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Fine With Me

"Kill the Bill"

It's designed to get attention when the two long-time editors of the two most important conservative opinion journals co-byline a piece, which I don't recall ever seeing them do. So, Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry, editors respectively of The Weekly Standard and The National Review, here's your attention!

They decided to join heads a column they call Kill the Bill." I think you know what bill I mean. They have various substanative beefs--the bill has loopholes, it "doesn't solve the illegal immigration problem" (newsflash: neither does it prove or disprove the existence of God), it admits too many low-skilled workers.

These aren't crazy objections, but they're the kind of run-of-the-mill objections that can be made about any big congressional bill. They get sorted out in conference, or fixed next time, or they just linger until the next generation comes along and gets a better idea about how to fix the problem. Legislating is as imperfect as anything else in this world.

But now we get to their political argument, which is what they and we really care about:

Conservatives vs. Obamacare (Again)

The Opening Salvo of 2014

A Koch brothers ad attacking Obamacare begins airing today. It’s smart, savvy, and likely to be effective. Are Democrats ready to respond?

Starting today, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ propaganda arm, will run an ad, the first of several that are planned, to attack Obamacare. This marks the official opening salvo of the 2014 election campaign. With no accomplishments, no remotely popular vision of the country, on the cusp of possibly killing immigration reform, and perhaps admitting (at least to themselves) that Benghazi and the IRS are not going to be Barack Obama’s undoing after all, Republicans have been reduced to grasping at their final straw: frightening people about health-care reform. The sad thing is, they stand a decent chance of succeeding. It’s too much to say that the fate of Obama’s legacy hinges on the fate of Obamacare. But it’s probably not too much to say that no other single item will loom as large in determining, 10 to 15 years from now, how Obama’s presidency will be seen. And it’s definitely accurate to say that this is going to be the consuming and defining fight of the remainder of his presidency.

The brand new Americans for Prosperity ad raises questions about Obamacare.

The debut Koch brothers ad is very smart. They’re not shooting for the expected geriatric caucus, or even for the middle-aged couple singing the kitchentable blues à la Harry and Louise. No—here, we have a young mother, pretty (not perky pretty but interesting-looking pretty; she might read books, might even be a liberal) and self-assured. She is “Julie, mother of two.” She speaks of her son “Caleb’s” health issues as a toddler (Caleb!). She’s also pregnant—great touch, that. I don’t know if she’s real or an actress, but if real, I guess I congratulate them for finding her, because they couldn’t have done better making it up.

She goes on to voice her concerns about Obamacare, starting with that old chestnut “If we can’t pick our own doctor…” Nonsense. Conservatives, when asked to defend this, do so by explaining that, well, if A happens and then B and then C, it could … in other words, it’s a Rube Goldberg answer that no one should take seriously. Then there’s “higher premiums and a smaller paycheck.” I don’t know where the “smaller paycheck” comes from (maybe she works for the government and has been furloughed two days a month). But as for the premiums, well, yes, increases are possible. But something beneficial is happening in exchange for those higher rates: sick people who couldn’t previously get insurance will be able to get it now, and more types of medical services will be covered and reimbursed. If you actually want to learn something about this interplay between premium increases and coverage, read this report from the state of California.


A Coup to Celebrate

The coup may well end up being a good development for Egyptian democracy—and American liberals should support it, says Michael Tomasky.

We all walk around with paradigms and categories in our heads, and when an event takes place, we slot it into one of those categories. It gives new things the feel of familiarity and makes them less alien and frightening. But sometimes, things are new; or at least they have the potential to be. And I think what happened in Cairo this week is one of those things—if it’s not too odd to put it this way, a good military coup (otherwise already being called a “people’s coup” by its backers) that, while undeniably deposing a democratically elected leader, may yet paradoxically put Egypt on a quicker path to democracy than a full presidential term from Mohamed Morsi ever could have. And I’d like to see Democrats, from Obama on down, be more open to this possibility.

Cairo, Egypt

Egyptian security forces take position outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Cairo on July 5, 2013. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty)

There is a history here that makes a reflexive negative response to a military coup understandable. That’s Pinochet’s Chile, the USSR in Czechoslovakia and Hungary; mostly, to left-leaning Americans, it’s the U.S.-sponsored coups of the Cold War era, like Guatemala, Iran, and Indonesia, in addition to the aforementioned Chile (and several others). The mere phrase sets off all of these ominous bells (to liberals; American conservatives, obviously, were pretty much perfectly happy with every one of these coups and made them happen). More important is the fact that Morsi was chosen by the people in a free and fair election. For some folks I’ve seen on Twitter, this one fact seems to begin and end the conversation.

Here are the responses. First, while this was certainly a coup, the U.S. wasn’t behind it; the people in that square were. That’s different and new. This coup can certainly turn sinister, because the guys with the guns are in charge now and guys with guns can generally do what they want to do. But so far, this is an instance of a people who weren’t being respected making their voices heard.

The Real Problem

The Obamacare Delay

The news of the one-year delay in the employer mandate announced yesterday is being discussed as if it's some huge earthquake, and I guess I can see why, but I wonder if the actual effects of the decision will be that great. First of all, 90 to 95 percent of all employers targeted in this mandate (between 50 and 100 employees) already provide coverage anyway, so this will impact only a fairly small number of firms.

It will, however, reduce the number of people who sign up for coverage by whatever percentage, and that reduction in the size of the pool will presumably have a negative effect on the extent to which costs for average health-care consumers can be reduced. One of the huge challenges of implementation, of course, will be getting uninsured people to go sign up. I've spoken with experts who think getting a few million people to sign up would be kind of miraculous, but remember that a few million is a small percentage of the total uninsured.

As for these medium-size employers, health-care experts--yes, even liberal ones who on balance backed the ACA--have long recognized that these provisions were complex and problematic. This permits me to plug my journal, Democracy, where two years ago we published a piece by Jacob Hacker, the father of the public option and one of the country's top health-care experts.

As Jacob saw it then, the exemption for firms with under 50 employees was problematic. He proposes a system based not on number of employees but size of payroll. Why? Well, because a diner wiith 15 employees is one thing, and a boutique investment house with 15 employees is quite another. Hacker:

The GOP’s Future

Move Right and Move White

Republicans used to do the Chamber of Commerce’s bidding. But on immigration reform, says Michael Tomasky, they’re ignoring the chamber and listening to radicals instead.

It’s an eternal verity of American politics: the Republicans are the party of big business. Democrats since Franklin Roosevelt have sneered it as a putdown, to which many Republicans respond with no shame, yes, we are, the business of America is business. And business, in Washington, means chiefly the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the two beefiest business lobbies in the city. But funny thing—the chamber and NAM support the Senate immigration bill that the House Republicans are going to kill. In addition, some prominent evangelical groups are pro-reform, too. Which makes me wonder: if the Republicans are no longer listening to these people, then to whom precisely are they listening, and what does that tell us about what kind of party this is becoming?

GOP Presidential Strategy

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to media questions at a Capitol Hill news conference, where he addressed immigration reform, June 20, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The chamber, NAM, and the evangelical groups have been in on the immigration discussions from the start. A great deal of the hard work here was done by congressional negotiators in conjunction with the chamber and the AFL-CIO, working through different categories of workers (high-skill, low-skill, guest) and arriving at language and numbers that suited all the interests at the table. Each of these groups has done the kind of outreach to its members that is vital in the case of big and controversial legislation like this. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a project of World Relief (which is an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals), persuaded pastors across the country to support reform.

There was a time in this country when the linked arms of those three groups would unquestionably have been joined by most Republicans on Capitol Hill. But that was long ago. Now the GOP is a different animal altogether.

Slow Change

Obama, Egypt, and the Long Haul

I wouldn't exactly defend Obama's Egypt policy, and I can understand politically why Republicans are taking potshots, which are nicely summed up in this Foreign Policy article. But most of the criticism is opportunistic. Not only can no US president control events in Egypt. It's nearly impossible even to influence them. What's going to happen is going to happen.

This is a natural phase in the Arab Spring. Yes, I still use that term, because I take the long view that what started in Tunisia and Egypt two years ago was the beginning of a process that's going to take probably two generations, or 30 years, maybe more.

It was inevitable that the first round of elections in a newly democratic country was going to be won by the most nationalist-right party. There are many reasons for this, among them the fact that the liberal groups are ill-financed and fractured, but mainly just that the nationalist-right party offers the kind of xenophobic appeal that most people will fall for before democratic habits of mind are established in the larger people, which takes a long, long time.

Democratic habits of mind...this is the key, and it doesn't come easily for any society. Took the United States a good 100 years. With regard to the treatment of black citizens, 170 years. These habits don't exist yet in the Arab world by and large, except to some extent in Lebanon, which unfortunately is functionally run by Hezbollah, and a few other places.

Dumb Move

The Ageist Attack on Hillary

Republicans are preparing to attack Clinton for being old. Michael Tomasky on why it will probably backfire.

So now the Republicans, having tried sexism against Hillary Clinton for two decades, say they’re ditching that and going for ageism. Of course whether the party of Todd Akin and involuntary vaginal probes really can ditch sexism remains doubtful, so let’s amend the above to say simply that they’re adding ageism to the list of indictments. They actually have a bit of a point. If Clinton seeks the presidency in 2016, she’ll be old enough for her age to be an issue—Ronald Reagan turned 70 just three weeks into his presidency, and Clinton would do so nine months into her first year as president. Where the planned attack melts into comedy, though, is in the idea that Republicans can springboard from the simple actuarial question of her age to selling young voters on the idea that it is they, not the Democrats, who are with it. Here, they’ll make the same pathetic mistake they always make of assuming that X voting bloc is stupid enough to fall for symbolism.

Hillary Clinton-Award

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs as she gives a speech during a ceremony honoring her at the Pentagon in Washington on February 14, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The story appeared in yesterday’s Times, if you missed it, with several GOP operatives telling Jonathan Martin the message would be that it’s time for Clinton’s generation to step off the stage. The comparative youth of many of the GOP’s leading candidates—Marco Rubio is 42, Paul Ryan is 43, Rand Paul is 50—renders the theme all the more tempting. Karl Rove told Martin: “The idea that we’re at the end of her generation and that it’s time for another to step forward is certainly going to be compelling.”

The Rove quote suggests a war that will be waged on two fronts. First, her age and physical condition; second, the question of which candidate can better “relate” to young voters. On the first point, there will be questions Clinton will need to answer. That fainting spell and concussion last year saw to that. And she probably can’t quip the issue away. Reagan famously said in a debate with Walter Mondale, when the issue of his age came up, that he wouldn’t hold Mondale’s relative “youth and inexperience” against him. Ho ho ho, end of issue.

What a Joke

Dan Snyder's Indian Chief Is Neither

This is just great, from Deadspin a while back, which I'd missed initially. It seems that Danny "I'm doing my best George Preston Marshall imitation" Snyder enlised a Native American chieftain, a certain Chief Dodson, to step forward on the May 3 of the R-----s Nation TV show to say that he thought the team's name was cute and endearing.

Nice strategy. One problem:

Alas, there's a lot of evidence that Chief Dodson—whose real name is Stephen D. Dodson—ain't the perfect pitchman that Snyder and Goodell want him to be. It turns out that the "full-blooded American Inuit chief" is neither a full-blooded American Inuit nor a chief in any formal sense of the term.

Let's start with that last part. Apparently nobody but Dodson says Dodson's really a chief. The work shirt from Charley's Crane Services that Dodson wore on Redskins Nation had "Chief Dodson" stitched into it alongside the company's name. But the only references I could find to Dodson and "Chief" that predate his appearance as "Redskin"-lovin' aboriginal royalty appeared in court records in Maryland. Case files from some of Stephen D. Dodson's scrapes with the law—involving theft, paternity, and domestic violence matters—have "Chief" listed as one of the defendant's AKAs.


Get Ready for More GOP Race Baiting

Forget creating a big tent. Some Republicans want their party to simply try to win more white votes.

You, unsuspecting citizen, probably take the view that the Republican Party is too white. It’s the conventional wisdom, after all, and last year’s election results would seem to have proven the point resoundingly. But you’re obviously not up with the newest thinking in some conservative quarters, which is that the party isn’t white enough, and that the true and only path to victory in the future is to get whiter still. Some disagree, which gives us the makings of a highly entertaining intra-GOP race war playing out as we head into 2016. But given this mad party’s recent history, which side would you bet on winning?


John Boehner and other House Republicans won't budge on the immigration bill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The situation is this. The immigration reform bill passed the Senate yesterday. It will now go to the House. A few weeks ago, as I read things, there were occasional and tepid signals that the House would not take up the Senate bill. Now, by contrast, those signals are frequent and full-throated. For example, yesterday Peter Roskam, a deputy GOP whip in the House, said this: “It is a pipe dream to think that [the Senate] bill is going to go to the floor and be voted on. The House is going to move through in a more deliberative process.”

“Deliberative process” probably means, in this case, killing the legislation. House conservatives, National Journal reports, are increasingly bullish on the idea that they may be able to persuade John Boehner to drop the whole thing.

In case you didn't notice, it was revealed this week that the words "Occupy" (as in Wall Street) and "progressives" were also targeted by IRS employees in charge of awarding nonprofit status to applicant groups. So there goes that political conspiracy. Well, not to everyone--some people will no doubt just say "Ah, but you see, Obama, being the Manchurian that he is, was clever enough to instruct that some progressive groups be targeted, just enough to provide cover." This is insane, World Net Daily kind of stuff, but some will inevitably believe it.

There is, however, another political conspiracy afoot, perhaps. You may be wondering, why wasn't this news public until this week? The answer is that the Democratic staff on the relevant House committees didn't know until this week. Republican oversight chairman Darrell Issa, in his original letter, asked Treasury inspector general Russell George only about "tea party" groups, and that's all the information George provided.

Further: At a hearing back in May, George was asked by Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly if he knew of the screws having been put to any liberal applicants. He said his people "were unable to make that determination" because "in many instances the names were neutral."

And so, we have some questions. Did Issa in the first place know that liberal applicants were involved but decide to tailor his request to the IG only to tea party groups? That, of course, would make the whole matter look partisan and far more conspiratorial on the IRS's part. Did George and Issa in some way plot together? George has a pretty long history as a Republican staffer, although he once was a friend (and possibly a short-lived companion) of Michelle Obama in law school. At that May hearing, did George knowingly mislead Connolly? "In many instances" the names were neutral...but not in all? Were there tip-offs in any names that applicants were left-of-center?

They just said on NPR a little while ago, Nina Totenberg I suppose it was, that the Obama Justice Department has a slew of technical legal issues to deal with as a result of yesterday's gay-marriage rulings. There are, as you've probably heard, more than 1,000 federal benefits that redound from the matrimonial state, and DoJ attorneys have to figure out how to enforce the rulings in all these complicated particulars.

Which made me think: What if Obama were still against same-sex marriage? Not at all a crazy thought, right? Remember when he supported the policy last year, after Joe Biden got out "ahead of his skis"? It was a policy shift that happened sort of by accident.

So we could very easily be sitting here watching Obama issue a statement yesterday not hailing the decisions but tepidly, awkwardly, and hypocritically denouncing them. And all that Justice Department machinery would be put into motion not for the purpose of enforcing the rulings but to the end of fighting them. Imagine how vastly different a situation that would be.

Or, perhaps, Obama would have used the occasion of these decisions finally to say that okay, he would support the Court and change his personal position. That might be more likely than the above scenario. But even in this case, it would have meant that Obama had to be dragged against his will to the right side of history by the Supreme Court. By Anthony Kennedy!

Victory? Setback.

And Back to Immigration

The Senate today passed the border security amendment 69-29. Again that sounds like a resounding victory. But again, it might not be.

Look at the vote. There are five Republicans in their party's leadership: McConnell of course, and Jon Cornyn, and John Thune, and John Barrasso, and Roy Blunt. Blunt missed the vote. The other four voted no. What kind of signal do you think that sends? Remember--this is their own bill! From two of their own, Bob Corker and John Hoeven.

Now imagine that you are a conservative House member from a conservative district. To the extent that the Senate matters to you, you study the roll call. You notice this. Trust me, this is orchestrated. McConnell is certainly not dumb, whatever else he is. He could have directed two of them to vote aye.

Meanwhile, thinking a little more about the impact of the DOMA ruling on immigration. In theory, it has no impact. The Supreme Court just made the Leahy amendment unnecessary, so there's nothing legislatively for Rubio and McCain and the others to oppose.


The Court and Gay Marriage

Another quick reaction: Obviousy, this is great. Anthony Kennedy!

I'm still reading up on all the ramifications, but clearly the Court's majority has done a great thing here, on the DOMA case and on not hearing the Prop 8 case. Apparently same-sex marriage will be legal again in California, although that's not 100 percent clear yet and there could be future challenges.

Scalia...did you see his line, re the DOMA ruling, about how the Court lacks the standing "to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation." Funny, he didn't seem to say that yesterday. Amazing, this guy. Putz. Yep.

Climate Change

Obama’s Bad Salesmanship

Obama’s environmental proposals are admirable. But why does he sell them so poorly?

There are a number of bases on which Barack Obama can be criticized, but I’d hope we’d be past the point where liberals whack Obama for policy proposals that aren’t bold enough. Back in 2009, it was possible to believe, I suppose, that he could have pushed through a public option with greater assertion of presidential will. But by now, everyone should be able to accept that he could hardly get a street-name change through this Congress. It’s going to have to be more modest than liberals would want.


People rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on March 27, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty)

But I don’t even find the climate proposals Obama spelled out under an appropriately baking sun on a quaint little quadrangle at Georgetown University today modest. Calling on the EPA to set carbon-emission limits from existing and new American power plants for the first time is bold. Increasing fuel-economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles is, too. There’s a lot in the plan. Individually, they’re small slices of the pie. But they add up to something. So I don’t think it’s fair to question his commitment. What I question, though, is how well he sells it, which unfortunately is not very.

When I hear Obama give speeches like this, I always wonder whom, exactly, he thinks he’s talking to. He has this ideal American in his head, or his speechwriters do, who is a blank slate, a kind of pure vessel of evidence and reason who listens to his factual case and thinks, “By golly, he’s right, and I’m going to call my congressman!”

Bad, but How Bad?

Supreme Court and Voting Rights

I have to run to go cover Obama's climate speech, but I wanted to get something up quick about this. I am just sort of thinking out loud here.

Context: There are states and localities across the country that have to have legislative district lines "precleared" by the Justice Department. That map was determined back in 1965. But because of that don't think that it's been completely static since then. States and localities can apply to Justice saying we don't need to be covered anymore, and it's my understanding that there have been some changes to the map over the years as a result of those applications. A current map is here.

What the Court said is that that map is out of date and invalid. So now, those states and regions won't have to have their district lines precleared. (They would if Congress were to draw a new map; yeah, right.) So what's it mean?

First of all, let's think about Congress. It would seem to me that this decision can't have any real impact at the federal level until 2022, after the next census. Not sure I'm right about that. You tell me if I'm not.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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