President Barack Obama and Pope Francis laugh while exchanging gifts after their meeting at the Vatican
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at Quirinal Palace in Rome
USA Today: Obama’s Gift To Pope Francis: A Seed Chest
President Obama presented Pope Francis with a custom-made seed chest on Thursday, containing fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden. The gift was inspired by the pope’s decision to grant public access to the gardens of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence, according to a White House statement. Obama and Pope Francis met for 52 minutes at Vatican City.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, presented the president with a plaque of some kind, and an encyclical. “I will treasure this,” Obama said. “I actually will probably read this (encyclical) in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.” The seed chest from Obama is made from American leather and wood reclaimed from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals built in the United States.
Jason Millman: Young Adults Signing Up At Higher Rates Off Obamacare Exchanges
A higher rate of young adults and uninsured people are signing up for coverage through a private insurance website as next week’s enrollment deadline approaches, according to information released by the company Tuesday. The enrollment data, issued by eHealthInsurance, provides a snapshot of how some customers are shopping for insurance away from Obamacare exchanges during the law’s first enrollment period. EHealth, a national online insurance broker predating the health care law, operates similar to the Obamacare exchanges, offering customers a selection of health plans from competing insurers.
However, shoppers on eHealth’s website can’t access federal subsidies to help purchase insurance, though the company says it has helped people enroll in subsidy-eligible plans by telephone. Since Jan. 1, about 45 percent of those picking new health plans through eHealth were between 18 and 34 years old, the company says. By comparison, the all-important demographic accounted for 27 percent of signups on Obamacare exchanges the past couple of months. EHealth says its rate of youth enrollment has increased from 39 percent of signups between October and December.The rate of eHealth customers who identified themselves as previously uninsured has also increased since the first three months of the enrollment, the company says. Since January, 51 percent of the website’s shoppers say they were previously uninsured, up from 34 percent between October and December.
America Blog: They Stole Her Photo, Then Claimed She Hated Obamacare. She Doesn’t
Helene isn’t having the best week. The Texas blogger was visiting Las Vegas for a bachelorette party this past weekend, and woke up on Saturday to find that she’d become the latest anti-Obamacare poster child. The thing is, Helene never signed up for the job. In fact, she told me yesterday that she’s quite happy with the Affordable Care Act (ACA),
and with the “affordable” health care it helped her find. “Not only do I not agree with what the image is portraying,” Helene wrote me, “I actually have Affordable Healthcare!” So, if anything, Helene is an Obamacare success story. But that didn’t stop over 17,000 people on Facebook from sharing an image of her face, posted just days ago, with a caption complaining about Obamacare. To add insult to injury, the people who stole her image couldn’t even spell “conspiracy” right.
SmartyPants:President Obama’s Speech In Brussels – One Of The Most Important Of His Presidency
One of the things we know from reading about President Obama’s life story is that while he was practicing law in Chicago, he taught classes on the topic of “power.” I’ve always wished that either he or someone who attended one would outline the content of what he taught. Perhaps the President will do that once his second term is over.
He doesn’t tend to speak directly about the topic, but from listening to him refer to it in other contexts, what I’ve deduced is that he embraces the power of partnership as the alternative to our more traditional concept of the power of domination. Today the President began his speech in Brussels with a history lesson on the power of partnership vs the power of domination.
Noah Smith has the definitive piece on what’s wrong, so far, with the new FiveThirtyEight. For all the big talk about data-driven analysis,what it actually delivers is sloppy and casual opining with a bit of data used, as the old saying goes, the way a drunkard uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination.So what would real data-driven reporting look like (beyond what goes on at the sites Noah mentions, and also at the Times)? Well, here’s an example: Charles Gaba’s ACASignups.net.
Gaba, a website developer, realized that nobody was systematically keeping track of enrollment data for Obamacare, and has turned himself into one-stop shopping on the law’s progress. And he really fills a need: when you read news reports on Obamacare, you can tell right away which reporters have been reading Gaba and know what’s happening and which reporters are relying solely on official announcements — or, worse, dueling political spin.
NYT: Obama Juggles Itinerary In Bid To Ease Tensions Between Two Allies
When President Obama brings together the estranged leaders of Japan and South Korea for a peacemaking session in The Hague on Tuesday evening, it will be the culmination of three months of intense behind-the-scenes American diplomacy. The unusual effort included a phone call from Mr. Obama to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan; a follow-up lunch that the American ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, had with Mr. Abe; a decision to put both Tokyo and Seoul on Mr. Obama’s itinerary when he visits Asia next month; and a plan to resolve this neighborhood quarrel on the ultimate neutral ground: a stately Dutch city accustomed to litigating international disputes.
In this case, Mr. Abe and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea have barely been on speaking terms since coming to power just over a year ago. Their antagonism is complex and deeply personal, rooted in World War II history as well as their own conservative and nationalist political leanings, which make old animosities even harder to overcome. Convinced the two were not going to mend relations on their own, the White House proposed a “trilateral” meeting with Mr. Obama at the nuclear security summit in the Netherlands. The European locale and nonproliferation theme made sense. “It’s a multilateral meeting not in Asia,” said a senior administration official, “and a multilateral meeting about the one thing Japan and South Korea are in agreement on.” Mr. Obama’s participation was critical: In a call on March 6, the president told Mr. Abe he wanted to bring his two allies together. At a lunch that day, Ambassador Kennedy fleshed out the idea.
Sy Mukherjee: Anti-Obamacare Governor Now Encouraging Residents To Enroll Under Health Law
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), an ardent Affordable Care Act critic, is now encouraging residents to transition into new health plans under the very reform law that he once refused to help implement. Walker told the Washington Examiner’s Philip A. Klein that he has instructed state agencies to work with individuals who are transitioning into plans offered on Wisconsin’s Obamacare marketplace. That includes both the previously uninsured and poor residents just above the poverty level who are being siphoned out of the state’s Medicaid program, BadgerCare,
and into private ACA plans under Walker’s conservative alternative to Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. Just two years ago, Walker was singing a very different tune. He had refused to create a statewide ACA marketplace — thereby also forgoing significant federal funding for Obamacare outreach efforts — and said he wouldn’t lift a finger to help implement the law until the Supreme Court decided the law’s fate. In fact, Wisconsin’s spending on ACA outreach is the lowest in the nation at just 46 cents per capita.
Bloomberg: WTO Panel Sides With U.S. In Dispute Over China Minerals
The World Trade Organization backed the U.S. in a dispute with China, agreeing that limits on exports of rare-earth elements used in hybrid-car batteries and wind turbines violate trade rules. A Chinese industry group said it regrets the ruling against China. A dispute-settlement panel at the Geneva-based trade arbiter yesterday determined that China, the world’s largest producer of the minerals, didn’t adequately justify imposing export duties and quotas on the goods, as well as the elements tungsten and molybdenum. China’s export limits “have been putting American manufacturers at a disadvantage and preventing full and fair competition,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters yesterday on a conference call.
The WTO decision follows a 2011 ruling in which the trade arbiter sided with the U.S. in determining that China’s export limits on raw materials for steel and chemical production, such as bauxite, magnesium and zinc, broke trade law. The U.S., the 28-nation EU and Japan in 2012 filed complaints with the WTO, saying that China’s restrictions on exports of rare-earth minerals — a group of 17 chemically similar elements used in electronics, autos, helicopter blades and other goods — disrupted trade flows and caused global prices to jump, in some cases as much as three times as much as what Chinese companies pay.
Tara Culp-Ressler: Hobby Lobby Inspired New York Lawmakers To Fight To Protect Birth Control In Their State
If the craft chain Hobby Lobby and the furniture company Conestoga Wood Specialties successfully win their Supreme Court challenges, it could open the door to allow businesses across the country to compromise their workers’ access to reproductive health care. In response to that potential future, New York lawmakers are taking the opportunity to reaffirm their state’s commitment to providing insurance coverage for essential preventative health services like birth control.
Earlier this month, New York Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D) introduced the so-called “Boss Bill,” which would close a loophole in the state’s existing workplace anti-discrimination laws to protect women’s access to birth control. Under the legislation — which was written in direct response to the multiple lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive provision — New York’s labor law would be amended to prevent employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their reproductive health care decisions, even if those employers are trying to cite their religious beliefs.
President Barack Obama, who has supposedly taken the toughest line in condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “aggression,” has merely declared banking sanctions on a dozen Russian businessmen personally close to Putin. But in truth, there’s some deep thinking behind Washington’s sanctions regime, and they could ultimately prove deadly to Putin’s future. The key to the sanctions strategy is to drive a wedge between Putin’s shrinking inner circle and the wider Russian elite. “People aren’t ready to sacrifice their holidays in the Alps and in Antalya for the sake of an idea of a Great State,” says Nina Khrushcheva, a historian at New York City’s New School and a granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who ceded Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. “That was fine in Stalin’s time, but it’s not fine in Putin’s time.”
In other words, the sanctions are smart because they so precisely target Kremlin insiders and personal friends of Putin—men such as such as billionaire Gennady Timchenko, whose Gunvor company trades most of Russia’s oil and who has major interests in gas pipe-building companies, and Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s former judo partner, whose construction company hugely benefited from the $50 billion Sochi Olympics. The share prices of companies associated with the sanctioned billionaires have been badly hit, and Visa and Mastercard suspended operations with two banks linked to those on Washington’s list. In other words, Putin has become a liability for Russia’s rich—and they’re getting nervous.It’s easy to see why Putin’s moves worry them. Even without direct personal sanctions, all of Russia’s businesspeople will pay a price for the Crimea annexation in the form of steeply higher borrowing costs. Most international ratings agencies have downgraded Russia’s outlook from stable to negative. The ruble has slid further; capital is fleeing Russia fast.
Brian Beutler: Republicans Losing It Over New Obamacare Data: Why Their Position Is Collapsing
It’s a complete accident of legislative and administrative history that the fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act should fall the week before the end of the law’s first ever, six-month-long open-enrollment period. But it’s a great coincidence for those of us in the business of cutting through all the hyperbole that accompanies each ACA anniversary, because, for the first time since the law passed, there are real data, and real beneficiaries, to hold up against the spin.
And as I’ve been arguing for months now, the GOP’s position on the law can’t actually withstand on-the-ground realities. Case in point: Terri Lynn Land — Michigan’s one-time Republican secretary of state, turned Senate candidate — held a first-ever conference call with reporters to trash the ACA on its fourth birthday. But confronted with the question of what happens to people with preexisting medical conditions if the GOP repeals the law (and thus eliminates the individual mandate) — Land’s press aide, Heather Swift, commandeered the call, and tried to take the whole thing off the record.
Coral Davenport: Obama Turns To Web To Illustrate The Effects Of A Changing Climate
President Obama wants Americans to see how climate change could deluge or destroy their own backyards — and to make it as easy as opening a web-based app. As part of an effort to make the public see global warming as a tangible and immediate problem, the White House on Wednesday inaugurated a website, climate.data.gov, aimed at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps. The project is the brainchild of Mr. Obama’s counselor, John D. Podesta, and the White House science adviser, John P. Holdren.
The effort comes as Mr. Obama prepares to announce a set of aggressive climate change regulations aimed at limiting emissions from coal-fired plants.“Localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs action,” Mr. Podesta told a small group of reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”
Sahil Kapur: Kagan Throws Scalia’s Own Religious Liberty Arguments Back In His Face
During oral arguments Tuesday about the validity of Obamacare’s birth control mandate, Justice Elena Kagan cleverly echoed Justice Antonin Scalia’s past warning that religious-based exceptions to neutral laws could lead to “anarchy.” “Your understanding of this law, your interpretation of it, would essentially subject the entire U.S. Code to the highest test in constitutional law, to a compelling interest standard,” she told Paul Clement, the lawyer arguing against the mandate for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. “So another employer comes in and that employer says, I have a religious objection to sex discrimination laws;
and then another employer comes in, I have a religious objection to minimum wage laws; and then another, family leave; and then another, child labor laws. And all of that is subject to the exact same test which you say is this unbelievably high test, the compelling interest standard with the least restrictive alternative.” Kagan’s remarks might sound familiar to the legally-trained ear. In a 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia alluded to the same examples of what might happen if religious entities are permitted to claim exemptions from generally applicable laws. He warned that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”
The Bump: A Message From Michelle Obama For The Bump Moms (Really!)
Back when Barack and I were expecting our first daughter, we were overwhelmed with so many emotions: excitement, wonder, hope… and occasional moments of panic at the prospect of bringing this little person into the world. We had all the usual first-time parent worries: How would we balance the needs of our growing family with the demands of our jobs? How would the stresses of caring for a new baby affect our marriage? Would our little girl be able to tell that we had no idea what we were doing? But there was one thing we never worried about: ensuring that I would have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. That’s because, while we were still struggling to pay off our student loans and pay down our mortgage, we both had jobs that provided health insurance.
So while our finances weren’t perfect, we had the security of knowing that I could get the maternity care I needed. Every mother and every father in this country deserves this kind of peace of mind – and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.Every plan on HealthCare.gov covers maternity care, pediatrician’s visits, preventive care (things like flu shots, mammograms and vaccines for kids), birth control and more. And these plans are affordable – the majority of people without insurance today will be able to get covered for $100 a month or less, and many young adults will be able to get covered for as little as $50 a month. Also, if you’re pregnant now, and you get signed up by March 31st, when your baby is born, you’ll both be covered.
Views of the ACA remain unfavorable, but the gap is narrowing. The new poll finds that in March, 38 percent viewed the law favorably, versus 46 percent who saw it unfavorably. That’s a substantial narrowing from the 34-50 spread during the dark days of January, and a return almost to where opinion was in September (39-43), before the rollout disaster began. – Support for repeal continues to shrink. Only 18 percent want to repeal the law and not replace it, while all of 11 percent want to repeal and replace it with a GOP alternative — a grand total of 29 percent. Meanwhile, 49 percent want to keep the law and improve it, and another 10 percent want to keep it as is — a total of 59 percent.
Among indys, that keep/improve versus repeal/replace spread is 52-31. Republicans are all alone here, with their spread at 31-58. That overall keep-versus-repeal spread has improved for the law since February (when it was 56-31), and even more so since December and October, suggesting a clear trend. – Crucially, a majority, 53 percent, say they are tired about hearing about the law and want to move on to other issues. Only 42 percent think the Obamacare debate should continue. A majority of independents has had enough (51-45). Even 47 percent of Republicans are done with it. – Most of the ACA’s individual provisions are wildly popular. Virtually every one of them — the Medicaid expansion; the preexisting conditions piece; subsidies for low income people’s coverage – has overwhelming majority support, and all of those are even backed by a majority of Republicans.
Jonathan Cohn: John Bohener’s Hypocritical Griping About The Obamacare Deadline Delay. Conservatives’ Real Beef: That People Want To Sign Up
The Obama Administration has made another adjustment to the Affordable Care Act and the critics are making another fuss. The adjustment, first reported (I think) by Amy Lotven for Inside Health Policy, is an extension of the open enrollment period for buying private insurance through the new Obamacare marketplaces. Officially, most people have until March 31 to sign up for a plan. (The exception are people who lose a job or have some other, similar life-altering experience. They can sign up throughout the year.) But on Wednesday, the administration announced that it will be offering some extra time to consumers who don’t finish their applications in time. They’ll be able to use the websites, just like they can now, only they’ll have to check a box attesting to the fact that they started the application process before April 1.
“What the hell is this? A joke?” House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference. “Another deadline made meaningless. If he hasn’t put enough loopholes in the law already, the administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.”For each one of these extensions or delays, the ultimate question is whether they change the law’s ability to realize its basic goals—which, in this case, means encouraging people to buy new private health plans while maintaining a stable insurance market. Giving people a little extra time to enroll wouldn’t seem to impede this kind of progress. If anything, it would seem to enhance it. And maybe that’s what really bothers some of the law’s fiercer critics.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 to 311,000 last week to mark the lowest level in four months, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to total 320,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended March 22. The average of new claims over the past month declined by 9,500 to 317,750. That was the lowest level since last September, when claims fell sharply because of a major errors related to a computer upgrade in California’s system for processing claims. The four-week average is the lowest since 2007 if the reports distorted by California’s computer problems are excluded. The monthly figure smooths out the jumpiness in the weekly report and offers a better look at the underlying trend.
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, listens to testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about the health care needs of returning service members on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27, 2007
President Obama makes a point during an interview in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama preps with staff in the Cabinet Room of the White House before interviews, March 27, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama laughs as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder jokes about his basketball skills during his ceremonial installation at George Washington University on March 27, 2009
President Obama travels aboard Air Force One en route to Afghanistan, March 27, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama helps to plant a cherry blossom tree during an event celebrating the centennial anniversary of the 1912 gifts of cherry blossom trees to the United States from Japan, in Washington, D.C. on March 27, 2012
President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani of Pakistan during the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon during a break in the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine during a pull aside at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Coex Center in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 27, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama watches as Vice President Biden administers the oath of office to Julia Pierson, as she is sworn-in as the new director of the U.S. Secret Service, March. 27, 2013, in the Oval Office
President Obama talks with Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., along with members of his family, in the Oval Office, June 13. Rep. Dingell is the longest-serving Member in the history of the United States Congress (Photo by Pete Souza)
White House: Statement from the President on the Retirement of John Dingell
Serving nearly six decades in the House of Representatives, John Dingell has earned the distinction of being both the longest-serving Member of Congress in U.S. history and one of the most influential legislators of all time. After serving his country in the Army during World War II, John was first elected to Congress in 1955 – representing the people of southeastern Michigan in a seat previously held by his father. In Washington, John risked his seat to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fought to pass Medicare in 1965, and penned legislation like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act that have kept millions of Americans healthy and preserved our natural beauty for future generations.
But of all John’s accomplishments, perhaps the most remarkable has been his tireless fight to guarantee quality, affordable health care for every American. Decades after his father first introduced a bill for comprehensive health reform, John continued to introduce health care legislation at the beginning of every session. And as an original author of the Affordable Care Act, he helped give millions of families the peace of mind of knowing they won’t lose everything if they get sick. Today, the people of Michigan – and the American people – are better off because of John Dingell’s service to this country, and Michelle and I wish him, his wife Debbie, and their family the very best.
U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-MI) at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (You see the distinguished bald man way in the back on the far right wearing glasses? John Dingell is the man next to him. He’s wearing Ray Ban style glasses.)
So it looks like Michael Dunn, a white man who fatally shot black teenager Jordan Davis for refusing to turn down his “thug music,” may be going to prison for the rest of his life. But that’s a consolation prize. Not a real victory. It’s not a real victory because the jury that convicted Dunn, 47, didn’t convict him for killing the 17-year-old Davis. They convicted him for almost killing Davis’ three friends who were riding in the Dodge Durango with him. It’s hollow because it underscores what seems to be a scary trend. I guess now any random white man can confront a black teenager whose style of dress or music he doesn’t like or views as suspect.
And when that teenager doesn’t submit to him, or responds to him in a confrontational manner, or in a way that any rebellious teenager is apt to respond, then it’s perfectly fine to exterminate him. What the verdict says is that in this nation, in the 21st century, some white men still believe they have the right to intrude into the space of young black men and make demands. And if the black man is unarmed — with no weapon except his words — those white men can still kill him. And call it self-defense. All they need is a jury to buy it.
Five years ago Monday, President Barack Obama visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, his $800 billion stimulus bill. At the time, the U.S. economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month. In the fourth quarter of 2008, it had contracted at an 8% annual rate, a Depression-level free fall. “Today does not mark the end of our economic problems,” Obama said on Feb. 17, 2009. “But it does mark the beginning of the end.”And so it did. The Recovery Act increased U.S. GDP by roughly 2 to 2.5 percentage points from late 2009 through mid-2011, keeping us out of a double-dip recession. It added about 6 million “job years” (a full-time job for a full year) through the end of 2012. If you combine the Recovery Act with a series of follow-up measures, including unemployment-insurance extensions, small-business tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, the Administration’s fiscal stimulus produced a 2% to 3% increase in GDP in every quarter from late 2009 through 2012, and 9 million extra job years, according to the report.
The report also estimates that the Recovery Act’s aid to victims of the Great Recession — in the form of expanded food stamps, earned-income tax credits, unemployment benefits and much more — directly prevented 5.3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. It also improved nearly 42,000 miles of roads, repaired over 2,700 bridges, funded 12,220 transit vehicles, improved more than 3,000 water projects and provided tax cuts to 160 million American workers. The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades.
I spent most of this past weekend answering two questions: “Why are you so interested in what happens in North Carolina?” (Posed mainly by people not from North Carolina.) And: “Why doesn’t anyone care what’s happening here in North Carolina?” (Posed largely by folks rallying in North Carolina.) As state governments limit reproductive rights, gerrymander voting districts, harm workers and the environment, and suppress the vote, we are all North Carolina now. The answer to the second question is that I don’t really know why the major national media, with a few notable exceptions, keeps ignoring this story.
GOP-controlled redistricting and a truly nasty voter suppression bill attempt to ensure that this remains the permanent state of affairs in North Carolina. The legislature promptly raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 people, slashed education spending, passed radical gun legislation, declined the Medicaid expansion (leaving 500,000 of its poorest citizens without health insurance), and passed a draconian abortion bill that was tacked onto a motorcycle safety law. The state, in short, turned on its own workers, its own minorities, its own teachers, its own doctors, its poor, its women, and its prisoners, with what has looked like unbridled glee.
Washington Post: Obamacare’s Sign-Up Period Is Ending. Here’s How Enroll America Is Getting Ready
Enroll America is gearing up for its own version of March Madness — one that has nothing to do with basketball. The pro-health law group has spent months now honing its outreach techniques and developing data-intensive maps meant to help their 18,000 volunteers and 2,000 partner organizations reach as many uninsured people before open enrollment on the exchanges ends March 31.
“We’re at this moment now, six weeks out from the end of open enrollment, and we’re looking at every tool that we have at our disposal about how we should be focusing our efforts,” Enroll America president Anne Filipic says. One new tool that the group has begun rolling out to partner organizations are a set of maps that show where, down to the census tract, uninsured Americans live — and how well that does, or doesn’t, line up with where people meant to help them enroll in Obamacare are based.
Mike Lillis: House Democrats Seek To Force GOP’s Hand On Minimum Wage Hike
House Democrats are launching an effort to force Republicans’ hand on the minimum wage. The Democrats will introduce a discharge petition later this month designed to force a floor vote on a proposal to hike the minimum wage, even in the face of entrenched opposition from GOP leaders. The discharge petition faces a high bar, as it would require at least 18 Republicans to buck their leadership and endorse the measure – a scenario the Democrats readily acknowledge is unlikely.
Still, the Democrats are hoping the extra political pressure will amplify the Democrats’ economic message this election year, while highlighting the stark differences between the parties when it comes to strategy for helping the working class amid an ongoing jobs crisis. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s about time to do it,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike; even if the discharge petition fails, it puts Republicans in the tough position of rejecting a popular economic policy in a still-fragile jobs market.
The housing market recovery has continued into 2014, indicated by an ongoing downtrend in foreclosures, home sales remaining strong, and home prices notching annual gains, notes the Obama Administration in its January Scorecard. “The January Housing Scorecard shows that the Obama Administration’s efforts continue to have a positive effect on the housing market,” said HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Kurt Usowski in a statement. “With foreclosures down, home sales up, and equity continuing to grow, the housing market continues to make slow, but steadily improving progress.”
The number of properties in foreclosure dropped 33% in 2013 compared to the previous year, said the scorecard citing RealtyTrac, with foreclosure starts at their lowest annual level since 2005. Through the third quarter of 2013, the number of underwater borrowers dropped from nearly 7.2 million in the previous quarter to less than 6.4 million, with homeowners’ equity gaining $3.4 trillion since the beginning of 2012.
Americans waste 33M tons of food each year. Ben decided to change that.
NPR: For Lower-Income Students, Snow Days Can Be Hungry Days
For many Americans it’s been a harsh, disruptive winter, from the country’s Northern edges to the Deep South. When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day’s nutritious meal as well. This recently became apparent to school administrators in rural Iowa, where extreme cold delayed openings two days in a row at Laurens-Marathon Community School, where 59 percent of students who eat school lunch qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On the first day, some students arrived on empty stomachs because parents thought breakfast would still be served that day.
“Two students were found in our lunchroom waiting to be fed,” says Meredith Allen, a teacher at the school. “Several co-workers had stockpiles of food,” but it wasn’t enough. Last year, more than 21 million children nationwide ate free or reduced-price lunches, according to data from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. That’s 70 percent of the total students who ate school lunches, not counting those who brought meals from home. In the same year, more than 23 million households received SNAP benefits, known as food stamps.
CBS News: John Kerry Accuses Syria Leader Bashir Assad Of Stonewalling Geneva Peace Talks
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of stonewalling in peace talks and called on Russia to push its ally to negotiate with opposition leaders. “Right now, Bashar al-Assad has not engaged in the discussions along the promised and required standard that both Russia spoke up for and the regime spoke up for,” Kerry said during a press conference in Jakarta with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. He said Assad’s team “refused to open up one moment of discussion” of a transitional government to replace Assad’s regime.
“It is very clear that Bashar Assad is trying to win this on the battlefield instead of coming to the negotiating table in good faith,” Kerry said Peace talks last week in Geneva ended with no progress toward breaking the impasse in the nearly 3-year-old conflict in Syria. Kerry also had harsh words for Assad’s allies in Moscow. “Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in fact enabling Assad to double down,” he said. Russia has told the U.S. it was committed to helping create a transitional government, Kerry said, but has not delivered “the kind of effort to create the kind of dynamic by which that could be achieved.”
Dozens of House Republicans have recently backed legislation that calls for legal action against President Obama. Forty-three Republicans have cosponsored the resolution since Obama’s State of the Union address, where he threatened to enact policies if Congress didn’t act. The “Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP)” measure, introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), now has 104 co-sponsors, Rice explained that STOP resolution is aimed at reversing Obama’s delay of the employer mandate, enactment of the DREAM Act, extension of “substandard” health insurance plans and ending work requirements for welfare.
Celeste Katz: De Blasio Administration Cuts First Labor Contract – With Environmental Officers
The de Blasio administration has settled its first labor contract, a quick deal with 200 environmental officers that could signal a smoother period of labor relations after the cold war between the unions and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officers, whose duties include patrolling the city’s watershed upstate, had been working without a contract for an astounding nine years.
Under the new agreement, they will receive an average of more than $50,000 each in back pay. Kenneth Wynder, who represents the officers as head of the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, praised the de Blasio administration for its “fairness.” “We got treated with respect,” he said. “We felt much better compared to the nine-year battle we had with the old administration,” he told the Daily News.
Close-up detail of President Obama’s signature on a bill, and a pen used for the signing, aboard Air Force One on a flight from Buckley Air Force Base, Denver, Col. to Phoenix, Ariz., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar aboard Air Force One during a flight to Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama salutes, departing Andrews Air Force Base for Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama with Vice President Biden speaks with CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., Blake Jones, while looking at solar panels at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
A toe marker for President Obama as he prepares to make remarks at the Signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, Col., Feb. 17, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama welcomes King Juan Carlos I of Spain to the White House, just outside the Oval Office, before their lunch in the President’s private dining room, Feb. 17, 2010. At left is Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010. General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, was among those joining the discussion via videoconference (left screen) (Photo by Pete Souza)
Vice President Biden’s personal aide Fran Person holds the door for President Obama as he waits to make remarks during the one-year Recovery Act Anniversary event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, Feb. 17, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama gestures during a phone call in the Oval Office, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Vice President Biden talks with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., after a lunch with the Democratic House leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama talks with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg before a dinner with Technology Business Leaders in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011. Also pictured, left to right, are Carol Bartz, Yahoo! President and CEO; Art Levinson, Genentech Chairman and former CEO; Steve Westly, Founder and Managing Partner, The Westly Group; and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman and CEO of Google (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama joins a toast with Technology Business Leaders at a dinner in Woodside, California, Feb. 17, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama sits in the cockpit of a 767 during his tour of the Boeing Plant production facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama exits a 787 Dreamliner to greet workers and deliver remarks at the Boeing-Everett Production Facility in Everett, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets students from Medina Elementary School in Medina, Wash., Feb. 17, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
…. greeting Beth Hamilton, principal of Medina Elementary School
Chips: D’you wanna know how awesome Nerdy is? I just had the photos done for R&S last night, then I go back to it this morning and she’s added a whole bunch of wonderful articles, tweets and links. If the woman didn’t love Chelsea, she’d be perfect. Thank you so much legend – and moooOOOooorning everyone!
I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery.
Jordan Davis had a mother and a father. It did not save him. Trayvon Martin had a mother and a father. They could not save him. My son has a father and mother. We cannot protect him from our country, which is our aegis and our assailant. We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.
“We will continue to wait for justice for Jordan.” Those were the powerful words by Jordan Davis’ mother Lucia McBath Saturday night after a 12-person Florida jury could not reach a verdict on the shooting death of her son. The partial verdict in the trial means there is no conviction for killing Jordan Davis, only for shooting at the three other young males in the car the night he was killed. That means at least one juror believed Michael Dunn was justified in killing Jordan Davis, in fleeing to his hotel, in ordering a pizza, in taking his dog for a walk, in misleading his fiancée, and in never reporting the shooting to police. The problem is bigger than prosecutor Angela Corey or her team. It’s even bigger than Michael Dunn, the man who hated “rap crap” and fired 10 shots at a carload of unarmed teenagers.
We have a problem with our attitude toward guns in America. We have a problem with white racial entitlement in America. We have a problem with the objectification and demonization of young Black men in America. And we have a problem with a legal system that enables private citizens to take the law in their own hands and execute Black kids on the street. Dunn’s perceived victimhood personifies white privilege. Young Black men are not allowed the freedom to wear a hoodie, walk in a white neighborhood at night, play loud music in their cars, or get upset in a TV interview without being labeled thugs. And even when they do what society tells them to do, their Black maleness makes them inherently suspicious unless it exists within the ever-changing boundaries that are acceptable for white men who define them.
Those who didn’t watch the trial might not know that Dunn’s testimony was that he had a verbal altercation with Jordan and “thought” he saw a weapon. In response, he started shooting. As the car Jordan was in tried to flee, Dunn got out of his car and continued shooting at it, narrowly missing killing the driver. It was this latter shooting that the jury agreed was attempted murder.
I join those who suggest that Dunn’s account of what happened between he and Jordan is simply not credible. Police found no gun in the car, no one but Dunn heard any threats from Jordan, Dunn fled the scene without calling the police and he didn’t say anything to his fiance about a gun over the next 24 hours as he tried to reassure her. But as I understand the law, the prosecutors had to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that Jordan did NOT have a gun. It is almost impossible to prove a negative. That, my friends, is the result of the odious and racist Stand Your Ground law.
I’m so thankful for being able to tell my story—I’ve cashed in all my karma chips and then some, and I work every day to earn more back. In my eyes, Obamacare literally saved my life. In 2011, I knew something was wrong. And when my neck swelled to the size of my collarbone, I knew something was very, very wrong. They caught the top of my tumor: It was non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cough I had was the result of my lungs being strangled.
Now, I was 22 when I started going to doctor after doctor. In May 2011, I turned 23—the age that I would have had to go off my parents’ health insurance plan. But luckily that was the year the Obamacare provision allowing children to stay on their parents’ plan until 26 went into effect. I’m in remission now. October was my two year anniversary. Right around then, my mother told me: “Some people are one-issue voters. Well, my issue is that my daughter wouldn’t be alive without Obamacare. The President saved her life.”
Josh Israel: Florida County Eliminates Minority-Heavy Polling Places
On a party-line vote, a Florida county’s Republican majority Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to eliminate almost one-third of Manatee County’s voting sites. The board accepted a proposal by Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett (R) by a 6-1 vote to trim the number of precincts, despite unanimous public testimony against the move — and complaints by the lone Democratic Commissioner that it would eliminate half of the polling places in his heavily minority District 2.
Bennett, in his first term as elections supervisor, proposed reducing the number of Manatee County precincts from 99 to 69. In 2011, while serving in the Florida Senate, he endorsed making it hard to vote: “I wouldn’t have any problem making it harder. I would want them to vote as badly as I want to vote. I want the people of the state of Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who’s willing to walk 200 miles…This should not be easy.”
Vice President Joe Biden seized on disorganization in the GOP to rally House Democrats on Friday at a policy conference in Maryland. “There isn’t a Republican Party. I wish there were, I wish there was a Republican Party,” Biden said. “I wish there was one person we could sit across the table from, make a deal, make a compromise and know when you got up from that table it was done.” “All you had to do was look at the response to the State of the Union, what were there, three or four?” he added. “I’m not being facetious.”
Justin Sink: Obama: Immigration Reform Will Get Done By End Of Presidency
President Obama predicted that Congress would pass an immigration reform bill before the end of his presidency in a Univision Radio interview airing Friday. “I believe it will get done before my presidency is over,” Obama president said. “I’d like to get it done this year.” “The main thing people can do right now is put pressure on Republicans who have refused so far to act,” he said. “And I think sending a strong message to them that this is the right thing to do, it’s important to do, it’s the fair thing to do, and it will actually improve the economy and give people a chance.”
Obama also looked to deflate hopes that he could take executive actions to end deportations if Republicans don’t move a bill. “I’ve been able to prevent deportations of younger people with, the Dream Act kids, by administrative action,” he said. “But the problem is that’s just a temporary action that I’ve been taking. That’s not yet the law that’s been passed by Congress. And it doesn’t help their parents and others who are in the similar situations.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Sunday called on House Republicans to pass immigration reform and said that the GOP needs to pass immigration reform to fulfill any hopes of winning a national election.
“States like mine, over time, the demographics will overtake, not only mine but throughout the whole Southwest and many other parts of the country,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” reiterating his belief that Republicans need to embrace reform in order to win over Hispanic voters.
Becca Aaronson: Without Medicaid Expansion, Hospitals Seek Long-Term Solution
Citing shortfalls in Medicaid financing and billions in annual uncompensated care costs, the president and chief executive of the Texas Hospital Association said Friday that it was time for medical facilities to join together on a long-term strategy to compensate for the program’s shortcomings. “Texas hospitals have the power to work together to propose a solution and shape our own future,” Ted Shaw, the head of the hospital association, said in a statement. “We recognize how contentious this issue is but understand the importance of a hospital-led solution to ensure that the losses are minimized and gains maximized.”
Texas’ Republican leadership decided not to expand Medicaid for low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act, saying that the program needed to be fixed, not expanded. If the state had expanded Medicaid eligibility, it would have received $100 billion in federal funds over 10 years and would have to pay $15 billion from general revenue, according to a report by Billy Hamilton, a tax consultant and former deputy comptroller, for Texas Impact and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc. “With federal health care reform, Texas had an unprecedented opportunity to cover a large portion of the state’s adult uninsured population,” Shaw said. “But because the state’s leadership made a philosophical point of rejecting this option, more than one million Texans will remain uninsured.”
Civil-rights advocates are selling a bill amending the Voting Rights Act as a wholly bipartisan fix and saying it will pass this year, despite the partisan divide over voter-ID laws and other voting-rights issues. “It will pass this Congress,” said Scott Simpson, spokesman for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has advocated for an update to the law. “If anything can pass this Congress, it’s this.” The bill would revive a portion of the Voting Rights Act that gives the Justice Department final say on all changes to elections—from voter-ID laws to polling place relocations—in states with a history of discrimination.
The provision, known as the “preclearance” requirement, was included in the Voting Rights Act in 1965, but the Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down its outdated method of choosing which states would be placed under that requirement. Rather than choosing states based on discrimination in the 1960s, the new formula would be based on voting-rights restrictions in the last 15 years, and would be updated after every election. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a January interview with MSNBC that many states’ voter-ID requirements are passed by Republicans “for partisan advantage.” Reactions to the new preclearance formula have varied widely. Holder said he did not think the bill went far enough, and was concerned that Justice Department objections to voter-ID laws would not count as violations against states.
NYT: Kerry Says Obama Wants New Options For Syria Strife
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that President Obama had asked aides to develop new policy options to deal with the deteriorating situation in Syria. Mr. Kerry said that none of the policy options had yet been presented to the White House for a decision. “He has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference during a visit here to meet with China’s leaders about North Korea and other regional issues.
“The answer to the question ‘have they been presented?’ No, they have not,” he said. “But that evaluation, by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time. And when these options are ripe and when the president calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.” Mr. Kerry’s comments reflect increased concern within the American government and nongovernmental organizations over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria. In an oblique criticism of Russia, Mr. Kerry said the Security Council’s inability to take stronger action than the issuing of the nonbinding request reflected “the opposition of certain countries.”
On This Day: Senator Ted Kennedy, speaking at a rally for the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama in Hartford, the day before the Connecticut Super Tuesday primary. Congressional Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Chris Murphy and John B. Larson are onstage behind Ted Kennedy, along with Caroline Kennedy and Barack Obama. February 4, 2008
3:0: The President and Vice President meet with Department of Defense leadership on Afghanistan
4:30: The President and Vice President meet with the House Democratic Caucus, The East Room
AP: Obama Secures $750M in Pledges to Get Kids Online
Claiming progress in his campaign to get American schools wired for the future, President Barack Obama is announcing commitments from U.S. companies totaling about $750 million to connect more students to high-speed Internet.
Apple is pledging $100 million in iPads, computers and other tools. AT&T and Sprint are contributing free Internet service through their wireless networks. Verizon is pitching in up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions. And Microsoft is making Windows available at discounted prices and offering 12 million free copies of Microsoft Office software.
Obama was to announce the commitments Tuesday at a middle school in the Maryland suburbs near Washington. Also in the pipeline: an addition $2 billion that the Federal Communications Commission is setting aside from service fees over two years to connect another 20 million students to high-speed Internet.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement at the Munich Security Conference, that Israel will face boycotts should negotiations with the Palestinians fail, is a level-headed view of reality that the Israeli government chooses to continually ignore.
…. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beats them all: Instead of welcoming Kerry as an ally, he publicly quarrels with him and hints that the secretary of state is trying to pressure Israel to “give up essential interests.”
Netanyahu refuses to understand that Israel’s most essential interest is ending the conflict, and that Kerry is a fair, dedicated, mediator who needs the support of all parties in order to complete this complex process. Netanyahu refuses to understand that now is the time for big decisions, not small politics.
A month ago, the president was on the outs – even among Democrats. Today, he’s quelled critics and getting his chance to make negotiations work.
The push for new sanctions on Iran has stalled. The Democrats who bucked President Obama to back the sanctions bill are backpedaling mightily—no longer even pretending they’re pushing Harry Reid to hold a vote on the measure. And while there’s still plenty of chest-pounding and posturing, the debate’s end result seems clear: The Senate will wait, at least so long as the negotiations move in the right direction.
That’s a full flip from just more than a month ago. Before the December recess, the Senate’s pro-sanctions faction was surging. Senators—including Democrats who are typically Obama loyalists—were agreeing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the nuclear negotiations with Iran bordered on capitulation.
So how did Obama — a supposedly feckless president when it comes to handling Congress — turn the tide? Obama’s in-person, all-hands-on-deck advocacy campaign with the Senate appears to have advanced his cause, but it’s not that simple.
South Carolina’s battle over Medicaid expansion: After the Supreme Court ruled that states were not obligated to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, South Carolina was one of the first to opt out. PBS NewsHour’s Mary Jo Brooks reports on the effects for residents who are still uninsured, plus a small alternative program designed to reach some of them.
Bill Hammond (NY Daily News): Anti-Obamacare, facts be damned
House Speaker John Boehner lobbed a social media stink bomb this weekend that distilled Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act to their cynical, knee-jerk essence.
“Sick kids denied specialty care due to #Obamacare,” his Twitter feed proclaimed on Saturday, linking to a conservative blog post based on a TV news report out of Seattle. His Facebook page weighed in on the same story, calling it “heartbreaking” and vowing that House Republicans “will continue working to scrap this broken law.”
There’s just one problem: The shocking claim — that the President’s health reforms resulted in sick children being denied care — was flat-out false. Which Boehner’s staff must have known, assuming they actually read the material they were helping to spread across the Internet.
In fact, all of the children in question did get care, as was perfectly clear in the Jan. 30 press release from Seattle Children’s Hospital that got this snowball started.
President Obama will visit Saudi Arabia next month amid reports of a strained American-Saudi relationship over Iran and Syria.
White House press secretary Jay Carney announced that Obama would meet with Saudi King Abdullah in late March, calling it “part of regular consultations” between the two countries.
“The president looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the enduring and strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security,” Carney said.
The Saudi stop will be added to a late March trip that includes the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Vatican City.
Brian Beutler: Angry right’s secret revulsion: Why they really dodge minimum wage questions
Obama’s decision to increase the minimum wage for a small number of federal contractors has drawn out the crazies
It’s no great secret that Republicans oppose increasing the minimum wage. They don’t pretend it’s something they want to do under any circumstances. They don’t even really bother disguising their opposition. They cloak their view in dated and oversimplified economic arguments about labor demand and economic growth when the real impediment is ideological, and so it’s a somewhat better kept secret that many Republicans oppose the minimum wage altogether.
Opposing the minimum wage isn’t a politically seemly thing to do, though, and thus the great political consequence of President Obama’s decision, announced during his State of the Union address, to institute a $10.10 minimum wage for future federal contracts, will be to draw the extent of this opposition out into the open.
The pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama conducted by Bill O’Reilly was not only notable for the Fox News anchor’s constant interruptions, but also for his harping on old news. The travails of HealthCare.gov, the murderous attacks in Benghazi and the actions taken by the IRS against conservative groups chewed up 9 minutes and 45 seconds of the 10-minute sitdown.
We all know that those topics are nothing but chum for O’Reilly’s anti-Obama audience. But the president successfully avoided the rhetorical traps set by the ambassador from “fair and balanced.” And he respectfully stood up to the disrespect demanded by said audience by giving as good as he got.
…. It’s always difficult to tell whether the tail is wagging the dog over there at Fox, but I would argue that the IRS conspiracy theories and others are in large part due to O’Reilly and Fox. Neither the station nor its anchor has shown Obama or his office the respect both deserve. And that 10-minute interview was a perfect illustration of it.
Every Saturday morning, President Obama delivers a weekly address, which is immediately followed by a Republican response, but this week’s GOP address was a little different: it was delivered by four Republicans instead of one. The message: there may be some room for a little “bipartisan common ground.”
…. Before getting into the particulars, it’s striking to realize just how small the “common ground” is. There are all kinds of popular ideas that enjoy broad public support – on job creation, aid to struggling families, immigration, public safety, etc. – but none of them made the cut in the official Republican statement.
Instead, progress is now possible in just four areas – four narrow areas.
Florida’s 13th congressional district will host a special election next month and by all appearances, it should be a close contest. Democrats have nominated former state CFO Alex Sink, who very nearly won the 2010 gubernatorial race, and have high hopes about her chances.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also taking the race very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that the NRCC has come up with an unusual fundraising gambit.
Folks can go to a website that looks legitimate – contribute.sinkforcongress2014.com – and find a nice photo of the Democratic candidate alongside a graphic that reads, “Alex Sink – Congress.” If you’re not reading carefully, you might assume this is a page for Sink supporters to make a campaign contribution to their preferred candidate. But it’s not – this is a page set up by Republicans.
Washington Post: Life After Jan. 1: Kentucky Clinic Offers Early Glimpse At Realities Of Health-Care Law
The envelopes began arriving in December across eastern Kentucky, one of the sickest and poorest corners of the country. “Dear member . . . We want you to be healthy . . .” read the letter to Mary Combs, and with it came a plastic card representing the first insurance she ever had: a Medicaid plan made possible by the nation’s new health-care law, effective Jan. 1. Nine days into the new year, the 41-year-old call-center worker headed to the health clinic on Highway 15. She saw a doctor about her chronic stomach ulcers, had her blood drawn for tests and collected referrals for all the specialists she had been told she needed but could never afford. The next week, she saw a neurologist, who found lesions on her brain and prescribed medicine for the cluster headaches, which are also called “suicide headaches” for pain that is far more intense than a migraine and which Combs had been treating with an alcohol-soaked cloth wrapped around her head.
“That’s the big question — does getting insurance bend the cost curve or the health outcomes curve?” said Karen Ditsch, the executive director of Juniper Health, which runs the nonprofit Breathitt clinic. Life since Jan. 1: The number of uninsured has dropped by 520 people, which represents about 21 percent of the those without coverage. Of that 520, 472 qualified under the health-care law’s expanded income parameters for Medicaid, which is aimed at the working poor. Here and there, for-profit clinics that never accepted the uninsured have hung “Welcome new patients!” signs on doors. A new blue billboard hovering above the Hardee’s advertises surgery to treat acid reflux.
Insurance companies, bless their hearts, seem determined to remind us why we need the Affordable Care Act. The latest example comes from Anthem Blue Cross, which has just hit 306,000 customers in California with premium increases of up to 25%. As reported by my colleague Chad Terhune, the increases average 16% and are scheduled to kick in April 1, unless the state Department of Insurance jawbones Anthem into backing down.
Here’s the kicker: No one can blame these increases on the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, a popular argument among critics of the act. That’s because the increases are for grandfathered policies exempt from the act.
“It’s a rich irony,” says Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a leading California consumer advocacy group. “The insurers can’t have it both ways — they can’t blame the increases on the ACA while increasing rates on their non-ACA-compliant plans as well.” Luckily, Anthem customers have a choice this time around. They can check the state’s insurance exchange at coveredca.com to see if they can replace their old plan with a new one that might well be better, at lower cost.
Memo to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and the bosses at for-profit corporations who think they belong in every doctor’s office and that they should be able to decide whether their employees have access to birth control: Women who use birth control do not have an “overactive libido.” We are not looking for a handout from “Uncle Sugar” to score a contraceptive fix. We are not sluts. This is not the reality for women — it never has been and never will be.
In fact, women who use birth control are your mother, partner, sister, and daughter. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active American women have used birth control at some point in their lives. We are just regular people trying to take care of ourselves medically and financially. That’s why seven in ten Americans believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services.
One of America’s most accomplished lawmakers—a crusader responsible for cleaner air, safer food, and healthier kids—is calling it a career. On Thursday, Congressman Henry Waxman announced that he would retire at the end of this term, 40 years after he first came to Congress. The list of laws for which he deserves substantial credit is simply staggering—not only for its length, but also for its breadth. Waxman was behind the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, plus laws regulating lead, greenhouse gas emissions, and formaldehyde. That arguably makes him his generation’s most influential lawmaker on environmental issues.
He was also behind a series of Medicaid expansions, the Ryan White Care Act, the Orphan Drug Act, the Waxman-Hatch Generic Drug Act, and, of course, the Affordable Care Act. That almost certainly makes him the most influential living lawmaker on health care issues. Other major accomplishments include the Food Quality Protection Act and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act—and, somewhere along the way, he found time to modernize the postal service. How has Waxman done it? For one thing, Waxman recognizes that lawmaking requires patience and persistence—that you have to build the case for legislation, through investigations and stagecraft, even if that takes years or even decades.
Hannah Allam: Kerry’s First Year As Top U.S. Diplomat Yields Breakthroughs On Thorny Issues
A year ago, John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, joking on one of his first days at work that he had “big heels to fill.” Now a year into his role as America’s top diplomat, Kerry has proven that any trepidation about following such a high-profile figure was misplaced. Kerry’s anniversary this week – he assumed office on Feb. 1, 2013 – finds him, in the opinion of foreign policy analysts, with more significant, concrete breakthroughs than Clinton had in her entire four-year term. As showpieces they hold up the nuclear deal with Iran and the chemical weapons pact with Syria.
A year into Kerry’s tenure, Ross said, the picture from Asia is brighter. Ross, who’s in Beijing for six months, said U.S. diplomacy has brought about improved cooperation with China on North Korea, including landmark banking and other sanctions. And while there are still no U.S.-Chinese military agreements, he said, there are deeper military contacts so that American officials can “pick up the phone and call them if there’s an escalation.” “Secretary Kerry speaks with a quieter voice and made real policy adjustments,” Ross said. “The quiet approach has been more useful than his predecessor’s.”
In the bitter cold, dark hours of the night, as many others are sleeping, Rocio Caravantes begins her hourlong journey on public transportation from her home in Logan Square to one of her two jobs downtown. Once she arrives at work, Caravantes spends hours vacuuming and scrubbing floors, polishing sinks and toilets, cleaning the bar areas and event spaces and tidying up the rugs in an upscale luxury hotel where she can’t afford to spend a night. Panic at times grips her as she thinks about how she will pay all her bills, she said.
“It is impossible to live on $8.25 an hour,” Caravantes said in Spanish, through an interpreter. “Not even three jobs are enough. I earn $495 biweekly. The first check goes to rent — it’s $500 a month. The second is for transportation, food, (phone) and education.” Caravantes, 40, is one example of the minimum wage workers who have become the focus of a national conversation about salaries for the working poor. It’s a political debate in the Illinois governor’s race, and Gov. Pat Quinn used his State of the State address last week to renew his push for an increase in the state minimum wage. President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue too when he asked Congress to increase the federal wage to $10.10.
But the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C., paints a broader portrait of low-wage workers. “People tend to think of low-wage workers as teenagers who are working on the weekends for extra spending money,” said David Cooper, an analyst with the institute. “While that is a portion of these workers, the vast majority don’t fit that stereotype.” According to the institute’s research, more than half of low-wage workers are older than 30.
As President Barack Obama made clear in his State of the Union address, it is time to focus on restoring opportunity for all. That means helping to make sure more Americans can take part in our growing economy and build some economic security for the long term. To get that done, we are putting forward real, concrete solutions to our most pressing problems – from college affordability and job training to fair wages and a stable retirement. This program, which will begin later this year, is called myRA or My Retirement Account. This account is designed to help low- and middle-income workers, who are too often overlooked or ignored, begin saving for retirement. We are talking about the waitress who is holding down two part-time jobs to support her kids; the recent graduate who landed a job but is grappling with student loans; the janitor who has never been given the chance to invest in a retirement account.
Here is how myRA, which is simple, safe and affordable, will work. You will be able to start saving with an initial deposit of as little as $25 and contribute as little as $5 each payday. If an employer chooses to participate, contributions are made through automatic payroll deductions, making them hassle-free. There are no fees – 100 percent of any contribution goes into the account and is invested in a Treasury security. That means it will be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, will earn the same interest rate that is available to federal employees for their retirement savings, and the balance will never go down. Finally, myRA is not tied to any one employer – it belongs to the worker, not the workplace. In other words, the account is portable and can be easily rolled into a Roth IRA. And if myRA savers ever need to, they can withdraw their contributions tax-free, at any time.
It is utterly irrelevant if Chris Christie ‘wins the day’ or the weekend or the next 5 minutes or the next week. Irrelevant. The bottom line is that he is in serious trouble, politically and legally. On the legal front, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey is probing allegations by the mayor of Hoboken that a member of Christie’s cabinet and the lieutenant governor linked federal Hurricane Sandy relief funds to the the mayor’s support for a redevelopment project in Hoboken that would exclusively benefit one of Christie’s closest allies – whom he appointed to chair the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
This morning on his MSNBC show Steve Kornacki discussed reporting he and I (and producer Jack Bohrer) did showing that those federal Hurricane Sandy funds have not been monitored by the Christie Administration as required by a law that Christie himself signed last March. Furthermore, relief funds have been extremely hard to account for because Christie vetoed a bill that would have created a single website to track Sandy funding and contract information. Based on the reactions of two congressmen who watched the report with me, officials in Washington will be loath to trust Christie with the next round of federal funds and we should not be surprised if an investigation is on the horizon.
The push to build Barack Obama’s presidential library officially got underway Friday with the establishment of a foundation managed by three of his longtime supporters. “The president’s future library will one day serve as an important part of our nation’s historical record, and our mission is to build a library that tells President Obama’s remarkable story in an interactive way that will inspire future generations to become involved in public service,” Nesbitt said.
The foundation is responsible for developing a library that reflects Obama’s values and priorities, according to Nesbitt. He said it will focus on economic opportunity, inspiring an ethic of American citizenship and promoting peace, justice and dignity around the world, among other things.
Pete Souza: “White House valets had moved the sofas in the Oval Office to accommodate the large number of press photographers that were covering the President’s meeting with Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas. When the photo-op ended, the President said to Gov. Douglas, ‘let’s move the sofas back in place.’ Gov. Douglas didn’t quite know what to do as the President did the heavy lifting. The valets now good-naturedly cringe when they look at this picture because it was their responsibility to move the sofas back in place.” Feb. 2, 2009
President Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
First Lady Michelle Obama speaking alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, on childhood obesity during a meeting with Cabinet and Congressional members in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, February 2, 2010
Vice President Joe Biden talks with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., after President Barack Obama signed the New START Treaty in the Oval Office, Feb. 2, 2011. Behind them, the President talks with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama is updated on the severe winter storm currently moving across the country during a phone call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in the Oval Office, Feb. 2, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Vice President Joe Biden snaps a photo of President Barack Obama and keynote speaker Eric Metaxas during the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Feb. 2, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)