“Don’t give them any ideas” may be one of the most overused phrases, but I think, despite its ubiquity, it sums up today’s Supreme Court decision quite well. And it’s why I disagree slightly–perhaps only rhetorically–with John Steele Gordon’s take on ObamaCare’s survival. John writes that the decision today “greatly expanded the taxing power” of the government by ruling the individual mandate is constitutional as a massive tax. It seems, however, that Congress really does have this expansive taxing power to begin with—John Roberts merely “gave them the idea.” It’s best to think of this less as an unprecedented interpretation of existing law and more as an unprecedented application of existing law.
But nonetheless, John’s point is sound. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution was left intact–but also made virtually irrelevant. What the Supreme Court did today was offer a ludicrously simple—and expensive—way around it. Want to force individuals to do something from which the Constitution protects them? Just add a financial penalty to it. This way, you can increase your control over people and help yourself to some of their cash.
The Associated Press (AP) has reported on three emails from 2011 that Attorney General Eric Holder showed members of Congress at a Tuesday meeting, during his last-ditch effort to avert today’s contempt vote. The emails supposedly show Holder hadn’t known about Operation Fast and Furious until February 2011 and immediately set out to get to the bottom of the issue.
Keep in mind, the AP didn’t see the actual emails — the contents were “described” by people who had seen them — and there are few specific quotes given in the article. If this is supposed to be evidence that Holder was doing the right thing, it seems pretty flimsy:
CBS News ran a story on Feb. 23, 2011. On March 3, CBS followed up, and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity weighed in with its own online account.
On Feb. 23, aides passed along to the attorney general the CBS story alleging gun-walking, and the attorney general shot back, “We need answers on this. Not defensive BS. Real answers.”
Five days later, Holder asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate.
On March 3…the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, emailed his staff: “We obviously need to get to the bottom of this.”
Holder was skeptical of any assurances.
“I hope the AG understands that we did not allow guns to walk,” an official at the ATF’s Washington headquarters said on March 10 in an email that Holder’s aides forwarded to the attorney general.
In a response, Holder wrote, “Do they really, really know” that there was no gun-walking?
A day earlier, at Holder’s instruction, the Justice Department had sent out a directive to the field reinforcing a longtime Justice Department policy against gun-walking. The directive said that agents must not allow guns to cross the border into Mexico.
That this morning’s ObamaCare decision is disastrous should go without saying. The government’s claim that the mandate is a tax should have been rejected as the Alice in Wonderland reasoning that it is–here’s Obama saying it’s not a tax and here he is saying he’s never raised any taxes–and the law should have been struck down.
Conservatives who are finding solace in potential political implications–that the decision will unite the Tea Party behind Mitt Romney, that Obama will get tagged for increasing taxes, etc.–are setting themselves up for disappointment. As of March, only half of Americans even knew that ObamaCare was still on the books. As of today, they’re going to be bombarded with the message that Obama won, that the Supreme Court signed on to ObamaCare, and that anyway, the issue is closed and we need to be talking about jobs. It’s not clear that Romney should or will move off his all-economy-all-the-time messaging. This morning, he’s at least partly framing the decision in terms of jobs. With the exception of short-term fundraising, it’s uncertain how today’s decision will ultimately impact the election.
With it a near certainty that sometime Thursday morning we will finally know whether the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, the political parties have spent much of this week pondering what they will do in the event the president’s signature legislation is ruled unconstitutional. The Democrats are fairly certain of their course of action if their side loses tomorrow. They will attack the Court and the GOP while attempting to change the narrative of the issue from one about a government power grab to the plight of the uninsured. Republicans are less certain; as the putative victors in the controversy, their inclination may be to sit back and gloat.
As Politico reports today, congressional Republicans have no plans to respond to the downfall of ObamaCare with legislation aimed at filling in the gap if the president’s plan goes down, even if it means allowing some of the more popular provisions in a profoundly unpopular bill are lost with the rest of the plan. While doing nothing may be dangerous as it risks losing the initiative to the left, the thinking here is they are right to pass on getting bogged down this year on an alternative. But a refusal to try to push through a new bill shouldn’t be confused with passivity. Conservatives must be ready to start pushing back against the left’s attempt to demonize the Court or allow them to make the public forget the issue here isn’t sympathy for the poor but the defense of liberty.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has leverage with House Democrats running for reelection in conservative districts, and its decision to score the Eric Holder contempt vote (in favor of it) will complicate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s attempts to keep Democrats united in opposition (h/t HotAir):
“I think there are some members that will consider the recommendations of the NRA,” Hoyer said to reporters today. “Whether they think those recommendations are founded or not, I don’t know at this point.”
The number of Democratic defections could reach 31, according to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose committee voted last Wednesday to move the contempt citation to a full House vote.
Issa cites a letter sent from 31 Democrats to the Obama administration last year asking for them to be forthcoming with details of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation as a template for possible Democratic “yes” votes.
At Tablet, Zack Beauchamp wonders whether Democrats are overreacting about former Black Panther Charles Barron’s chance of winning the Brooklyn primary race against the more moderate Hakeem Jeffries:
There is real panic among Democratic leaders that Barron might win. As far as I can tell, the fear stems from an endorsement from the seat’s former holder Ed Towns, one New York Times article touting a “Barron surge,” and the simple fear created by the anticipation of a very bad outcome. It’s not clear how much the endorsement matters and the Times article is a bit short on evidence. That’s not me saying that – the Times’ own local blog is a bit perplexed[.]
And as far as endorsements go, Jeffries has Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most high profile local papers, several important unions, a raft of significant Democrats and democratic institutions, and a wink-wink-nudge-nudge photo-op with the President. Also, Jewish voters could be critical given the district’s demographics. Since there’s been virtually no polling done on the race, I think the evidence we have to go on suggests it’s Jeffries’ race to lose.
Beauchamp’s right that by all normal measures, it probably should be Jeffries race to win. But I’m not so sure.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza writes today that the attempt by House Republicans to charge Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal is a political loser. According to Cilizza, Congress is so unpopular that any attention given to the House GOP caucus is bad for Mitt Romney’s chances in November. He also thinks any moment taken away from a discussion of President Obama’s handling of the economy is a lost opportunity for the challenger. Though he concedes that being dragged into the mud with John Boehner and company doesn’t help the president, Cilizza is still wrong to think the Republicans’ decision to push hard on this issue is a mistake.
While the Republicans do have to concentrate on the economy, if there is anything we should have learned from the political collapse of the George W. Bush presidency is that fresh problems merely compound an administration’s troubles; they don’t provide an escape hatch. Just as Hurricane Katrina didn’t stop Americans from worrying about the Iraq War, Fast and Furious won’t stop them from being upset about the parlous state of the nation’s finances and job losses. The specter of scandal and the Nixon-like invocation of “executive privilege” merely contribute to the impression that the Obama presidency is tiptoeing along on a precipice and can start slipping down the mountain at any time.
Democrats and the political left hammered the Bush administration for using executive privilege, and are now faced with trying to justify President Obama’s much more questionable use of it. This isn’t as tricky for the Democratic politicians — they’re partisans, and it’s not exactly surprising they have a double-standard based on which party is in power. But left-wing pundits, columnists and bloggers (at least the ones who want to avoid being labeled as hacks) seem to be having a hard time justifying it.
Take Eugene Robinson’s valiant effort in today’s Washington Post:
These are the facts, and they don’t cover any Justice Department officials with glory. But neither do they remotely justify the partisan witch hunt by House Republicans who threaten, without legitimate cause, to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress. Obama has responded by asserting executive privilege — effectively shutting down the inquisition.
The House wants to go fishing in a vast sea of documents, some of which relate to ongoing investigations. As a believer in sunshine and disclosure, I don’t much care for questionable claims of executive privilege. But I like the politically motivated sideshow the GOP is staging even less.
It was only a matter of time before Democrats played the race card on the Eric Holder contempt vote. What else are they going to say? They need to obscure the real issue here as quickly as possible, and what better way than to shout “racist!” again and again at bewildered Republicans?
Rep. Nancy Pelosi set the liberal narrative yesterday afternoon (h/t Joel Gehrke):
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that House Republicans are charging Attorney General Eric Holder with contempt of Congress not as part of an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, but in order to weaken his ability to prevent voter suppression.
“They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives in the states,” Pelosi told reporters during her press briefing today. “This is no accident, it is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of Republicans.”
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into a police state grew a little more complete earlier this week with the arrest of the mayor and two other officials in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities charged the three with being members of a terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Let’s put aside the fact that Erdoğan argues that Hamas isn’t really a terrorist group because its members are elected. The root of the case to unseat and arrest the mayor should send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Erdoğan’s reforms were about making Turkey more democratic. The detainees’ crime? They “liked” articles on Facebook:
Van Mayor Bekir Kaya, along with the [Peace and Democracy Party] BDP’s Van provincial head, Cüneyt Caniş, and the former mayor of the province’s Başkale district, İhsan Güler, were arrested June 10 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. BDP officials in the northwestern province of Bursa and the southeastern province of Hakkari were also detained in a KCK raid yesterday morning. Sixteen people were detained by Hakkari police yesterday in the early morning. Police raided houses of BDP members and detained 28 people, including the BDP’s deputy provincial head, Sait Gezer. Thirteen people were also detained in Bursa. The Human Rights Association’s (İHD) Hakkari branch head, Sait Çağlayan, and a reporter from Dicle News Agency (DİHA) were among the detainees. The BDP said the detainees had been charged with being members of the KCK via the articles they had “liked” on Facebook.
The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.
The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”
The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”
Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.
So let’s review:
Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.
Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.
November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.
Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.
“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”
“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”
Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.
A letter in today’s Wall Street Journal, responding to Michael McConnell’s op-ed on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare,” acknowledges that “liberal constitutionalists” are ill-suited to cry “judicial activism,” having long advocated a philosophy that “unmoors constitutional interpretation from the actual text of the Constitution.” But the writer goes on to assert that “no real judicial conservative” should argue ObamaCare is unconstitutional, because to suggest Congress is not “regulating a form of economic activity” by mandating insurance purchases is “conceptual and economic sophistry.”
Later this month, the Supreme Court will likely decide whether the power to “regulate commerce” includes the power to order individuals to engage in it so Congress can regulate them. An affirmative answer would seem to convert a specifically-enumerated power into an unlimited mandate over any significant economic decision, including a decision not to participate in commerce designed by Congress. Such a conclusion might be attractive to a “liberal constitutionalist,” but it is hard to see why a “real judicial conservative,” or anyone else who felt bound by the text of the Commerce Clause, would buy it.
House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.
We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:
“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”
The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”
The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is absolutely right when he says of the looming defense “sequester”–$500 billion in defense cuts to be implemented during the next ten years, with $55 billion to be cut on Jan. 1, 2013—that it would “ have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce, and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs.”
And those devastating cuts would not stop at the water’s edge. Even troops in combat would be hurt. The Pentagon has just admitted that Overseas Contingency Operations funds which are used to fund operations in Afghanistan would be cut, too. That would probably mean a cut of approximately 15 percent, or $13 billion, in supplemental funding of $88.5 billion for the next fiscal year. It is hard to imagine how U.S. troops or their Afghan allies could continue to operate at planned levels with 15 percent less in funding. It may be possible to cut support personnel here and there, but a lot of that has already been done on that score to accommodate the president’s caps on the number of troops permitted in Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the preponderance of support personnel among U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or in any other theater), this will have a direct impact on combat capacity. There are scheduled to be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September. If 15 percent less funding translates into 15 percent less troops (most likely the case) it would mean a cut of another 10,000 troops, the equivalent of two Brigade Combat Teams. Given the scarcity of combat personnel already being felt in Afghanistan, as commanders scramble to comply with the White House’s drawdown timetable, this could have serious consequences for the ability of NATO forces to maintain the progress made during the past two years.
So the Bain Capital attack strategy wasn’t the rousing success Democrats expected, but at least they still have the “war on women” to fall back on. Senate Democrats are moving along the Paycheck Protection Act, a gender equal pay protection bill, in a transparent attempt to resurrect the “war on women” narrative. TPM reports:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is set to file cloture Thursday on the Paycheck Protection Act, which would strengthen protections for women who sue for pay discrimination. The move puts Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they work to repair their weak brand image with women voters ahead of the November election.
Five female Democratic senators talked up the bill Wednesday afternoon during a Capitol briefing — and made clear they intend to hammer Republicans as anti-women if they stand in its way.
The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.
The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:
Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.
Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.