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16

May

GOP efforts to repeal ‘Obamacare’ all politics

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

14

May

Why the IRS scandal might be a good thing for Democrats

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

13

May

Obama: Republican outrage on Benghazi a “sideshow”

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

09

May

Opposition for oppositions’ sake

President Barack Obama begins another jobs tour this week. On this trip he is highlighting new efforts to boost advanced manufacturing in the country, according to reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The trip stems from a new executive order the president issued mandating more transparency and better data-sharing between government and the private sector. The order is targeted at helping entrepreneurs and small business owners. The president will also push for a one-time $1 billion payment to establish Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation. The institutes would be a collaborative effort of governments and businesses aimed at making the country’s manufacturing sector competitive at a global level. The establishment of such organizations may have a slim-to-none chance of becoming reality.

As The Times’ Michael Shear reports, the GOP has been “cool to the idea,” and not in the cool-awesome way. Republicans have not exactly been negotiable parties though. The three big bipartisan deals — a 2010 deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, a deal to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011 and the recent fiscal cliff deal — only came about because Washington was in crisis mode.

It’s possible, some may argue, to draw comparisons between the Republicans of today and the Democrats from the years of George W. Bush. Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 by opposing an unpopular president and his policies. Republicans won the House of Representatives in 2010 because they ran against a semi-unpopular president and his controversial health care law.

But the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein doesn’t think that the comparison is apt.

Because Bush assumed the presidency under poor circumstances — Bush v. Gore and hanging chads, anyone? — Democrats could have opposed his initiatives, but instead they provided crucial votes for Bush’s education reform legislation as well as what have been dubbed the “Bush tax cuts,” he said.

Ornstein said that the GOP opposition to Obama is “strategic as well as tribal.”

“I think that’s not just a feeling or an impression, it’s pretty obvious if you look at the policies,” he said.

It’s not just apparent in policies or rhetoric though. The Senate has ground to a halt thanks to the arcane procedural hurdle known as the filibuster — which requires a supermajority of 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to proceed. The Century Foundation, which describes itself as a progressive nonpartisan think tank,  provides a handy little graph showing the rapid rise of such maneuvers.

image

It should be noted that the Democrats are not blameless in the process. They held the record for filibusters from the 1995-96 Congress until the 2009-10 Congress, which the GOP set a new high.The Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority for some of that session, but either way, the Republicans forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to file about 140 cloture motions.

There is probably no end in sight. Because Republicans are set against “Obamacare” and Democrats are determined to protect it, there will be plenty of filibustering on health care alone.

— By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

01

May

Congressional Democrats get good news in midterm election poll, but it’s probably too soon to mean much

An interesting Quinnipiac University poll, which I first noticed in Politico, was released this morning and showed favorable numbers for Congressional Democrats in next year’s elections. The poll showed 41 percent of people saying they would vote Democrat if the midterms were held today while 37 percent would vote Republican.

This runs contrary to the famed “six-year itch” — the idea that the party occupying the White House always loses seats in the midterm election of a president’s second term. In 2006, this was particularly pronounced, as Democrats gained control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in more than a decade.

While a comforting number for the Democrats, it must be viewed extremely warily for two reasons. First, we are still 18 months out from November of 2014, which in politics seems like forever. Second, Democrats won the popular vote in the House of Representatives elections last year, but still didn’t take control. Some argue this is a result of skillfully gerrymandered districts by the Republicans.

Also, a plurality of voters, 48 percent, said they wanted one party to control Congress and the White House. If the voters put Rep. Nancy Pelosi back in the speaker’s chair, this would be the case: The legislative and executive branches would be dominated by Democrats.

What’s more, the poll offered another surprise: voters trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to health care. Despite the stories and dire predictions for “Obamacare,” Democrats still maintain a lead in this area.

Unfortunately for that party though, voters trust Republicans a little more on gun policy, meaning that President Barack Obama may not fare well on the gun control issue. And there may be little to no electoral ramifications for those that opposed expanded background checks along with other restrictive gun measures.

Of course, it’s better to be the Democrats in this poll because they “won,” but that means little in the long run. Opinion polls provide a snapshot of public opinion at a specific time. This means little more than that if the midterms were held today Republicans might lose seats. But Nov. 4, 2014, is still a year and a half away. 

- Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

23

Apr

Baucus retirement makes uphill climb for GOP easier

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2014, making it much harder for the Democrats to hold onto the Senate. That makes six Democratic senators who are retiring, with three from key red and swing states. 

Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., are also retiring. Each state represents a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. Throw Montana in the mix and a total of four open seats are up for grabs. Add on the pick-up opportunities in Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Arkansas, the GOP has a lot of opportunities to gain seats.

In 2014, Democrats must defend 21 seats to the Republicans 13. To take control of the Senate again requires a Herculean task from the Republicans — they would need to nearly run the table on the seats discussed above. With a current 55-45 split, the GOP needs six of the eight.

While most people would rather defend 13 seats than 21, it should be noted that the Republican Party has failed to capitalize on pick-up opportunities in the past two election cycles. The 2010 midterms provided a very GOP-friendly atmosphere, but poor candidates cost the party control of the Senate. In 2012, Democrats were defending 23 seats and should have, by all measures, lost control of the Senate. Instead, another series of poor candidates let the Democrats gain two seats.

Intra-party fighting has left conservative activists at odds with the Republican Party establishment. Whether those tensions can be overcome may well determine if the Republicans have a good election night or whether it will be just another series of lost opportunities.

- By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

11

Apr

Senate votes to begin debate on gun control

The Senate voted 68-31 to begin debate on a a gun-control bill Thursday, easily clearing the 60-vote threshold to beat back a Republican filibuster, The New York Times reports.

The bill would provide a major expansion of background checks conducted when buying a gun, among other things. While this vote does not guarantee the bill’s passage, it marks a giant step forward; senators from both parties helped the measure over its first major hurdle.

A bipartisan bill would might make it much easier for the public to stomach — the last time major gun legislation passed was in 1994, which included a ban on assault weapon and President Ronald Reagan actually supported.

Nonetheless, many political minds believe the ban contributed to the drubbing the Democrats took in the 1994 midterm elections, which gave the Republicans full control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. But some disagree with that notion.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Washington saw an astronomically high number of murders, topping 400 from 1989-‘93, according to The Disaster Center. Despite those numbers, many believe the Democrats overplayed their hand.

However, some insist Newtown changed the dynamic. Only time will tell. But, of course, a gun-control bill must make it to the president’s desk.

- Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

08

Apr

Contradictions arise in CNN poll

A CNN opinion poll released Monday shows a majority of Americans approve of the President Barack Obama’s job overall, but rate him negatively on different issues.

Obama enjoys a 51 percent approval rating with 47 percent of respondents disapproving. When pressed on specific issues, public opinion seems to turn against the president though. When surveyed about nine different topics, the president’s approval numbers were underwater for seven of them.

Issues included in the polling include his approach to gun policy, undocumented immigration and the federal budget deficit, three headline-grabbing issues. Forty-five percent and 44 percent of respondents support the president on gun policy and his handling of undocumented immigration. A paltry 38 percent of those questioned said they approved of his handing on the federal budget deficit.

These are all areas where Obama is looking for legislative victories, hoping to notch a couple more major initiatives, adding to health care reform and financial regulatory reform both passed in his first term.

A new grassroots organization, Organizing for Action, which grew out of his campaign’s infrastructure, may face an uphill battle in fighting for the president’s agenda if this poll gauged public correctly. In a twist of fate, the president’s fate on these issues might be in the hands of Senate Republicans.

The Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators, is reportedly close to a deal on an immigration overhaul, with some hoping it could be introduced late this week. In the gun control area, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has breathed new life into talks surrounding a measure to expand background checks. Obama will attempt to wine and dine a dozen Senate Republicans on Wednesday, hoping to cool somewhat icy relationships between the caucus and the White House.

That part of Obama’s legacy hinges on 45 Republican lawmakers is even more surprising when looking at the approval ratings of GOP leaders in Congress. Only one in four respondents gave the leaders a thumbs up.

- Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

27

Feb

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.
Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."
Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.
“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.
—Marshall Cohen

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.

Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."

Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.

“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.

—Marshall Cohen

29

Jun

A day for the Dems

WASHINGTON – It was a field of dreams for the Democrats.

Add a big “W” over the Republicans to the list of victories in Thursday night’s 51st CQ-Roll Call congressional baseball game.

Thursday morning, the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s controversial health care overhaul law. Democrats in both houses of Congress were cheering the court’s ruling most of the day.  So probably also put that in the “W” column. 

But, in the afternoon, Democrats faced a different kind of rebuke from their Republican colleagues. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi walked arm-in-arm out of the Capitol with Democratic leaders in protest of the vote of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder in the Fast and Furious gun-running controversy.

By evening, the Democrats were smiling again, though. To round out the busy day in Washington, the Democrats scored 18 runs to the Republicans five, winning their fourth consecutive congressional baseball game.

“Look at this, huh? It feels good. It feels good,” said the Democrats’ manager, Rep. Michael Doyle from Pittsburgh. “We retired one last year for the best of five series. This is the first game in the next series, so three more of these or two more wins and we retire another one.”

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond made it hard for the Republicans to connect with the ball.

“We knew that they had a really good pitcher who could throw the ball very fast for this level,” the Republican’s manager, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, said after the game. “And we practiced for that. Last year we got only one hit. This year we got nine. So that’s an improvement,” Barton said.

But the Democrats did their part on offense, dominating the second inning to create a gap that the Republicans just couldn’t close.

“I was thinking that if we could score 20 runs I would be really happy,” he said smiling. “But I’ll just settle for the 11 we got!”

Pelosi made her way down to cheer on her fellow Democrats at the ballpark. During the Democrats’ at bats, Pelosi rooted on her team and took pictures with her fellow Dems and fans.

Money raised by the event will go toward the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, and the Washington Literacy Center.

Fans cheering on the Democrats held up signs spelling out “MVP Justice Roberts” to show support of the Chief Justice John Robert’s deciding swing vote in the high court’s ruling  that upheld the president’s signature legislative victory.

Before the game, when asked if someone got hurt during the game would they have health insurance, Doyle laughed and said, “Yes, now they would have insurance. Everyone will.” 

— Malena Caruso/Medill News Service @mcaruso2

24

May

Who would have thunk?
Republicans make up the majority when it comes to the top 10 AND bottom 10 speakers in Congress by grade level. 
Overall, members of both houses of Congress speak at a 10th grade level — a whole grade lower than in 2005!
Check out the details from this post by thedailyfeed:

Is Congress getting dumber? A new study found that members of both houses speak at a 10th grade level — a whole grade lower than in 2005.

Moderate members tend to speak more eloquently than partisans and — in a trend reversal from the previous decade — Democrats rate higher on the scale than Republicans, the research shows. 
At the ends of the spectrum, according to the findings, are two Republican House members: the loquacious Rep. Dan Lungren of California, at the level of a college senior, and the plainspoken Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, whose level is just below an eighth-grader.

Who would have thunk?

Republicans make up the majority when it comes to the top 10 AND bottom 10 speakers in Congress by grade level.

Overall, members of both houses of Congress speak at a 10th grade level — a whole grade lower than in 2005!

Check out the details from this post by thedailyfeed:

Is Congress getting dumber? A new study found that members of both houses speak at a 10th grade level — a whole grade lower than in 2005.

Moderate members tend to speak more eloquently than partisans and — in a trend reversal from the previous decade — Democrats rate higher on the scale than Republicans, the research shows. 

At the ends of the spectrum, according to the findings, are two Republican House members: the loquacious Rep. Dan Lungren of California, at the level of a college senior, and the plainspoken Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, whose level is just below an eighth-grader.

18

Jan

As the South Carolina primary approaches, history shows the winners of Iowa and New Hampshire have a greater chance to be the nominee. What are the key issues in the early states?

Medill News Service reporter Ed Demaria covers the issues of the early states in the Republican Primary elections.