New video surfaces of Obamacare architect

By Lucy McCalmont – Politico
A new video has surfaced of a key architect of Obamacare slamming voters once again.
“American voters are too stupid to understand the difference,” Jonathan Gruber said in a clip of remarks he made last year discussing the passage of Obamacare. The clip aired Tuesday on Fox News’ “The Kelly File.”

It is the second video of Gruber, a professor at MIT and former Romney adviser, taking aim at the intelligence of the American electorate.
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass,” he said in a video that has recently emerged — and touched off an uproar. Those remarks as well, were from a separate event in 2013.

On Tuesday, Gruber apologized for the remarks in the initial video.

“I was speaking off the cuff, and I was basically speaking inappropriately and I regret having made those comments,” Gruber said on MSNBC’s “Ronan Farrow Daily,” noting that he made the comments at an “academic conference.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/jonathan-gruber-obamacare-voters-112812.html#ixzz3Isthohpz

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Alaska win gives GOP another US Senate seat

By Becky Bohrer – Associated Press
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich couldn’t pull off another election surprise as voter disapproval of President Barack Obama helped push him and other Democrats out of office.

Republican Dan Sullivan, a Marine Corps reservist and assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, defeated the first-term incumbent as part of a wave in which Republicans picked up eight seats and regained control of the Senate. Another Senate race is yet to be decided in Louisiana.

The Alaska race was too close to call on Election Night last week, with Sullivan up by about 8,100 votes, but it became evident Tuesday when the state began counting about 20,000 of absentee and questioned ballots that Begich could not overcome Sullivan.

In a statement, Sullivan said he ran a campaign Alaskans could be proud of and, moving forward, “I want to emphasize that my door will always be open to all Alaskans.”

“While we have challenges to address, the opportunities in Alaska and our country are limitless. Today, we are going to begin the process of turning our country around,” he said.

Begich, who has returned to Washington for the lame-duck session, won office in 2008. That year, he went to bed on Election Night trailing a wounded but still powerful Sen. Ted Stevens, who days before the election had been found guilty by a jury in a federal corruption trial. About two weeks later, Stevens conceded, with Begich winning by fewer than 4,000 votes. A judge later tossed the case against Stevens, causing many Republicans to see Begich’s election as a fluke.

Begich wouldn’t concede the race early Wednesday morning.

“Sen. Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted in this election. There are tens of thousands of outstanding votes and Sen. Begich has heard from rural Alaskans that their votes deserve to be counted and their voices deserve to be heard. He will honor those requests,” campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said in an email to The Associated Press.

In another close race, incumbent candidate Bill Walker led incumbent Republican Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell by about 4,000 votes with more to be counted starting Friday. Although he hasn’t been declared the winner, Walker planned to announce a transition team Wednesday.

The Alaska Senate seat was initially considered key to the Republicans’ hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, but that goal was accomplished early on Election Night.

Sullivan, a first-time candidate, ran a confident campaign, ignoring the debate schedule Begich released during the primary and setting his own agenda. He also attracted some star power to the state, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney rallying support for Sullivan in the waning days of the hotly contested race.

Sullivan pledged to fight federal overreach, talked about the need for an energy renaissance in the U.S. and at seemingly every opportunity, sought to tie Begich to Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who are unpopular in Alaska.

Begich said Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich touted his clout, including a position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and tried to paint sharp contrasts between himself and Sullivan in areas such as women’s health, education and Alaska issues.

Begich, for example, was born and raised in Alaska. He cast Sullivan, who grew up in Ohio, as an outsider, and many of the early attacks by pro-Begich groups keyed in to that theme. That perception of Sullivan made for an at-times uncomfortable debate on fisheries issues, in which questioners grilled Sullivan about his knowledge of one of Alaska’s most important industries.

On several occasions, Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, an Alaska Native and frequent companion on the campaign trail, appeared in ads defending her husband’s ties to the state and his positions on women’s issues.

Sullivan has roots in Alaska dating to the 1990s but was gone for nearly seven years for military service and work in Washington, D.C., that included working as an assistant secretary of state. He returned to Alaska in 2009, when he was appointed attorney general by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.

He most recently served as Alaska’s natural resources commissioner, a post he left in September 2013.

Sullivan hit the ground running, exhibiting a fundraising prowess that rivaled and during some quarters exceeded that of Begich. Many of his supporters cited his service in the Marine Corps reserves or repeated the oft-repeated GOP refrain that became hallmark of the campaign: that Begich voted with Obama “97 percent of the time,” a figure that takes into account votes during 2013, many of them on confirmations, on which Obama stated a preference.

A turning point, in the view of many observers, was an ad from Begich’s campaign shortly after the primary that painted Sullivan as soft on crime. It featured a man identified as a former Anchorage police officer standing outside the home where an elderly couple was beaten to death and a family member sexually abused in 2013. It ended with the man saying Sullivan should not be a senator.

The ad, which Sullivan responded to with one of his own, was pulled after a demand from an attorney for the victims’ family.

Begich said Sullivan’s record as attorney general needed to be scrutinized.

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Obama can’t govern? Who knew?

By Niall Ferguson – The Boston Globe

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President Obama arrived for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Beijing on Tuesday.

SOMETIMES POLITICS isn’t all local. There is little doubt that it was President Obama and his administration’s failures that condemned the Democrats to a crushing defeat in both the congressional and gubernatorial contests last week. In particular, the president’s fumbling foreign policy played a key part, in defiance of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s rule that “all politics is local.”

In a New York Times/CBS poll conducted in September, 58 percent of voters expressed disapproval of Obama’s foreign policy. The previous month, a majority said they thought the president was “not tough enough” abroad. And an October Pew poll showed the Republicans doubling their lead over the Democrats on foreign policy compared with 2010.

After a period of Iraq-induced “war weariness,’’ the public mood has changed. Clearly, recent events in the Middle East — including the rise of ISIS and its hideous decapitations of two American citizens — have disabused voters of the fantasy that the United States could somehow walk away from the problems of that region with impunity.

Watching disaster unfold in Syria and Iraq, as well as Ukraine, people have woken up to the fact that this president is, as Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf has written, a man whose “political and policy narcissism” is “bad for America and its role in the world.”

In their 2012 presidential debate on foreign policy, Obama mocked then-rival Mitt Romney with the carefully crafted line: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” Who would not now welcome a return to the foreign policy of the 1980s? The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Sunday was a reminder of just how successful it was.

“Where Did Obama Go Wrong?” asked the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura ahead of the midterms. Their answer was a litany of second-term failures at home as well as abroad. Gee, who could possibly have predicted that?

Well, in August 2012 I wrote an article for Newsweek arguing against giving Obama a second term. It brought the wrath of the blogosphere down upon my head. Paul Krugman accused me of “multiple errors and misrepresentations,” though he specified only one. James Fallows of the Atlantic pompously apologized on behalf of Harvard alumni. His colleague Matthew O’Brien claimed to have found as many as a dozen factual errors.

The president’s fumbling foreign policy played a key part in the Democrats’ defeat.

There was indeed one error in the piece: I was wrong to suggest that the Affordable Care Act would add to the deficit. But the other alleged errors were, on close inspection, differences of opinion at best. In any case, my argument wasn’t about the mediocre performance of the US economy, which — as I said — could hardly all be blamed on the president. It was about the president’s style of leadership.

The reason the public has lost its illusions about Obama is that he has proved to be as bumbling an executive as he was beguiling as a campaigner.

The president gave Congress a more or less free hand to design his flagship legislation — the stimulus, health care reform, financial regulation. The results were three giant messes. Worse, he has consistently failed to think through the implications of three major challenges to American power: the continuing spread of Islamic extremism, the military threat posed by an aggressive Russia, and the rise of Asia’s new economic superpower, China.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” the president told reporters Sept. 4. He was referring to the specific challenge posed by ISIS. But those words pretty much sum up his foreign policy since 2009.

The perfect illustration is the president’s 180-degree turn on Iraq. Elected as the man who could get the United States out of George W. Bush’s war, he withdrew US forces far too hurriedly and — as predicted — has now been forced to send them back in to try to quell the resulting maelstrom.

Today, of all days, this strategic ineptitude really rankles. Try telling the families of the brave servicemen and women who died serving their country over the past 11 years that America’s new foreign policy doctrine is “Don’t do stupid sh**.’’

(Oh, and for the record: I was just as critical of George W. Bush at the same stage in his presidency. Criticizing Obama’s foreign policy doesn’t equate to defending Bush’s.)

Of course, I don’t expect my critics to admit I was right, much less to apologize. Last month, writing in Rolling Stone, Krugman insisted that Obama is “one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.” Fact-check this: “Most analyses [of the midterms] suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.”

Er, no. Tuesday’s thrashing of the Dems was exactly “what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.”

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Obamacare and the low expectations game

By Rachana Pradhan – Politico

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The Obama administration is playing the expectations game when it comes to enrollment numbers for Obamacare’s second season.
In its first projection Monday, the administration lowballed the number of Americans who it predicts will sign up for the exchanges that form the foundation of the health care law — estimating that 9 million to 9.9 million people would enroll by the end of 2015.

That’s not much of an increase from the current 7.1 million and significantly lower than the 13 million projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Department of Health and Human Services insisted it was not trying to dampen expectations, with Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell instead focusing on the factors that went into the projection. Speaking at a Center for American Progress event, she stayed on the smaller end of the range, identifying 9.1 million as the actual sign-up goal.

“I came in and asked the team, let’s analytically build it. And that’s what we’ve done. And this is where we’ve come out,” Burwell said.

Health care experts noted that some lowballing wouldn’t be surprising given the differences in the second open enrollment season, which begins Saturday. For starters, it’s half the length of the first season. In addition, many people who really wanted or needed insurance last year have already got it. The remaining uninsured population is going to be harder to reach, they said.

“If you set low expectations, you’re not going to disappoint,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of the consulting firm Avalere Health. “It makes a lot of sense for them to put a stake in the ground.”

Yet coming on the heels of last week’s Republican takeover of the Senate and the Supreme Court’s decision to hear another major challenge to Obamacare, the administration’s announcement didn’t signal strong confidence in the law’s immediate future. The new GOP majority has already identified several key components of the law for repeal votes, and the legal case puts at risk the tax subsidies that help millions of low- and moderate-income Americans afford coverage.

Late Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) derided the White House for “a tactic that has become par for the course. … Despite the administration’s habit of moving the goal posts, the fact is Obamacare is simply not delivering the results Americans were originally promised.”

Mendelson said Avalere’s own projections show enrollment numbers surpassing 10 million, but how robust the numbers ultimately become also depends on how good the marketing is, how many employers drop coverage and how much impact the individual mandate penalties have on coverage rates.

“There are a whole bunch of variables,” he said. “It’s hard to project. These are not mature markets.”

Larry Levitt, senior vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation, agreed that there is still enormous uncertainty. With the law only in its second year, the country remains in uncharted territory.

“It would not be surprising to see them lowering expectations, but I think it’s a defensible projection,” he said.

Levitt noted that a significant number of last year’s sign-up total came from just three states — California, New York and Florida — and that there aren’t as many people left in each to target. And elsewhere, there’s still apathy bordering on antipathy.

“In states that didn’t do that well in the first year, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
As of mid-October, 7.1 million people were enrolled in an exchange plan and had paid their premium. The new HHS enrollment estimates assume that about 83 percent of the people who got 2014 coverage will renew for next year — amounting to about 6 million people.

The department expects currently uninsured Americans to account for most new exchange enrollment and says it might take five years for enrollment to hit steady levels, rather than the three years that CBO assumed. That independent office has projected exchange numbers would reach 25 million by 2017.

Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation, also suspects the administration is trying to lower expectations — although he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in either the new or old figures, saying HHS is relying too heavily on surveys rather than insurer data.

“They are more realistic than previous projections — though how realistic in the ultimate sense, we don’t know yet,” he said Monday.

And Ron Pollack of the consumer advocacy group Families USA called any enrollment projections, whether from HHS or CBO, “totally arbitrary.”

“That’s why a focus on projections is often a bit of an exercise that doesn’t have realism to it,” Pollack said. “There is nothing that I think can be read into these numbers.”

While the department said 9.9 million people could have coverage on the exchanges by the end of next year, it offered different numbers — 10.3 million to 11.2 million — for how many people would pick a plan by the time open enrollment ends on Feb. 15. The dropoff comes when people don’t pay their premiums, the necessary step to trigger their benefits, or when they find other sources of coverage.

“What is crucial is that everybody involved in the enrollment process works as effectively as possible to reach people who are currently uninsured, and that task is critical because the vast majority of people who are currently uninsured are unaware of the availability of premium subsidies,” Pollack said. “Unless that information gap is bridged, a lot of people who need coverage and would probably enroll in coverage will fail to do so.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/hhs-obamacare-enrollment-2015-112746.html#ixzz3InRG91S0

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Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder Agree on These 4 Hot Button Issues

By Mike Levine – ABC News

 

 

President Obama has said he’s “confident” that his nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder “will get confirmed by the Senate.”

But a look at where Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor out of Brooklyn, N.Y., has fallen on some of the more controversial issues dogging Holder for years suggests the confirmation process may be a bit bumpy. She and Holder seem to be eye-to-eye on many of the issues that made him such a lightning rod for Republican criticism.

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Here are four issues that Senators – including some Democrats — will likely press her on:

CIVILIAN TRIALS FOR TERROR SUSPECTS

Senate Republicans, including the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Charles Grassley, have long objected to the Obama administration’s use of civilian courts to prosecute certain terror suspects, saying the prosecution-focused efforts of the FBI can fail to obtain valuable intelligence. Just three weeks ago, Grassley of Iowa, blasted the Obama administration over plans to transfer a terrorist held in Afghanistan for years to the United States for prosecution.

“To give him the full set of rights that an American citizen is afforded when accused of a crime is a slap in the face to the men and women fighting abroad to keep us safe,” Grassley said in a statement at the time.

But Lynch – like Holder – has launched a strong defense of the civilian court system, calling it a “proven and effective method of dealing with terrorism suspects” and “the best and often the only option” for prosecuting U.S. citizens who have been radicalized.

“We increasingly see the face of homegrown extremism as one of our own, who cannot be tried in a military commission. Federal courts have also established effective mechanisms to obtain cooperation from defendants,” Lynch told attendees at an Agudah Israel legislative breakfast in November 2011. “And I cannot underscore how important the cooperation and the intelligence that we gather from these suspects is in the fight against terror. It’s the major advantage and difference from the commission system.”

Through such cooperation in the federal court system, U.S. authorities have obtained phone numbers and email addresses of Al Qaeda operatives, they’ve learned about the group’s recruiting techniques and finances, they’ve been told the locations of senior Al Qaeda figures and the locations of training camps, they’ve become privy to information about Al Qaeda’s “tradecraft” and “security protocols” to avoid detection by the U.S. intelligence community, and they’ve learned of plans for future attacks, Lynch said.

“Why would you want to restrict that flow of vital information?” she asked.

In addition, she lauded “the breadth and depth of the scope of federal charges,” including charges in the civilian court system such as money-laundering, tax evasion, and firearms violations that can incapacitate a group’s funding or other capabilities.

VOTER ID LAWS

Under Holder’s leadership, the Justice Department has been challenging laws in states like Texas, Alabama and North Carolina that require voters to provide certain documents to cast a ballot. Holder has argued the so-called “voter ID laws” disproportionately prevent minorities from voting, and some federal courts have agreed.

Lawsuits filed by the Justice Department to block those laws have rankled Republicans. In January, when several judicial nominees were testifying in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the first questions from Grassley was: “In regard to voter ID, if confirmed, do you plan to allow states to require voters to identify themselves to prevent the fraud that we have seen?”

Earlier this year, Lynch said federal lawsuits to block voter ID laws “will continue.”

“Fifty years after the march on Washington, 50 years after the civil rights movement, we stand in this country at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. [Martin Luther] King fought for,” she said at an event outside New York City celebrating the legacy of King and Nelson Mandela. “But I’m proud to tell you that the Department of Justice has looked at these laws, and looked at what’s happening in the Deep South and in my home state of North Carolina, [and] has brought lawsuits against those voting rights changes that seek to limit our ability to stand up and exercise our rights as citizens.”

“TOO BIG TO JAIL”

As attorney general, Holder has repeatedly faced questions from Democrats, Republicans and others over why his department has not brought criminal charges against the heads of banks that played a part in the financial meltdown several years ago – a meltdown Holder described as “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

“The best deterrent to crime is to put people in prison,” Grassley said in a statement last year. “That includes those at powerful banks and corporations. Unfortunately, we’ve seen little willingness to charge these individuals criminally.”

In an interview earlier this year, ABC News’ Pierre Thomas pressed Holder on why five years after the meltdown “not a single high-ranking banking official has gone to jail.” Holder insisted federal investigators were “still in the process of looking at this conduct” and that the “passage of time does not mean that you will not be held accountable.”

“We are going to be extremely aggressive,” Holder vowed.

Lynch, who joined Holder in Washington over the summer to announce a $16 billion settlement with Bank of America over its conduct leading up to the meltdown, has similarly suggested the federal government is doing everything it can to hold companies accountable.

“[People] want the head of this bank or that investment bank to go to jail, and the types of cases that we actually have been developing tend to be a little bit smaller,” she told a New York civic association last year. “They tend to involve mortgage companies themselves who issued fraudulent mortgages” and may have made misleading statements or received “a kickback.”

“There in fact have been a number of prosecutions like that all over the country,” she said. “But those are smaller cases and they don’t get the kind of attention that people are looking for. So people often don’t think that anything has happened.”

She said it all comes down to “what you can prove.”

“We have to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt their intent was to defraud the public, and sometimes jurors just think they were bad at what they did,” she said.

IMMIGRATION REFORM (A.K.A. “AMNESTY”)

Within hours of Lynch’s nomination on Saturday, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, issued a joint statement calling on Lynch to “say whether she approves of executive amnesty.”

The senators were referring to a coming announcement by the Obama administration laying out a series of executive actions on immigration reform. The actions are expected to afford even more prosecutorial discretion to agencies when deciding how to focus their limited resources for immigration enforcement.

Republican critics have denounced the expected move as unconstitutional.

“The nominee must demonstrate full and complete commitment to the law,” the senators said. “Loretta Lynch deserves the opportunity to demonstrate those qualities, beginning with a statement on whether or not she believes the president’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal.”

It’s unclear exactly where Lynch stands on the issue. A spokesman for her office referred questions to the Justice Department in Washington, which did not respond to an email seeking comment.

However, a high-profile case prosecuted by Lynch’s office last year could provide insight into her views on prosecutorial discretion when it comes to illegal immigrants. At the time, Lynch announced that nine operators of 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia had been arrested for harboring dozens of illegal immigrants and stealing most of their wages.

The defendants eventually pleaded guilty to charges against them, but the illegal immigrants have yet to be removed from the country, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman told ABC News.

Not only were they witnesses in the case, the ICE spokesman noted, but they were also victims who were “ruthlessly exploited” and forced into “a modern-day plantation system,” as Lynch put it at the time.

SO WHAT’S AHEAD?

Asked for comment about Lynch’s past positions and what it could mean for the confirmation process ahead, a spokeswoman for Grassley said he “will not pre-judge Ms. Lynch before a confirmation hearing.”

While “the vetting process” has only just begun and “it’s very early to be speculating about any specific issue,” the issues facing an attorney general and the Justice Department “are difficult and controversial, so there’s no doubt she’ll get tough questions on a number of subjects from every member of the committee,” the spokeswoman said.

As for President Obama, during his announcement on Saturday he described Lynch as “somebody who shares [with Holder] that fierce commitment to equal justice under the law.” And “throughout her 30-year career, she has distinguished herself as tough, as fair, [and as] an independent lawyer,” he said.

Holder agreed, saying in a statement that “she is both well-qualified and uniquely positioned to continue the critical work that’s underway [at the Justice Department[ and build upon the progress we have made over the past six years, from advancing criminal justice reform to safeguarding civil rights.”

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