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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

‘We’d Rather Bet the Farm on Grassley Than a Bunch of Trial Lawyers from Texas.’



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Bruce Braley may want to avoid watching television for the next few days. Or weeks. Or months. “Priorities for Iowa” is dropping $250,000 worth of this 30-second ad:

Is this going to be this cycle’s “macaca”?

Tags: Bruce Braley , Chuck Grassley , Iowa

Obama’s Task Force on the Auto Industry Flunks the Test.



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Also in today’s Jolt, hitting e-mailboxes a moment ago, a bit more about the General Motors recall scandal. A question that must be answered: How did President Obama’s Task Force on the Auto Industry, which put together the GM bailout, manage to miss the fact that the company had a “potentially fatal defect [that] existed in hundreds of thousands” of GM vehicles, with massive liability issues?

Announcing his Task Force’s plan, President Obama said, “We, as a nation, cannot afford to shirk responsibility any longer. Now is the time to confront our problems head-on and do what’s necessary to solve them.” But we now know GM wasn’t confronting problems head-on and doing what was necessary to solve them; they let the defective and dangerous cars remain on the roads for years. And either they hid that, as they asked the government for billions of dollars in aid from taxpayers . . . or, even worse, it was mentioned, and the Task Force never told the public.

From BusinessWeek:

GM’s own engineers, along with newspaper auto writers, were talking about the ignition switch defect in several GM models almost a decade before the carmaker announced plans last month to recall 1.6 million vehicles . . . 

The documents GM filed yesterday indicate the company got an early indication of the ignition-switch problems as it developed the Saturn Ion in 2001. It thought the problem was fixed. Then, in 2003, an engineer investigating a consumer complaint was able to replicate engine stalls while driving. GM ended up using the same switch in the Cobalt, the G5 and three other U.S. models.

Wait, did we say that they knew about this sudden-stall problem for a decade? Maybe two decades, according to Automotive News:

Stung by rising warranty costs, General Motors decided in the mid-1990s to pull design work for ignition and turn-signal switches from suppliers and put its own employees in charge. One of the first projects for the in-house team was the ignition switch for the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt.

Why did GM authorize a redesign of the part in 2006, eight years before the recall? And why was the change made so discreetly — without a new part number — that employees investigating complaints of Ions and Cobalts stalling didn’t know about it until late last year? . . . 

Not assigning the new part number would have been highly unusual, according to three people who worked as high-level GM engineers at the time. None of the engineers was involved in the handling of the ignition switch; all asked that their names not be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“Changing the fit, form or function of a part without making a part number change is a cardinal sin,” said one of the engineers. “It would have been an extraordinary violation of internal processes.”

That doesn’t prove that the company was trying to cover up a defective, dangerous part . . . but it sure does look suspicious.

Why does this matter to us? Because $10.5 billion of our tax dollars were given to GM to steward them through the bankruptcy — and it’s very likely they were lying to everyone the whole time. The National Legal and Policy Center is asking some very tough questions:

The timing of the revelation (May 15, 2009, just two weeks prior to GM filing for bankruptcy) that a “potentially fatal defect existed in hundreds of thousands” of GM vehicles is of particular importance as the company is currently being accused of hiding the liabilities arising from the defects from the bankruptcy court in June of 2009. Is it really believable that the company honestly overlooked a “potentially fatal defect” and the accompanying lawsuits when they were required to disclose them to the bankruptcy court? Also, how could President Obama’s Auto Task Force, which orchestrated the bankruptcy process, not know of the issues when they were so deeply entrenched at GM.

If Old GM knew about the defects, New GM had to know as well. Also, meetings were held in July of 2011 regarding the known defects at a time when Mary Barra was head of product development; still, no recall. And New GM’s recent responses have not been any better than the old.

All through the reelection campaign, Barack Obama and his supporters celebrated the GM bailout as one of his shining successes. Now it turns out we were helping a company that sold dangerous, defective vehicles last a little longer until the plaintiffs’ lawyers got a hold of them. (The argument is that by hiding the danger during the bankruptcy crisis, the “new GM” is liable for the actions of the “old GM.”)

Tags: Barack Obama , GM

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Sneering at Farmers Is an Odd Strategy for an Iowa Candidate



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Way to Go, Iowa Democrats. You Found a Candidate Who Sneers at Farmers.

Bruce Braley . . . what a jerk.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley apologized this afternoon for offending Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley after video footage surfaced that shows Braley mocking Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

In an effort to embarrass Braley, Republican operatives today began to circulate the video of him warning some out-of-state lawyers that Grassley might become the next judiciary committee chairman if they didn’t contribute money to help elect Braley.

I’d say it’s pretty hard for “Republican operatives” to try to embarrass Braley when he’s already done such a fine job at that task himself.

The remarks by Braley, a trial lawyer and congressman who is running in the high-stakes open race for retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat, quickly caught fire on Twitter and various national news sites, as politics watchers predicted that this incident will bruise a campaign that they’ve been confident would see victory in November. And Grassley’s staff pulled no punches in responding this afternoon.

“If you help me win this race,” Braley says in the video, posted online by a donor after the Jan. 23 fundraiser in Corpus Christi, Texas and released today by the conservative America Rising PAC, “you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone’s who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Did you notice he’s talking about tort reform as if it’s a bad thing?

“Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Braley says. “Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Chuck Todd notes, “A big unforced error on Braley’s part . . . not just elitist, but un-Iowan to attack another Iowan the way he did.”

UPDATE: Here’s the video of Braley, with more than 45,000 views by 9:00 this morning:

Tags: Bruce Braley , Iowa , Chuck Grassley

Obama: I’m ‘More Concerned’ about a ‘Nuclear Weapon Going Off in Manhattan’



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What?

President Obama, speaking in the Netherlands, moments ago:

The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more. And so my response, then, continues to be what I believe today, which is that Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia , nuclear weapons

The Taxpayer Bailout of GM, Helping Them Sell Unsafe Cars



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President Obama, December 2013:

In exchange for rescuing and retooling GM and Chrysler with taxpayer dollars, we demanded responsibility and results.

The news he alluded to, but did not directly mention that day:

The taxpayer loss on the GM bailout is $10.5 billion. The Treasury department said it recovered $39 billion from selling its GM stake, and had put $49.5 billion of taxpayer money directly into the GM bailout.

The news today:

It was nearly five years ago that any doubts were laid to rest among engineers at General Motors about a dangerous and faulty ignition switch. At a meeting on May 15, 2009, they learned that data in the black boxes of Chevrolet Cobalts confirmed a potentially fatal defect existed in hundreds of thousands of cars.

But in the months and years that followed, as a trove of internal documents and studies mounted, G.M. told the families of accident victims and other customers that it did not have enough evidence of any defect in their cars, interviews, letters and legal documents show. Last month, G.M. recalled 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars, saying that if the switch was bumped or weighed down it could shut off the engine’s power and disable air bags.

The Times reports:

Since the engineers’ meeting in May 2009, at least 23 fatal crashes have involved the recalled models, resulting in 26 deaths.

In November 2008, automaker executives came to Washington and “pleaded for emergency government aid.” At the end of May 2009 — after that meeting about the potentially fatal defect in the Cobalts! — the Obama administration finalized its aid package and terms to GM, committing “another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations, in exchange for a 60% equity stake in the new company after restructuring, as well as $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock.”

Great news, taxpayers. You spent $10.5 billion to save a company that sold defective, unsafe cars, and lied about it for years.

Note this wrinkle:

When questioned last week at a news conference whether government ownership had any impact on the regulatory response to the ignition switch problems, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. responded: “I’m not sure that is necessarily true.”

Time to update that Obama 2012 slogan. “GM is alive, and 29 Cobalt drivers and passengers are dead.”

ABOVE: President Obama tapes his weekly address from a GM plant in
Detroit, October 14, 2011; there’s no word on whether the car behind him is one
of those with life-threatening defects that GM knew about but did not disclose.

Tags: GM , Bailouts , Barack Obama , Eric Holder

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The Hillary 2016 Campaign, Focusing on Climate Change. Can’t Wait.



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

The Hillary 2016 Campaign, Focusing on Climate Change. Can’t Wait.

Oh, of course:

TEMPE, Ariz. — Hillary Rodham Clinton said here Saturday night that she is weighing another presidential campaign and is “very much concerned” about the direction of the country, citing climate change as a particular focus.

Mmm-hmm. Remember this Gallup poll on Americans’ priorities from earlier this month?

Right down at the bottom on the list of priorities — “the quality of the environment” and “climate change.”

You know who cares about climate change? Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Of course, he’s proving that his $100 million effort this year is more about partisanship than principles, since his team has announced they won’t run ads or criticize Democrats who support building the Keystone pipeline.

Perhaps Tom Steyer — er, his fortune and his network of like-minded wealthy folks who prioritize climate-change rhetoric coming from Democrats — is enough of a constituency to court at this early stage of the nascent campaign. But the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign is going to have to be about something, besides the fact that she would be the first woman president and her own inevitability. That’s more or less what she ran on in 2007 and 2008, and we remember where that left her. And remember, early 2008 was comparable peace and prosperity compared to now, and in all likelihood, the political environment of 2015 and 2016.

Remember, the first draft was that Hillary was going to run as an outsider who would reform Washington. I’m serious:

National Journal’s Ron Fournier talks to Hillary Clinton’s friends and supporters and writes a “memo” of advice to her, based upon their thoughts. His conclusion:

Pope Francis has reminded us of the power of small gestures. Without changing the Vatican’s ideology one iota, he has transformed the way people think about the Catholic Church, one symbolic act at a time. And consider the parallels between your job and that of the pope — an old man running an ancient institution marred by scandal and incompetence. You can be just as transformative. Actually, if you run for president, you must be. That’s what a few of us think.

Stop. Just stop.

Hillary Clinton is more inside-Washington than the District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority. She’s lived and worked there since January 1993 — please, no more implausible spin that her heart is really in Chappaqua and that she’s always been a Yankee fan. As first lady, then senator, then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has probably ranked among the five most influential figures in Washington every year for the past two decades. Even during the Bush years, there were few figures in D.C. or the world that she couldn’t get a meeting with and offer her views. She’s never been shut out of the policy-making process. During most of her Senate years, particularly post-9/11, most Republicans respected her. Since then, she and her husband have turned the Clinton Foundation into an unparalleled institution for hobnobbing with the world’s elites and the Davos set, with more than a few serious allegations of influence-peddling and favor-trading. This Town and its methods and culture have her fingerprints all over them. Since the moment her husband was sworn in, she has been at the top of Washington’s food chain, with everyone beneath her flattering her, sucking up, hoping to win her favor and have a future friend in the Oval Office. (“Clinton has racked up at least 15 awards in the nine months since she left the State Department.”)

Nothing in Hillary Clinton’s past suggests she’s ever been that dissatisfied with the way Washington and/or the country works. For pete’s sake, while secretary of state, she had Huma Abedin under a “special contract” that allowed her to be a consultant for private clients while keeping her $135,000-per-year State Department job.

The status quo has been very, very, very good for the Clintons. They have a net worth estimated at $55 million; Hillary Clinton’s speaking fee begins at $200,000, with Wall Street banks and private-equity firms most frequently picking up the tab: Goldman Sachs, KKR, the Carlyle Group. Far from an impassioned reformer, eager to overhaul a system of crony capitalism and back-scratching, Hillary Clinton is our political and economic status quo in human form.

Expecting Hillary Clinton to be a transformative reformer of Washington is like expecting Donald Trump to become a Bolshevik, Kim Jong Un to renounce power and become a monk, or the New York Yankees to push for the end of free agency in baseball. Powerful people rarely if ever decide to completely overhaul the system that made them powerful.

So they need a Plan B, a different theme to match the historical moment, but . . . climate change? Really? Look at that chart up there. Just about everybody is worried about the economy. Just about everybody is telling Gallup that they care about the debt, although it’s fair to question how much those folks really mean it. Healthcare — right up there. Unemployment — right up there. “The size and power of the federal government” . . . 

She’s hinting that she’s going to have to run away from the foreign policy of the Obama administration:

Hillary Rodham Clinton cast doubt on the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, saying in a muscular policy speech here Wednesday night that she is “personally skeptical” that Iran’s leaders will follow through on a comprehensive agreement to end their march toward nuclear weapons.

Clinton said the United States should “give space for diplomacy to work” and avoid imposing new unilateral sanctions or any other actions that might lead any allies to back out of existing international sanctions against Iran.

“The odds of reaching that comprehensive agreement are not good,” Clinton said. “I am also personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver. I have seen their behavior over the years. But this is a development that is worth testing.”

She’s going to have to run against Washington after living and working in Washington for 20 years, and perhaps run against the Obama administration after serving in it. It’s rather surprising that more Democrats aren’t thinking of running in 2016 and attempting to be the Barack Obama of this cycle . . . 

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Climate Change

The DCCC’s Gift Shop, Untouched Since the Holidays



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MyDemocraticStore.com is “the official store of the Democrats 2014 campaign . . . paid for by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

It has also not been updated since Christmas the holidays.

When you’re offering “I heart Obamacare” bumper stickers, maybe you’re just not getting that many sales, and thus forget to update the site for a month or three.

Also notice the “Stand Up for Medicare” car magnets . . . 

 . . . which probably should be recalled, since HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cut the maximum amount she could from Medicare’s payments for home-health-care services.

Tags: DCCC , Obamacare

Reminder: Senator Begich’s Family Lives in Washington, D.C.



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Apparently the defenders of embattled Alaska senator Mark Begich want the preeminent issue in this year’s Senate race to be about who lives where. In an attack ad against GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, Put Alaska First sneers that Sullivan was “born and raised in Ohio, and the recent owner of a home in [a] swanky D.C. suburb.”

Indeed, Sullivan was a “recent owner” in the sense that he owned the home from 2006 to 2010. Of course, for a portion of that time, Sullivan, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine reserves, was called back to active duty — from 2004 to 2006, and again in early 2009. From May 2006 to January 2009, Sullivan’s day job was United States Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs — and he was still voting absentee in Alaska. Before then, he was on the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice. Then Governor Sarah Palin appointed Sullivan to be the state attorney general; he served in that position for a year before Governor Sean Parnell appointed him Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner.

His most recent active duty was a six-week tour in Afghanistan in the summer of 2013, in the 4th Marine Division’s Anti-Terrorism Battalion; he is a recipient of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. Rice is endorsing him in a new ad:

Does Senator Mark Begich really want to get into the “who owns which property in which swanky D.C. suburb” game? Because he sends his children to private school in the D.C. area:

Begich said he’s a strong supporter of public education, and that his son attended public school in Anchorage. The family moved to D.C. before school reform efforts had improved Begich’s neighborhood school, and the family chose a private school. Begich added that he’s paying for it himself.

(Begich’s son was born in 2002, and Begich was elected in 2008, and started his term as a U.S. senator in 2009. So his son’s attendance at the Anchorage public school was . . . brief — from 2007 or so to early 2009.)

Do Begich and his allies really want to make this race about who lives where? Because his decision to send his son to a private school in D.C. puts that soft-focus biography ad, depicting the incumbent senator shoveling snow with his son, in a new light. Were they shoveling snow in Alaska or in D.C.?

If it’s okay for Begich to have his family with him while he serves in government in Washington, D.C., why is it not okay for Sullivan to do this?

Begich’s allies really want to make this race about that Bethesda home . . . because apparently real Alaskans live on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Tags: Mark Begich , Dan Sullivan

Representative Simpson: ‘I Think You Can Get Back to Doing Limited Earmarks.’



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Six-term representative Mike Simpson (R., Idaho) is hardly a squish, with a lifetime ACU rating of 81.96.

But his primary challenger, Bryan Smith, argues that he’s not fighting the good fight on some key issues. Smith says that if he were in Congress, he “would not have voted to raise the debt ceiling unless there were major spending cuts. In the case of the recent budget appropriations, he would have only supported it if it reversed the President’s decision to exempt 17,000 people from Obamacare.”

The Club for Growth’s PAC wants to see Simpson replaced; Citizens Against Government Waste rated him a mere 42 percent back in 2011.

Smith’s campaign contends this video from the Idaho Statesman, of Simpson discussing earmarks, reflects him declaring his “love” for earmarks. In the remarks, Simpson begins, “I’ve always been a supporter of earmarks” and attempts to make the case that earmarks represent the way a Republican can influence spending during a Democratic administration. He argues that ending earmarks has effectively turned congressional authority over control of spending over to the executive branch. “I think you can get back to doing limited earmarks, for transportation projects, for water projects, those sorts of things.”

Which option do Republican primary voters dislike more, earmarks or the Obama administration directing spending?

Idaho’s second congressional district is rated as an R+17 district in the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

Tags: Earmarks , Mike Simpson , Bryan Smith

New Ad: ‘Why Is Obamacare Cutting Our Medicare?’



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They’re here: Ads hitting Democrats for cutting Medicare.

Ouch: “Tell President Obama to stop hurting seniors and women. Reverse these devastating Medicare cuts.”

The ad is from the Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, a Chicago-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit issue-advocacy organization. The group said the ad is first airing in Iowa; the CCGP focuses mostly on Midwestern races. According to the Des Moines Register, “The commercial was produced by admakers Larry McCarthy and Dave Whalen, who did ads in 2012 for the pro-Romney super PAC Restore our Future and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Latham’s congressional race, among others.”

What’s worth noting about this ad is that it is not spotlighting future cuts or potential cuts; it’s hitting the administration on actual, enacted cuts. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cut the maximum amount she could from Medicare’s payments for home-health-care services — when a professional from a Medicare-certified home health agency comes to an elderly person’s house and provides nursing care, physical therapy, or speech-language pathology services. Sebelius cut the maximum permitted by law, 3.5 percent, and declared that HHS would do the same for the next three years.

Tags: Obamacare , Medicare , Iowa

Washington Post Belatedly Realizes Who Terry McAuliffe Is



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From the Washington Post editorial board’s endorsement of Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia, October 12:

There is no disguising that Mr. McAuliffe, a self-described wheeler-dealer who burst on to the national stage as a prodigious fundraiser for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, lacks the close engagement with policy possessed by Virginia’s recent governors. The ultimate political insider, his stock in trade has been playing the angles where access and profit intersect.

Nonetheless, as a candidate for governor Mr. McAuliffe has taken sensible stands on key issues, and he has had the political savvy to stay mostly on message. Critically, he embraced the transportation funding bill enacted by a bipartisan majority of the General Assembly this year, a measure that will ensure that the state’s roads and rails keep pace with a 21st-century economy.

That same editorial board, beginning to realize what they have done, this weekend:

IT’S HARD to think of a more tone-deaf political move lately than Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s unveiling of his Common Good Virginia PAC, which peddles dinners and sit downs with Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, his wife and unnamed “policy experts” for fat cats with a policy agenda for fees reaching $100,000.

Of all people, in all places and at all times, Mr. McAuliffe in Virginia right now is about the worst combination we can think of for this particular brand of fundraising. If Mr. McAuliffe, after fewer than three months in office, is intent on opening fire at his own feet, he’s seized on an effective way to do it.

Wait a minute! You guys assured us he had “the political savvy to stay mostly on message”! How can you be surprised that he’s now “playing the angles where access and profit intersect”?

ABOVE: Terry McAuliffe in 2008, a bit before he came to Richmond
to restore honor, dignity, and decency to Virginia state politics.

Tags: Terry McAuliffe , Washington Post , Virginia

Just Don’t Pull a Duke, GOP Senate Candidates



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From the first Morning Jolt of the week . . . 

Nate Silver: Republicans Are ‘Slight Favorites’ to Win Control of the Senate

The good news for Republicans: Nate Silver, the former New York Times, now ABC-affiliated statistics guru who a lot of lefties believe has near-divine attributes of clairvoyance, updated his assessment of the 2014 Senate races:

We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions.

The caveat: Nate Silver also wrote that Duke had a 92.9 percent chance of beating Mercer in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Above: Nate Silver, hard at work in his laboratory.

Silver notes:

Especially in recent years, Democrats have come to rely on groups such as racial minorities and young voters that turn out much more reliably in presidential years than for the midterms. In 2010, the Republican turnout advantage amounted to the equivalent of 6 percentage points, meaning a tie on the generic ballot among registered voters translated into a six-point Republican lead among likely voters. The GOP’s edge hadn’t been quite that large in past years. But if the “enthusiasm gap” is as large this year as it was in 2010, Democrats will have a difficult time keeping the Senate.

When I say that, I’m a wishful-thinking over-optimistic spinning partisan hack. When he says it, it’s Science™!

For what it’s worth, the Democratic grassroots takes Nate Silver extremely seriously:

For the last few months, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver has been largely absent from the political forecasting scene he owned in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

But that hasn’t stopped the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from sending at least 11 fundraising emails featuring Silver in the subject line over the past four months, even as Silver was building the foundation for his new website that’s launching Monday and was not writing regularly.

It’s all part of a digital fundraising game that will increase in intensity as the election draws nearer, as candidates, political parties, and other groups bombard their email lists with messages designed to draw contributions.

Silver’s latest take could get Democrats fired up and determined, or it could leave them dispirited and panicked. Monday morning, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a memo declaring, “Nuh-uhhhh!”

Tags: Senate Democrats , Senate Elections , Senate Republicans , Nate Silver

President Obama’s Discussion of Your Privacy Is Private



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President Obama’s meeting with technology leaders about invasions of privacy of U.S. citizens is private:

We can’t leave the door open or have the press in the room, because it just wouldn’t be right if somebody could listen in on their conversations!

You may recall that three years ago, President Obama accepted a “transparency” award from the open-government community in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House.

Tags: Barack Obama

Obamacare Architect: This Law Will End Employer-Based Insurance



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Sure, Democrats, you go ahead and tell the American people that repealing Obamacare is impossible:

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who helped devise the Affordable Care Act, has a vision for how it will eventually work. Democrats hope it will not materialize anytime soon.

Mr. Emanuel expects the law to produce an unadvertised but fundamental shift in where most working Americans get their health insurance — specifically, a sharp drop in the number of employers who offer coverage to their workers. That scale of change would dwarf what took place last fall, when a political firestorm erupted over President Obama’s “if you like your plan you can keep it” pledge.

Emanuel thinks that a number of well-known national companies will break the mold and begin a trend. By his estimation, the proportion of private-sector workers who receive health care from employers will fall below 20 percent by 2025. Currently, just under 60 percent of private-sector workers get health care from employers.

“It’ll be a matter of a few big employers, blue-chip companies,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview. “Then it’s going to be the norm.”

Now he tells us.

Our Avik Roy is quoted in the article that this would have some benefits, in that getting people to buy insurance individually makes it more portable from job to job and location to location. But for millions of Americans who are watching others get cancellation notices, this is horrifying, and says their fears are well-founded. The advantages of employer-based insurance are first, simplicity; your employer shops around for the plan they prefer. The second benefit is your employer covering a big chunk of the cost. Republicans were right all along: This is designed to get companies to toss their employers off their own plans and into the exchanges — where, as we’ve seen, a lot of people don’t like the options.

Think about how this nullifies so many of the talking points of the bill! “Now young people can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26” doesn’t mean much if Mom and Dad lose their plan. Eliminating “lifetime limits on essential medical expenses” is good only if you can afford health insurance. The pledge that insurers can no longer drop your coverage if you’re sick doesn’t mean much if you’re losing your insurance when you’re healthy.

As noted below, several state exchanges still aren’t working at all or are barely working.

This thing is a disaster from top to bottom, sold with egregious lies and outrageous duplicity.

If you like your plan . . . we’re going to destroy it.

Tags: Obamacare , Ezekiel Emanuel

Who’s Up for Another Round of Obamacare Train Wrecks?



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Obamacare Implementation Isn’t Getting Better as the Deadline Approaches

Who’s up for another round of Obamacare train wrecks?

CRASH!

Nearly half of callers to California’s health insurance exchange in February and March couldn’t get through and abandoned their call, state figures show.

Those service woes could worsen as more people try to beat the March 31 deadline to get Obamacare coverage under the Affordable Care Act…

On the service front, [Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California] said the exchange has been able to reduce wait times on the phone from about 50 minutes to 30 minutes. The state has hired more call-center workers and added phone capacity in preparation for a last-minute rush.

Still, less than 5% of calls are answered within 30 seconds and about a third of callers get a busy signal, state data show. Overall, 40% of exchange customers surveyed said they found the enrollment process difficult.

SMASH!

By some measures Oregon has among the most dysfunctional online insurance exchanges in the nation. Only about 50,000 people in Oregon have signed up for a commercial insurance plan through the exchange, well below the state’s goal, according to federal estimates. And almost all of those people enrolled using paper applications or with help from an insurance professional because the website had been so unreliable.

On Thursday, a grim-faced Mr. Kitzhaber released a new report, commissioned by the state with a private company, that underscored how systemic Oregon’s failure has been. The report found fault not only with the code-writers at Oracle, the software company contracted to build the site, but also with the state managers who overlooked or minimized repeated warnings that the system they had asked Oracle to build was too complex…

With a March 31 deadline for first-year enrollment looming, the online exchange, Cover Oregon, is still unable to process an applicant from start to finish without help or paperwork.

In an interview, Mr. Kitzhaber, who is running for a fourth term this fall, said he had no doubt that Cover Oregon and its struggles would be “the issue” in the campaign. “There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there, and there should be,” he said.

But he said he thought that broader Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act itself — a script likely to be followed in elections around the nation — would not find as receptive an audience in Oregon, with its strong Democratic base.

“What happened in Oregon is not a policy failure, it’s technology failure,” he said.

This just handed to me: A technology failure is still a failure. And it happened on Kitzhaber’s watch. Oregon voters have absolutely no reason to trust the guy who allowed the current existing “systemic failure” to be the guy to fix it.

THUNK!

Anyone who attempted to sign up for health insurance with Nevada’s failed insurance exchange will have another 60 days to complete the process.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange Board action on Thursday leaves the door open for tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to reapply after open enrollment ends March 31.

Officials say up to 300,000 people may have tried over the past six months to choose a plan over Nevada Health Link but were thwarted by program errors in the system designed by Xerox.

Only about 22,000 people have successfully enrolled and paid for policies since the exchange went live Oct. 1.

So… are any of the old deadlines still in effect?

[SOME OTHER SOUND EFFECT HERE!]

A former manager at a market-research firm in Los Angeles, Rosenthal, 57, paid for his own health insurance. Last fall, when his plan was discontinued because it didn’t meet standards set by the Affordable Care Act, Rosenthal bought the best insurance coverage he could find, a top-tier “platinum” policy from Blue Shield of California that costs $792 a month. He figured it would provide access to top hospitals. Then in February he learned the plan wouldn’t cover the hospitals where he was used to being treated.

Rosenthal is one of millions of Americans who have purchased insurance under the Affordable Care Act and are discovering that many of the new plans offer a narrow network of doctors and facilities. “If I had anything happen, I wouldn’t want to go to a hospital that I’m not familiar with and with doctors I don’t know,” he says…

In addition to having fewer options, buyers are making decisions about which plans to buy based on incomplete or misleading information, says Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research group. “Consumers have a very limited ability to shop in advance and evaluate provider networks,” she says.

What would we have to see for Democrats to label Obamacare a failure? Plagues? Mad scientists? Giant radioactive lizards stomping across the landscape?

Tags: Obamacare

The President’s Busy Morning: Russia Announcement, ESPN Radio



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This morning President Obama announced new sanctions on Russia for that country’s aggression in Crimea and threatening gestures toward Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Then the president did an interview with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd.

This is the home page of WhiteHouse.gov right now:

“View the President’s Backet” is at the top of the page.

Elsewhere on WhiteHouse.gov, visitors are encouraged to provide their e-mail addresses so they can “Sign up to get the First Lady’s blog posts, videos of events and photos delivered right to your inbox” dealing with first lady Michelle Obama’s trip to China.

This is really the only way for the American public to learn much about the first lady’s six-day taxpayer-funded trip to China with her daughters and mother, as “First lady Michelle Obama will not take questions from reporters or give interviews during her tour of China that begins today, and members of the press corps who usually follows [sic] the first family everywhere can’t travel with her entourage.”

Back in November, news organizations filed a formal complaint with the White House about the administration’s habit of “bypassing them to release ‘official’ photos of presidential meetings and events,” contending “visual press releases” have displaced independent coverage.

Tags: Barack Obama , Michelle Obama , White House , Russia , Basketball

58 Percent of Seniors Fear Their Health-Care Plan Could Be Canceled



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In the 2010 midterms, voters over 65 favored Republicans by a 21-point margin. The 59–38 split of the midterms abated a bit in the presidential year, with seniors preferring Republicans 56–44 in 2012. But perhaps 2014 will be even worse than 2010 for Democrats:

One of the most politically incendiary issues of last fall’s Obamacare launch may turn into a major issue with senior voters in 2014, says The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan seniors organization. According to a new poll released today by TSCL, 58 percent of seniors, including those over the age of 65, say that they are worried that their health plan could be canceled to meet new Obamacare requirements, versus 42 percent who said they aren’t.

Most of TSCL’s members and supporters are seniors 65 and older with Medicare coverage. The poll, which was conducted late January to mid February, was designed to test seniors’ perceptions about the confusing new health law. It did not distinguish between seniors 65 and over who are covered by Medicare, and seniors under the age of 65 who are now required to have health insurance under the new healthcare law. The poll simply asked, “Are you worried that your health plan could be canceled to meet new Obamacare requirements?”

A reminder:

Tags: Obamacare , Seniors

Why Russia’s Recent Aggression Really Is Our Problem



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The Thursday Morning Jolt features all kinds of ominous news in Eastern Europe, Rand Paul getting a warm reception before an unexpected audience, and then this:

Why Is This Our Problem?

I’m going to take the isolationists and noninterventionists seriously. They ask, why is this our problem? Over at the Washington Post, Georgetown’s Erik Voeten writes:

There is no reason to think that existing borders are somehow morally the right ones or that they are socially or economically efficient…

Who is to say that the people of a small Central American country are necessarily better off with the United States constantly mingling in their affairs than they would have been if the United States had annexed the territory? Or indeed, if the people of Crimea are worse off if they join Russia than they would be with their powerful neighbor constantly prying into their affairs? (Although we would certainly prefer if they could express this themselves in a fair way). It is not right to pretend that an absence of annexation equals an absence of great power interference.

We don’t actually care about the particulars of the borders of foreign states. We’re perfectly fine with two states redrawing the lines of their borders, provided they do it in a manner acceptable to both parties. Russia and Estonia actually recently worked out some disputes about their border at the negotiating table. Nobody in the American government really cared. We don’t care about where the borders are, but we sure as heck care about how the disputes get resolved.

There’s an argument to be made that America has no national interest in whose flag flies over the Crimean peninsula. There’s also an argument to be made that because Ukraine’s government since the end of the Cold War has alternated between corrupt, incompetent pro-Western leaders and corrupt, incompetent pro-Russian leaders, we don’t have a terribly compelling interest in who’s running the show in Kiev.

But we sure as heck have a compelling interest in the behavior of Russia. And when somebody sends over a whole bunch of troops and weapons, with or without masks, claims that territory for themselves and then more or less dares the opposing country to do something about it, that interest ratchets up dramatically. This is how wars start.

Joshua Keating:

In an ideal world, governments might be more open to negotiating border changes along more rational lines, but in the actually existing world, such changes more often than not involve creating disenfranchised minorities (the Ukrainians and Tatars who woke up in a foreign country today) or in the worst cases, war and ethnic cleansing.

Defending the territorial integrity of states as they currently exist may involve a good deal of hypocrisy, but for the most part, governments and international institutions embrace that hypocrisy because the alternative is seen as far worse.

This morning, Senator Marco Rubio pens an op-ed in the Washington Post:

Some have suggested that Crimea is not worth triggering tensions with Russia, given other interests that are more important. While it is best to avoid conflict whenever possible, history shows that illegitimate aggressions that go unchallenged are a virtual guarantee of even more dangerous conflict in the future.

I welcome the fact that Vice President Biden is in the region this week to bring a message of reassurance to our allies and partners. I hope those assurances include a specific and clear response to requests by Georgia and Ukraine for lethal military support from the United States. It is shameful that even as Russia attempts to carve up Ukrainian territory, Ukraine’s request for weapons, intelligence sharing and other assistance has been turned down by the Obama administration.

Of course, most of our serious options remain unused — dramatically expanding our natural-gas and oil exports to Europe, deploying more U.S. naval assets, rescinding the announced Pentagon cuts, shutting down the Russian mission to NATO in Brussels, commencing military exercises with all of our NATO allies, redeploying missile defense interceptors in Europe . . . 

What kind of weapons would be most useful to the Ukrainians and our unnerved Eastern European allies? Anti-tank weapons? Sniper rifles? (Sure would be nice to have some land mines right about now, don’t you think?)

Right now the Air Force’s entire fleet of 350 A-10s is slated be retired in order to save $3.5 billion over five years (some argue the F-35 isn’t an adequate replacement). The Canadians are already talking about buying some of ours. Why not offer them to our Eastern European allies at fire-sale prices?

Any plane that’s good enough against SkyNet is good enough to deter the Red Army.

Tags: Russia , Ukraine , Crimea , Vladimir Putin , Marco Rubio

BusinessWeek Notices ‘Obamacare’s Surprise Medicare Cut’



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A few weeks ago, I wrote about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s decision to cut the maximum amount she could from Medicare’s payments for home health-care services. The short version:

Sebelius cut the maximum permitted by law, 3.5 percent, and declared HHS would do the same for the next three years.

As Angle’s report: noted, “The cuts were deep enough that officials offered a damaging prediction of the impact saying, it was estimated that approximately 40 percent of providers would have negative margins.”

“Negative margins” is another term for losing money. And businesses that lose money either go kaput or lay off workers. Forty percent of the firms in the industry adds up to roughly a half-million jobs. That doesn’t mean that 500,000 home health-care workers will be fired tomorrow, but it does mean that they’re at serious risk for layoffs in the next three years.

So we’re talking about a massive job-killer in a field dedicated to treating the health problems of the elderly. Keep in mind the National Association for Home Care and Hospice forecasts much worse consequences for these cuts, projecting that the reductions will likely render three-quarters of all industry operators unable to run profitably by 2017.

So here we have an administration that plays the “Mediscare” card as well as anyone, making big cuts to care for the elderly and hoping no one notices.

The good folks at BusinessWeek have caught up, and offer a headline that I’ll bet you’ll see in GOP attack ads this year:

Democrats can insist that Obamacare won’t be an epic liability in the midterm elections, but one wonders if they’ve accounted for millions of dollars in attack ads declaring that Obamacare cut Medicare and left providers of home health care “stunned.” How long until we see an ad depicting a Sebelius look-alike tossing Granny off a cliff?

Tags: Obamacare , Medicare , Kathleen Sebelius

Another Proud Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History



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Well done, National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Last night she tweeted . . . 

Notice the missing “r” in “progress”; clearly she meant @ukrprogress. Unfortunately, someone set up a foul-mouthed parody Twitter feed using the typo Rice sent out to the world.

Rice has since deleted the erroneous Tweet and sent out another one . . . getting it wrong again:

Once again, Rice wanted to steer followers to @ukrprogress, not the little-used Twitter account of the UK Progress for Lancaster Business School.

It’s just not her day.

Tags: Susan Rice , Ukraine

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