But Democratic Rep. John Barrow of Georgia said he’s not standing on his own on the immigration bill he introduced Thursday.
“I don’t know how alone I’m gonna be in the House,” he told reporters during a press conference in front of the Capitol. “I know this: I’m not alone back home on this issue.”
The Keeping the Promise of IRCA Act—a reference to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that Barrow said failed to uphold the promise of border security—is the first and only piece of immigration legislation released so far in response to the Senate’s massive immigration reform bill, which was just voted out of the Judiciary Committee Tuesday after nearly two weeks of markups.
With the House’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” expected to release its own immigration legislation shortly, Barrow’s move reads largely symbolic. Barrow is not a member of the Gang, nor has he introduced any immigration-related legislation during his eight years in office. He will begin building bipartisan support for the bill once the House is back from Memorial Day recess, but the odds are against any minority member who tries to tackle such a controversial issue.
Barrow sounded confident that the legislation he drafted will stand up to his colleagues’ forthcoming bill, saying it too closely mirrors the Senate’s version. He stated that he does not support the bill.
“It’s not taking us where we need to go,” he said.
He said his bill will secure the borders and limit or eliminate unregulated entrances into the country; secure jobs with mandatory E-Verify; and create measurable tools and reports for Congress to determine whether or not they deem the border secure. In contrast to the Senate bill, amnesty will not be granted to undocumented immigrants until Congress has determined that the border is secure.
Whether or not he gets fellow House members on board, the Blue Dog Democrat has at least one ally in his corner.
Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, said Barrow’s words were “music to my ears.”
Crane, who joined Barrow in announcing the legislation, said ICE has been largely excluded from the Senate bill. Barrow’s bill would put a larger focus on border metrics and reports from the field on the state of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s critical to hear what the boots on the ground have to say,” he said. “For some reason, we can’t get folks up here in Washington, DC, to listen to us.”
Barrow could be taking a risk by swimming upstream in a House full of Republicans, but a representative for the congressman said the bill should attract other members—Republican and Democrat alike—who may not support the bipartisan group’s efforts and feel they have nowhere else to go.
So Barrow forges ahead. And maybe once Congress comes back from recess, he won’t be so lonely after all.
Nadya Faulx, Medill News Service
“Syria is not Las Vegas; what happens in Syria will not stay in Syria.”
-Barak Barfi, Research Fellow, New America Foundation
Barfi testified during the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence’s hearing on the threat posed to the U.S. by al-Qaida in Iran and Syria on Wednesday morning.
-Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory, Medill News Service
WASHINGTON - With major provisions of the new health care law set to kick in on Jan. 1, Republicans Monday warned of impending insurance premiums hikes, while Democrats said that was an overreaction, leaving consumers and insurers with no clear answer.
Insurance subsidies, cost-sharing mechanisms and provisions designed to slow the growth of health care costs are housed in the Affordable Care Act, but how they work together remains to be seen, and a House subcommittee’s investigative hearing Monday came no closer to drawing a definitive answer.
“Nearly all of the material the insurers submitted (to this committee) showed that Americans can expect massive premium increases,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. “As one insurer told the committee, consumers in 90 percent of all states would likely face significant premium increases.”
The Affordable Care Act establishes more generous benefits by creating a baseline plan that offers essential health benefits and requiring plans to offer free preventive services.
“Plan generosity may increase due to essential health benefit and actuarial value requirements, thus increasing premiums, but lowering out-of-pocket costs,” said Cori Uccello, a health fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries, in her testimony.
The lists of services health insurance plans must cover include costs for prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, hospitalization and mental health services.
The preventive care procedures covered are also extensive. They include screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and HIV, among other things, as well as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings for women.
Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, the top Democrat on the committee, pointed out that increasing premiums are nothing new, adding that states have started using “rate review tools” aimed at bending health care’s cost curve.
“And I would point out (to) those who are complaining that insurance rates are still rising in some areas,” she said, “need to look at how much they’ve been rising in the last 10 or 15 years in this country.”
Costs could also rise because insurers must accept all applicants now; individuals can no longer be turned away for pre-existing or dropped from their plan when they fall ill. With more sick individuals in the insurance market,the costs of treatment to insurer will increase.
The individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty, and tax credits for insurance premiums “provide incentives for individuals in good health to obtain coverage, mitigating premium increases due to guaranteed (coverage),” Uccello said.
The tax credits are available to those who shop for insurance in the new state-based exchanges, which open for enrollment on Oct. 1. Individuals and families with household incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible.
The law also establishes a definition of what constitutes “affordable” — most households will not pay more than 9.5 percent of their income toward their insurance premium.
But a little-known regulation could blunt the intentions of this provision: employers are allowed to provide coverage at an “affordable rate” to only its employees but could offer coverage to families at higher rates.
“It is based on employee-only coverage,” said Elise Gould, a health care economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “It says nothing about what it means to offer an affordable family health-insurance policy.”
Employers already often offer health insurance to employees’ families as well as their workers. So it is unlikely businesses will start taking families off their plans, she said.
“So if we move into a world where there is this affordability standard,” Gould said, “there’s nothing sort of on economic grounds that would suggest that they would drop family coverage or offer less generous family coverage.”
But if it should happen to an employee, the rest of the family would not be eligible to enter exchanges and receive subsidies to buy coverage there.
- Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service
A man and woman hold up protest signs inside of Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building before the start of a Wednesday House Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearing at which Attorney General Eric Holder testified.
-Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory, Medill News Service
The Republican Party is stuck on a merry-go-round — instead of ponies to go round on, the GOP uses “Obamacare” repeal votes.
Today marks the 37th vote to repeal all or part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. (The Washington Post has an excellent round-up of the first 36 votes.) The vote is now a political exercise in vanity even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said health care reform is the “law of the land” after Obama won re-election in November.
The Republicans had two real hopes to undo the landmark law: the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional or a Mitt Romney presidency with a Republican Congress. Obviously, neither happened.
So the repeal vote now holds one purpose: an explanation of how Washington works — politics often trumps policy.
The politics of this vote, the second of this congressional session, is to give GOP lawmakers running for re-election in 2014 more ammunition to show opponents of the law – generally conservatives – that they are on the right side.
This isn’t the first time Republicans have used this tactic to bolster their standing as staunch Obamacare opponents. Each legislative chamber’s budget proposal this year also serve as examples.
The fiscal plan the GOP-controlled House passed contained significant changes to Medicare that Democrats in the Senate would never accept. Seniors would get their insurance from the private market rather than the current government-sponsored plan a decade from now.
While the White House may not be in a public relations nightmare over the Affordable Care Act, its task is gargantuan, rather than impossible like the GOP’s efforts.
It has another four years to sell the law, which may be easier this time around because tens of millions of people may see its benefits by having insurance.
Several of the law’s selling points though have landed with a loud thud.
First, the small business health insurance tax credit garnered almost a couple hundred thousand users, far short of the estimated 4 million beneficiaries. An insurance exchange aimed at small businesses has been delayed until 2015 in most states.
A measure that said insurance companies must provide rebates if individuals or employers were charged too much mostly went mostly unnoticed by consumers.
While the politics of the health care law can still play out a number of different ways, the White House is guaranteed another chance to sell the public on its benefits. The Republican efforts to repeal the law are now all for naught.
- By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service
Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Erdogan will meet with President Barack Obama Thursday on the Syrian crisis.
Bordering Syria, Turkey has a major stake in finding a solution to the crisis. Thousands of refugees have fled across the border into Turkey and a bombing in Turkey that killed 50 has been said to have been carried out by Syrian intelligence.
Erdogan visit signifies the U.S. and its allies coordination in finding a political solution in Syria by holding an international conference with Russia in June.
Russia has been supporting the President of Syria, Bashar al Assad’s regime. The Assad regime is said to have been responsible for the more than 80,000 Syiran’s, according to humanitarian organizations.
This past week, Prime Minister of England, David Cameron met with the Obama at the White House where they discussed ways to reach a solution. Leaders from the U.S., England and Israel have met with President of Russia, Vladimir Putin to get him on board for a conference to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
A scandal for the political party in power is almost always bad news. This time could be different for the Democrats, though, because of the force with which President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill have responded.
Internal Revenue Service workers inappropriately targeted conservative groups who sought to be tax-exempt, particularly those with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in the name. The agency failed to do the same with liberal groups.
Certainly it does not produce good headlines for the White House, but it appears Obama has not been complicit in the enhanced scrutiny for the right-leaning groups. He condemned the IRS’s practices, calling them “outrageous” at a Monday press conference. The Department of Justice opened up a criminal investigation on Tuesday.
These developments have tea party groups and their supporters up in arms. While the movement’s momentum may have largely subsided, this matter could energize stalwarts and spark a new wave of tea party candidates.
This could be a blessing for Democrats. Real Clear Politics shows the party currently leads Republicans by slightly more than three points in a generic congressional vote. Even the conservative polling firm Rasmussen shows a two-point lead for the blue crew. Plus, the tea party’s public image needs a makeover.
Perhaps the most recent numbers, a January Rasmussen poll showed only 8 percent of Americans identify themselves as members of this political movement. While a revival may not necessarily bring as strong a surge as in 2010, it’s still not something Republicans should embrace given the lackluster image of the group.
Conservative activists have nominated several questionable candidates that arguably cost the Republican Party several seats in both the 2010 and 2012 elections, think Sharon Angle in Nevada and Todd Akin in Missouri.
Whether or not anything comes of the Department of Justice’s investigation, Democrats, and particularly those in the Obama administration, can point to this inquiry as proof they have no tolerance for such actions.
The Republican Party might face a conundrum — if no one disagrees with you, who will you fight with?
— Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service
WASHINGTON - As Congress examines ways our nation’s education system can be reformed, some experts are looking to what other countries are doing to see if those tactics can be used in U.S. schools.
Shanghai was one of the nations researchers focused on in three reports released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress.
The Program for International Student Assessment ranked Shanghai as the world’s highest-performing education system in 2009. This assessment is done every three years and it measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics and science literacy. It’s organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries and is conducted in the United States by the National Center for Education Systems. The 2012 assessment will be released in early December.
One of the reports highlighted that Shanghai has been granted autonomy in recent years. This allows its schools to be more innovative and flexible in areas such as curriculum, teaching and leadership.
For example, Shanghai’s public schools are able to work together and share resources amongst each other, like instructional and assessment plans. Making it a “collaborative profession.”
Another finding was that Shanghai invests largely in its teachers. Like, having a mentoring program for all teachers, not just beginner teachers. This allows teachers to give each other feed-back on how to better their teaching practices.
The level of governance in our schools and who that governance will go to has been a continuing debate.
“Having different layers of administration and different layers of government can quickly make it confusing,” said Ben Jensen, school education program director at the Grattan Institute and author of the “School Turnaround in Shanghai” report. This makes it hard for teachers to focus on what’s really important, he added.
Most experts on the panel at a briefing of the reports proposed more control for state departments and reducing local control in school boards and districts.
But one expert, Chester Finn, Jr., president of the Fordham Institute, reminded audience members that we can’t just take Shanghai’s strategy and implement it into our school systems.
“It’s also important not to assume that we can simply Xerox some other country’s arrangements and that they would work equally the same here.”
-By Brina Monterroza, Medill News Service
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday called Republican outrage over last year’s attack in Benghazi a political “sideshow.”
“We’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, ‘You know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.’ And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus,” Obama said.
Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of covering up the aftermath of the attack last year that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
During a House committee hearing last week, internal e-mails showed that top officials scrubbed any mention of al-Qa’ida from talking points given to members of Congress, including United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.
These talking points are the crux of the ongoing battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attacks were terrorism-related, and not related to a documentary on Islam, as Rice initially reported.
Obama made the remarks in a White House news conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is visiting the U.S.
-Mariam Khan, Medill News Service