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U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3UAWO
The House did something productive this week. Well, semi-productive. They managed to pass a short-term highway funding bill. So that they can come back again in two months and do it all over again.
The U.S. House voted to keep federal money flowing for highways and mass-transit programs for two more months, through the end of July.

Lawmakers voted 387-35 on Tuesday for the short-term measure to give themselves time to negotiate toward a longer extension. The Senate also plans to vote on the measure this week before Congress leaves Washington for a week-long Memorial Day recess. […]

The two-month extension “was not our preferred path forward,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on the House floor before the vote. He said he would have preferred to extend the program through at least the end of the year.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement on a seven-month extension, so we are left with a two-month patch,” Shuster said.

The Senate, of course, can ruin all that if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues his foot-dragging as the House moves toward leaving for Memorial Day recess midday Thursday. As of Wednesday afternoon, the pending legislation on the floor was Trade Promotion Authority with a fight over process as McConnell tries to prevent Democrats from offering amendments. At the same time, Sen. Rand Paul was conducting an extended speech (not really a "filibuster" as he calls it) to try to prevent McConnell from moving forward with extending the PATRIOT Act's bulk metadata provision. McConnell's ploy has been to play out the clock to the last minute to try to force that vote, leaving the highway funding more or less hanging in the balance.

Not well played, Mr. McConnell.

President Barack Obama smiling and holding
Charles Gaba calls it: 12 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. Over 9 million, according to his calculus, signed up through the federal site, And there's probably about 12.4 million in Medicaid expansion. All in all, we're talking about 7 percent of the population getting some kind of coverage through the law, private or Medicaid. That means bad news for Republicans on a couple of fronts—how in the hell do you repeal that? And what in the hell are you going to do for 9 million people if the Supreme Court takes away their subsidies? Now it's possible that the numbers won't be quite so huge, but we're still talking millions of people. Add in the Medicaid enrollees, and 7 percent of the population.
The caveat? Not all of the people who sign up for a plan end up with Obamacare coverage. Last year, 88 percent of people paid at least their first month's premium; if that holds, about 11 million people will have paid for their coverage. But once you factor in policy changes, he assumes that the number of people with actual coverage—effectuated plans, in the parlance—will be about 10.1 million through the summer.
People come and go out of insurance because people have big life changes—jobs, moves, marriage, divorce, death—but 10 million people who would love private insurance under repeal are 10 million people likely to be rather unhappy to know that the Republicans were taking it away from them in exchange for a vague promise of "patient-centered" something. Also, too, the whole insurance industry would not be too happy about losing 10 million customers! Of course, they could just be blowing smoke on that whole repeal thing, and they probably are.

That doesn't get them off the hook, though, if the Supreme Court challenge they've been egging on prevails. In that case, there's as many as 9 million people, mostly living in Republican-run states, who will have their insurance yanked immediately, even without repeal. And as of yet, no Republican help in sight. Now would not be a fun time to be a Republican healthcare policy wonk.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak at a news conference about the U.S. debt ceiling crisis at the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 30, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still insists that the PATRIOT Act provision that the NSA has used to illegally collect cell phone metadata from every American with a cell phone must be continued. The provision is set to expire, along with a couple of others, on May 31. McConnell is running down the clock to that expiration, hoping to exploit the imminent end of the program to scare members into going along with his plan. His end game, however, isn't clear because so far the House is still refusing go along with his plan.
[T]op House Republicans insist their bill is the only option for the Senate, with the House set to leave town on Thursday, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) giving no indication Tuesday that he is willing to bail out Senate Republicans with a short-term lifeline for the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions. […]

Senate Republicans are increasingly raising concerns about the House measure and say they need more time to be assured that the USA Freedom Act—which passed the House with 338 votes last week—actually would work. The House bill would end the NSA's bulk collection program and call on phone companies to retain the data. Investigators then could later tap the information in smaller amounts for terrorism probes.

McConnell and Senate leadership say that the USA Freedom Act will not meet a 60-vote threshold, which McConnell will insist the bill must reach. That's why he's willing to put the bill on the floor. His idea is then that the Senate will have to pass his two-month extension or let the provisions expire. But that's problematic as well. The House is intent on leaving town Thursday and as of now it doesn't look like the Senate will get to this vote until Friday. If McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner somehow work out the scheduling difficulties, there's still the major question of whether the House passing that extension—Goodlatte says that's not likely. And if that were to happen, there's still the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threatens that the court will step in to stop the program if Congress doesn't.

A bipartisan group of 60 members of the House, headed up by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) have written to Senate leadership, opposing the short-term extension and arguing that the Senate should take up last year's much stronger USA Freedom Act. It's a big enough group to challenge leadership's ability—if they even wish to try it—to pass a short-term extension. What's McConnell's alternative? Let it expire and come back to try again.

Tell Congress to let bulk collection of our metadata and other PATRIOT Act provisions expire.

1:27 PM PT: Sen. Rand Paul began what he's calling a filibuster early Wednesday afternoon, and has been joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). It's not really a filibuster, because the extension that he is opposing isn't actually on the floor, but it is eating up time. If the House does end up leaving for Memorial Day recess midday Thursday as planned, Paul's delay could achieve the expiration of the PATRIOT Act provisions.

2:31 PM PT: Developments:

Rep Amash: Hse GOP leaders "made a commitment to us that they will not pass a re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act by UC or by voice vote"
Which would mean if House leaves on Thursday, and Senate passes a short-term clean extension after, it's not getting a vote until June 1
Which means McConnell's only choice is let it expire or vote on/pass the USA Freedom Act w/out amendments.
WASHINGTON, DC - OCT 22, 2009: Health-care reform advocates march in the streets outside of a meeting of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an industry trade group.
This is one of the best arguments for Medicaid expansion you probably never heard before.
Police Chief John King on Tuesday called for the Utah Legislature to accept federal funds to extend health insurance for thousands more state residents to prevent future crime, as well as save money. […]

"I'm not here as an expert on health care policy," King said at a news conference.

But as a law enforcement officer, the chief—who stressed that he and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids are not equating mental illness with criminality—said he knows the toll that mental illness, behavior disorders and substance abuse can take.

"It's a smart move," King said of expanding coverage.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank agrees. "Expansion of mental health treatment in any arena helps to reduce criminal activity and recidivism," he said. That's the message from the national cops organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids which issued a Utah-based report detailing how "some of the more than 1,200 deaths from car accidents, drug overdoes, suicides and homicide that occur in the state each year could be prevented by effective treatment of substance abuse and behavior disorders." The link with children is clear: parents with these illnesses who have access to medical care will do a better job raising their kids, and their kids will have a better chance of being healthy now and growing into healthy adulthood.

That's an argument Republican Gov. Gary Herbert hopes will sway the Republican legislature, which has until July 31 to consider his Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan, which includes mental health coverage. The legislature isn't Herbert's only hurdle. He wants a work requirement included in his plan and that would require a federal waiver. The Obama administration has already rejected that idea.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, addresses the National Association for Business Economics Policy conference in Alexandria, Virginia March 26, 2012. The U.S. economy needs to grow more quickly if it is to produce enough jobs
Former CBO Director Doug Elmendorf
Doug Elmendorf, the man who led the Congressional Budget Office when the Affordable Care Act was being written, says now that when the CBO was scoring the proposed legislation for its budget impact, it was the "common understanding" that every state would be eligible for subsides. That's one more official contradiction to the argument forwarded in King v. Burwell, in which the challengers posit that Congress used the subsidies to try to force every state to set up an exchange.
"It was a common understanding on the Hill, again on both sides of the Hill, on both sides of the aisle, in late 2009 and early 2010, that subsidies would be available through the federal exchange as well as through state exchanges," Elmendorf said in an interview at the Peterson Foundation fiscal summit.

"And I'm confident in saying that because CBO’s analysis always worked under the view that subsidies would be available under the federal exchange."

Despite all the scrutiny of his office’s cost projections, he said, the assumption of subsidies being available on both types of exchanges was never questioned, he said.

"Our analysis was subject to a lot of very intense scrutiny and a lot of questions, and my colleagues and I could remember no occasion on which anybody asked why we were expecting subsidies to be paid in all states regardless of whether they established their exchanges or not," he said.

"And if people had not had this common understanding about what the law was going to do at that time, I'm sure we would have had a lot of questions about that aspect of our estimates."

Other than a bunch of Republican lawmakers who snapped out of their apparent subsidy amnesia and filed a brief with the court saying of course they meant to withhold subsidies from their constituents, there is no credible source to back up the plaintiffs' claim in King. Kind of like how the actual plaintiffs aren't all that credible.

It's not hard to imagine Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas not giving a fig for the actual evidence of congressional intent here, or the fact that this continues to be the flimsiest of challenges to the law. They've proven time and again that they care far more about advancing their hard-right political agenda than, you know, acting like the highest court in the land. Once again, it's down to Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy to think about things like the institutional integrity of the court.

Screenshot of Fox News with chyron saying
How do you suppose Fox News reacted to President Obama's executive order banning the federal government from providing some militarized equipment to local police forces? Totally predictably.
Fox's Megyn Kelly: Why Would Obama "Deprive" Police Officers Of "Tools Like Riot Gear?" On the May 18 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly accused Obama of denying riot gear to police officers. Kelly went on to defend local law enforcement's use of heavy armored vehicles like MRAPs.  [Fox News, The Kelly File, 5/18/15]

Fox's Your World: Police Fear That Obama's New Rules For Police Officers Could Leave Them "Unarmed." On the May 18 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto discussed Obama's executive order limiting the types of military weapons and equipment local law enforcement can receive from the federal government. Cavuto suggested the new regulations could leave police officers "unarmed." His guest, former police officer Lance Lorusso, said the president was leaving law enforcement personnel "unprotected." [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 5/18/15]

Fox & Friends On-Air Graphic: President Obama Is "Disarming The Force." On the May 18 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, anchor Heather Nauert reported on Obama's decision to limit the types of military equipment local police departments receive from the federal government. The on-air graphics used during the segment described this measure as "disarming the force." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/18/15]

He's taking the cops guns away!!!! Because Barack Obama is always taking someone's guns away, right? That one never gets old. Even though it's never been true. Including now. To Megyn Kelly: they can still get riot gear and armored vehicles, just not weaponized vehicles. At least not from the federal government. If they can afford to get them elsewhere, they sure can. And note to Neil Cavuto and Heather Nauert: they will all still have guns. But they can't have bayonets on those guns, at least not from the federal government. If they desperately need bayonets, there's always eBay.
Newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) joins new Republican Whip Steve Scalise (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) for a news conference after House Republican leadership elections in the Longworth House Office Building on Capito
The impasse at which Republicans found themselves last week over reform in the bulk collection of cellphone metadata program in the Patriot Act bleeds into this week, with just a few workdays left before recess and the program expiring at the end of the month. The House passed a fairly weak reform bill that effectively ends the bulk collection program, the USA Freedom Act, last week with a huge majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is continuing to stand firm in his position that the program needs to be extended as is, with no changes. That's despite the fact that a federal court has said that the current program is illegal, and would likely halt it if it's not changed. The House is also standing firm.
On Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) maintained the Senate had only one option: pass the House bill. [...]

But in interviews, senior Republican senators and aides expressed doubt that the proposal can pass the Senate, particularly given that McConnell is so staunchly opposed.

At this point, McConnell is threatening to keep the Senate in over the weekend and as long as it takes. But the House plans to leave on Thursday, and McCarthy is not committing to keeping the chamber over the weekend while they wait for McConnell to figure this out. On the Senate side, Paul says he will filibuster a short-term extension and other Republicans, including freshman Steve Daines from Montana, are not with McConnell on simply reauthorizing the Patriot Act and bulk collection. McConnell likely can't count on any votes from Democrats. All of which makes the author of the USA Freedom Act in the Senate, Patrick Leahy, observe wryly "I can’t quite figure it out. Because right now, we’re down to a point: We either have the House bill, or we have nothing at all. Interesting choices, aren’t they?" Leahy had a much stronger reform bill on the floor last fall, which was filibustered by McConnell.

At this point, nothing at all is probably the best choice. Allowing the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act to sunset, as the original law intended, could give Leahy and fellow reformers like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) more time and potentially more power in strengthening the USA Freedom Act and enacting real reforms.

Tell Congress to let bulk collection of our metadata and other PATRIOT Act provisions expire.

1:23 PM PT: McConnell has a new, cunning plan. Maybe. He told reporters Tuesday that he'll allow a vote on the House bill, assuming that it won't have 60 votes. And he'll force the 60 vote majority on to this bill to try to ensure that. Then once it fails, he'll offer a short-term extension as the fall-back. That leaves the problem with the House being, so far, unwilling to consider any extension.

Enrique Gonzalez, 22, (L-R), Janet Regalado, 21, and their nine-month-old daughter Kayleen Gonzalez pose for a photo after signing up for health insurance at an enrolment event in Commerce, California March 31, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama's embattle
More people with young children are taking advantage of a big perk of Obamacare—they can choose to work part-time, have health insurance, and spend more time raising their young children. Economist Dean Baker writing at Mother Jones:
[V]oluntary part-time employment […] is up by 5.7 percent in the first four months of 2015 compared to 2013. This corresponds to more than 1 million people who have chosen to work part-time. We did some analysis of who these people were and found that it was overwhelmingly a story of young parents working part-time.

There was little change or an actual decline in the percentage of workers over the age of 35 who were working part-time voluntarily. There was a modest increase in the percentage of workers under age 35, without children, working part-time voluntarily. There was a 10.2 percent increase in the share of workers under the age of 35, with 1-2 kids, working part-time. For young workers with three of more kids the increase was 15.4 percent.

Based on these findings it appears that Obamacare has allowed many young parents the opportunity to work at part-time jobs so that they could spend more time with their kids. Back in the old days we might have thought this was an outcome that family-values conservatives would have welcomed.

Chart showing voluntary part time employment by age group.
One of the Republican talking points about the law is that it's making this a part-time nation, with employers cutting hours to avoid having to pay for insurance. They can console themselves on being partially right on there being more part-time workers now, but they sure got the rest of it wrong.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pauses during remarks to reporters at a news conference following a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4KFJ3
He'll get right on that.
You can almost hear the cries of some swing district Republicans: "Doooo something! Pleeease!"
Without a plan, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) argued consumers would face chaos in the market if the Supreme Court rules against subsidies to buy ObamaCare on the federal marketplace.

"If [the subsidies] are ruled unlawful, it will be incumbent upon Congress to help create a thoughtful free market replacement for ObamaCare, and an off-ramp for the six million individuals who have in good faith purchased ObamaCare policies," Poliquin wrote in a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other committee leaders.

Actually, it's probably more like 8 million than 6, but why quibble when a Republican sees impending doom and is trying to do something about it. And of course Poliquin has his own "plan" for what Republicans should do.
Under Poliquin’s proposal, individuals would no longer be required to purchase insurance and they would no longer have to purchase plans that cover the same broad range of services and procedures. To cut overall costs, his plan would require doctors to provide cost estimates of services to allow patients to "shop around" and would allow people to buy insurance across state lines—two ideas that have been widely accepted by the GOP.
So not so much a plan as a "yeah, what he said" proposal that all of them have embraced but somehow never been able to formulate into a real legislative proposal that will score well with the Congressional Budget Office and be taken seriously. Partly that's because, like all the other Republicans, he wants to keep the Obamacare requirement that insurers have to take all comers. And that, when you don't have a mandate making sure that healthy people are also buying insurance and helping to keep overall costs down, is not a workable solution. But it's something, which is more than he's got for the millions who could very shortly lose their subsidies and their insurance.

Meanwhile, one top Republican committee chair says any kind of subsidy continuation isn't going to be happening on his watch. That brilliant idea that Justices Scalia and Alito had that they could gut the law and it would be okay because Congress would fix it.

George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, 2006.
As some in the traditional media have a field day tormenting would-be Republican presidents with the hypothetical "if you knew then what you know now" on Iraq, the large universe of us who knew better then are getting increasingly frustrated with the fact that they continue to let the Bush administration—and themselves—off the hook for being complicit in the lies that took the nation to war.
"I was amazed, absolutely amazed at how people were supporting going to war on the basis of things that just weren’t so," said former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), one of a handful of members who opposed the invasion. "It was clear as it could be. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. None of the intel suggested they had anything to do with 9/11 and the whole rationale for WMD [weapons of mass destruction] was just very, very thin for anybody who read the intelligence reports." As for the 2016 candidates' comments, he said: "It is just a rewriting of history in an attempt for everybody to cover their extraordinary mistake; probably one of the most serious mistakes in the military and diplomatic history of the United States, and they were all complicit." […]

The more interesting question, war skeptics said, is what the candidates would have done during the months when the invasion was being debated—a time when airing doubts about the intelligence or the motives of the Bush administration carried political risk.

"I have to say, not being privy to intelligence briefings as others were, I probably had the benefit of objectivity," former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), a war critic, told The Huffington Post. "That is to say, I wasn't being misled by intelligence briefings by the administration or anyone else. But it didn't pass the smell test. And, to be honest with you, I didn't trust the people promoting the war in Iraq. I knew many of them and thought they had a different agenda. They had in mind to use Iraq as an American political and military base in the Middle East and reach out from there to impose peace on the region. It was a grand scheme, but many bridges too far."

A lot of people didn't fall for it, including 133 members of the House and 23 senators. Many saw clearly that the Bush/Cheney regime was cooking the books to force this war. Ignoring that fact now does a disservice to the people who got it right, to history, to the men and women who went to war, and to the electorate who is going to choose the next president. Allowing Jeb Bush and all the other candidates—and that includes then-Sen. Hillary Clinton—to say that it was the intelligence that was faulty is perpetuating the lie. The intelligence wasn't faulty, it was manufactured.

We knew that back then, and we know it now.

Police officers keep watch from an armored vehicle as they patrol a street in Ferguson, Missouri August 11, 2014. Police fired tear gas after rioting broke out for a second night in Ferguson, Missouri, despite calls on Monday for calm from the mother of a black teenager who was shot to death by police at the weekend. Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death in the mostly black St Louis suburb on Saturday afternoon after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car.    REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW) - RTR422SR
Ferguson, Missouri, August 11, 2014
Here's a shock.
The nation's largest police union is fighting back against a White House plan to restrict local police forces' ability to acquire military-style gear, accusing President Barack Obama's task force of politicizing officers' safety.
Because American cops really need to be equipped with "bayonets, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers," the equipment that is now on the banned list. They'll still be able to get riot gear and other kinds of armored vehicles, though they might have to work a little harder to get them. Like to prove that they are necessary.

Saying that maybe there isn't really a need for your local police force to be armed like they're invading Iraq is "politicizing officers' safety" says the Fraternal Order of Police. James Pasco, executive director of the FOP is asking for a meeting with President Obama to tell him personally that he is putting the lives of cops in danger by taking away their grenade launchers, and he's been just a tiny bit forceful in doing so.

“The FOP is the most aggressive law enforcement advocacy group in Washington, and we will be at our most aggressive in asserting the need for officer safety and officer rights in any police changes that are to be effected,” Pasco said.
Maybe not the best attitude to be taking into this meeting with your president, dude.
Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks at a meeting of the Latin Builders Association in Miami, Florida January 27, 2012.    REUTERS/Joe Skipper   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT) - RTR2WYF6
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL)
In light of the ongoing debacle in Florida over Gov. Rick Scott's refusal to take federal money that has Obamacare cooties, Politico takes a deep dive into Medicaid expansion and its consequences so far. The big takeaway: enrollments are far exceeding expectations, leading Republican governors to say "I told you so," and feel very smug that they are refusing to help tens of thousands of their citizens.
The federal government is picking up 100 percent of the expansion costs through 2016, and then will gradually cut back to 90 percent. But some conservatives say the costs that will fall on the states are just too big a burden, and they see vindication in the signup numbers, proof that costs will be more than projected as they have warned all along.
That's Scott's argument, more or less, that and what if the federal government decides to end the program (though it's never, ever backed out of a Medicaid agreement with a state). There are plenty of examples of states that took the expansion that have far more enrollments than expected: Illinois estimated 199,000 enrollment and got nearly 634,000; Washington estimated 190,365 by March of this year, got 535,000; Michigan projected 323,000 and currently has 582,000. Which brings up one key question: why are they so bad at these estimates? Do the states really have such a poor grasp on the economic status of their own populations? Do they imagine that no one is going to show up if they start publicizing the program?

The argument for Republicans is that this is just going to cost a ton of money that they hadn't counted on. For a detailed look at this, read Charles Gaba. But the gist of it is this: there are a lot of people who qualify for traditional Medicaid—which doesn't have the current 100 percent federal assist—who discovered they were eligible and signed up as a result of publicity around the launch of Obamacare's program. The states are paying more for those people and don't want to take on even more in two years when the federal contribution drops to 97 percent for people covered under the expansion. The argue that these people will cost a lot more and they won't be able to get into see a doctor anyway since doctors don't take Medicaid patients. Yes, there is a breakdown in logic there—if they aren't getting care, how could they cost more? At any rate, it's just all going to cost so much money and why do we want to help the moochers Republicans say.

Which leads to the counterargument, not just that states "and hospitals and doctors—are getting billions of dollars from the federal government to cover low-income people, letting them save money on other programs that had been fully or partly funded through state dollars." As Audrey Haynes, secretary of Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which did take the expansion under Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, says "can we afford not to take this?" Economically, there aren't a lot of good reasons for refusing the expansion. Morally, there are none.

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