Paul Waldman

Don't Believe the Republican Cries of Vengeance

Behold my terrible rage! I will drink your blood and feast on your entrails! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

So now the Democrats have exercised the "nuclear option," which is really not particularly nuclear. They've changed existing Senate rules so that judicial nominations can not be filibustered, but can pass with a majority vote. Over the next couple of days you'll hear Republicans say that this is the most horrifying power grab since the February Revolution of 1917. They will weep and beat their breasts, lamenting the death of fairness and democracy, predicting all manner of horrors, perhaps culminating in a zombie apocalypse, now that a judge nominated by the president can be confirmed with a vote of a majority of senators. But then, their grief will turn to steely determination. "You shall rue this day!", they will cry. "Revenge shall be ours!"

And that might sound like a reasonable argument for why this rule change was ill-advised. After all, as Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently threatened, "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench." In other words, without the restraint of the filibuster, the next time Republicans have the White House and the Senate, which will happen eventually, they'll go hog-wild, appointing the most radical conservatives they can find. But there's one big reason that argument fails: They would have done it anyway.

America, Where Even the Desperately Ill Say They're Healthy

More graphy goodness like this inside.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has released their latest health indicators report, and while you may not find 200 pages of charts and graphs on cross-national health comparisons as fascinating as weirdos like me do, let me just point to a couple of interesting things. Most of the findings will be pretty familiar to people who have followed the health care issue in the last few years, but there's at least one thing that surprised me, which I'll get to in a minute. First though, I have to point to this graph, which shows just what an outlier the United States is in terms of what we spend on health care and what we get. It shows the relationship between spending and life expectancy:

Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

I apologize for these pastries. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree.

So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can do it in a letter that's signed by Secretary of State John Kerry or if the letter has to be signed by President Obama himself. This is the silliness on which the future of an entire country, and who knows how many lives, depends.

The Real Roots of the Filibuster Crisis

As fake as the moon landing, obviously. (White House photo by Sonya Hebert)

We're about to have ourselves a little filibuster crisis, and the only surprising thing is that it took so long. We've now reached a point where Republicans no longer accept that Barack Obama has the right, as president of the United States, to fill judicial vacancies. Unlike in previous battles over judicial nominations, we're not talking about the nominees' qualifications or their ideological proclivities. It's merely a question of the president's constitutional privileges. Republicans don't think he has them. This is only the latest feature of a long descent for the GOP away from considering any Democratic president—but particularly this one—as a legitimate holder of the office to which he was elected.

There has never been a president, at least in our lifetimes, whose legitimacy was so frequently questioned in both word and deed by the opposition party and its adherents. Even today, many Republicans, including some members of Congress, refuse to believe that Obama was born in the United States. Right after he was re-elected, 49 percent of Republicans told pollsters they thought ACORN had stolen the election for Obama, a decline of only 3 points from the number that said so after the 2008 election, despite the fact that in the interim, ACORN had gone out of business. Think about that for a moment. How many times have you heard conservatives say that the Affordable Care Act was "rammed through" Congress, as though a year of debate and endless hearings and negotiations, followed by votes in both houses, followed by the president's signature, was somehow not a legitimate way to pass a law? In short, we've seen this again and again: it isn't just that Republicans consider Obama wrong about policy questions or object to the substance of one or another of his actions, it's as though they don't quite accept that he's the president, and everything he does carries for them the taint of illegitimacy.

How Both Republican and Democratic States Are Helping Obama

Last week, President Obama announced a "fix" to the problem of people in the individual health insurance market getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies: he'd allow the insurers to offer those substandard plans for another year. Does he want the fix to work? We can't read his mind, but depending on how you define "work," it would be better for the Affordable Care Act's ultimate success if it didn't. And as things have played out over the last few days, there are reasons that as a political problem this could fade.

As you may know, insurance markets are governed by officials in each state, and if a state's insurance commissioner doesn't want to allow the substandard plans to be sold, he or she can say no, no matter what the President might want. And a few of those insurance commissioners—from Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington state—have already said they won't allow it. So what you have here are heavily Democratic states not supporting Obama. But here's the key to the story: those states also chose to run their own health exchanges, and all of them are working well.

We could end up with a situation in which the states that adopt Obama's fix are the ones most opposed to Obamacare, and the states that support Obamacare don't adopt it. And I wouldn't be surprised if that's just fine with Obama.

Liberals' Special Snowflake Syndrome

Flickr/tanakawho

When a bunch of Democrats voted last week for a Republican bill meant to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, a lot of liberal commentators, myself included, reacted with, "Ugh, here we go again." While there had been some remarkable unity on the Democratic side in recent months, particularly during the budget showdown, the default status of Democrats is not just cowardice but fractiousness (though obviously, it's easy to stay together when things are going well). This is representative of the broader liberal movement, where it's extraordinarily difficult to get ostensibly allied people and groups to act in concert. Liberals are always looking with envy at their conservative counterparts, who seem to be much more unified, both in beliefs and action. Conservatives would tell you that they spend plenty of time at each other's throats, but this broad stereotype—disconnected liberals, unified conservatives—has its origins in truth.

Today I read a study that sheds some light on why this might be. It isn't just that liberals are more divided and conservatives are more united, it's also that liberals believe they're more divided, and conservatives believe they're more unified, even when it's not necessarily true. The study asked people about their opinions on a range of questions on both political and non-political topics, then asked them to guess what proportion of people who shared their general ideology agreed with them on that particular question. The results showed that liberals displayed a "truly false uniqueness effect"—they were more likely to think that their views were different from those of their peers, even when they weren't—while conservatives displayed a "truly false consensus effect," believing that their views were the same as their peers, even when they weren't.

Liz Cheney's Firm Ideological Consistency

Ah, family. The source of our greatest strength, and our greatest frustrations. Ask yourself: Is there anyone in the world who can more easily put you into a blinding, murderous rage than your siblings? Now what if one of those siblings was running for office, and you could stick it to them? If you had a fight—and not just a fight over something trivial like who should wash the dishes, but a real fundamental fight, like whom Mom loved best, or why he crashed your bike when you told him a hundred times that he could only ride it if he was super-careful, or whether you're worthy of equal rights under the law—would you be tempted to take that fight public?

I speak, of course, about Liz Cheney, vice-presidential progeny, proud daughter of the Virginia suburbs—I mean Wyoming, wonderful Wyoming, which has always been home!—and contender for the U.S. Senate from the aforementioned state. According to at least one poll, Cheney is trailing badly in her attempt to unseat conservative Republican Mike Enzi. Even though Cheney is trying to run to Enzi's right, she's been the target of blistering ads from an independent group charging not only that she is soft on gays, but that she has—cover the children's ears —appeared on MSNBC.

Obamacare Panic to Enter Even Stupider New Phase

Jason Eppink

I want to follow up on what I wrote Friday about those who are deciding that because of a) web site problems and b) the largely manufactured controversy over people who have one private insurance plan but now face the unfathomable horror of moving to a different private insurance plan, the Affordable Care Act is an unrecoverable disaster that has destroyed Barack Obama's second term. I'm sensing that this is about to move into a new phase of inane speculation that we should think about before it starts.

Conservative Billionaires Selflessly Provide Economic Stimulus

Don't worry - they still have plenty left.

It's sometimes said that you can stimulate the economy by burying a bunch of money, then paying people to go dig it up. It may not be all that productive or useful in the long run, but it'll get the job done. You might think that's what the conservative billionaires who funded the outside campaigns to defeat Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012 were up to when they poured millions upon millions of dollars into an ultimately futile campaign. And now we're finally getting an idea of just how much money there was.

Memo to Democratic Chicken Littles: The Sky Is Not Falling

White House photo by Pete Souza.

Ah, now this is what politics is supposed to be like: Ruthless Republicans, gleeful at the prospect that they might increase the net total of human suffering. Timorous Democrats, panicking at the first hint of political difficulty and rushing to assemble a circular firing squad. And the news media bringing out its "Dems In Disarray!" headlines that have been used so many times before. The problems of the last couple weeks "could threaten Democratic priorities for years," says Ron Brownstein. It's just like Hurricane Katrina, says the New York Times (minus the 1,500 dead people, I guess they mean, though they don't say so). "On the broader question of whether Obama can rebuild an effective presidency after this debacle," says Dana Milbank, "it's starting to look as if it may be game over." Ruth Marcus also declares this presidency all but dead: "Can he recover? I'm sorry to say: I'm not at all confident."

Oh please. Everyone just chill out.

Judging Obama's ACA Fix

President Obama at a press conference today.

So today, trying to stem the tide of hand-waving and panic that reminded us all of how Democrats have traditionally acted, Barack Obama announced that people who have health insurance plans they bought in the individual market but don't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act may get to keep those plans. So how should we feel about this?

On the most basic level, it's not a good thing. Any time someone stays on a junk insurance plan instead of entering the larger risk pool of the exchanges, that pool is weakened. Having said that, the specifics of what Obama proposed do seem designed to minimize the damage.

Obamacare's Critical Moment

And to think, we actually thought the hard part was over.

At times like this, with the Obama administration weathering yet another controversy regarding the stumbling beginnings of the Affordable Care Act, it's useful to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. I've been plenty critical of how healthcare.gov has been handled (see here, or here, or here), but eventually it will get fixed, at least to the point at which it works well enough. Likewise, the fears now being experienced by people with individual insurance policies will, by and large, turn out to be unfounded. There will be some who have to pay more than they've been paying, but in almost all cases they'll be getting more too.

But there's no doubt that this is an escalating problem for the administration. The person who got sold a cheap insurance policy on the individual market because the insurer was confident that either a) they probably wouldn't get sick any time soon, or b) the policy was so stingy (whether the customer knew it or not) that the insurer wouldn't have to pay anything even if they did, has now become the victim whom all agree must be made whole. We're all talking endlessly about Obama's "If you like your current plan, you can keep it" pledge, but the fact is that if you have one of these junk insurance plans, you only like it if you haven't had to use it. But no matter—the people on these plans (and not, say, people who are finally getting Medicaid, because they're poor so who cares) are now the only people that matter. Congress is obsessed with them, the news media is obsessed with them, and Something Must Be Done.

The administration is clearly spooked, and so are Democrats. But everyone needs to take a breath and ask themselves whether what they do in the next couple of weeks is something they'll be able to live with in a year or five years or twenty years.

Shocker: Health-Exchange Websites Can Be Done Right

That sure seems easy.

In the last few days, you might have seen a news story about something called thehealthsherpa.com. The story usually goes like this: "The federal government may have screwed up when it tried to create the Obamacare web site, despite spending hundreds of millions on contractors. That's why three tech geeks thought they could do a better job. And after just a week of coding, they did it."

So have these guys solved all our problems? Is it now a piece of cake for everyone to find out what their insurance options are on the individual market? That would sure be a good thing, especially since nearly everyone complaining that their plans are being cancelled—the folks whose fate has suddenly become the most important moral and practical crisis facing America—seems to be taking their insurers at their word when they get those threatening letters instead of trying to find out what their choices actually are.

The answer is...sort of, maybe.

Darrell Issa, the Obama Administration's Best Friend

Darrell Issa smiles uncomfortably upon realizing he's posing with Judy Collins, whom he's pretty sure is some kind of hippie. (Flickr/Music First Coalition)

When Darrell Issa took the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Republicans took back the House in the 2010 election, he promised that he was going to be a dogged pursuer of the Obama administration. But at this point, I'm genuinely curious about how Republicans feel about Issa. Conservatives sincerely believe that the Obama administration is riddled with corruption, starting with the villainous president and going all the way down to the intern who makes copies in the basement of the Commerce Department. Yet Issa has turned out to be a strikingly incompetent clown, screwing things up spectacularly every time he tries to embarrass the administration and being so transparently sleazy in the way he goes about his work that he never succeeds in pinning anything on Obama.

Think about all the times Republicans thought they had Obama dead to rights and Issa couldn't deliver the goods. There was Solyndra, "Fast and Furious," the IRS scandal, and of course the one that keeps on giving, Benghazi. Obviously, the fact that they haven't mounted a successful impeachment based on any of these is mostly because there just hasn't been any criminal behavior. But every time it looks like Issa is about to whip something into a lasting scandal, he does something like what he did yesterday. First, Issa (or presumably his staff) leaks to CBS News a "partial transcript" of a closed hearing revealing that, in the words of their report, "the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website's security. Those failures could lead to identity theft among buying insurance." Sounds awful! But you'll be shocked to learn that neither of those things is true. Steve Benen has the details:

Will Amazon Swallow the Postal Service?

Don't worry, they only do this in Japan. (Flickr/Fugu Tabetai)

For a while now, the Postal Service has been telling us that they'd like to end Saturday mail delivery as a way to cut costs and deal with their ongoing financial difficulties. Congress isn't about to let that happen, so now they've gone the other way: they're going to start delivering on Sunday. But only packages. And only from Amazon.

The natural response to this is, "Wait, what?" Since when does a single corporation get to commandeer an enormous government agency to use for its own profit-making purposes? What's next, are we going to just rename it the Lockheed Martin Department of Defense? Sell the naming rights to national parks? ("Welcome to the Doritos Locos Tacos Grand Canyon!")

OK, it isn't as bad as all that. In fact, as long as they do this in a fair way—essentially for any company that wants it—it could be good for everyone.

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