On This Day: President Barack Obama looks out a cell window as he and First Lady Michelle Obama tour the Maison des Esclaves Museum on Gorée Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013 (Photo by Pete Souza)
10:50 CT: The President delivers remarks on the economy, Lake Harriet Band Shell, Minneapolis
12:20 CT: Departs Minneapolis
3:45 ET: Arrives White House
5:0 ET: Meets with Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D Gibson and Rob Nabors
8:45 ET: Attends the Marine Barracks Evening Parade
“Cynicism’s popular these days, but hope’s better.”
Jonathan Cohn: Health Care Spending Down – One More Promising Sign About Obamacare
People tell me I worry too much. Maybe they are right. Back in April, I wrote a big article warning that we might be on the verge of another surge in health care spending. To critics of the Affordable Care Act, this apparent turn to health expenditure normalcy proved that the law had done little to control costs—and that it would eventually lead to much more spending. But the worrisome reports came with a huge asterisk. They were based on preliminary estimates and a whole lot of guesswork. As economists like David Cutler and Peter Orszag pointed out, other data points were more encouraging. Among other things, the cost of the federal government’s Medicare program was still rising very slowly. That suggested the health care industry really was reinventing itself and becoming more efficient—thanks, at least in part, to incentives that Obamacare had introduced.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis issued new estimates for how the economy and its component parts performed in the first quarter of 2014. The headlines were all about the economy shrinking. But that was expected, as QED’s Danny Vinik pointed out, given some one-time factors. The real surprise was health care. The supposed surge in health care spending was nowhere to be found. On the contrary, relative to the previous quarter, health care spending actually fell by 1.4 percent. it sure doesn’t look like Obamacare is bankrupting the country, as the critics always said it would. Better still, the law really may be nudging health care in the direction of more efficiency.
Benjamin Bell: Obama Calls Boehner Lawsuit Threat A ‘Stunt’ (Videos At Link)
Despite Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s threat this week to sue President Obama over his use of executive orders, the president refused to apologize for his actions during an exclusive interview with ABC News and took the Republican Party to task for what he described as its attempt to interfere with the basic functions of government. “You notice that he didn’t specifically say what exactly he was objecting to,” the president said when asked about the suit by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos during an interview Thursday in Minnesota.
“I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they’re doing nothing,” the president added later. What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?’” the president said. “You’re going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority while you’re not doing anything?” Obama said, directing his comments toward Republicans.
Chemi Shalev: America’s Bye-Bye Bash For President Peres Was Both Bittersweet And Over-The-Top
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer hosted a gala dinner for President Shimon Peres at the Israeli Embassy on Wednesday, attended by a formidable representation of Washington’s high and mighty. He gave a witty and humorous speech in which he included his personal impressions of the meetings held earlier that day at the White House: “You could not imagine a better relationship than the one between Peres and President [Barack] Obama,” he said. And Dermer should know. He has the right perspective. He is far more familiar than most people with the far frostier relationship between Obama and Dermer’s own superior, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And “far frostier” is probably an understatement. For Obama, Peres might be the last vestige of the kind of Israel that the American left fell in love with until the Six-Day-War, the polar opposite of Netanyahu’s present-day Israel, adored most fervently by Obama’s enemies in the conservative right-wing.
In Obama’s eyes, Peres seeks peace and pursues it, while Netanyahu pays lips service and then runs for his coalition’s life. Why couldn’t things have been the other way round, with Peres as prime minister and Bibi as President, Obama may have wondered, and Peres would probably join him. Peres’ has also been Obama’s chief defender against the waves of criticism and sometimes hostility directed at the U.S. President in Israel. “I learned from Ben Gurion that one must judge people based on their record, not their image,” Peres told Haaretz. “I think Obama is being judged unjustly, based on an image that he did not create – but was created for him. I think people ignore his record. Tell me one thing in which he hasn’t been consistent in his attitude towards Israel and the Jewish people. He’s just added a billion dollars to the military aid for our anti-missile defense. What do people want from him?”
Mike Lillis: Democrats: No Bluff, Obama Will Go It Alone On Immigration
The Obama administration is “not bluffing” in its intent to take executive action on immigration policy if House Republicans don’t act soon, top Democratic leaders warned Thursday. President Obama has delayed any potential changes to his deportation policy to allow House GOP leaders time to bring legislation to the floor this summer. But if the Republicans don’t act in July, the Democrats say, unilateral changes by Obama are inevitable. “We’re at the end of the line,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “We’re not bluffing by setting a legislative deadline for them to act.
“Their first job is to govern,” Menendez added, “and in the absence of governing, then you see executive actions.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) piled on. Noting that a year has passed since the Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill with broad bipartisan support, he urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring a similar bill to the floor. “I don’t know how much more time he thinks he needs, but I hope that Speaker Boehner will speak up today,” Durbin said. “And if he does not, the president will borrow the power that is needed to solve the problems of immigration.”
BBC: EU signs pacts with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have signed partnership agreements with the European Union, in a move strongly opposed by Russia. The pact – which would bind the three countries more closely to the West both economically and politically – is at the heart of the crisis in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin said making Ukraine choose between Russia and the EU would split it in two. A ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine is due to end on Friday. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in Brussels to sign the pact, said he would take a decision on an extension to the truce when he arrived back in Kiev later on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would welcome an extension, but not if it were simply an ultimatum for separatists to lay down their arms. Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency said there had been a sharp rise in the numbers of displaced people in eastern Ukraine in the past week, with 16,400 people fleeing the area. The total number internally displaced has reached 54,400, while a further 110,000 people left Ukraine for Russia this year.
Ariane de Vogue: One Year After Top Court’s Ruling Gay Marriage Is Legal In 19 States
It’s the one year anniversary of a major Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. A lot can happen in a year. In United States v. Windsor, the justices didn’t squarely address the issue of a state ban on gay marriage. Windsor, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidated part of a federal law that denied benefits to same sex couples legally married in their states. But since June 26, 2013 , federal judges have adopted Kennedy’s equal protection language to strike down bans across the country. The latest ruling came Wednesday when the 10th Circuit Court ruled that Utah’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
Look at the statistics: A year ago same sex couples could marry in 10 states and DC. Today, that number has ballooned to 19 states and DC. Almost 44 percent of the country lives in states where same sex marriage is legal, according to Human Rights Campaign. The Supreme Court ruling fueled a social movement of such rapid pace that even veterans of social movements were taken by surprise: Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who as a young lawyer fought the battle against gender discrimination, said recently in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: : “I haven’t seen a social change that rapid – ever.”
Health wonks and Dem operatives are quietly mulling the possibility of a new batch of health plan cancellations in October — just before the midterms. Dems believe a round of “cancellation” headlines could greet this development. They think headlines will be out of sync with the actual problem, perhaps dramatically so. But as the gap between last fall’s “horror stories” and subsequent hard data about Obamacare has showed, press coverage of the law tends not to err on the side of proportionality or restraint. According to Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the possibility of more cancellations resides in the fact that an untold number of people may have renewed policies before January 1st,
meaning they did not have to meet Obamacare’s minimum standards. Those people with current plans that don’t comply could get cancellation notices 90 days before the end of this year, i.e., in October. “So much of this debate has been driven by anecdote, which can be misleading,” Levitt says. “When there is no data available to see whether the anecdotes are generalizable, they get reported anyway. This could be another example of a relatively small number of negative anecdotes being used by opponents of the law to discredit it.”
Greg Sargent: The GOP Is Now Officially The Party Of ‘Get The Hell Out’
Exactly one year after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that built a compromise on an exchange of increased enforcement for legalization for the 11 million, Republicans have now officially abandoned any pretense of a willingness to participate in solving the immigration crisis. Instead, they have committed the party to a course premised on two intertwined notions: There are no apparent circumstances under which they can accept legalization of the 11 million; and as a result, the only broad response to the crisis they can countenance is maximum deportations.
This means it’s now all in Obama’s hands to decide what he can do unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations and address the current unaccompanied migrant crisis. One way to understand what happened here is to trace the evolution of GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chair of the Judiciary Committee. Now fast forward to yesterday. Goodlatte effectively declared immigration reform dead as long as Obama is in office, blaming his decision to defer the deportation of DREAMers for the current crisis of unaccompanied migrants crossing. This tells the entire story. Goodlatte was an early proponent of a form of legalization for the 11 million that could have been the basis for compromise.
In my 44 years (almost 45), I’ve never seen a President console and uplift as much as Barack Obama. A tribute to our Hugger-in-Chief.
After a speech on gun violence in Colorado, President Barack Obama hugs Sue Connors and Jane Dougherty, who lost their sister in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Stephanie Miller of Sandusky Ohio cries on the shoulder of U.S. President Barack Obama at a campaign event at Washington Park in Sandusky, Ohio July 5, 2012. Miller’s sister died of cancer and said that Obama’s healthcare plan would have given her better treatment options.
Jim Burress: Obamacare Giving Big Boost To Georgia’s Health IT Industry
Politically, Georgia is fighting the health law at every turn. Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has chosen not to expand Medicaid, and the state’s insurance commissioner publically vowed to obstruct the Affordable Care Act. But that doesn’t mean Georgia isn’t seeing a financial benefit from the law. Take the company called PreMedex. Founder and president Van Willis knows that just a few years ago, a company like his would’ve been a hard sell — impossible, even. The two-year-old company contracts with hospitals and doctors’ offices to call patients after they’re discharged. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are penalized if Medicare patients are readmitted within a month for several specific illnesses.
“From a hospital standpoint, there was very little, if any, communication with patients once they leave,” Willis explains. “A logical way to communicate with patients if you can’t be in their homes is, of course, through the telephone.” Scattered around a half-dozen office cubicles, PreMedex employees don telephone headsets on a recent morning and sit down in front of computers that automatically dial patients. After telling patients they are calling on behalf of doctors and hospitals, the workers ask some simple but important health questions: Have you had any fever? Are you in any pain? How patients answer could mean the difference between a hospital’s profit and loss. PreMedex started with five employees. It’s up to 25 and growing. It’s a story told over and over across Georgia, according to Tino Mantella, who heads the Technology Association of Georgia.
The Atlantic: What Happens When the President Sits Down Next to You At A Cafe
Thursday into Friday, my head cold got worse, so on Friday morning I walked down to a bar-cafe-restaurant in my neighborhood….
… the president arrived, 40 minutes later – stepping out of his SUV, smiling, with a little wave …
…. He picked up the baby. The baby’s mom told him about the baby …. He was adorable. Obama really seemed to appreciate holding him, and bounced him for probably a minute. The baby’s mom told him that their family had just been stationed in Kenya, that thats where the baby was born.
He seemed to stumble for a second, as he realized he could not phrase a joke in exactly the way he could phrase it in private.
“That’s, that’s where Donald Trump thinks I was born,” he said.
James Fallows: The Iran Vote: This Really Matters, And You Should Let Your Senators Know
If the nuclear deal is going to fail, let that happen at the negotiating table – and not be engineered under the Capitol dome.
…. The Obama Administration, along with some of the usual U.S. allies – the U.K., France, Germany – and such non-allied parties as Russia and China, has taken steps with the potential of peacefully ending Iran’s 35-year estrangement from most of the rest of the world. That would be of enormous benefit and significance to Iran, the U.S., and nearly everyone else concerned.
… derailment is what seems to be underway in the Senate right now. Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are pushing for a sanctions bill that is universally recognized (except by its sponsors) as a poison-pill for the current negotiations. Fine; opposing the administration is the GOP’s default position.
But a striking number of Democrats have joined them, for no evident reason other than AIPAC’s whole-hearted, priority-one support for the sanctions bill…
When the U.S. auto industry nearly collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis, the three major American auto makers – GM, Chrysler and Ford – asked the government for a $50 billion bailout to avoid bankruptcy.
(Technically, Ford didn’t need the money, they requested the funds to stake equal advantage with their subsidized brethren.)
Although the prospect of losing millions of industry jobs loomed, a reluctant Congress wasn’t quick to grant the money…. Today, the Big 3 are back reporting healthy profits and manufacturing vehicles they think the world wants to drive.
Jonathan Cohn: On Second Thought, Republicans Say, Let’s Stiff The Unemployed
Republicans determined to help the poor and the unemployed? That’s so last week.
On Tuesday, two proposals to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed failed to get past key procedural obstacles in the Senate. One proposal would extend benefits until the end of 2014, offsetting the cost by tacking on an extra year of sequestration cuts in 2024. The other proposal would extend benefits for just three months, without offsetting cuts or revenue, but in the hopes that future negotiations would produce another extension that was fully paid for.
Prospects for passage of such a proposal seemed better last week, when Democrats and a half-dozen Republicans voted to begin debate on a benefits extension, providing the 60-vote majority necessary to overcome a filibuster. But on Tuesday, when it came time to end debate and move ahead, Democratic leaders couldn’t win over the same handful of Republicans. They had only 52 votes to proceed—a majority, but short of the super-majority it takes to pass most legislation these days.
Reuters: World Bank Sees Stronger Growth As Rich Economies Expand
The World Bank on Tuesday raised its forecast for global growth for the first time in three years as advanced economies started to pick up pace, led by the United States. The rosier outlook suggests the world economy is finally breaking free from a long and sluggish recovery after the global financial crisis. The poverty-fighting institution predicted global gross domestic product will expand 3.2 percent this year, from 2.4 percent in 2013, according to its twice-yearly “Global Economic Prospects.” In the bank’s last forecast in June, it expected global growth to reach 3 percent in 2014.
The bank said the global economy had come to a “turning point,” as fiscal austerity and policy uncertainty no longer weighed as heavily on most richer economies. The bank expected stronger growth in the United States in particular, of 2.8 percent in 2014, from 1.8 percent last year. “For the first time in five years, there are indications that a self-sustaining recovery has begun among high-income countries – suggesting that they may now join developing countries as a second engine of growth in the global economy,” the bank’s chief economist Kaushik Basu said in the report.
Erin Kelly: McCain, Flake Vote Against Bill To Restore Long-Term Jobless Benefits
A bill that would have restored long-term unemployment benefits to more than 17,000 jobless Arizonans died Tuesday after Republicans blocked a vote on the legislation. Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake joined most other Republicans in blocking the bill from coming to a vote, arguing that its cost needed to be paid through budget cuts. Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, whose state has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, was the only Republican to join Democrats in supporting the bill.
The Senate’s failure to pass the bill means that another 22,500 Arizonans could lose their benefits during the next six months. It also means the House is unlikely to take up the legislation. Arizonans are still struggling with an unemployment rate that is about 1 percentage point higher than the national average, which was 6.7percent in December. The bill’s supporters fell four votes short of the 60 they needed to end the Republican filibuster and allow a vote on the $6.4billion bill to extend benefits by three months. In the end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D-Nev., changed his “yes” vote to a “no” — a procedural move that allows him to bring the bill up again if he can secure more GOP votes. Heller and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., offered the bill to restore benefits under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which helps people who have been unemployed for more than six months by sending them about $300 a week. The program, which expired Dec.28, gave unemployed Arizonans a maximum of 63weeks of benefits. Without the program, jobless Arizonans can get a maximum of 26weeks.
BBC: General Motors To Pay First Dividend Since 2008
US carmaker General Motors (GM) said it will resume dividend payments, capping a remarkable turnaround since its 2009 bailout by the US government. It will pay a dividend of 30 cents per share, the first since July 2008. GM filed for bankruptcy at the height of the global financial crisis and was rescued after the government pumped in billions of dollars.
But the firm has since seen a strong recovery, led by a jump in sales in key markets such as the US and China. On Tuesday, the firm said it sold 9.71 million vehicles in 2013, an increase of 4% on the year before. “This return to shareholders is consistent with our capital priorities, and is an important signal of confidence in our plans for a continuing profitable future,” Dan Ammann, GM’s chief financial officer, said in a statement.
McClatchy: Michelle Obama On her 50th birthday: My Message To Women Is Be Healthy
First Lady Michelle Obama said she’s yet to peak – even as she celebrates her 50th birthday at the White House this week. “I’m first lady of the United States of America – that’s pretty high up,” Obama said in a birthday-themed interview with People magazine. “But I’ve always felt like my life is ever-evolving.”
… Post her husband’s presidency, Obama noted she’ll be in her early 50s, with more to accomplish … “I’ve got to keep figuring out ways to have an impact – whether as a mother or as a professional or as a mentor to other kids.”
She noted that when the first couple leaves the White House, eldest daughter Malia will be in college and Sasha will have a few more years “and then she’ll be in college. “At that point in life,” Obama said. “Whoa, the sky is the limit!”
…. she says by 70, she’d like to be traveling — to remote castles in Ireland, on rafting trips and to the Hoover Dam, which she said she hasn’t seen.
On This Day: President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia (partially seen at left) and Sasha attend church services at Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)