The Obama Administration

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record.

Where Are All These Atheist Politicians?

(Flickr/gwilmore)

Throughout the 2012 race Rick Santorum has tried his best to distance his campaign from his image as a vehicle for the religious right. He has scorned the media for asking questions on the culture wars, spends his days touring the Midwest to tout his plan for manufacturing, all while leaving social moralizing at the dog whistling level. But on Sunday, the old fire and brimstone Santorum was back in full force in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos when the discussion turned to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on the separation between church and state. "What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up," Santorum said.

The Obama-ization of Everything

Man, those guys really don't like me.

For the last few years, liberals have been pointing out that conservatives radically shifted their opinions about certain ideas once those ideas were embraced by Barack Obama. The two biggies are an individual mandate for health insurance, which was conceived by conservatives at the Heritage Foundation as a way to get (nearly) universal coverage while maintaining the private insurance system; and a cap-and-trade system for reducing harmful emissions, which was conceived as a way to use market forces instead of government regulations to achieve an environmental good. All kinds of conservatives liked those ideas, but once Obama advocated them, the ideas became not just disfavored but presented as something so vile and socialistic they could only have been coughed up by Joe Stalin's decaying corpse.

That happened a couple of years ago, but now we're in an election year, so it's only going to get worse. And watching the entire conservative universe get pulled toward opposition not just to abortion but to contraception, for goodness sake, one has to wonder what they're thinking inside that universe. They surely know that opposing contraception is very, very bad politics. And for most of them I'm sure it's not even something they agree with on the substance. But all it takes is a couple of people within the movement to stake out a position, and before you know it everybody else has no choice but to follow along. There just isn't any incentive for any Republican to say, "Hold on fellas, I think we're going a little far here."

Because for them, everything is seen through the prism of Barack Obama. If he's for it, they have to be against it, no matter what they and everybody else used to think. I was reminded of that today hearing this story from NPR, about a move in New Hampshire, driven by Republicans and the Catholic Church, to allow any organization in the state to deny contraception coverage to its employees. The revealing part is in the history...

Obama's Squandered Recovery

In The Escape Artists, Noam Scheiber depicts a White House out of its depth on the financial crisis.

The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery. By Noam Scheiber, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $28.00.

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ing Teachers?

(Flickr/hpeguk)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to The Daily Show Thursday night to discuss and defend his agency's latest initiative: Project RESPECT. The project looks a lot like 2009's Race to the Top, a chance for states (and in this case school districts) to compete for big grants if they offer ideas that conform to the department's priorities. But unlike Race to the Top, RESPECT is almost entirely focused on teachers and teacher evaluation. It's not likely the Republican-controlled Congress will fund the $5 billion program, which is part of the the president's budget proposal, but the initiative does offer a clearer sense of the department's priorities.

Iran Is Not Cuba

In the face-off with the country, the best lesson from the past is that diplomatic compromise doesn't require appeasement.

(AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

Scrolling through news, especially news posted in America, I could think that it's time for me to stock up on canned food and check that my family's Israeli government-issue gas masks are working. The news suggests that Israel's air force is sure to attack Iran's nuclear facilities this year, perhaps this spring, possibly sparking a rain of retaliatory missiles from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Syria, despite or because of its current turmoil, might join in.

Colbert Explains Contraception And the War On Religion

Stephen Colbert can't say that, can he?!

Stephen Colbert Explains the Catholic Church and Contraceptives

The comedian describes what Obama's birth control plan looks like to conservative Catholics. It involves a banana and a guillotine.

Republicans' Deceptive Payroll Tax Compromise

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Republicans finally came to their senses yesterday and realized they were waging a losing battle with their opposition to a payroll tax extension. The two-month extension Congress passed in December was set to expire by the end of this month, and Republicans were adamant that any further extension be paired with equal spending cuts. Democrats balked, instead suggesting a surtax on millionaires that the Republicans would never accept, and another last minute legislative showdown appeared inevitable. Then out of nowhere yesterday afternoon Congressional Republicans announced that they would drop their resistance:

The Coming Battle over NCLB Exemptions

(Flickr/woodleywonderworks)

In 2014, no students will be behind in math or reading. All of them will meet grade-level goals. That's the plan according to No Child Left Behind.

Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that ten states were getting waivers from the controversial law’s requirements. The states would implement their own plans, approved by the Department of Education, for improving public schools. New Mexico, the only other state that applied, was not granted a waiver, but Duncan explained htat this was because its application was incomplete. A few days, he said, and the state would likely be approved.

Birth Control Chess

(Flickr/brains the head)

Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad.

Hidden Gems in the Mortgage Deal

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

In the end, as at the start, Thursday’s deal between five big banks, the Department of Justice, and the attorneys general of 49 states came down to New York, the center of mortgage securitization and securities misrepresentation, and California, the center of mortgage mis-origination. Those states’ attorneys general—New York’s Eric Schneiderman and California’s Kamala Harris, both progressive Democrats elected in 2010—weren’t about the give the banks a pass. Which is why it wasn’t until two a.m. Thursday that the deal was finalized.

Catholic Men at CPAC Oppose Birth Control

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)

CPAC, D.C.—The controversy around the Obama administration's decision to mandate birth-control coverage in health insurance has dominated the talk at CPAC. "You may not agree with what that religion agrees. That's not the point. The point is, the First Amendment still applies," Marco Rubio said in his early morning address on Thursday.

The Mortgage Deal with the Devil

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The long-awaited mortgage deal between the federal government, 49 state attorneys general, and five big banks that was announced Thursday is pretty thin gruel, but it could have been a lot worse.

Under the deal, the banks will provide relief to homeowners in a deal variously described as ranging from $25 billion to more than $40 billion. But a look at the fine print suggests that only about $5 billion cash will actually change hands. Some $1.5 billion will go directly to homeowners who went through foreclosure, with each receiving about $2,000. Other cash will go to states to help distressed homeowners.

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD

When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. 

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