The Obama Administration

The Supreme Court, Health Care Reform, and Electoral Politics

(Flickr / TimmyGUNZ)
Last week I participated in a roundtable that on these issues, along with other GW faculty from public health and law—Sara Rosenbaum, Peter Smith, and Katherine Hayes—as well as former U.S. Senate Finance Committee staffer Mark Hayes and former House Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee Counsel Andy Schneider. You can find a synopsis here and the video here . My remarks centered on implications of health care reform for the 2012 election (as I previously wrote about here ). How might the Court’s decision affect the politics of the issue for the election? First, it’s likely that the Court’s decision—no matter what it is—won’t much affect overall public support or opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Court decisions often simply polarize approval—as in this study of Roe v. Wade. There are already early indicators that this will happen. In a March 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation poll , respondents were asked how they would feel if the court rules the individual mandate unconstitutional...

A Surprise World Bank Pick

(AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
President Barack Obama startled handicappers by selecting Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim as the U.S. candidate to lead the World Bank rather than the reported front-runner Larry Summers, Obama's former National Economic Council director. The Korean-born Kim is a medical doctor, anthropologist, and MacArthur fellow, best known for his pioneering work to fight HIV and tuberculosis in the Third World. Kim helped develop treatments for drug-resistant TB, and then successfully pushed to reduced the cost of anti-TB drugs. He is close associate of Dr. Paul Farmer, the lead founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s 2003 book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. While Third World leaders had pushed for an alternative to Summers, Kim was a total surprise. The appointment is a two-fer in the sense that it gives the job both to an American and to an Asian, as well as a welcome breakthrough in that the presidency goes to someone with on-the-ground work fighting poverty and disease as...

Precedents for the Unprecedented

(Flickr/thesussman)
Here are quotes from an anguished brief filed with the United States Supreme Court: “the present statute . . .departs markedly from any prior statute sustained as an exercise of the commerce power. . . .” It “is incapable of being regarded as within the scope of any of the other statutes or decisions.” Further, “there is no statutory precedent to support the Solicitor General's position in this case.” That position “is founded on a concept of the interstate commerce clause which has never been recognized by the Courts. While the wisdom of legislation is a matter for the Congress it is within the Court's proper prerogative to look with deep concern at an assertion of power never heretofore upheld.” That brief was filed in the 1964 case of Katzenbach v. McClung. Two months later the Supreme Court decided that Congress did have the power to “regulate commerce” by requiring Ollie’s Barbecue, a family restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, to serve African-Americans in its dining room. But the...

Dems Want Obama to Hurry Up His Evolution

(Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)
Like Paul , I'm convinced that any candidate who doesn't support marriage equality will instantly be disqualified as a plausible Democratic presidential nominee following Obama. Acceptance for same-sex marriage is growing rapidly across all ideological divides, and is particularly pronounced among liberals. In an alternative reality where the Democrats had an open primary in 2012, Obama's "evolving" stance on same-sex marriage would no longer pass muster in the Democratic base. Obama's former opponent and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton has already shifted her views , supporting marriage equality when it was up for debate in New York. And just look at the language of the up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party. Two of the leading 2016 possibilities—Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley—are governors who staked out legalized marriage equality as their major accomplishment. Now another politician bandied about as a future Democratic leader is attacking Obama's wishy-washy...

Pick Me! Pick Me!

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Why does Larry Summers have more lives than a cat? He was fired as president of Harvard, did not exactly serve President Obama brilliantly as economic policy czar, and now seems to be in line for the presidency of the World Bank, a post traditionally chosen by the president of the United States. The deadline for the selection is this Friday, March 23. The appointment is supposed to be made official at the April meeting of the World Bank. Earlier this month, the White House leaked a short list of three names, Summers plus U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry—neither of whom want the job. Brilliantly subtle signaling, that. Pointedly excluded from the list was Columbia University economist and world citizen Jeff Sachs, an adviser to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a very serious crusader against world poverty. Sachs took the unprecedented and marvelously transparent step of nominating himself and publicly campaigning for the job, but he is a onetime...

Obama Doesn't Have a Small-Donor Problem

(Flickr/401K)
Mitt Romney's struggle to attract small-dollar donors has been well documented . Just 10 percent of his money has come from donations of less than $200, while the vast majority of his money has come from nearly maxed-out contributions. Even though Newt Gingrich lags by a wide margin in overall funding, he's managed to gather more money from small donors, $8.8 million to Romney's $6.4 million. The fundraising gap is large enough thanks to wealthy donors that Romney should be fine for the remaining primaries, but it could spell trouble for the general election. Romney has a smaller base of donors to turn to for further contributions, and the tepid rate of small checks is an indication that Romney has failed to trigger much excitement among regular voters. Now that's being flipped by The Washington Post , which ran an article speculating that Obama is in trouble by relying too much on small-figure donors: But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing...

Axelrod to Republicans: Let My People Vote

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Barack Obama's former right-hand man accused Republicans of passing laws to shut out Democrats from voting in the next presidential election. "There's no doubt that Republican legislatures and governors across this country have made an attempt to try to win the elections in 2012 and 2011 by passing laws that are restrictive, that are meant to discourage participation, particularly by key constituencies that have voted Democratic in the past," said David Axelrod, former White House official and current senior advisor to the Obama campaign. The comments were made in an online Q&A following the premiere of "The Road We Traveled," a 17-minute film directed by David Guggenheim and produced by the Obama campaign. Questions were submitted over Twitter, and the topics ranged from how the president will handle Iran to whether Axelrod ever got in arguments with fellow senior advisor David Plouffe. The final question posed to Axelrod was about the string of laws Republican state legislatures...

What Does the ACA Do for You?

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the landmark piece of policy for Obama's first term. Save perhaps his response to the Great Recession, the ACA is likely to be the primary measure by which his presidency will be judged in the history books. As long as it is fully implemented, it should help millions of uninsured Americans by shifting more people onto Medicaid, providing subsidies for low-income workers, and forbidding insurance companies from excluding customers based on past illness. The Obama campaign released an interactive flow chart yesterday. One inputs their demographic data—age, sex, and income, for example—and the program spits out various ways the ACA has improved your health-care coverage. As someone who has private insurance, it showed me a list of services my insurance will now be required to cover at no extra charge and highlighted the fact that 80 percent of my monthly payments must be used on funding health service. It also informed me that, thanks to my salary level,...

A Stealth Attack on Democratic Governance

Why are Obama trade negotiators pushing the extreme Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why is it being negotiated in such an untransparent manner?

AP Photo
It takes quite a “trade” agreement to undermine financial regulation, increase drug prices, flood us with unsafe imported food and products, ban Buy America policies aimed at recovery and redevelopment, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards before tribunals of corporate lawyers. Trade, in fact, is the least of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Backdoor deregulation and imposition of new corporate investor and patent rights via trade negotiation began in the 1990s with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But the TPP now threatens a slow-motion stealth attack against a century of progressive domestic policy. At stake is nothing less than a democratic society’s ability to regulate a market economy in the broad public interest. Under the framework now being negotiated, U.S. states and the federal government would be obliged to bring our existing and future policies into compliance with expansive norms...

Is Barack Obama the First Jewish President?

The White House seder in 2010 (Pete Souza)
If Bill Clinton was the first black president, as Toni Morrison famously observed, then could Barack Obama be the first Jewish president? That's the interesting case Jeffrey Goldberg makes at The Atlantic . Goldberg tells how he gave Obama a copy of a new Haggadah he contributed to: When I handed him the Haggadah, President Obama, who famously stages his own seders at the White House, (which is a very nice philo-Semitic thing to do, IMHO) spent a moment leafing through it and making approving noises. Then he said (as I told the Times): "Does this mean we can't use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?" George W. Bush was, in his own way, a philo-Semite, but he never would have made such an M.O.T. kind of joke (see the end of this post if you're not sure what M.O.T. means). Once again, Barack Obama was riffing off the cosmic joke that he is somehow anti-Semitic, when in fact, as many people understand, he is the most Jewish president we've ever had (except for Rutherford B. Hayes). No...

When Do We Get to See Obama's Radicalism?

So this is the plan to dismantle capitalism? Excellent.
Last week I wrote a post mocking conservatives for their relentless search for the next secret videotape that will expose Barack Obama as a dangerous radical, the latest of which was the shocking revelation that as a law student, he supported his professor Derrick Bell's efforts to diversify the Harvard Law School faculty. Unsurprisingly, conservatives reacted by saying that I just didn't get it ( here 's a sample). It's worth saying a bit more about this phenomenon, because we surely haven't seen the last of it, both in the campaign and in Obama's second term, should he win one. The search for the radical associations in Obama's pre-political history began almost as soon as Obama's presidential candidacy began in 2007. Some conservatives (and that's an important qualifier; many conservatives understand that this stuff is nuts) have been positively obsessed with uncovering Obama's radical associations. They have also insisted that those associations are closer than anyone thinks. So...

You Want to Kill Bad Guys? Prove That They’re Bad.

Last week, I took a break from my regularly scheduled gender beat to be grieved , as a citizen, about the Obama administration’s newly announced policy that asserted, as Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times : … that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible. A friend called me to argue with me about my recoil, saying that surely I had misunderstood. There is a process, my friend argued, a very reasonable one: Administration officials define someone as a terrorist who’s an imminent threat to the U.S., and are reviewed by a Congressional committee. So I went back and checked. That’s not what Holder said. He outlined some possible scenarios that would justify extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, but he did not limit the President’s power to those scenarios. And he said that the administration would...

Hold Off on the Obama Victory Dance

The president's re-election chances have improved, but Obama faces severe tests on energy and national security.

(Flickr/Tyler Driscoll/Obama for America)
Things have been breaking well for President Obama. Economically, job growth has outperformed expectations. The unemployment rate could be below 8 percent by Election Day. Politically, Republicans are engaged in the sort of demolition derby once reserved for Democrats. The protracted Hillary-Barack duel of 2008 seems like a love feast compared to the Mitt and Rick slugfest. All this is reflected in the president’s rising approval ratings. However, Obama faces a daunting two-part challenge related to Iran’s nuclear assertions, with implications for both national security and sustainable energy. A misstep could cost him the presidency and cause the country to take a disastrously wrong turn in these two critical areas. Iran’s threat to mine the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s crude oil passes, is roiling oil markets. Five--dollar gas this summer will help neither the economy nor the president’s re-election. Obama has used the gathering Iranian crisis to redouble...

Faux Federalism

(Flickr/tarsandsaction)
The central fact of American federalism, as I’ve written before , is hypocrisy. Witness H.R. 1433 , the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012, passed on February 28 by the House of Representatives. The Act targets Kelo v. City of New London , the 2005 decision in which the Court announced that the Fifth Amendment does not forbid state governments from using their power of eminent domain to acquire—at fair market prices—private property for use in economic development projects. Eminent domain is a power limited by the Constitution to taking property “for public use” and with “just compensation.” But some states interpreted “public use” to mean incorporation in public-private developments like the mixed use development at stake in Kelo —a corporate research facility, shops and restaurants, a hotel, and a park. The right hates Kelo a lot worse than it hates the federal government. Not long ago, in fact, Justice Antonin Scalia compared the case to Dred Scott v. Sandford , the...

As the Economy Goes, So Do the Birthers

Andy Borowitz wrote a piece called “In Positive Economic Sign, Republicans Starting to Say Obama Wasn’t Born in US,” and Barry Ritholz writes : The NYT ’s Floyd Norris, on a hunch, decided to crunch them to see if there is any math underlying the funny business. As it turns out, there is: Anyone can check the numbers to see if Borowitz was right — he is. Then there are these graphs: And this: You will note that birther mentions skyrocketed in the spring of 2011, after a run of increasingly good job numbers, and then fell off along with the job numbers later that year. Now, with the job numbers rising again, so are the birther stories. So far in March there are 263 articles, putting us on a pace to break the monthly record set in April 2011 when Donald Trump was trying to be the birther candidate. I like fun correlations as much as the next guy, but there is nothing to see here. When you download the data , a better graph quickly shows how little is going on here: The overall...

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