Good news for people who’ve lost their health insurance because it doesn’t meet "Obamacare" standards: The White House announced Thursday night that it’s going to cut these folks something of a break.
They won’t be subject to the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for 2014, meaning they won’t have to pay a tax penalty if they don’t get coverage for next year. They’ll also be eligible to buy so-called catastrophic insurance plans, which are inexpensive but cover only big medical expenses.
“The President and I want to do everything we can to ensure that individuals with canceled plans have as many options as possible,” wrote Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a letter to Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia that outlined the changes.
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The cancellation of policies purchased in the individual health insurance market, for not meeting ACA regulations, caused a political uproar that forced the Obama administration’s hand on this issue. The White House said about 500,000 people who lost plans but have not yet found new insurance will be helped by these changes. Other estimates put the number of individuals who lost insurance due to the onset of Obamacare in the millions.
President Obama previously said that insurers could restore these policies if they wished. Some insurers and states said it was too late to go back, however, making Thursday’s move almost inevitable.
The question now is whether the individual mandate to buy insurance, the heart of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement, will be further softened in the months ahead. The administration has been adamant that it won’t delay the requirement, saying it’s needed to get people to sign up in large enough numbers to make Obamacare work. But now they’ll face renewed political pressure to allow others to opt out for 2014.
In fact, even prior to Thursday’s move the individual mandate was not an absolute requirement. The Affordable Care Act as passed contained substantial mandate exemptions.
For instance, people whose employers don’t offer an adequate plan don’t have to have health insurance if the cheapest ACA “bronze” policy available on the state exchange marketplaces would cost more than 8 percent of their annual income. There’s also a generalized “hardship exemption” that exempts you from the mandate if you’re facing an unforeseen difficulty, such as homelessness or divorce.
For the purposes of the law, the administration has now defined losing your previous health insurance due to its noncompliance with ACA as a “hardship.” That’s how it managed Thursday’s move. But that raises a difficult question, the law’s critics note. If people who had insurance, but lost it, are now exempt from Obamacare due to hardship, what about people who didn’t have insurance in the first place? Isn’t their situation just as difficult?
Plus, what if you lost your insurance, but have managed to make it through the hoops of HealthCare.gov and purchase a new policy? Can you ditch that and buy a cheaper catastrophic plan?
“How can anyone make health care decisions today knowing that the law may be unilaterally changed tomorrow?” complained House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia in a statement after the White House announcement.
On the other side of the issue, insurers aren’t happy. Given the realities of the ACA, they want as many people to sign up for new policies as possible, and particularly as many healthy young people as possible. Softening the individual mandate threatens their economic projections.
“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” says Karen Ignani, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry Washington trade group.
In that context, it’s important that the administration announced this change in a letter to a purple state Democratic senator. As Ezra Klein points out, congressional Democrats will be a key to what happens next on the mandate. If they believe that Thursday’s move is enough to end their political problem from canceled plans, they won’t push for more exemptions. But if they don’t, look for a tumultuous January on Capitol Hill.
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It’s pretty obvious that Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. But who’s going to be the anti-Hillary? That’s something that’s much more difficult to foresee.
Yes, you read that right – the “anti-Hillary.” The structure of the developing 2016 race is such that it’s quite likely the former secretary of State will face an intra-party challenger who fashions themselves the yin to her yang.
That’s the point perceptive University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato makes in his “Crystal Ball” newsletter Thursday, in any case. He says Mrs. Clinton remains the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination, but that there’s lots of lingering resentment within the party toward her husband, who pushed the party to the right during his presidency, and toward her own vote for the Iraq war as a senator in 2002.
She’ll “at least receive a minimal challenge from someone for the nomination. One possibility to watch: ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana,” write Sabato and colleague Kyle Kondik.
OK, we’re watching. And guess what? On Wednesday, former Governor Schweitzer ... criticized Hillary’s vote on the Iraq war during an appearance in Iowa. That’s where they hold those first-in-the-nation caucuses that kick off the presidential race. In case you’ve forgotten.
“I didn’t vote for that war, and I didn’t think it was a good idea,” he said at an event for the left-leaning group Progress Iowa, according to a report in the Des Moines Register.
Schweitzer didn’t mention Clinton specifically. But Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs asked him about her afterwards, and she writes that he responded with a grin.
“Did she vote for it? I didn’t keep track,” said Schweitzer.
Nudge, nudge; wink, wink; know-what-I-mean? Afterwards Schweitzer auctioned off his tie and other articles of clothing as a fund-raiser for the progressive group.
We’ve got a couple of points to make about this anti-Hillary business, however. The first is that whoever wants to assume this mantle has a long, long way to rise, and they’d better get busy and hustle to Iowa, as Schweitzer has.
Just look at the polls. Last week the Register put out its Iowa poll rating possible 2016 contenders, and Hillary just killed. Eighty-nine percent of Iowa Democrats said they had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of her.
Schweitzer, in contrast, was a blip. Sixteen percent of Iowa Democrats said they had a favorable opinion of him. Fully 70 percent said they weren’t sure, meaning they probably didn’t know who he is.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another possible Hillary challenger, had the same problem. He got an 18 percent favorable rating and a 69 percent “not sure.”
Look, it’s still a long ways to 2016, and Barack Obama wasn’t exactly a household name at the same point in the 2008 cycle. But Jimmy Carter could probably beat Schweitzer and O’Malley’s numbers in Iowa at the moment. This is why running for president is such a slog of hand-shaking and precinct-visiting in Iowa and New Hampshire for many contenders.
Finally, don’t count out Hillary herself as the anti-Hillary of 2016.
Fournier points out that Washington insiders, intensely political people, and national institutions are all polling badly at the moment. Problem is, Hillary is all three of those things.
That means she has to campaign as an honest, accessible, vulnerable, competent populist, writes Fournier.
“To win, you must be the anti-Hillary. You need to blast the public’s caricature of you to smithereens and replace it with what we know as the real Hillary,” goes the fake memo.
Of course, Hillary could give pundits everywhere the vapors by deciding she doesn’t want to run for president after all. She’s still sounding ... unconvinced.
“I haven’t made up my mind. Obviously I will look carefully at what I think I can do and make that decision sometime next year,” she told Barbara Walters in an interview for Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People of 2013”.
Have you heard about “Pajama Boy”? He’s in an ad tweeted yesterday by a political nonprofit associated with President Obama, wearing what appears to be a plaid onesie while cradling a hot beverage and looking to one side through arched eyebrows.
The point of the ad is to promote Obamacare among young adults. “Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance,” says the ad copy.
The tweet adds its own kicker: “How do you plan to spend the cold days of December?” It includes a link to a website from the group, Organizing for Action, that includes information on how to talk to family members over the holidays about signing up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Conservatives have had lots of hilarity with this ad Wednesday, poking at everything from the guy’s glasses and beverage choice to what some charge is his lack of traditional masculinity.
“A doofus in a plaid onesie drinking hot chocolate – is this really how the Obama administration pictures its supporters?” writes John Hinderaker on the right-leaning "Powerline" blog.
Then, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a whack at pajama boy in a recent tweet.
Even liberals, who defend the ad overall, think its particular choice of image could be improved.
“Admittedly, the guy in the photo does look a little silly. That’s what happens when you wear a onesie!” writes Elias Isquith on the Salon site.
But we’ve got a question that’s more prosaic. What’s the idea here? How can this, you know, work?
The Obama administration is keen to get young adults – the so-called "young invincibles" – to sign up for Obamacare, of course. Younger people have generally lower health-care costs, and the revenue from their premiums is needed to offset the higher costs incurred by older beneficiaries.
And we get that this ad is meant to be ironic. At least, we think it’s meant to be ironic. That comes across more clearly in a companion ad where “Pajama Boy” is reclining in a leather sofa wearing a Christmas sweater and holiday socks. “And a Happy New Year with health insurance” says the ad’s copy.
But here’s the problem: not that many young adults are ironic, in our experience. Many of the ones that are, are also highly educated and live in urban areas, and are exactly the sort of high-information voters who already know all about the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that individuals buy health insurance.
Plus, true hipsters are likely making fun of this guy. Have you seen hipsters lately? Lots of them wear beards. They look Amish.
Maybe the outlandishness of the portrayal is supposed to make the photo go viral and spread the word by sheer repetition, as if it were a funny cat gif imbued with a serious message. If so, mission accomplished!
However, to us it seems like lots of the advertising aimed at young adults on health care from both sides is condescending. There are the “brosurance” ads from ProgressNow Colorado, which use frat boy images to push the idea that young adults need health care to pay for injuries incurred while drinking, for instance.
On the other side of the issue, there are the infamous “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads, which use a big-head Uncle Sam figure to try and convince young adults that getting insurance through the government is a bad idea.
The actors in these ads are mid-20s. That’s an age where you can be a captain in the Army, or a foreman on a contracting crew, or a physics teacher in a big high school. To many Millennials, ads pushing a serious subject that also feature keg stands or a guy in a scary costume may not connect.
“The problem with these campaigns – with all the Invincible-targeted ads in the Obamacare muddle, actually – is twofold. First they don’t inform all that much.... Second, there’s very little respect for the intended audience,” wrote the Atlantic Wire’s Alex Edelman of the “brosurance” and “Creepy Uncle Sam” campaigns in November.
“Pajama Boy” might not be as far up the condescension scale. It’s still kind of weird. On Buzzfeed, McKay Coppins theorizes that the ambitious young folks in politics that get put in charge of youth outreach efforts don’t really understand their generational peers. They’re in politics, after all.
“Is there any battle in contemporary politics being waged with more indignity and less prowess than the tug-of-war for twentysomethings over Obamacare?” Mr. Coppins writes.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are targeting a particular group of powerful Americans in their effort to boost enrollment in the Affordable Care Act: moms.
That’s right, moms. The White House figures no one is better able to cajole the so-called “young invincibles” into getting health care than their mothers, who have cared for them so long, and cleaned up after them, and packed them lunches, and did they ask for any thanks? Your happiness is thanks enough, that’s what they said.
Sorry, we got carried away for a second. So the Obamas are meeting today in the Oval Office with a group of mothers. Several of their visitors are heading outreach efforts designed to let friends, neighbors, and kids take advantage of their new health insurance options, according to the White House.
“Moms have a unique role to play in helping young adults gain health-care coverage,” says a White House official, speaking on background.
Young adults are important to the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”, because they’re relatively healthy. Insurers need their premiums to balance out the costs of older Americans, who generally consume more health services.
If fewer young people than expected enroll, then premiums might rise in following years to cover the revenue shortfall. Then, even fewer young people might sign up, due to increased costs, and then the costs might have to rise again, and so on, creating a “death spiral” for the law, according to critics. (The law does contain some financial stabilizers meant to fend this off.)
The White House is right to be concerned about young peoples’ reaction to the law so far. Evidence from some state exchanges shows they are not signing up in anticipated numbers. Perhaps worse, they are less likely to even know about the law and their ACA options than are older possible customers.
A recent Gallup poll found that only 63 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds are very or somewhat aware of the ACA, as opposed to 72 percent overall.
“This is very significant because younger Americans are the target of the Affordable Care Act, at least in terms of the necessity that they sign up for insurance to make the whole thing work,” said Frank Newport, Gallup editor-in-chief, in a commentary on the survey.
That’s the shortfall moms are supposed to address, apparently – the information deficit. Many of them are good at that, aren’t they? They bug you and bug you to wear your coat out in the cold, and that works, doesn’t it? Except all those other kids showed up for school in a hoodie and shorts and laugh at you. We’re not bitter at all.
Anyway, America’s moms may be a good group to rally to the ACA’s defense, if they can be rallied. The Heritage Foundation is urging mothers to go the other way, and tell their kids to not sign up, due to potential rate shock from higher premiums under Obamacare, and the possibility of higher taxes to pay for the law’s subsidies in the future.
But it’s possible that the need to sign up young people has been exaggerated. That’s what a group of scholars from the Kaiser Family Foundation is arguing, in any case.
They’ve run the numbers, and they figure that the pool of potential enrollees for Obamacare is about 40 percent young adults. If, say, the pool of actual enrollees is only about 33 percent young adults, then projected costs for insurers will rise by a (non-)whopping 1.1 percent to keep revenues in line, according to their calculations.
That's because "premiums are still allowed to vary substantially based on age," they say.
If young people represent only 25 percent of enrollees, projected costs for insurers would rise 2.4 percent, according to the KFF study.
“Premiums are not as sensitive to the mix of enrollment as fears about a ‘death spiral’ suggest, particularly with respect to age,” write the authors of the study, Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton, and Anthony Damico.
The White House says the meeting was meant to focus on efforts to fix Obamacare’s HealthCare.gov website and on possible reforms in the way the government buys information technology.
“The president made clear his continued focus on improving the way we deliver technology ... and encouraged the CEOs to continue to share their ideas on how to do so,” according to a White House press office read-out of the meeting.
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Mr. Obama also announced that a Microsoft executive, Kurt DelBene, will succeed Jeff Zients as the senior tech point person for the HealthCare.gov rescue effort. Mr. DelBene, who most recently served as chief of the Microsoft Office Division, also happens to be married to a Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington.
DelBene’s tech credentials appear to qualify him for his new mission. But his appointment still unleashed some cubicle-office-based snark.
“Everyone who loves Internet Explorer and Windows 8 will rejoice at the latest appointment from the White House to rescue its core policy from incompetence,” wrote Ed Morrissey over at the right-leaning Hot Air site.
Finally, the tech officials and the president also discussed the implications of the latest disclosures of National Security Agency intelligence-gathering.
Obama listened to the group’s “concerns and recommendations,” the White House said.
“This was an opportunity for the president to hear from CEOs directly as we near completion of our review of signals intelligence programs, building on the feedback we’ve received from the private sector in recent weeks and months,” said the administration read-out.
Somehow we think the conversation on this subject was livelier than these words indicate. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of NSA snooping has called the privacy protections of big tech applications and social media sites into question. We bet they told Obama he needed to do something to at least appear to rein in the NSA – and fast.
But here’s our question: how did these tech people get picked to meet with Obama in the first place?
Some of the firms represented were no-brainers, of course. Apple, Microsoft, et al are the titans of the US high-industry. But as the gossipy tech news site Valleywag noted, some of the invited guests were not quite in Apple Inc’s. league.
The administration “probably should have reconsidered some of these choices,” wrote Valleywag’s Sam Biddle.
Why, wondered Valleywag, did Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus get an invite? After all, his firm is most famous for a virtual farming game. Its stock has tumbled, employees have been laid off, and it’s in trouble.
Well, maybe Pincus got his place at the table because he donated $1 million to Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC that backed Obama in the 2012 election. Nor was he the only big Democratic fund-raiser in the room, noted the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a campaign finance watchdog group.
Venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar was there, too. He’s best known for backing the upscale car service Uber. He and his wife have donated more than $120,000 to Democrats. He was also an Obama campaign “bundler” – someone who bundles up contributions from others and sends them along to get partial credit for the money.
“In the 2012 campaign, Pishevar was a top-tier harvester of cash, gathering up at least $500,000 for the Obama campaign,” writes Russ Choma on CRP’s “Open Secrets” blog.
We’ll end by noting that the larger context for the meeting was increased political activity by the tech industry as a whole.
In recent years many tech giants have scaled up their Washington presence. Google, for instance, spent little on DC lobbying until 2010. Now they’re on track to spend about $15 million on disclosed lobby activities in 2013, according to CRP figures.
Microsoft’s lobbying expenditures are in the same ballpark. Like Google, the issues Microsoft is pushing most are related to cybersecurity and data privacy.
Years ago Microsoft paid little attention to what went on in Washington. Then it ran afoul of federal anti-trust regulators and discovered that in such circumstances professional representation in DC can be helpful. It’s likely that other tech firms saw what happened and are determined not to repeat Microsoft’s mistake.
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Fully 73 percent of self-described GOP respondents to the Iowa survey view Representative Ryan (R) of Wisconsin either very or mostly favorably. That makes the former VP candidate and current House Budget Committee chairman the leading Republican hopeful in the state. Of course, the Iowa caucuses are still three years away, but it’s not too early to start chewing this stuff over, right? Right? Bueller? Bueller?
Second in the Register’s GOP rankings is Mike Huckabee, with a comparable favorable rating of 66 percent. Perhaps this is one reason the former Arkansas governor has quit his radio show and is talking openly of perhaps running for president again. He won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, after all.
Third is former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a 2012 candidate, with 58 percent.
Maybe the second biggest surprise in the poll is Ted Cruz’s lagging ratings. The Texas senator and tea party firebrand is tied for last in the Register’s Republican rankings, with 46 percent favorability.
Why did Ryan do so well here? One reason may be simple celebrity. He stumped the country for his ticket only a bit over a year ago, after all.
“Ryan’s numbers speak to the power of being on the national ticket – even if you don’t win,” write Washington Post political experts Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan on The Fix blog.
Governor Huckabee and Senator Santorum, the “show” and “place” finishers, weren’t national candidates. But they were candidates for the nomination, which may be why they finished ahead of national campaign neophytes such as Senator Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who came in at a 51 percent favorability rating, if you’re interested).
Second, there’s the map. Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin is adjacent to Iowa. He’s perhaps a regional favorite son. (Though we’ll note that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the person who tied with Cruz for last.)
Finally, maybe Ryan isn’t actually as popular in the Hawkeye State as the poll shows.
Look at the Iowa poll’s methodology. It surveyed 650 state adults, but that number included Democrats and independents. The poll sampled the opinion of but 182 self-identified Republicans for its GOP-only rankings, which are the ones we cited above.
At 650 respondents, the poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3.8 percent. For a subset of 182 respondents, the margin of error would be much higher.
There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a reputable survey. It’s just something to keep in mind as we wait out the (many) months until candidate activity begins to quicken.
For TV personalities, the most important thing is exposure, even – often especially – if it means controversy. Toss out some outrageous political or cultural tidbit and watch the fur fly as your audience numbers bounce up.
Sometimes the tidbit goes too far, even for cable TV. Martin Bashir got bounced from MSNBC recently for what he admitted had been his “shameful” comments about Sarah Palin. (“America’s resident dunce,” the British broadcaster had called her.)
But anybody who thinks that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was actually shocked – shocked! – that people would react to her comments this week about Santa Claus and Jesus doesn’t understand the way such things work.
The point was to keep her in the news, and her assertion that Santa and Jesus – one a historical figure, the other (don’t tell the kids) a made-up character – were both white, and that "just because it makes you feel uncomfortable it doesn't mean it has to change” certainly did just that.
Response ranged from outrage to ridicule to lengthy serious commentary on the history of both individuals.
African Americans noted that when they were kids, Santa in their neighborhood was often black.
“That this genial, jolly man can only be seen as white – and consequently, that a Santa of any other hue is merely a ‘joke’ or a chance to trudge out racist stereotypes helps perpetuate the whole ‘white-as-default’ notion endemic to American culture,” Slate blogger Aisha Harris had written a few days earlier, which apparently set Kelly off as part of Fox’s annual “war on Christmas” shtick.
Ms. Harris suggested that maybe Santa should be depicted as a North Pole penguin.
Noting that the historical character St. Nicholas was born in what is now Turkey, Jon Stewart said, "My guess is that there'd be no Christmas if he looked like that dude, because he's probably still on the no-fly list.”
As for Jesus, Stewart’s answer to Kelly was, “"You do know that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, right?"
“Kelly has made a serious error about Jesus,” Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service and author of “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars,” wrote in the Atlantic. “The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man. If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening by TSA.”
OK, OK, you guys, Kelly responded on Friday. Can’t you recognize tongue-in-cheek when you see it?
"Humor is part of what we try to bring to the show. Sometimes that's lost on the humorless,” she said.
"This would be funny if it were not so telling about our society,” Kelly said. “In particular the knee jerk instinct by so many to race bait and to assume the worst in people, especially people employed by the very powerful Fox News channel.”
She did concede that she had been wrong to assert that “Jesus was a white man.”
The question of Jesus' race is "far from settled,” she acknowledged.
"If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," President Barack Obama said.
He said it not just once, but at least 37 times in recent years, according to PolitiFact.com.
That statement earned Obama a "Half True" rating from the political fact-checking site. In early November, Obama modified the original statement and that got him a "Pants on Fire" rating for saying "Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed."
Now, Obama has garnered PolitiFact's annual "Lie of the Year" award. And its readers agreed.
In a poll, 59 percent rated Obama's claim as the biggest political fib of the year. The runner up, according to the poll, was also a healthcare whopper:
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, "President Obama just granted all of Congress an exception" to Obamacare during an August speech in Iowa. But only 8 percent of PolitiFact readers voted for that as the year's biggest fabrication.
In fact, in four of the past five years, falsehoods about healthcare have earned the PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" award.
While only a small percentage of Americans (about 2 percent out of the total insured population of 262 million) have seen their healthcare insurance policies canceled due to the Affordable Care Act, that group has gotten plenty of media attention.
As PolitiFact notes, Obama made the original mistake of oversimplifying a complex change, and then compounded the mistake.
Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief. Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology....
Obama’s ideas on health care were first offered as general outlines then grew into specific legislation over the course of his presidency. Yet Obama never adjusted his rhetoric to give people a more accurate sense of the law’s real-world repercussions, even as fact-checkers flagged his statements as exaggerated at best.
The combination of the repeated oversimplification and mishandling of this lie, on top of a botched roll out of healthcare.gov, have pushed Obama's popularity ratings into the basement.
All the stumbles are likely behind Obama’s sinking job approval ratings. The RealClearPolitics.com average of major polls shows him at 43.9 percent. The latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows Obama’s Presidential Leadership Index – which combines job approval, leadership, and favorability ratings – is at an all-time low of 43 (where a score of 50 is neutral).
The calamitous launch of HealthCare.gov may have damaged Obama’s image the most. After all, he ran two presidential campaigns featuring cutting-edge technology. Obviously, hiring people to build state-of-the-art technology for a presidential campaign is wholly different from presiding over a vast executive branch that includes an agency tasked with building a complex computer system, heavily staffed by contractors and subject to all the rules of government procurement. Still, analysts say, Obama should have had an early-warning system in place to let him – or more precisely, a top White House aide – know that the rollout of HealthCare.gov should possibly be delayed.
By December, the polls showed that Obama's approval ratings – and perhaps more importantly, his party's ratings – continued to sink. In his last two years in office, the ability of the Democrats to maintain control of the Senate and perhaps the White House in coming elections, may depend on the public's perception of the success - or failure - of the Affordable Care Act.
[Editor's note: The original post incorrectly stated that Politifact gave Obama a "Pants on Fire" rating for his original statement. In fact, that rating didn't come until after Obama modified the statement on Nov. 4, 2013.]
Washington is abuzz this week over House Speaker John Boehner’s blunt dismissal of outside tea party groups as having “lost all credibility” for selling Republicans down the road during the government shutdown last fall.
Has the speaker from Ohio, whose trademark style is inclusivity, signaled that the uncompromising, purist-conservative wing of his caucus is now on the outs? And when the House returns from its recess in January, will he, as his critics might put it, show a little leadership for a change?
After all, it was only last January that tea partiers tried to oust him from the speakership.
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Perhaps what we’re witnessing is a new, more forceful, and bold John Boehner, one who, in the course of just a few weeks has said his party needs to support gay candidates and “be a little more sensitive” when running against women. One who may be showing a new willingness to reach across the aisle – not only to pass a bipartisan budget agreement but, maybe, just maybe, work with Democrats on immigration reform. (He recently hired the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain – the Republican from Arizona known for his bipartisan efforts – to be his top immigration adviser).
Maybe we’re seeing a new Boehner, but maybe not. What is more likely, actually, is that the Republican conference is changing more than the speaker. Political reality has set in.
“I do think there’s some change in the conference,” says Norman Ornstein, a longtime political observer at the American Enterprise Institute. “A lot of them were jolted by what happened with the shutdown, and now realize what a disaster that was for them.”
That was strikingly obvious in Thursday’s overwhelming bipartisan vote to pass a two-year budget compromise. For the first time this year on a major, controversial fiscal issue, a majority of Republicans voted to support a budget deal that outside tea party groups such as Heritage Action, Freedom Works, and Tea Party Patriots opposed.
Even more telling, of the 48 representatives identifying themselves as members of the House tea party caucus, only 23 voted against the measure. The rest, basically half the caucus, sided with the revered conservative budget co-author Paul Ryan, (R) of Wisconsin, to support the deal.
As for other hot-button topics on which Boehner has spoken recently – gays, women, immigration – the party or individual Republicans have intensified their efforts ever since the 2012 election highlighted the GOP’s weakness in those areas.
When answering a question Thursday about whether he was enjoying being able to speak his mind about the outsized influence of outside groups, the man famous for wearing his heart on his sleeve answered:
“I don't really think that I've said anything new or anything different than what I've felt and what I've said in the past. It's just that, you know, there just comes a point when some people step over the line. “
And there comes a point where politicians learn the lessons they need to learn in order to survive. Or at least, that’s the big conclusion Boehner seemed to be driving at in his much-talked-about presser Thursday.
“Listen, I think there were a lot of lessons learned over the course of this year, a lot of lessons learned over the course of the last three years,” he said. “And I actually do feel like we're in a better place.”
That’s pure Boehner talking – giving his conference the space to learn what they need to learn, and allowing that for himself as well.
He reiterated yesterday what he’s never tired of telling voters on the stump: “You know, I've got 11 brothers and sisters, and you have to learn to get along with the family, learn to get things done as a family.”
After he talked about his family, he noted that he used to work in a bar where "you have to learn to deal with every character that comes in the place." Then he added: "Trust me, I need all the lessons I learned growing up to do this job."
Come January, the speaker is unlikely to shun a wing of his party. It’s not his style. But he seems to be satisfied that his political family is perhaps wiser than a year ago.
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Mike Huckabee is talking like he wants to get the band back together and run for president in 2016.
And by “get the band back together,” we mean the bare-bones campaign staff that helped him win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and finish second to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain in the delegate count – not Capitol Offense, the Arkansas rock band for which Mr. Huckabee has occasionally played bass guitar.
“I’m keeping the door open,” Huckabee told a New York Times reporter Thursday in regards to another White House run. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”
The ex-Arkansas governor’s quasicandidacy throws a new element into the early positioning for the Republican presidential nod.
First off, he’s genial in a way that other semi-declared maybe-candidates aren’t. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can be sharp; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas can be cutting, as an ex-debater. Huckabee, in contrast, is a smooth ex-pastor and talk-show host. Make that ex-talk-show host – he quit his daily show, heard on 200 stations, on Thursday, saying it was taking as many as nine hours a day for him to prepare.
As for his next endeavor, “Stay tuned, there’s more to come,” he told listeners on his final day.
Second, Huckabee has a deep well of support among evangelical Christians, who may not otherwise have an obvious candidate to back in 2016.
On Friday, Huckabee is speaking at a “Pastors and Pews” event in Little Rock, Ark., run by David Lane, an evangelical leader who urges followers toward more participation in the political process.
Huckabeee plans to appear at four more “Pastors and Pews” events in coming months, in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
“Huckabee is obviously gearing up to run. This is the most aggressive I’ve seen him since 2007,” Mr. Lane told the Examiner’s Paul Bedard.
Third, as a former Arkansas governor, Huckabee has a geographical credential that might match up well against former Arkansan and possible Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. Huckabee was born in Hope, Ark., as was Bill Clinton, so expect the inevitable appearance of “Real Man of Hope” bumper stickers, or something like that.
Huckabee’s current residence, a large house on Florida’s Gulf Coast, admittedly might complicate this narrative.
Weighing against him is a reputation as a politician who can’t raise money, notes left-leaning pundit Ed Kilgore, in the Washington Monthly. His 2008 campaign sputtered when it basically ran out of campaign contribution fuel. If he were to run again, Mr. Kilgore notes, Huckabee might have to rely on a few deep-pocketed backers and a "super PAC," as opposed to many individual donors.
Also, he’s an economic populist in the Southern vein, and that doesn’t necessarily sit well with the antitax and the corporate wings of the Republican Party. In 2008, the antitax Club for Growth criticized him for not opposing state tax increases while serving as Arkansas governor, for instance.
Huckabee has supported the Common Core initiative for a national educational standard and has sparred with rival talk host Rush Limbaugh over the more aggressive tone of the latter’s show. That’s earned him enmity from some on the right.
“Rush-bashing, Common Core-peddling Huckabee fails at radio, readies another presidential bid. #trygolfinstead,” tweeted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin on Friday.
Of course, it’s also possible that what Huckabee really wants is not the GOP presidential nomination, but redemption.
His 2008 run ended with a thump as the money ran out, and he feels he never got credit for his populist-tinged warnings that Wall Street was going to drag down Main Street, as pretty much happened at the beginning of the Great Recession later in the year.
“A lot of things I said that I was sneered at about turned out to be prophetic,” Huckabee told the Times’ Jonathan Martin. “A year later I looked like a genius, but nobody ever said, ‘Huckabee was right.’ ”