Monday, July 20, 2009

Last Call

Nate "The Numbers" Silver games the numbers on Obamacare and comes up with four scenarios on how Obamacare might pass with benefit of a public option attached.
1. Whip Democrats Into Submission. This is probably the closest thing to the default approach. So long as there are a dozen or a half-dozen different iterations of health care floating around Capitol Hill, individual Democratic Congressmen can afford to bargain for their preferred version. "Progressive" Democrats from rich districts can object to the plan of raising taxes on the very wealthy to pay for expanded coverage. Labor-backed Democrats can try and play hardball on any proposal to remove the benefits tax exemption. The Blue Dogs can howl at the moon for whatever it is they want -- probably some kind of sweeteners for rural districts, like the ones given to farm-state Democrats on the climate bill. And advocates of the public option can continue to treat it as a sine qua non and threaten to oppose any bill that doesn't include one.

Once a particular bill is put up to a vote, however, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are going to have a difficult time voting against it. Health care reform remains quite popular in theory and at least marginally popular in practice. It will probably do the most good for those districts where conservative Democrats tend to reside.

And then there is the oldest motivator of all: survival. The failure of health care reform in 1994 may have damaged Bill Clinton -- but it really damaged the Congressional Democrats, who lost 54 seats in the House and another 8 in the Senate. Of the 36 incumbent Democrats who lost that year, only four (North Carolina's David Price, Ohio's Ted Strickland and Washington's Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee) would ever return to the Congress (whereas Clinton, of course, was re-elected). Any Democrat who votes against health care, moreover, can expect to be permanently shut off from the Obama-run DNC and from most or all grassroots fundraising drives, and many of them can probably expect a primary challenger.

There are probably some Democrats who would be better off if health care went away. But once it comes up to vote, I'd imagine there will be very few who are actually better off voting against it.

2. Reconciliation. This is not necessarily mutually exclusive with the other scenarios, but Obama could try and use the reconciliation process to pass health care, which would mean Republicans would lose the ability to filibuster in the Senate and Democrats would need only need 50 votes for passage. This is risky: the extent to which the bill remained intact would depend upon the rulings of the obscure Senate Parliamentarian, and going through reconciliation would cause mayhem on the Hill with somewhat unpredictable political consequences. And it would certainly look overtly partisan -- especially now that Democrats have gained their 59th and 60th seats in the Senate. But if Obama decides that health care is too big to fail, reconciliation is an option.

3. Wyden-Bennett and Other "Bipartisan" Approaches.. I don't see any particular reason why the Administration couldn't press the reset button and push for a different sort of health care bill -- particularly Ron Wyden's, which already has a half-dozen Republican supporters. In fact, it might make Obama look somewhat good to "acknowledge the political realities" (yadda yadda) and adopt a more "bipartisan" approach. A lot of Republicans claim to support health care -- just not the particular approach being put forth by the Democratic Congress. Shifting gears, particularly to a bill like Wyden-Bennett that is strong on cost containment, would reveal many of them to be hypocrites, but probably also secure enough of their votes to make passage a likelihood.

4. Hope the Economy Gets Better (or Some Other Secular Change in Momentum). In general, I'm pessimistic about the state of the economy insofar as it will affect Obama's political capital. Even if the economy formally pulls out of a recession -- some economists think we're already out of the recession -- it will take some time before the employment picture turns around. The past week, however, has brought some relatively good economic news and the Dow is now hovering at about 8,800 points, around its 6-month highs. If the next monthly jobs report is better than expected, if the Dow somehow rallies past 10,000, or if the recession is declared over, that might give Obama a little bit of actual momentum which may be amplified by the Washington press corps, which by that point will have tired of the "Obama is melting!" storyline and may be looking to describe his "comeback" instead.
Of the four scenarios, #1 is clearly the approach Obama needs to take, especially the hardball approach to Democrats. Once a bill is put up to vote, Democrats who vote against it need to be shown the door. All the debate and amendments and riders aside, when the final bill comes up for a vote, every Democrat needs to back it. If not, Obama needs to make it clear that there will be consequences, and dire ones...and follow up on them.

#2 is something of a last resort. It would make the health care bill vulnerable to a five year sunset period, like No Child Left Behind. It would have to be constantly renewed, and there will come a time when the Republicans will be less stupid and have more power than they have now. That's dangerous, far too easily screwed with by the GOP, and may cut off millions of people at a time they need the program the most. Too risky.

#3 is the least desirable idea. The bottom line is while Wyden-Bennett does have some great things going for it (portability, a health insurance exchange) it still doesn't have a public option, and without one, it's not going to happen. It's still one of those Judd Gregg-type plans where we force everyone to buy health insurance from the insurance companies, and the kind of coverage they are going to get is going to be high deductible "catastrophic only" coverage where one hospital stay will still bankrupt a person. We wouldn't have 50 million uninsured, we'd have 50 million underinsured. It would also remove the tax deduction for employers, causing most of them to stop offering insurance, putting a hell of a lot of Americans on the self-insured path. Without some sort of union/group/co-op to go with this, we'd have 300 million self-insured, most likely underinsured people. Sure, you couldn't be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. You'd just have to pay three times as much in premiums as the next guy. No, #3, a Republican plan with no public option and mandates, means a big fat gift of 50 million new customers to the country's health insurance giants and no incentive to compete. What are you going to do, offer the guy with cancer a lower premium, just so you can have the honor of covering his chemo? There's no profit in that. And insurance companies are in business to make profit. Obama will never sign it, and it's moot because it'll never pass.

#4, the economy getting better? Not anytime soon. We're going to be in double digit unemployment well into 2011. Any prediction the economy is getting better will be only a temporary thing. The Dow may be up a bit right now based on stellar bank earnings, but the reality is our economy is badly wounded. Not enough to hope for, but it could be a wild card down the road.

In order of probability, I'd have to go with 1, 2, 4, 3. Obama would have to completely lose the narrative for #3 to happen, which is why opponents are pushing for a fatal delay to 2010. Should that be the case, you can bet #3 will be back on the table as "the only alternative" in 2011...minus all the Democrats who got zapped for not coming through on health care in 2009. It just exists so the Republicans can say they have a health care plan (massive subsidies to Big Pharma and the insurance giants), much like they had a stimulus package (TAXEN CUTTEN UBER ALLES), a budget plan (TAXEN CUTTEN UBER ALLES) and a climate change plan (massive ethanol subsidies to farm states.)

We'll see how this plays out.

Two Faces Of Dave

Via D-Day, Jameson Foser puts together the timeline on NBC's David Gregory... giving Mark Sanford's office a "friendly outlet" on one hand...and attacking the White House for giving a heads up to HuffPo's Nico Pitney for asking a question on the other.
Here's an email Gregory sent to an aide to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, in an effort to book Sanford on Meet the Press:

Hey Joel ...

Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it's exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.

Let's talk when you can.

That was on June 24 -- just four days before Gregory grilled Axelrod about coordinating the subject of questions with reporters.

Gregory later followed up with another email:

[C]oming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to...and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.

So, Gregory was not only coordinating with Sanford's staff about what topics Gregory would ask Sanford about, should the South Carolina Governor agree to appear on Meet the Press -- he was telling the aide he would allow Sanford to "frame the conversation how you really want to."

And then, just a few days later, Gregory took to the air to denounce the White House and Nico Pitney for coordinating about the subject of a question. Incredible.

Naah. Just the Village at work. It's what they do. HuffPo and other bloggers (well, other bloggers besides me anyway) are a threat to the Village hierarchy. If David Gregory can't act as a fixer, then what purpose does he serve?

Actual journalism?

A $26.3 Billion Popularity Contest

The always awesome Digby discusses the train wreck that is the impending California "budget deal"...that will be made up of accounting sleight of hand, massive program cuts affecting everybody, and outright theft from local governments.
What with doomsday now upon us here in California, I think it's a good moment to look back just a few short years ago to see what the effects of turning our politics into circus sideshow really are.

Back in 2003, when everyone in the country was pretending that Junior was Winston Churchill and the nation was in full blown worship of phony macho posturing, here in California we were bored and decided to see what would happen if we simply deposed a guy who seemed kind of pansyish in favor of a Hollywood movie star who would entertain us with his colorful slogans and fancy family.

The "issue" that supposedly precipitated this little tantrum was the required restoration to earlier higher rates for car registration, brought about by a weakening of the economy. The media went wild, even friends of mine who know absolutely nothing about politics pretended to be enraged that they would be forced to pay $30.00 more a year and they all went out and voted to recall the Governor and replace him with The Terminator.

That recall was a political sideshow of epic proportions, featuring porn stars, Gary Coleman and even Arianna. It was great fun. Standing in line to vote that day -- the longest line I'd ever experienced at the ballot box --- was like being at an American Idol party.
The old phrase "Politics isn't policy, it's perception" was never more true than in California's 2003 "Who Wants To Be A Governor?" race. It was one big marketing campaign, and the public was duped into a popularity contest rather than worrying about how to actually fix the problems.
Arnold Schwarzenneger was as much of a clown as Gary Coleman was during that election. But he was big box office and very wealthy so nobody cared. Indeed, the fact that he spoke in nothing but stale cliches and stupid bumper stickers made people like him all the more.

The single most important thing that Schwarzenneger has done is keep the state from raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. That's what he was sent to do and he did it. And look where we are today. I'm not saying that Gray Davis could have saved the state. The system is broken and nobody couldn't have headed this off entirely. But I'm afraid that we are going to have to reform more than the state constitution to fix things. We need to reform politics itself somehow, convince people that it isn't American Idol or the World Series, or the ruling class will always be able to afford to put on a show whenever they need to manipulate the folks and the folks will probably fall for it.
I think only the pain of a $26 billion shortfall eliminating thousands of jobs, all but annhiliating the safety net, decimating programs for the poor and for seniors and blowing a gaping hole in education will make people finally get serious about politics. There's a reason why America's seniors, those who grew up during the first Great Depression and WWII, take voting so seriously. They remember first hand what it means when politics becomes about the perpetuation of power and not helping the people. Since 1980 we've lost that, since Reagan. Really, I think it was since Kennedy and Johnson's world turning to ashes that we lost what it meant. Camelot and the Great Society became the Me Generation and "greed is good".

So yes, that popularity contest six years ago had a bit of a price tag on it. We're all going to pay, state governments besides California still have a $175 billion or so shortfall to deal with. California's just the biggest petri dish for this little experiment in governance. One-eighth of the country has a $26 billion shortfall, the other seven-eighths have another $175 billion to go. On a per capita basis, we're all just as screwed as California should the other 49 states also go for Option A and refuse to raise taxes.

For us to be serious about government, we're going to have to go through pain. Lots of it.

That's a cheery thought eh?

At Least Obama Knows The GOP Plan

After all, he's always the one being demonized. It's a smart political play to remind the public that the only issue the GOP seems to care about is stopping Obama's agenda, not helping the American people. Last week, Jim DeMint (R-Mark Sanford Country) said:
"This health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America. If we lose this, we’ll probably have half of our economy in some way controlled by the federal government. We can’t allow that to happen. And on the other side of it, if we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him. And we will show that we can – along with the American people – begin to push those freedom solutions that work in every area of our society."
Obama today responded:
“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” the president quoted DeMint as saying. “Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking American families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy. We can’t afford the politics of delay and defeat."
The GOP Plan has long been Destroy Obama. But being so bloody obvious about it has given the President the means to counterattack the GOP with, and I'm hoping this will finally shift the debate in Obama's favor to the point where even the Village will have to capitulate.

Obama Derangement Syndrome is not a valid health care reform plan.

Underpants Gnomes, Inc.

From CNBC:
The $3 billion in rescue financing that CIT Group will receive from bondholders will be split into two pieces, CNBC has learned.

The struggling lender will receive $2 billion in the first phase, followed by an additional $1 billion that may come 10 days later.
So, to sum up CIT Group's business plan:

Phase 1: Get $2 billion at 10% plus LIBOR.

Phase 2: Get another $1 billion at 10% plus LIBOR 10 days later.

Phase 3: ???????

Phase 4: PROFIT!

Birther Of A Nation, Part 2

Via Obsidian Wings:

Also, after Delaware GOP Rep. Mike Castle's town hall meeting was interrupted here, somebody brought in Red Dawn on DVD and a couple of those 55-gallon drum sized bags of cheese puffs, and some Faygo Redpop.

A good time was had by all.


At Least Someone's Hiring

CNN is reporting that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he's going to expand the U.S. Armed Forces by 20,000 troops.
The goal is to ease the strain of deployment, as many troops have faced repeated lengthy rotations in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Gates said last week the military was considering "whether to provide for a temporary increase in the end-strength of the Army that would ease some of the pressures. And, frankly, I expect to be making a decision on that within the next week.
Sure, 20,000 more troops. Why not?

Hell, the way things are going, we'll need them here.

Does This Qualify As Terrorism?

Via Think Progress, anti-abortion group Operation Rescue's founder is vowing 'violent convulsions' should a public health care option include funding for abortion.
“Nevertheless, the sheer horror and frustration of such an evil policy will lead some people to absolutely refuse to pay their taxes. And I believe — if my reading of history from America and around the world is correct — that there are others who will be tempted to acts of violence.

“If the government of this country tramples the faith and values of its citizens, history will hold those in power responsible for the violent convulsions that follow.” — Randall Terry

So, Randall Terry is publicly advocating the threat of violence as a method to affect a change in political policy, which if I'm correct is the post 9/11 definition of terrorism.

My question is this: given we've already seen anti-abortion groups follow through with these threats before by killing doctors, exactly when does the Obama Homeland Security Department and Janet Napolitano start classifying these groups as domestic terrorists?

I'm being deadly honest here. No matter what your personal feelings on abortion are, you start killing people or threatening violence in order to try to change politics, you're a terrorist, plain and simple. Some kind of manifesto comes across like this from Bin Laden, there would be no doubt. So when these crackpots are telegraphing a violent uprising coming, why don't we have the full force of the U.S. Government on these guys?

What will it take?

Epic Entire Freakin' Economy Fail

Because of this:
U.S. taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $23.7 trillion to bail out financial companies, according to Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Barofsky made the estimate in testimony prepared for a congressional hearing tomorrow.


That's $23,700,000,000,000. Like, twice our current entire national debt, and some change.

Hahaha. We're destitute. We're broke. We're busted. This is staggering.

I need a drink, except I'm pretty sure that with my share of the national debt plus this ($114 million by my back of the iPhone numbers) I can't afford it.

Oh, and EPIC WIN for Neil Barofsky doing his job.

[UPDATE 3:31 PM] Politico has more.

A series of bailouts, bank rescues and other economic lifelines could end up costing the federal government as much as $23 trillion, the U.S. government’s watchdog over the effort says – a staggering amount that is nearly double the nation’s entire economic output for a year.

If the feds end up spending that amount, it could be more than the federal government has spent on any single effort in American history.

For the government to be on the hook for the total amount, worst-case scenarios would have to come to pass in a variety of federal programs, which is unlikely, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s financial bailout programs, in testimony prepared for delivery to the House oversight committee Tuesday.

The Treasury Department says less than $2 trillion has been spent so far.

Still, the enormity of the IG’s projection underscores the size of the economic disaster that hit the nation over the past year and the unprecedented sums mobilized by the federal government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to confront it.

In fact, $23 trillion is more than the total cost of all the wars the United States has ever fought, put together. World War II, for example, cost $4.1 trillion in 2008 dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Even the Moon landings and the New Deal didn’t come close to $23 trillion: the Moon shot in 1969 cost an estimated $237 billion in current dollars, and the entire Depression-era Roosevelt relief program came in at $500 billion, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research.

The annual gross domestic product of the United States is just over $14 trillion.

I know this is a worst case scenario, but...shouldn't we be, I don't know, paying attention to the worst case scenarios these days?

The Return Of The Revenge Of The Son Of Subprime

Seems you can teach a old dog new tricks as subprime mortgage brokers are recycling themselves as loan modification agents.

“We just changed the script and changed the product we were selling,” said Mr. Soussana, who ran the Los Angeles sales office of Federal Loan Modification Law Center. The new script: You got a raw deal, and “Now, we’re able to help you out because we understand your lender.”

Mr. Soussana’s partners at FedMod, as the company is known, were also products of the formerly lucrative world of high-risk lending. The managing partner, Nabile Anz, known as Bill, previously co-owned Mortgage Link, a California subprime lender, now defunct, that once sold $30 million worth of loans a month.

Jeffrey Broughton, one of FedMod’s initial partners, served as director of business development at Pacific First Mortgage, a lender that extended so-called Alt-A mortgages for borrowers with tarnished credit for Countrywide Financial, which lost billions of dollars on bad mortgages before being rescued in an acquisition.

FedMod is but one example of how many of the same people who dispensed risky mortgages during the real estate bubble have reconstituted themselves into a new industry focused on selling loan modifications.

Despite making promises of relief to homeowners desperate to keep their homes, FedMod and other profit making loan modification firms often fail to deliver, according to a New York Times investigation based on interviews with scores of former employees and customers, more than 650 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, and documents filed by the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit against the company.

The suit, filed in California federal court, asserts that FedMod frequently exaggerated its rates of success, advised clients to stop making their mortgage payments, did little or nothing to modify loans and failed to promptly refund fees. The suit seeks an end to FedMod’s practices, and compensation for customers.

Our job was to get the money in and then we’re done,” said Paul Pejman, a former sales agent who worked out of FedMod’s two-story headquarters in Irvine, Calif. He recounted his experience, he said, because “I really feel bad.”

“I had people calling me crying, and we were telling them, ‘You can pay me or you can lose your house,’ ” Mr. Pejman said. “People were giving me every dime they had, opening credit cards. But I never saw one client come out of it with a successful loan modification.”

Mr. Anz, who is challenging the F.T.C. lawsuit, acknowledged that FedMod’s business went “horribly wrong,” but he maintains the company made genuine efforts to help delinquent borrowers. He said FedMod has refunded fees to 3,000 dissatisfied customers, while modifying 1,500 mortgages.
Same song, different key. The REFI NOW HISTORICALLY LOW RATES! push still goes on, still preys on the uniformed homeowner, still takes their money, still leaves them in a place where they are financially ruined.

You want to know another reason why Obama's mortgage relief program isn't working? Because the mortgage mill's "relief program" is working.

Good thing we gave the banks all that money to keep these guys in business, huh?

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Ross Douthat: Still 0-for-whatever in the persuasive argument category.
A system designed to ensure the advancement of minorities will tend toward corruption if it persists for generations, even after the minorities have become a majority. If affirmative action exists in the America of 2028, it will be as a spoils system for the already-successful, a patronage machine for politicians — and a source of permanent grievance among America’s shrinking white population.
Look, I hope America doesn't need affirmative action in 2028 either, but somehow looking at the state of the Republican Party's non-White numbers, I just don't see anyone setting up a patronage system to assure their near-majority status may cross into the double digits in 20 years.

God help us should that happen.

[UPDATE 12:03 PM] What Doug J said, and has said much better than I have.

Kill The Interloper! Rip Out Its Lifeforce!

Bill Kristol smells blood, and wants to know why the GOP and the Village haven't butchered and stuffed the corpse of Obamacare yet and presented to him as a cheery billiards room gift.
So this is not the time to let them off the ropes. This is the week to highlight every problem, every terrible provision, in the Democratic bills: from taxes and spending to government control and rationing to federal funding for abortion and government-required death-with-dignity counseling sessions for the elderly. Throw the kitchen sink at the legislation now on the table, drive a stake through its heart (I apologize for the mixed metaphors), and kill it.

Then opponents can say, of course we do want to pass sensible health reform. But to do so, we need to start over.

So the constructive part of the message would be: Start Over. We're not giving up on health reform. Far from it. But the only way to pass health reform is first to get rid of the misbegotten efforts now before Congress. The only way to pass health reform is to start over in the fall. The Obama plan wouldn't go into effect until 2013 anyway (except the tax increases, which would kick in in 2011). We have plenty of time to work next year on sensible and targeted health reform in a bipartisan way. But first we need to get rid of Obamacare. Now is the time to do so.

As the motto of my college women's soccer team went, "blood makes the grass grow." No surprise then that as I noted yesterday, Kristol is running the same playbook from 93 on Hillarycare for much the same reason: Obamacare passes, the GOP is toast for a generation.

And when Kristol mentions "sensible and targeted health reform in a bipartisan way" keep in mind what the GOP means by that:

Make everyone buy health care coverage from a private insurer, subsidize it for poor people (also help out self-employed people some too, but you'd still force 20 million people to self-insure at soul-crushing premiums), then make it high-deductible "catastrophic event" insurance that means people don't get treated unless they pay tens of thousands up front for a $100,000 plus hospital stay. It's funneling money directly to the insurance companies and still rationing people's health care by their ability to pay, and is all but worthless should you actually need it. Should you not, hey, your mandated premiums go straight to the insurance companies anyway.
They have to kill real reform to set up their plan to shovel cash and millions of new forced customers to the insurance giants. They won a partial victory sixteen years ago. Have the Republicans lowered your health care costs since then?

[UPDATE 11:29 AM] And one reason why Obama has that 20-point edge over the GOP on health care is that some Republicans have no idea what the hell the debate is even about.

How I fix health care?

Pulling The TARP Over Our Eyes Again

Oh here's a shocker. Give banks taxpayer money with no oversight to lend to consumers, and then discover several months later they spent it on themselves instead.

Many of the banks that got federal aid to support increased lending have instead used some of the money to make investments, repay debts or buy other banks, according to a new report from the special inspector general overseeing the government's financial rescue program.

The report, which will be published Monday, surveyed 360 banks that got money through the end of January and found that 110 had invested at least some of it, that 52 had repaid debts and that 15 had used funds to buy other banks.

Roughly 80 percent of respondents, or 300 banks, also said at least some of the money had supported new lending.

The report by special inspector general Neil Barofsky calls on the Treasury Department to require regular, more detailed information from banks about their use of federal aid provided under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Treasury has refused to collect such information.

Doing so is "essential to meet Treasury's stated goal of bringing transparency to the TARP program and informing the American people and their representatives in Congress about what is being done with their money," the report said.

In a written response, the Treasury again rejected that call. Officials have taken the view that the exact use of the federal aid cannot be tracked because money given to a bank is like water poured into an ocean.

"Although it might be tempting to do so, it is not possible to say that investment of TARP dollars resulted in particular loans, investments or other activities by the recipient," Herbert M. Allison Jr., the assistant Treasury secretary who administers the rescue program, wrote in a letter to Barofsky.

Let me stop that particular locomotive and back it on up there for ya. The Treasury Department, the guys charged with keeping track of the nation's money, say it's too hard for the people whose job it is is to keep track of other people's money to actually keep track of other people's money.

Jesus wept. (The Flying Spaghetti Monster threw a Noodly fit, too.) Why does Timmy have a job again? Honestly? We're giving banks trillions and we're not tracking it "exactly" because...why? The taxpayer money we're giving away is what, just too much money to f'ckin track? Is this not a massive, massive problem?

The report provides the most comprehensive look to date at how banks have used the money, based on voluntary responses to a March survey. Banks were asked to describe how they used the money, but they were not asked to break down the amounts.

One response, which the report described as typical, said the money had been used "to make loans to credit worthy customers, and to facilitate resolution of problem assets on our books."

Banks won't give exact numbers on what they used the billions for. This is a bank doing this.

TARP is the best government program ever.

That "Poll Asked" Look

Steve Benen dissects this morning's ABC/WaPo poll on the President and his policies, and finds that while Obama's overall numbers are slipping, it's not translating into gains for the GOP.
Overall, President Obama's approval rating stands at 59%, similar to the latest results from Gallup. It's the first time he's slipped below the 60% plateau in this poll, but all things being equal, 59% is still fairly strong support. The president's approval ratings on specific issue areas has slipped -- his strongest support is on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, his weakest is in dealing with the budget deficit -- but his leadership attributes remain high.

The president's GOP detractors will no doubt be pleased by these results, but on some key areas, Obama is still strongly favored over Republicans. While the gaps have narrowed a bit, the president has a 23-point lead over the minority part on economic policy, a 20-point lead on health care, and a 19-point lead on the deficit. Overall, just 36% approve of how Republicans in Congress are doing their job -- 11 percentage points lower than the congressional majority.

By comparison, at this point in Clinton's first term, Republicans were far more competitive -- Clinton led the GOP, for example, on the economy by just five points (45% to 40%) at this point in 1993.

Specifically on health care, poll respondents were asked, "Thinking about health care, one proposal to insure nearly everyone would require all Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax, excluding those with lower incomes. It would require most employers to offer health coverage or pay a fee. There would be a government-run plan to compete with private insurers. And income taxes on people earning more than 280-thousand dollars a year would be raised to help fund the program. Taken together, would you support or oppose this plan? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?"

Despite the wording of the question, 54% said they support this plan as it was described. The support was higher among Democrats and independents.

Again, with Obama having a 23 point edge on the GOP on the issue of the economy and 20 on health care, and with the GOP's approval rating at 36%, what exactly makes the Republicans think they're winning anything right now?

Obama still has a 19 point edge on the GOP on the issue of the budget deficit. Clearly, voters remember that the Republicans spent trillions of dollars on an unnecessary war and tax cuts for the weathiest Americans and are now not happy seeing where we are financially as a result.

Yeah, Obama's lost some Republican support. Surprise! But by a large margin, the American people still trust Obama over the GOP.

Conservative Democrats should remember that. The GOP is overplaying their hand here, I think. The return of the motivated "Yes We Can" Obama is going to cause the GOP some serious heartburn here over the next couple of weeks.

Everyone Wants It, Nobody Wants To Pay For It

Everyone wants universal health coverage. The problem is paying for it. Nobody actually wants to do it, not the rich who can afford it, not the poor who can't afford it, and certainly not state governments facing a $200 billion collective shortfall over the next two years (and that's *with* the stimulus bill.)
The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern Sunday about the shape of the health care plan emerging from Congress, fearing that Washington was about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without money to pay for them.

The role of the states in a restructured health care system dominated the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here this weekend — with bipartisan animosity voiced against the plan during a closed-door luncheon on Saturday and in a private meeting on Sunday with the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

“I think the governors would all agree that what we don’t want from the federal government is unfunded mandates,” said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, the group’s incoming chairman. “We can’t have the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb beyond our capacity to do so.”

The governors’ backlash creates yet another health care headache for the Obama administration, which has tried to recruit state leaders to pressure members of Congress to wrap up their fitful negotiations. Both Ms. Sebelius, who was Kansas’ governor before she joined the cabinet in April, and the federal Medicaid chief, Cindy Mann, made appearances at the meeting on Sunday. Meanwhile, other administration officials spent the day pushing President Obama’s proposal on television talk shows.

Mr. Obama also plans to address questions about his health plan at a news conference on Wednesday evening.

Ms. Sebelius emerged from her hour-long meeting with the governors saying that “there’s a recognition that states don’t have cash right now” and that “it’s difficult to send states the bill if they don’t have the money.”
Well no kidding there. If you haven't noticed, states are friggin' broke and will continue to be friggin broke until entitlements programs are slashed or taxes are raised, or a combination of both. Obama's not going to bail them out.

Here's the issue, and I know it's shocking, but...nobody likes paying taxes. Again, America, your choices at the state level (ans they are not allowed deficit spending) are A) annihilate the support programs you need and want most in a time like this, B) pay more taxes, C) both.

What's it going to be? And before you say "slash government!" keep an eye on California. They've chosen option A.
Schwarzenegger is ruling out tax increases, so lawmakers in both parties have been coming to terms with significant cuts in state government, including spending for schools and universities. Final issues on the table include borrowing from local governments, setting aside emergency funds, and whether to guarantee that schools later will be repaid money lost to the recession-driven crisis.

McLear said before Sunday's talks collapsed that negotiators were "certainly in a position where we could close this very quickly … but we still have some issues to work out."

State DMV offices were closed Friday, one of the most visible events for taxpayers in a series of government-wide furloughs and service cutbacks. Voters this year overwhelmingly rejected tax increases as part of a budget fix worked out in an earlier agreement.

The state is running short of cash and has no budget in place, so it has begun issuing IOUs as payment for bills from thousands of state vendors. Some banks are not honoring the IOUs.

Meanwhile, the largest state employee union is seeking authorization for a walkout or other job action by its members, who have been put on furloughs and face potential wage cuts. The Service Employees International Union represents 95,000 of more than 200,000 state workers.

The question at this point actually isn't which of the three options Americans will choose at the state level.

It's now a question of how close to California's disastrous "solution" will your state get. 30 years of being told taxes were the greatest evil in history without any real spending reforms has led to this. Something's got to give. It's just a question now of how badly it's going to go now.

Tehran Calling: Part 6

Weekend events in Iran were still bloody and filled with protest, with another wave of demonstrations fueled by Friday's arrest of 36 military officers who planned to attend Friday's prayer service led by former President Rafsanjani in military uniform to protest the Iranian regime.
The officers intended the gesture to show solidarity with the demonstrations against last month's presidential election result, which was won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but which has been clouded by allegations of mass fraud.

Rafsanjani used the sermon at Tehran university to challenge the authority of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by questioning the result in the presence of the defeated reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and tens of thousands of his supporters.
The Frog Pond's Steven D has a great wrap-up of more of Friday's events. Meanwhile, yesterday, opposition candidate and former Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi attacked the Iranian regime, calling the June election full of "thoughtless and clear lies."
Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi, who ran last in the June 12 election, compared government claims that it had not attacked his supporters to the statements that came out of the Iranian monarchy in the days before the 1979 revolution that established the Islamic republic, according to Iran's Aftab news agency.

"How do they try to say that they do not confront people violently or to blame others? All of this took place in front of people's eyes," Karrubi told supporters, according to Aftab. "They kill the youth in front of people's eyes and then say that they didn't have firearms. As a member of this system, I am embarrassed of these thoughtless and clear lies."

There were reports Friday that Karrubi himself was roughed up by members of the Basij, the paramilitary force loyal to Iran's hardline leadership. CNN could not independently verify those reports at the time, but Karrubi said he was "assaulted" and that his turban was knocked off, according to Aftab.

He called the official denials "truly astonishing" in light of the widespread distribution of digital pictures and video from the demonstrations that have followed the elections.

"It reminds me of the time just prior to the victory of the Islamic revolution," Karrubi said, according to Aftab.

"Now it seems that all those events are repeating themselves. They have lied to the people, to the point that any false rumors will be taken as truths."

More than a month after the elections, protests continue in Iran and opposition leaders are gaining momentum with the people. Crackdowns by the Khamanei regime are not breaking the populace. Tehran continues to burn and will for some time now.


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