The Obama Administration

Verrilli's Courage Under Fire

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
On December 10, 1935, during oral argument before a hostile Supreme Court, then-Solicitor General Stanley Reed collapsed at the lectern. (He recovered and went on to serve on the Court himself.) Let history show that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did not stagger yesterday under a Four Horseman-style onslaught of conservative questioning that seemed to leave the government without a path to victory in the “minimum coverage” phase of the Health Care Cases. Yesterday's argument concerned the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the minimum-coverage, or individual mandate, provision. Under this rule, taxpayers who are not covered by employer or government health insurance will, after 2014, be required either to purchase an individual policy or pay a penalty on their tax returns. The requirement is designed to widen the insurance pool so that two other parts of the Act—one requiring companies not to discriminate on the basis of health risk, and the other forbidding them from...

Americans Want Out of Afghanistan

(Flickr/The U.S. Army)
The Afghanistan War is on shakier ground with each passing day. The Obama administration has been eying the conflict warily for some time, and the massacre of Afghani citizens by an errant soldier has forced the White House and its NATO allies to re-evaluate the conflict and its potential end date. According to reports, the Obama administration is weighing if it should speed up the withdrawal of the troops before the 2014 exit date. The 33,000 sent over as part of the surge in 2010 are scheduled to depart next summer, but that will leave 68,000 troops on the ground, and the administration is still considering whether to heed the advice of military leaders to leave the troops in place or to pack up and admit that the fight has become an impossible quagmire. The doves in the administration have growing public sentiment on their side. A New York Times /CBS News poll released Monday revealed an American public increasingly weary of the conflict. A 69 percent majority said that the country...

Pre-Game's Over. Now Begins the Health-Care Fight.

(Flickr/FadderUri)
What if you bought a ticket to The Hunger Games and ended up watching Life Cycle of the Soybean ? That may describe the feelings of bemused citizens listening to today’s recorded oral argument on the first of three days of hearings in the case against the Affordable Care Act. Instead of death panels and broccoli patrols, they got to hear a discussion for law nerds about statutory construction and the definition of “tax.” The staggeringly dull question: Does the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), which prohibits taxpayers from suing the government until after they have paid a tax, prohibit the Court from hearing the health-care case at all? The resulting argument was abstruse, brilliantly conducted, and, well, snooze-worthy. The careful ear, however, could pick up the sound of the approaching guns. The health-care Armageddon arrives in full red-and-blue fury tomorrow. Today was just the opening shot. Read literally, the AIA would seemingly require the challengers to wait until 2014—when the...

A Decision Is Coming

A crowd of protesters outside the Supreme Court on the first day of ACA hearings (Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
The Supreme Court opened hearings today on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—PPACA if we're going to be technical—but more commonly known as Obamacare. The six hours slotted for oral arguments are spread out across three days, and while the constitutionality of the individual mandate is the main issue at stake, there will be a host of other topics discussed, ranging from severability (whether the rest of the law can stand if the mandate is struck down) to whether Congress was within its bounds when it redefined Medicaid eligibility to include swaths of new people currently uninsured. I was outside the court this morning talking with protesters rallying for and against the bill (more on that to come later) but Prospect alum Adam Serwer was inside for Mother Jones listening to the judges debate the first issue at hand: can they even decide on the qualms with the law or do they need to wait until after 2014 when ACA is fully in effect? According to the 1867 Tax Anti-...

The Supreme Court, Health Care Reform, and Electoral Politics

(Flickr / TimmyGUNZ)
Last week I participated in a roundtable that on these issues, along with other GW faculty from public health and law—Sara Rosenbaum, Peter Smith, and Katherine Hayes—as well as former U.S. Senate Finance Committee staffer Mark Hayes and former House Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee Counsel Andy Schneider. You can find a synopsis here and the video here . My remarks centered on implications of health care reform for the 2012 election (as I previously wrote about here ). How might the Court’s decision affect the politics of the issue for the election? First, it’s likely that the Court’s decision—no matter what it is—won’t much affect overall public support or opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Court decisions often simply polarize approval—as in this study of Roe v. Wade. There are already early indicators that this will happen. In a March 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation poll , respondents were asked how they would feel if the court rules the individual mandate unconstitutional...

A Surprise World Bank Pick

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
President Barack Obama startled handicappers by selecting Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim as the U.S. candidate to lead the World Bank rather than the reported front-runner Larry Summers, Obama's former National Economic Council director. The Korean-born Kim is a medical doctor, anthropologist, and MacArthur fellow, best known for his pioneering work to fight HIV and tuberculosis in the Third World. Kim helped develop treatments for drug-resistant TB, and then successfully pushed to reduced the cost of anti-TB drugs. He is close associate of Dr. Paul Farmer, the lead founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. While Third World leaders had pushed for an alternative to Summers, Kim was a total surprise. The appointment is a two-fer in the sense that it gives the job both to an American and to an Asian, as well as a welcome breakthrough in that the presidency goes to someone with on-the-ground work fighting poverty and disease as...

Precedents for the Unprecedented

(Flickr/thesussman)
Here are quotes from an anguished brief filed with the United States Supreme Court: “the present statute . . .departs markedly from any prior statute sustained as an exercise of the commerce power. . . .” It “is incapable of being regarded as within the scope of any of the other statutes or decisions.” Further, “there is no statutory precedent to support the Solicitor General's position in this case.” That position “is founded on a concept of the interstate commerce clause which has never been recognized by the Courts. While the wisdom of legislation is a matter for the Congress it is within the Court's proper prerogative to look with deep concern at an assertion of power never heretofore upheld.” That brief was filed in the 1964 case of Katzenbach v. McClung. Two months later the Supreme Court decided that Congress did have the power to “regulate commerce” by requiring Ollie’s Barbecue, a family restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, to serve African-Americans in its dining room. But the...

Dems Want Obama to Hurry Up His Evolution

(Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)
Like Paul , I'm convinced that any candidate who doesn't support marriage equality will instantly be disqualified as a plausible Democratic presidential nominee following Obama. Acceptance for same-sex marriage is growing rapidly across all ideological divides, and is particularly pronounced among liberals. In an alternative reality where the Democrats had an open primary in 2012, Obama's "evolving" stance on same-sex marriage would no longer pass muster in the Democratic base. Obama's former opponent and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton has already shifted her views , supporting marriage equality when it was up for debate in New York. And just look at the language of the up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party. Two of the leading 2016 possibilities—Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley—are governors who staked out legalized marriage equality as their major accomplishment. Now another politician bandied about as a future Democratic leader is attacking Obama's wishy-washy...

Pick Me! Pick Me!

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Why does Larry Summers have more lives than a cat? He was fired as president of Harvard, did not exactly serve President Obama brilliantly as economic policy czar, and now seems to be in line for the presidency of the World Bank, a post traditionally chosen by the president of the United States. The deadline for the selection is this Friday, March 23. The appointment is supposed to be made official at the April meeting of the World Bank. Earlier this month, the White House leaked a short list of three names, Summers plus U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry—neither of whom want the job. Brilliantly subtle signaling, that. Pointedly excluded from the list was Columbia University economist and world citizen Jeff Sachs, an adviser to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a very serious crusader against world poverty. Sachs took the unprecedented and marvelously transparent step of nominating himself and publicly campaigning for the job, but he is a onetime...

Obama Doesn't Have a Small-Donor Problem

(Flickr/401K)
Mitt Romney's struggle to attract small-dollar donors has been well documented . Just 10 percent of his money has come from donations of less than $200, while the vast majority of his money has come from nearly maxed-out contributions. Even though Newt Gingrich lags by a wide margin in overall funding, he's managed to gather more money from small donors, $8.8 million to Romney's $6.4 million. The fundraising gap is large enough thanks to wealthy donors that Romney should be fine for the remaining primaries, but it could spell trouble for the general election. Romney has a smaller base of donors to turn to for further contributions, and the tepid rate of small checks is an indication that Romney has failed to trigger much excitement among regular voters. Now that's being flipped by The Washington Post , which ran an article speculating that Obama is in trouble by relying too much on small-figure donors: But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing...

Axelrod to Republicans: Let My People Vote

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Barack Obama's former right-hand man accused Republicans of passing laws to shut out Democrats from voting in the next presidential election. "There's no doubt that Republican legislatures and governors across this country have made an attempt to try to win the elections in 2012 and 2011 by passing laws that are restrictive, that are meant to discourage participation, particularly by key constituencies that have voted Democratic in the past," said David Axelrod, former White House official and current senior advisor to the Obama campaign. The comments were made in an online Q&A following the premiere of "The Road We Traveled," a 17-minute film directed by David Guggenheim and produced by the Obama campaign. Questions were submitted over Twitter, and the topics ranged from how the president will handle Iran to whether Axelrod ever got in arguments with fellow senior advisor David Plouffe. The final question posed to Axelrod was about the string of laws Republican state legislatures...

What Does the ACA Do for You?

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the landmark piece of policy for Obama's first term. Save perhaps his response to the Great Recession, the ACA is likely to be the primary measure by which his presidency will be judged in the history books. As long as it is fully implemented, it should help millions of uninsured Americans by shifting more people onto Medicaid, providing subsidies for low-income workers, and forbidding insurance companies from excluding customers based on past illness. The Obama campaign released an interactive flow chart yesterday. One inputs their demographic data—age, sex, and income, for example—and the program spits out various ways the ACA has improved your health-care coverage. As someone who has private insurance, it showed me a list of services my insurance will now be required to cover at no extra charge and highlighted the fact that 80 percent of my monthly payments must be used on funding health service. It also informed me that, thanks to my salary level,...

A Stealth Attack on Democratic Governance

Why are Obama trade negotiators pushing the extreme Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why is it being negotiated in such an untransparent manner?

AP Photo
It takes quite a “trade” agreement to undermine financial regulation, increase drug prices, flood us with unsafe imported food and products, ban Buy America policies aimed at recovery and redevelopment, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards before tribunals of corporate lawyers. Trade, in fact, is the least of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Backdoor deregulation and imposition of new corporate investor and patent rights via trade negotiation began in the 1990s with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But the TPP now threatens a slow-motion stealth attack against a century of progressive domestic policy. At stake is nothing less than a democratic society’s ability to regulate a market economy in the broad public interest. Under the framework now being negotiated, U.S. states and the federal government would be obliged to bring our existing and future policies into compliance with expansive norms...

Is Barack Obama the First Jewish President?

The White House seder in 2010 (Pete Souza)
If Bill Clinton was the first black president, as Toni Morrison famously observed, then could Barack Obama be the first Jewish president? That's the interesting case Jeffrey Goldberg makes at The Atlantic . Goldberg tells how he gave Obama a copy of a new Haggadah he contributed to: When I handed him the Haggadah, President Obama, who famously stages his own seders at the White House, (which is a very nice philo-Semitic thing to do, IMHO) spent a moment leafing through it and making approving noises. Then he said (as I told the Times): "Does this mean we can't use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?" George W. Bush was, in his own way, a philo-Semite, but he never would have made such an M.O.T. kind of joke (see the end of this post if you're not sure what M.O.T. means). Once again, Barack Obama was riffing off the cosmic joke that he is somehow anti-Semitic, when in fact, as many people understand, he is the most Jewish president we've ever had (except for Rutherford B. Hayes). No...

When Do We Get to See Obama's Radicalism?

So this is the plan to dismantle capitalism? Excellent.
Last week I wrote a post mocking conservatives for their relentless search for the next secret videotape that will expose Barack Obama as a dangerous radical, the latest of which was the shocking revelation that as a law student, he supported his professor Derrick Bell's efforts to diversify the Harvard Law School faculty. Unsurprisingly, conservatives reacted by saying that I just didn't get it ( here 's a sample). It's worth saying a bit more about this phenomenon, because we surely haven't seen the last of it, both in the campaign and in Obama's second term, should he win one. The search for the radical associations in Obama's pre-political history began almost as soon as Obama's presidential candidacy began in 2007. Some conservatives (and that's an important qualifier; many conservatives understand that this stuff is nuts) have been positively obsessed with uncovering Obama's radical associations. They have also insisted that those associations are closer than anyone thinks. So...

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