won the popular vote in every presidential election, save for 2004. And it should be noted that the '04 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, was a throwback to those "glorious" days.

It is a political axiom that you run to your party's base to secure the nomination, but then you pivot to the center to win the general. Virtually every successful presidential bid from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama got this formula right. Conversely, those nominees who didn't successfully pivot lost. You could make the argument that George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Al Gore in 2000 were probably affected more by third-party challengers than by a failure to pivot to the center, but that would be splitting hairs. Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, John McCain and Mitt Romney all belong to a list of candidates who successfully wooed their respective party's bases only to be handed their lunch in the general election. Indeed, all but Kerry lost by huge margins.

McCain and Romney are textbook cases of how not to run a presidential campaign. For all intents and purposes, neither man was a hard-right conservative. McCain, for his part, successfully worked with Democrats in the Senate to pass legislation. The most notable and famous of these collaborations was the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, which dealt with the plethora of soft money that was being funneled into campaigns and corrupting the political process throughout the country. 

Romney had been elected governor of Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the country. He developed a reputation for being a pragmatic businessman who sought to govern by consensus rather than ideology. His landmark healthcare law, later dubbed Romneycare, would become the boiler plate for President Obama's signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010. In fact, Romney, in an interview on CNN, proudly boasted of his law and urged the then new president to adopt it to the reform bill that was taking shape in the Democratically-controlled Congress.

So what happened to both men? Ostensibly what happened was that the base of the Republican Party forced them so far to the right, they were never able to make that all-essential pivot back to the center. After securing the '08 nomination, McCain, who managed to pull within a couple points of Obama, decided to tab Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. While conservatives were delighted by the pick, moderates grew wary of both her stances and her lack of experience. Obama's lead widened and he ended up routing McCain in the general.

Romney's story is eerily similar. Throughout the entire 2012 primary, the former Massachusetts governor did his best to disown practically every accomplishment he had as governor, including his own healthcare law. Like McCain, he picked a running mate in Paul Ryan who mollified the far Right, but provided ammunition for the Obama campaign to use in the general election. With the exception of his Denver debate performance, Romney was never able to build his case as a practical alternative. He was a prisoner of his party's fanatical base. Like in '08, Obama cruised to an easy victory.

But, to hear the far Right tell it, that's not what happened. Yes, they'll concede that McCain and Romney weren't true conservatives who adhered to conservative principles. But that is where they part company with the conventional wisdom. For them, it was their lack of conviction rather than their lack of pragmatism that did them in. In other words, they didn't drink enough of the Kool-Aid.

The problem for the Republican Party is twofold. First, the GOP, like the Democratic Party of the '70s and '80s, is a divided party. There is the national party and the congressional party. The former is at odds with the latter. Spurred on by the success of the 2010 midterms, congressional Republicans have convinced themselves that their message is truly resonating with the voters. What they forget is that midterm elections are poor barometers for assessing overall public sentiment. It is the presidential elections that often determine the real mood of the electorate. And that dichotomy is at the heart of the GOP dilemma. Like their counterparts on the other side of the political aisle decades ago, Republicans of today tend to do well in their congressional races, while getting clobbered in presidential elections.  The fact that most of the GOP's strength comes from its legislative ranks doesn't help matters.

But the second problem is far worse. Extremist elements have ostensibly taken over the Republican Party. The Tea Party movement now dictates virtually all Party policy. Pundits who predicted that Tea Party losses to establishment Republicans in this year's primaries would somehow trigger a new wave of pragmatism and moderation, have completely missed the boat. Tea Party candidates didn't need to win those primaries. The GOP is now so far over to the right, it hardly matters anymore who wins. They all hold identical positions. There is scarcely a moderate left within the Party's ranks. They have been effectively purged. The only thing that the GOP gained in those primaries was a few less unhinged candidates muddying up the waters.

And now the Republican Party is licking its chops over their prospects of resting Senate control from Democrats in November. If that does indeed happen - and it's 50/50 at present - the GOP will have reached yet another flawed conclusion: that they were right all along. Such a belief will, no doubt, cause them to drift still further to the right (assuming that's even possible) and nominate a candidate who is a true believer; someone like Ted Cruz, who has become a rock star among the base. Assuming Hillary Clinton decides to run, the 2016 election would likely be another landslide victory for Democrats. Republicans would not only lose their third presidential election in a row, but probably both chambers of Congress, as well. And that could very well be the death knell for the GOP.

In 1992, Democrats made a courageous decision. They went against their base and took a chance by nominating Bill Clinton.  The rest, as they say, is history. I see nothing within the Republican Party which indicates it is willing or even able to do the same. Chris Christie, assuming he survives this bridge-gate scandal - and it's looking more and more like he will - would be the GOP's best hope of winning in 2016. Let me just come out and say it: I have a better shot at winning the Republican nomination than Christie does.

Republicans simply can't bring themselves to accept a staggering reality: that the reason for their continued electoral failures are because of their positions, not in spite of them. It's not that they aren't getting their message across; it's that a majority of Americans simply aren't buying it.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Clearing the Air

To paraphrase Richard Milhous Nixon, let me make a few things perfectly clear:

1. Global warming isn't a hoax; it's real. Just like 2 + 2 = 4.
2. Benghazi isn't Watergate; Watergate is Watergate.
3. Creationism isn't an alternative to evolution; it's an alternative to reality.
4. The I.R.S. wasn't conspiring against conservatives; it was trying to determine whether 401c groups were what they said they were.
5. The deficit is shrinking, not growing.
6. If Obama came out against rainy days, the GOP would accuse him of being pro drought.
7. Obamacare isn't going to be repealed; it's here to stay.
8. Believing everyone in the main-stream media is against you, doesn't makes you fair and balanced; it makes you paranoid.
9. Pandering to an ever-decreasing voter demographic isn't a very good long-term strategy for electoral success.
10. Making racist comments about minorities and passing strict voter suppression laws that restrict their right to vote, is a pretty good way to ensure they will vote for the other party.
11. Both Reagan and Bush issued far more executive orders than Obama has.
12. Vladimir Putin could care less who the president is; he's just a thug who thinks it's okay to invade other countries, just like he did when Bush was in the White House.
13. Any fool can start a land war, or two; the real challenge is to NOT start one.
14. Criticizing Obama for doing something two Republican presidents before him did - swapping prisoners - is pretty lame, even for conservatives.
15. The Second Amendment doesn't give you the right to turn the country into the OK Corral.
16. Hillary Clinton's health is just fine, Karl Rove. And in 2016 you'll get a chance to see just how healthy she really is.
17. And, for the last time, there's no voter fraud. Romney got beat fair and square. Deal with it.

There, I hope that settles that.