In the USA...
February 13, 2013
Extending a Theme, Obama Promotes Resurgence in U.S. Manufacturing
By MARK LANDLER and JONATHAN WEISMAN
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The day after President Obama charted an expansive new view of the government’s role in society, it seemed less and less likely that many of his proposals would survive the political riptide on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, as Mr. Obama took to the road and visited a Canadian engine-parts factory near here to sell his vision, Republicans and even some Democrats expressed doubt about whether plans to raise the minimum wage or provide universal access to prekindergarten would ever be enacted — especially on top of ambitious White House efforts on gun violence and immigration.
Mr. Obama chose a politically friendly corner of Republican-leaning North Carolina to promote the resurgence of American manufacturing, one of the central messages of a State of the Union speech that also included initiatives on education and energy.
“What’s happening here is happening all around the country,” Mr. Obama said against a backdrop of three hulking engine blocks. “Just as it’s becoming more and more expensive to do business in places like China, America is getting more competitive.”
The far-reaching nature of the president’s agenda took lawmakers from both parties by surprise, even though it built on his assertive Inaugural Address. Republicans, whose policies are focused on deficit reduction, reacted incredulously.
“It’s not like we’ve solved all of the problems we’re working on now so we have to be looking for other things,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “The federal government taking over prekindergarten programs in America? The federal government deciding Washington, D.C., is the best place to administer elections? I don’t see it.”
Some Democrats counseled that the presidential wish list laid out Tuesday night should not be taken literally in a suspicious Capitol.
“You can disagree with the president, but you cannot say he has no vision, no dreams or aspirations for this country, and that’s what he was laying out,” said Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York.
Asheville was the first of three stops in a campaign-style swing that has become a tradition after the State of the Union speech. Speaking to a sympathetic audience of factory workers, Mr. Obama played up his proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, to $9 an hour from $7.25. “If you work full time,” he said, “you shouldn’t be in poverty.”
Yet even in stronger economic times, minimum wage increases have been heavy political lifts. The last increase passed in 2007, after Democrats swept to control of Congress, and even then it had to be tacked onto an Iraq war financing and Hurricane Katrina relief law.
Republicans swiftly rejected Mr. Obama’s latest attempt, saying it would only exacerbate the jobless rate.
“I’ve been dealing with the minimum wage issue for the last 28 years that I’ve been in elected office,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said to reporters on Wednesday. “And when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”
Democrats, however, said that after a first term marked by failed outreach to Republicans, Mr. Obama appears intent on marshaling support outside of Washington to bring pressure to bear inside. That could yield different results from those of the last two frustrating years, said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.
If nothing else, the president’s push gives Democratic senators something to do after they tackle gun violence and immigration. Democrats in the Senate and House said they would work together on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
“I think the Senate is hungry to do things that will help the middle class,” Mr. Schumer said.
During his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama proposed an even larger increase in the minimum wage, to $9.50 an hour. Jason Furman, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the net benefit to workers would be the same, or slightly greater, because of refundable tax credits that the administration granted to working families.
As he toured the factory, owned by Linamar of Canada, Mr. Obama showcased his goal of making the United States a magnet for manufacturing. Linamar, which makes parts for heavy-duty engines, recently opened its fourth American manufacturing plant here, taking over a closed Volvo construction equipment factory. The plant has hired 160 workers and plans to take on 40 more by the end of 2013.
“A few years ago, a manufacturing comeback in North Carolina, a manufacturing comeback in Asheville, may not have seemed real likely,” Mr. Obama said. “This plant had gone dark.”
Mr. Obama has a fondness for Asheville, a picturesque town of bookshops and bed-and-breakfasts in the shadow of the Blue Ridge. He vacationed here with his family, and mentioned that he and his wife, Michelle, mused about retiring here.
Voters in Asheville broke heavily for Mr. Obama over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, making Buncombe County an island of blue in deeply red western North Carolina.
At the factory, south of Asheville, Mr. Obama reiterated his proposals for bolstering manufacturing, which include eliminating tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and offering incentives for them to build factories in the United States.
Among his new proposals is a $1 billion plan, modeled on one in Germany, to create a network of 15 institutes that would develop new industries. He extolled a pilot project in Youngstown, Ohio, that he said had turned a shuttered factory into a lab where workers are honing skills in three-dimensional printing.
Linamar’s decision to put its plant here in 2011 predated most of the president’s proposals, but officials said these ideas would encourage other companies to do likewise.
Mr. Obama boasted of his record in luring well-paying manufacturing jobs back home. “After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the last three,” he said.
He pointed to Ford, Caterpillar, Intel and Apple as examples of companies that had recently built plants or decided to make products in the United States after investing abroad.
The flicker of life in manufacturing is one of the more persuasive parts of Mr. Obama’s case that the country has made progress on his watch.
Even the return of manufacturing jobs shows some evidence of tailing off. The Labor Department said employment in the sector was flat in January and essentially unchanged since July.
Mr. Furman said the leveling-out reflected depressed growth rates in Europe because of the euro crisis, which hurt American exports, as well as uncertainties over the fiscal negotiations at the end of 2012. Both of these, he said, were only temporary brakes.
Still, after inspecting the factory floor, with its highly automated milling and lathe machines, Mr. Obama struck a realistic note.
“I want to be honest with you,” he said. “We’re not going to bring back every job that’s been lost to outsourcing and automation over the last decade.”
Mark Landler reported from Asheville, and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.
February 14, 2013
Details Emerge on Obama’s Call to Extend Preschool
By MOTOKO RICH
President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” rallied advocates across the country who have long argued that inequity in education begins at a very young age.
In details that emerged early Thursday, the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers.
While supporters herald the plans as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons and counting games at home, critics argue that federal money could be squandered on ineffective programs.
In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all four-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
According to W. Steven Barnett, director of the institute, which is based at Rutgers University, only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.
The president’s plan would provide federal matching dollars to states to provide public preschool slots for four-years olds whose families earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level. President Obama would also allocate extra funds for states to expand public pre-kindergarten slots for middle-class families, who could pay on a sliding scale of tuition.
President Obama’s early education proposals come as a handful of states have been more aggressively pushing taxpayer-financed preschool.
In Alabama, for example, Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has called for a $12.5 million increase — or more than 60 percent — in the state’s preschool budget, with the eventual goal of increasing financing over 10 years to the point where every 4-year-old in the state could have a preschool slot.
The governor’s proposal is supported by a coalition of early-education advocates and business leaders, who see preschool as an important component of future job readiness.
“We’re trying to invest in a work force that can compete in 20 years with other states and other nations,” said Allison de la Torre, executive director of the coalition, the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.
Alabama is one of only five states whose preschool program received top marks based on an assessment of its quality standards by the National Institute for Early Education Research, but only 6 percent of 4-year-olds there are enrolled in a state-financed preschool.
To receive state money in Alabama, a preschool must employ teachers with bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education or child development, keep class sizes under 20 children, and follow a state-approved curriculum. The Obama administration is proposing similar standards for its federal matching program.
At one of the state-financed sites on Wednesday, the Nina Nicks Joseph Child Development Center in Mobile, Tina Adair, the lead teacher in a class of 18 students, most of whom come from low-income families, helped Amiyah Wilson, 5, copy the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” onto a card for her mother. Elsewhere in the classroom, Donovan Smith, 5, and Henry Hinojosa, 5, used a scale to compare the weights of two loads of blocks.
Ms. Adair said that the children had plenty of time to paint, sing or play with dress-up clothes and toy trucks. But she said they were also preparing for kindergarten and beyond through letter and number games, science experiments and writing.
As a former middle-school teacher, Ms. Adair said she could tell when students have had academic preparation from an early age.
“As fast-paced as our public school system is right now,” she said, “any little advantage that they can get is a bonus.”
Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool.
Critics say the federal government has already tested a national preschool program with Head Start. A national study sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services of 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds in 84 local programs found few lasting benefits by third grade.
“It’s one thing to say that there are a handful of small pre-K programs that may have had lasting and significant benefits,” said Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, a unit of the Cato Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization. “It’s another to imagine that the federal government can scale them up nationally.”
But other education analysts say that Head Start, which receives about $7 billion in federal money annually, is hampered by inconsistent standards and low pay for teachers, who are typically paid less than public school educators.
“When I hear people say, ‘We’ve tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, and it hasn’t worked,’ I always stop and say, ‘We haven’t yet tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, because we haven’t yet tried to pay preschool teachers the same that we’re paying our K-12 teachers,’” said Lisa Guernsey, director of early education at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy institute. “It’s pretty hard to imagine that we’re going to be recruiting great teachers if we’re paying them a poverty-level or just-above-poverty-level wage.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, has started changing the program, including requiring local providers to compete for financing every five years and imposing structured evaluations on classrooms.
In a report released last week, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research organization, estimated that providing preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds would cost about $98.4 billion in federal spending over 10 years.
In Alabama, business leaders see the benefits of both educating future workers early and saving future potential spending on remedial schooling or prison cells.
“The evidence is, if we don’t make this investment and we don’t make it wisely,” said Bob Powers, president of a real estate and insurance company in Eufaula and chairman of the Education Workforce Development Committee of the Business Council of Alabama, “we’re going to pay for it later.”
Meggan Haller contributed reporting from Mobile, Ala.
February 13, 2013
On Immigration, Obama Draws Bipartisan Praise
By ASHLEY PARKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nonconfrontational tone on an immigration overhaul in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night probably did more to advance the issue, lawmakers said, than if had he offered a fierce rallying cry, as he did about gun restrictions.
As senators gathered Wednesday for the first hearing on the proposed sweeping changes in immigration law, they said the president’s decision to give members of both parties room to maneuver on the delicate politics of immigration was a strategic choice that could pay off as negotiations continued.
“He’s walking a tightrope here, trying to allow Congress on a bipartisan basis to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “He encouraged us, told us he doesn’t want this to drag on forever, and if we can’t get it done he’ll play more forceful role.”
Mr. Durbin, a member of a bipartisan group of eight senators working on an immigration bill, added, “The reason he’s on this tightrope is the Republicans don’t want to make it appear that they are bending to the president on this issue.”
Influential Republicans praised Mr. Obama as well. Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, said the president’s tone on immigration was measured and constructive.
“I thought on immigration he used the right words and the right tone, which tells me he actually doesn’t want to politicize this, which is conducive to getting something done,” Mr. Ryan said.
Given their losses in the Congressional elections in November, Republicans in both the House and Senate have demonstrated a new openness to immigration changes that could lead to legal residency for millions who have entered the country illegally. At the same time, polls have shown that the president’s involvement in the debate decreases Republican support.
White House officials said the president was just as aggressive on immigration as he was on firearms, though his appeal for changes in gun laws was one of the emotional peaks of the night.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said immigration was “an issue on which we expect an outcome and we expect it soon.”
The president, who most recently laid out his own immigration principles in a January speech in Las Vegas, told Congress on Tuesday night that “the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” It was a refrain he repeated several times to applause.
Mr. Obama proceeded to highlight what he believed are the three goals of any immigration deal — ensuring that the borders are secure, creating a meaningful path to citizenship, and overhauling the system to deal with legal immigration. But when talking about immigration, he seemed to lack the emotional resonance, not to mention the forceful call to action, that he exhibited when discussing gun control, where he exhorted the country to remember that all victims of gun violence “deserve a vote.”
Which may have been exactly the point.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, began his remarks at Wednesday’s hearing by thanking the president for his State of the Union comments on immigration.
“His remarks last night on immigration were just right,” Mr. Schumer said. “He importuned us to act, he stated how important it was to get this done for the future of America, but at the same time he did not make it a wedge issue. He made it clear that we had to act in a bipartisan way and gave us, in our little group, the space to come up with a bipartisan proposal, which we know is really our only hope.”
Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and a member of the bipartisan group, said he had “no complaints — actually I thought it was good for the process.”
“If he were to be seen as leading the effort, it likely wouldn’t be that helpful,” Mr. Flake said. “But to say that he’ll sign the bill we put on his desk, that’s helpful.”
The hearing focused largely on border security and enforcement, with an entire panel devoted to just one witness — Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security. Ms. Napolitano said that border security was often used as an excuse to prevent meaningful changes.
But in a glimpse of the debate to come, Ms. Napolitano met resistance from key Republicans — including Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, the committee’s ranking member, and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas — over enforcement. “I do not believe that the border is secure,” Mr. Cornyn said. “And I still believe we have a long, long way to go.”
The four Democratic senators in the bipartisan group — Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, as well as Mr. Durbin and Mr. Schumer — were to meet with Mr. Obama at the White House on Wednesday evening to discuss the group’s progress. They hope to introduce their legislation in March.
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
February 13, 2013
Senate Democrats, Accusing G.O.P. of Obstruction, Try to Force Hagel Vote
By JEREMY W. PETERS and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — Accusing Republicans of a new level of obstruction, Senate Democrats moved on Wednesday to force a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
Mr. Hagel’s nomination was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee along party lines on Tuesday. But with Republicans demanding more information before allowing a vote on Mr. Hagel by the full Senate, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, took procedural steps to limit floor debate on his nomination and bring the partisan clash to a head by Saturday.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”
Republicans, sensitive to the accusation that they were filibustering Mr. Hagel, tried to draw a distinction between a filibuster and delaying the vote because of unanswered questions.
“There’s nothing unusual about this,” said Senator James M. Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, who on Tuesday suggested without evidence that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with Iran, an accusation that caused the committee meeting to erupt with Democratic outrage. “There’s not a filibuster,” he added.
Even if Republicans succeeded in dragging out the vote into the weekend, Democrats said they remained confident that he would be confirmed by Saturday because Republicans did not appear to have the 40 votes necessary to block the nomination. Such a move would be an extraordinary step, and one that Republicans seem wary of taking should they find themselves in the White House four years from now.
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that he intended to try to block the nomination of John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s choice to be director of the C.I.A., until Mr. Brennan provides answers to questions he had on the scope and legality of the Obama administration’s drone operations. Democrats have also sought to extract more information from the White House about those operations.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Intelligence Committee chairwoman, said she expected to schedule a committee vote on Mr. Brennan’s nomination when the Senate returned from recess the week after next. She said that Mr. Brennan would make a “strong and capable C.I.A. director.”
According to the Senate’s historian, Donald A. Ritchie, only 5 percent of presidential cabinet nominees have been blocked or rejected by the Senate. Only twice since 1917, when the Senate’s modern filibuster rules were created, has a cabinet-level nominee been subject to a supermajority vote of 60, as Republicans are forcing with Mr. Hagel.
In the case of Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, the opposition is especially striking because senators have traditionally afforded their former colleagues a high level of courtesy. But many Republicans still nurse a grievance against Mr. Hagel for his opposition to the war in Iraq, and others have sought to make an issue of statements he has made on Israel and Iran. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona want the Obama administration to provide information about the timeline of its actions on the day of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, an episode that has become a point of conservative ire against the president.
When Mr. Hagel testified before the Armed Services Committee he was pummeled.
As Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Brennan has been the chief architect of the administration’s drone policy, and his nomination has focused new attention on it. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said that he planned in the coming months to work with lawmakers to “ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”
White House officials on Wednesday did not give any details about Mr. Obama’s plans for more transparency about the targeted killing program, which has long been shrouded in secrecy.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed frustration that the White House has not allowed lawmakers to read the legal memos, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provide the justification for the targeted killing operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere and that have been expanded during the Obama administration.
The committee said that the Justice Department had written 11 secret legal memorandums related to the targeted killing of terrorism suspects but said the Obama administration had shown the committee only four of them.
Senator Feinstein did, however, provide new details about the extent to which her committee has been briefed by the administration about drone strikes.
“The committee has devoted significant time and attention to targeted killings by drones,” she said in a statement. “The committee receives notifications with key details of each strike shortly after it occurs, and the committee holds regular briefings and hearings on these operations” to review their basis and effectiveness.
She added that Intelligence Committee staff members had held 35 monthly oversight meetings with government officials “to review strike records (including video footage) and question every aspect of the program.”
Charlie Savage contributed reporting.
February 13, 2013
Calmly, Pick for Treasury Offers Replies to Senators
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — Jacob J. Lew, President Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, faced some fierce questioning on Wednesday from the Senate Finance Committee on his tenure at the bailed-out Citigroup and on an investment based in the Cayman Islands. But the even-tempered, bookish Mr. Lew parried the blows and appeared likely to win the committee’s approval and Senate confirmation.
“Frankly, I think you’ve done really well today,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee. “My gosh, I have nothing but respect for people like you who give yourself to our government.”
Many questions from Senate Republicans seemed intended to rankle or ruffle Mr. Lew and score some political points. Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina asked about the Benghazi attack in Libya. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, referring to Mr. Lew’s lucrative but short time at Citigroup, commanded him to “explain why it might be morally acceptable to take close to a million dollars out of a company that was functionally insolvent and about to receive a billion dollars of taxpayer support.”
Mr. Lew calmly responded, “I was compensated for my work. I’ll leave for others to judge.”
He emphasized that he had worked in operations at Citigroup, albeit for a time at an investment unit that made proprietary trades on behalf of the bank.
“I was not in the business of making investment decisions,” he said. “I was certainly aware of things that were going on. I was working in a financial institution. I learned a great deal about the financial products. But I wasn’t designing them and I wasn’t opining on them.”
Aside from his time on Wall Street from 2006 to 2008, Mr. Lew has spent most of his career as a Democratic budget official — and the White House chose him in no small part for that experience. Much of his testimony focused on the trillion-dollar budget battle he would face immediately after becoming secretary. On March 1, automatic cuts to military and nonmilitary programs, known as the sequester, will start to take effect. Republicans and Democrats are both struggling to unwind or delay them, with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake.
Mr. Lew said Congress needed to undo the sequester. He also said political dysfunction in Washington was threatening the real economy.
“The short-term-crisis, deadline-driven practices that we’ve seen over the last couple of years are undermining the economy,” Mr. Lew said. “It’s the first time in my nearly 30 years in public life that I felt that the actions of government were actually working against the goal of getting the economy moving.”
Mr. Lew also described tax reform as a top priority, with an eye to raising more money, lowering rates, reducing loopholes and generally rationalizing the code. He said cutting the tax rate on corporate income to 25 percent from its current 35 percent would be difficult. He also called for a minimum tax on foreign profits. And he said there was “room to work together” on creating a tax system in which income is taxed only in the country where it is earned, a change long sought by large American companies that operate around the world.
Over and over, Mr. Lew asserted his longtime budget bona fides and willingness to work with Republicans. “Working across the aisle while serving under President Clinton, I helped negotiate the groundbreaking agreement with Congress to balance the federal budget,” he said in his opening statement. He added that he had been involved in “almost every major bipartisan budget agreement over the last 30 years,” and that “the things that divide Washington right now are not as insurmountable as they might look.”
But as one of Mr. Obama’s main budget negotiators in the last few years, Mr. Lew has at times clashed with Republicans, particularly in the House. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, not Mr. Lew, acted as a main negotiator during the talks over the automatic tax increases and spending cuts, the so-called fiscal cliff, that Congress cut a deal to avoid last month.
During the hearing, Republicans also targeted a money-losing investment Mr. Lew had made in a fund based in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Grassley noted that Mr. Obama had derided Ugland House, which provides an address for thousands of investment entities — including the fund Mr. Lew bought into — and said he saw some hypocrisy in Mr. Lew’s nomination, given the investment.
But the attacks seemed mostly tactical. “Jack Lew paid all of his taxes and reported all of the income, gains and losses from the investment,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “There are no new facts that provide a basis for senators to reach a different conclusion about Mr. Lew’s nomination than they reached twice before in this administration.”
Some senators — including Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, and Bernard Sanders, the left-leaning independent from Vermont — have said they do not support Mr. Lew. But it seemed unlikely that he would face a filibuster that might delay his confirmation or end his candidacy.
“Mr. Lew has been confirmed by the Senate three times already,” Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a statement released before the hearing, referring to Mr. Lew’s service in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. “I don’t expect there to be any reason why he should not be confirmed this time around as well.”
Republicans Don’t Want You to Know That Obamacare Is Working
By: Becky Sarwate
Feb. 13th, 2013
There’s a subtle story going around this week that you definitely won’t see covered on Fox News. You won’t hear Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussing these results in their usual rote talking points about Obamacare and the socialist takeover of the country by the President’s policies. Between all the baying about the deficit, the budget and the huge negative impacts of the upcoming sequestration plan that will be implemented in the absence of fiscal resolution, if you blinked, you could almost miss the headline:
Slower Growth of Health Costs Eases U.S. Deficit
The New York Times ran this piece on Monday morning, and to be fair, it might have been difficult for anyone to focus what with Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement that he would be the first Pope in six centuries to resign his post. There’s also the President’s first State of the Union Address since winning re-election in 2012. It has undoubtedly been a busy news cycle and that will likely continue as we move through the week.
But come on! This is a big deal!According to the piece by writer Annie Lowrey, “A sharp and surprisingly persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs is helping to narrow the federal deficit, leaving budget experts trying to figure out whether the trend will last and how much the slower growth could help alleviate the country’s long-term fiscal problems.”
Excuse me for asking this obvious, but isn’t this precisely what both political parties claim to be after? Going back to the 2008 Presidential campaign, then candidates John McCain and Barack Obama devoted near equal time to lamenting the spiraling costs of healthcare and its affect on deficit spending. Both men vowed to do something if elected. It seemed to be an issue that most Americans and politicos could get behind.
Then low and behold, early into his first term, Obama and the Democrats actually got something accomplished – with the GOP fighting them every step of the way. It wasn’t pretty. It was embarrassing and painful for almost everybody, and the end result was a far cry from the single payer system that many liberals badly desired. But in the end the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act was a huge pivot away from a throughly broken system that seemed to exist for the benefit of health insurance companies, rather than the sick and injured they were created to serve.
Republicans wasted no time decrying the Act as the largest increase in government bureaucracy since ___ (fill in the blank), a measure that would drive medical costs and the Federal deficit up rather than down. Through it all, Obama held steady, confident that history would have the final say.
It didn’t even take a leap year. Lowrey goes on to write, “In figures released last week, the Congressional Budget Office said it had erased hundreds of billions of dollars in projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid. The budget office now projects that spending on those two programs in 2020 will be about $200 billion, or 15 percent, less than it projected three years ago.”
President Obama is way too gracious a person to perform the “I told you so dance” on Capitol Hill to which he is richly entitled. So I will do it for him. BOOM!!! How’s that for change you can believe?
Here’s hoping the President and his team use this data to their advantage, to head naysayers and sycophants off at the pass who stand to gain much by protecting the status quo. As the POTUS seeks to take on a host of issues this calendar year that seem to draw crazies out of the woodwork (I’m thinking gun control and immigration), let this early data from the effects of health care reform empower him to keep doing what is right.
Obama’s Attack on Medicare Fraud Reaps Record Results for Second Year in a Row
By: Adalia Woodbury
Feb. 13th, 2013
We’re about to shoot down two Republican myths with a single post. First, the Obama Administration cut Medicare costs by attacking Medicare Fraud instead of attacking benefits. Second, Government can do things, and do them well.
For years, the Republican Party claimed that benefits are the problem. They tried to sell us several versions of coupon care and privatization while claiming that eliminating Medicare was the best way to protect it for future generations.
The Justice Department and Department of Human Services found a way to reduce Medicare costs without reducing benefits, without coupons and without privatizing it. Instead of attacking seniors access to healthcare, they attacked Medicare fraud, otherwise known as the means by which Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott became “a maker” in GOP speak.
According to a report on The Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Act Team’s (HEAT) performance released Monday, for the second year in a row, Obama’s plan to attack Medicare Fraud reaped recording breaking results.
The Feds recovered $4.2 billion of taxpayers’ money last year from legal proceedings, settlements and penalties. In 2011, joint efforts to attack Medicare fraud resulted in a record of $4.1 billion dollars. That is compared to the $2.86 billion recovered in 2010 before Obama’s policies to attack Medicare Fraud existed.
In May 2012, Medicare Strike Force teams charged 107 people, including licensed health care professionals in seven cities, who were allegedly involved in schemes involving over $452 million in false billing.
In 2011, the same teams charged 115 people, including health care professionals, companies and executives for suspected participation in Medicare fraud schemes that involved over $240 million in false billing. In another case, 91 suspects were charged for their alleged involvement in a Medicare fraud scheme that involved $290 million + in false billings.
According to the HHS’s press release :
“A key component of HEAT is the Medicare Strike Force – interagency teams of analysts, investigators, and prosecutors who can target emerging or migrating fraud schemes, including fraud by criminals masquerading as healthcare providers or suppliers.”
The Department of HHS attributes success to HEAT and several additional steps President Obama’s Administration took to combat Medicare Fraud – including provisions in Obamacare. That’s the law that Republicans spend almost as much time trying to destroy as they spend on trying to shield the rich from paying taxes.
Aside from establishing tougher sentencing and more jail time for Medicare fraudsters, recovering funds obtained by Medicare fraud is easier. In other words, it reduces Medicare costs without reducing benefits.
When the President told us that Obamacare reduces Medicare costs without touching benefits, he was honest. Thanks to Obamacare, Medicare fraudsters will receive 20 to 50 percent longer sentences for crimes involving more than $1million dollars in lost taxpayer money. It also makes it more difficult for Medicare fraudsters to transfer their scams to another state or between Medicare and Medicaid. Under Obamacare, if Medicare, Medicaid or a State terminates a scammer’s billing privileges, all other states must terminate their billing privileges.
Once again, the Republican Party is on the wrong side of policy. Not only does their policy seek to deny Americans access to healthcare, it also makes the Republican Party soft on crime, namely Medicare Fraud.
If they really want to get rid of their image as the Party of Stupid, defending criminals over seniors isn’t the way to go. Just sayin’.
Ironically, the HEAT report also shows once again that the Republican Party’s fiscal responsibility begins and ends with its rhetoric.
Obama Rolls Into North Carolina and Challenges Decades of Republican Minimum Wage Myths
By: Jason Easley
Feb. 13th, 2013
President Obama did something significant that could change the lives of millions today. In Asheville, NC, the president linked raising the minimum wage to creating jobs.
The president began by saying the economy is still not where it needs to be. He said it is our job as Americans to restore the basic bargain that says you can get ahead by working hard and meeting your responsibilities. Obama calls the middle class the true engine of our economic growth. The president repeated his three questions related to jobs in his State of the Union. He said, “That’s part of the reason why I said last night that it is time for an increase in the minimum wage.”
He discussed the role of expanding expanding education from pre-school to college. The president also said, “I believe in manufacturing. I think it makes our country stronger.” Obama talked about the recovery of manufacturing in Asheville.
Obama is challenging decades of Republicans lies and mythology centered around the false belief that raising the minimum wage destroys jobs.
Fox News has wasted no time in reviving the right’s false minimum wage myths:
What should be frightening for Republicans is that President Obama is subtly linking economic growth to increasing the minimum wage. A 2011 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that increasing the minimum wage has no discernible impact on employment, and they found that raising the minimum is likely to result in more, not fewer, jobs.
The president’s speech focused on his plan to bring even more manufacturing back to the United States but included in that plan is acknowledgement that employees need to earn higher wages. Obama was linking the creation of new jobs to higher wages. The media has mostly ignored it, but one of the biggest reforms in Obama’s second term agenda is the push to raise wages for minimum wage workers.
This effort will likely be a centerpiece behind the Democratic push to retake the House next year. For the last few years, Republicans have floated the claim that lowering the minimum wage will increase employment. Paul Krugman debunked this by writing, “So let me repeat a point I made a number of times back when the usual suspects were declaring that FDR prolonged the Depression by raising wages: the belief that lower wages would raise overall employment rests on a fallacy of composition. In reality, reducing wages would at best do nothing for employment; more likely it would actually be contractionary.”
Most of the mainstream media isn’t getting it, but President Obama has stealthily launched an effort that could boost the economy and sink the Republicans.
The focus is on the big issues of guns and immigration, but it might be the minimum wage issue that impacts the most lives and determines the outcome of the 2014 election.
Most Americans Are No Longer Fooled By Republican Buzzwords and Dishonest Slogans
Feb. 13th, 2013
Perspective is the subjective evaluation of relative significance, or point of view, and unfortunately it can be perverted depending on one’s veracity and grounding in reality. It is entirely possible for one to understand their perspective has no founding in reality, and yet still put forward an argument based on lies, buzzwords, and catch phrases in hopes their point of view, however faulty, makes sense to their audience. In the past, Republicans have had a measure of success convincing ignorant Americans their perspective on economic policy based on a pro-growth, anti-government agenda is the path to economic prosperity for all Americans, but after being exposed as abject failures and rejected at the polls, they cannot face reality that the people have come to understand their catchy slogans are as dishonest as they are contradictions.
In Republican parlance, pro-growth means tax cuts for the rich and corporations, deregulation, and slashing government spending regardless the damage to the economy, and dreaded “big government” is any federal spending that is not relegated to defense or tax cuts for corporations and the rich. In the President’s brilliant State of the Union speech, he laid out a vision that incorporates everything Republicans hate and have opposed from his first day in office; so-called big government that means investing in infrastructure, jobs, education, clean energy alternatives, and maintaining Social Security and Medicare that are key to a strong economy. It is curious, but Republicans deplore big government unless it works to their advantage to deny Americans personal liberties such as women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, minority’s rights (voting rights), and freedom from fundamentalist religious tyranny. However, big government aside, it is their pro-growth canard that will further retard economic growth and decimate the poor and middle class they now claim to hold in the highest regard.
Republicans fallacious esteem for Main Street America is belied by their “pro-growth” policies that, after thirty years, have reduced the middle class through wage cuts, job outsourcing, increased income inequality, and austerity in the form of education cuts, public sector job losses, and denying funding for infrastructure improvements. The push for austerity defies reason as one European nation after another that incorporated severe austerity suffers from slow, or no, growth and soaring unemployment, and yet it is the GOP’s sole remedy for creating jobs, growing the economy, and reducing the nation’s debt and deficit. A perfect example is the rapidly approaching sequestration cuts due to cripple the economy beginning on March 1st, and instead of working with the President to reach a balanced approach of new revenue and spending cuts, Republicans appear willing to let sequester cuts go into effect under the guise of pro-growth.
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell is the latest high-ranking Republican to indicate no interest in doing anything to prevent sequester cuts. Yesterday McConnell said “I think we ought to keep the commitment we made, if the super-committee failed, these reductions (sequester) were made without raising taxes” referring to the President’s proposal to replace the cuts with a balance of new revenue and budget cuts. McConnell, like nearly all Republicans said, “It is pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect,” because as far as he is concerned, “the tax issue is over.” Another Republican, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn said, “We’re waiting for the president to tell us how he wants to avoid the sequester,” but they oppose scrapping tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry and eliminating tax breaks and loopholes unique to the largest corporations. Their offer is replacing sequester cuts with Draconian cuts to social programs, and in lieu of President Obama capitulating social program austerity, Republicans will allow sequester austerity, or as they call it; “pro-growth.”
Republicans understand what it will take to foster economic growth, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and create jobs that are intrinsic to a strong recovery, and they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the proposals the President conveyed in the State of the Union are the best approach to ensure prosperity for the nation and every American. Americans not mesmerized by the GOP’s buzzwords like “pro-growth” understand it was President Obama’s stimulus that saved the economy and staunched massive job losses, and his historically low spending is reducing the deficit and debt Republicans have made a priority to cut Social Security and privatize Medicare. However, they will be loath to consider any of the President’s proposals and are resolute to impose austerity whether by sequester or Draconian cuts and it informs their new-found regard for the middle class is as phony as their pro-growth agenda; because from their perspective, growth is for corporations and the rich, and austerity is for the people. If the economy crumbles like the nation’s infrastructure, then as Boehner says, so be it.
Panetta laments ‘meanness’ of U.S. politics
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 20:03 EST
Looking back at a long political career, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday lamented an increasingly bitter atmosphere in Washington, saying there was “too much meanness” on display.
His comments come amid a mounting budget crisis in a deeply divided Congress and after Republican lawmakers renewed threats to block the appointment of the man nominated to succeed Panetta at the Pentagon, former senator Chuck Hagel.
Panetta, who served for decades in Washington as an influential lawmaker before holding powerful posts under two Democratic presidents, said his only “disappointment” in his job as Pentagon chief was how Congress sometimes failed to play a constructive role.
“I always felt that — you know, that the leadership in the Congress and the leadership of whatever administration was involved here, that when it came to the big issues facing this country, that there was a willingness to work together to resolve those issues,” he told a news conference.
“There will always be party differences. There will always be political differences. There will be ideological differences,” he said.
“But there are also some lines that are there that make that process work, lines that involve mutual respect; lines that involve, you know, courtesy and a degree of respect for each other, despite whatever their decisions are.”
But traditions of courtesy and civility were “breaking down” among lawmakers, he said.
“It becomes too personal. It becomes too mean,” he said.
“Everybody’s got legitimate points, but there’s a way to express it in a way that compliments our democracy, doesn’t demean our democracy. And I think, you know, what you see on display is too much meanness.”
Panetta first entered politics as an aide to a Republican senator, Thomas Kuchel, in 1966, then served under president Richard Nixon in the Office for Civil Rights, before resigning over differences with the White House.
He left Washington and worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay and later was elected as a Democrat to Congress from California, serving for 17 years.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Panetta served as budget director and later chief of staff. Under President Barack Obama, Panetta led the CIA from 2009 to 2011 and then served as defense secretary.
Look out Idaho, A New Herd of Paranoid Survivalists Are Heading to Your State
By: Dennis SF
Feb. 13th, 2013
Attention Idaho: You’re getting some new neighbors compliments of Citadel Land Development, already duly incorporated in your state.
Maybe as many as 7,000 incoming souls will be populating something called a developing community of Patriots. They’ll be guarding against those fed black choppers whirling overhead and that Kenyan gun control President of ours who clouds their every waking hour. Looming large in the distant Idaho Mountains is the figure of convicted felon, Christian Kerodin by way of the DC suburbs and 30 months in stir for a shopping mall shake-down protection racket.
But post-slammer, Kerodin is energized and convinced that he and a few lower-profile business colleagues have stumbled onto a potential bonanza to be headquartered in a yet to be determined mountainous section of Idaho.
Kerodin is the nominal head of the ” lll Citadel Project.” He’s also throwing in a gun manufacturing facility titled lll Arms for good measure. Apparently 20 acres have already been set aside for the latter. The lll Arms company has received permission from AFT to start putting their kill sticks together but are having trouble getting parts.
The parent lll Citadel Project is already accepting applications and money from patriots who want to get in the queue to have their wallets lightened.
Before you U-haul it to Idaho, a Citadel Patriot Agreement must be signed and included with an application prior to having even the slightest chance to hole up in a walled fortress. The agreement is made up of a preamble and 13 conditions that you must pledge to obey.
Here are samplings from 9 of the 13 conditions that apply to firearms imperatives or militia activities. Agreement two: Every able-bodied patriot, 13 and up must demonstrate proficiency with a rifle annually. A later agreement spells out the same requirement for a handgun.
Agreement four seems to be the most self-serving for the Citadel leadership. It reads in part; Every able-bodied Patriot of age within the Citadel will maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO and at least 5 magazines of 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Guess who’s going to be selling AR15′s in the near future? Why it’s the Citadel affiliated lll Arms; that’s who.
Agreement eight mandates that all qualified Patriots pack an on-person loaded sidearm whenever visiting the Citadel Town Center. Again, guess who makes a 1911 semi auto sidearm? Yep! And it’s priced at $1,550 and up. Sort of mid-range as these pieces go, but still not cheap. You’re not required to buy a lll Arms pistol, but if I were you, I would.
In what seems like a lot of mandates for an anti-government crowd, here’s another one. Once a month Militia training is required for every household. Trainees are to be 13 or older. So, an ATF agent may have a 13-year-old draw an AR15 bead on his noggin while visiting the Citadel Project.
Agreement Ten calls for a twice a year “Full-Scale” Town Defense Drill.
So it’s all guns, all the time for the estimated 7,000 families on the Citadel wish list. Residents will lease their residence on a yet to be purchased 2,000-3,000 acre tract. A total of 640-1280 of those acres will be walled in. Locations are being scouted in the mountainous regions of Idaho.
It’s now online application time. When the agreements and the application are completed and you PayPal or Visa a $208 fee to corporate, you’re on your way. If approved and if and when this Fortress is ever built, you’re officially on the waiting list. If you’re not wacky enough to get selected, all but a $33 administration fee will be returned to your current address at the home. The real money sacrifice comes later when you lease your house (trailer?) from lll Citadel. No word on how much such a lease will set you back.
Are your feathered quill pens at the ready? Is your tri-corner cocked at a jaunty angle? Here are a few family secrets you’ll have to expose on the application. You’ll have to do all the routine stuff; name, address, family members and the like. And you’ll have to have to agree with the agreements of course.
You also have to promise to live in accordance with Thomas Jefferson’s “Rightful Liberty.” As idealistically defined on Citadel’s Website, “Rightful liberty” according to Jefferson, is “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” This is the edited version with only the first sentence in the answer. Missing is Jefferson’s next sentence; “I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Aha! The federal government as tyrant.
I suspect the full text of “Rightful Liberty” has been the extreme right-wing, survivalists and militia mantra all along. Google “Rightful Liberty” and you’ll get 3,190,000 hits. Interesting how it was coded into the Citadel application.
Immediately following the “Rightful Liberty” question, the application asks “Do you agree to abide Constitutional laws of the state of Idaho and the United States Government? Funny question for a project that I’m sure will claim virtual sovereignty.
You’re then asked if you’ve ever been associated with any racist or subversive organization. “Just a second; this Klan robe is getting in the way of my ‘no’ answer.” There’s no more welcoming state to Aryans than Idaho.
Some boilerplate questions follow. Do you want to farm, raise livestock, live inside or outside the walls of the compound? Those who are really attracted to this kind of oddball community are going to lie on virtually every question involving true intent. People who would pick up and relocate to Citadel nation hate blacks, despise the government and think guns are the answer to everything.
The only question the organizers are truly interested in isn’t even on the application; “Do you posses a bloated bank account?”
Pistol-packin’ Patriots should prepare for a long winter’s nap before hearing back from this crowd. At present Citadel doesn’t even pay staff who all work as volunteers. A number of contributors to a survivalist blog I recently read, questioned whether this project would ever get off the ground. They likened it to the Bo Gritz “Almost Heaven” developments, founded in 1994 in Central Idaho. He pitched Almost Heaven as escape mechanisms from a “predator government.” Almost Heaven attracted a similar clientele to that expected to respond to the Citadel Project. Armed to the teeth and spoiling for a confrontation with the feds, most of the residents were too far right for even Green Beret war hero Gritz, who ended up moving out of the planned community, fleeing to Nevada.
I’m inclined to agree with the blog doubters, though walling in nutbags in a distant wilderness is a dream come true. Citadel promoters liken their project to Disneyland. I agree except there are far more Goofy’s.
February 13, 2013 07:00 AM
GOP 'Savior' Rubio Votes No on Violence Against Women Act
By Diane Sweet
The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday, despite the efforts of a group of Republican men who tried to block it.
Florida senator Marco Rubio led a group of 22 male Republicans who voted against the bill, which established a system for helping women in danger from domestic violence. No women or Democrats opposed the bill and it passed 78-22. That's right, the guy that Time magazine hailed this week as the "GOP Savior" voted against helping protect women from violence.
In fact, Rubio was also one of eight Republican senators who last week voted against moving to debate on the revived legislation.
One of the most contentious issues of the bill is that the updated version grants additional protections to immigrants which would encourage undocumented women to report assaults done to them.
Another issue some of the gang of 22 are hiding behind is that they object to the updated VAWA extending protections to LGBT and Native Americans.
The spending and grant provisions of the bill may have had something to do with the no votes, as well.
The Senate bill also prohibits discrimination against LGBT victims in grant programs to help victims, and would let illegal immigrants stay in the country to receive help if they are victims of domestic violence or rape.
VAWA provides grants to victims of domestic violence in order to encourage victims to leave their abusive situations. Some feel they can’t get away from their abusers because they might not have another form of family income, so the grants can provide housing assistance and cellphones for victims. Under this reauthorization bill, these programs would continue for another five years.
It seems that those who voted "no" feel some women are more deserving of help than others.
The senators who voted against the bill were: John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AK), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD) and Tim Scot (R-SC).
In a statement released on Tuesday, Rubio said that though he continues to support programs "to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking", he did not support all elements of the expanded bill. He objected to programs that would divert funding from domestic violence to sexual assault programs.
Women's groups were scathing about Rubio's attempts to derail the bill and said that it would cause problems for the GOP among women voters, a key demographic that deserted them in the last election.
The bill authorizes $659 million over five years for VAWA programs. It also expands VAWA to include new protections for LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence, to give more attention to sexual assault prevention and to help reduce a backlog in processing rape kits. Created in 1994, VAWA has helped to strengthen programs and services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
Ahead of the vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill's sponsor, questioned why anybody would vote against his legislation since it just expands protections to vulnerable groups.
"It is difficult to understand why people would come in here and try to limit which victims could be helped by this legislation," Leahy said. "If you're the victim, you don't want to think that a lot of us who have never faced this kind of problem, sat here in this body and said, 'Well, we have to differentiate which victims America will protect.'"
Senators voted on a few amendments to the bill. They voted 93 to 5 to include a provision targeting human trafficking, and 100 to 0 on a provision to ensure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible for grant assistance. They rejected amendments by Coburn to consolidate certain Department of Justice programs and to allow grants for sexually transmitted disease tests on sexual assault perpetrators.
VAWA typically gets reauthorized with little to-do. But Congress failed to do so last year amid House Republican objections to provisions in the Senate bill that expanded protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented immigrant victims of violence. This year's Senate VAWA bill includes the LGBT and Native American provisions, but leaves out the piece for undocumented immigrants. Leahy has pledged to attach that piece to immigration reform legislation.
In a statement Tuesday, Joe Biden -- the chief author of the original law -- called on the House to pass the legislation expeditiously.
“Delay isn’t an option when three women are still killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day,” Biden said. “Delay isn’t an option when countless women still live in fear of abuse, and when one in five have been victims of rape.”