Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 23, 2014

November 21, 2014

Is Obama’s Use of Executive Powers Unprecedented?

Julie Hirschfeld Davis in the New York Times: “President Obama’s action to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits opens a new front in the decades-long debate over the scope of presidential authority.”

“Although Mr. Obama is not breaking new ground by using executive powers to carve out a quasi-legal status for certain categories of unauthorized immigrants — the Republican Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all did so — his decision will affect as many as five million immigrants, far more than the actions of those presidents.”

“Mr. Obama’s action is also a far more extensive reshaping of the nation’s immigration system.”

“Some lawyers critical of Mr. Obama argue that by publicly grouping a large number of undocumented immigrants who are not subject to American law and granting them a special status, the president has gone far beyond the limits of prosecutorial discretion and crossed the line into legislative fiat.”

“Previous presidents who used their executive authority to shield undocumented immigrants confronted little of the fury that Mr. Obama now faces, in part because their actions affected fewer people and the issue was not as polarizing at the time.

In addition: “Mr. Obama may be paving the way for future Republican presidents to act similarly to contravene laws that Democrats cherish.”

Posted at 12:12 p.m.
Immigration, Judiciary

Study: Binging on Booze Doesn’t Make You an Alcoholic

U.S. News: “Most people who drink to excess or binge drink are not alcoholics, a new U.S. government report says.”

“In fact, 90 percent of those who drink too much aren’t dependent on alcohol. But one in three adults drinks to excess, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“‘The surprising finding was that nine out of 10 people who drink too much do not meet the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism,’ said study co-author Dr. Robert Brewer, the leader of CDC’s alcohol program.”

“Binge drinking is defined for women as having four or more drinks on an occasion, and for men as having five or more drinks on an occasion. Eight or more drinks a week for women or 15 or more drinks a week for men is considered excessive. Any drinking by pregnant women or those under 21 is also considered excessive, Brewer said.”

“Alcoholism, however, is a chronic condition that usually includes a history of excessive drinking, a craving for alcohol, continued drinking despite repeated problems with alcohol and being unable to control drinking.”

A Closer Look at Who is Immigrating to the U.S.

Ben Casselman of 538 contends that the make-up of our immigrants has changed significantly.

“The immigration debate … focuses primarily on illegal immigration from Latin America. Yet most new immigrants aren’t Latinos. Most Latinos aren’t immigrants. And, based on the best available evidence, there are fewer undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today than there were in 2007. ”

“In the past five years, the number of new immigrants (those in the country less than a year) from China has risen 37 percent, to more than 70,000. Immigration from India and other Asian countries is also increasing, though at a more modest rate.”

“As a result, Asia has surpassed Latin America as the dominant source of new immigrants to the U.S. Asia accounted for 45 percent of all new immigrants in 2012, compared to 34 percent for Latin America.”

“Almost by definition, illegal immigration is difficult to track. But Pew has developed a well-regarded methodology for calculating the size of the unauthorized population, which essentially involves subtracting the number of legal immigrants from the total foreign-born population, subject to certain adjustments.”

“The number of undocumented immigrants remains high, but illegal immigration — the number of new undocumented workers entering the country each year — has fallen close to zero.”

 A Closer Look at Who is Immigrating to the U.S.


Posted at 11:51 a.m.

Comparing Obama’s Vetoes and Executive Orders to Past Presidents

Danny Vinik points out that “other presidents … have had to use their veto power much more frequently. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for instance, vetoed 635 bills during his 12 years in office. Bill Clinton vetoed 37 bills. Obama has vetoed just two bills during his presidency.”

As for executive orders, “Ronald Reagan, for instance, issued 381 executive orders. Through almost six years in office, Obama has issued 193.”

Prez Vetoes and EOs 624x362 Comparing Obamas Vetoes and Executive Orders to Past Presidents

Posted at 11:38 a.m.

Mandatory Quarantine Rules Account for Drop in Ebola Volunteers

NPR: “The federal agency that oversees many American healthcare workers volunteering in Ebola-stricken regions of West Africa says there’s been a significant decline in the number of people who are willing to go. International aid groups attribute that drop to the mandatory quarantine rules implemented by New York and New Jersey last month.”

“‘Once the restrictions were issued, we definitely had people who said I’m going to have to back out,’ says Margaret Aguirre, the head of global initiatives at the International Medical Corps in Los Angeles. The group has about 30 healthcare workers volunteering in West Africa.”

“Aguirre says Ebola assignments can last six to eight weeks at a time because of all the safety training that’s required. ‘Many of these people are volunteering their time. And to be able to ask them to leave their work and families for that long stretch of time — plus the three weeks, 21-day quarantine — that’s just prohibitive for people.'”

“The United States Agency for International Development, which handles applications from medical personnel volunteering to serve in West Africa, says applications declined by about 17 percent after October 26th, when the rules for mandatory quarantine rules were announced.”

Posted at 11:33 a.m.

2014 on Track to be the Hottest Year on Record

Think Progress: “It has been the warmest January-October on record and last month was the hottest October on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Thursday.”

“And while you wouldn’t know it from the cold temperatures in large parts of this country, NOAA’s “State of the Climate: Global Analysis,” projects that 2014 is almost certainly going to be the hottest year on record worldwide — probably by far.”

“As it has done for the last few months, NOAA plotted out several scenarios for the next two months, and they all show 2014 becoming the hottest year on record.”

2014 ytd scenarios NOAA 638x468 2014 on Track to be the Hottest Year on Record

Another Obamacare Stumble

Jonathan Cohn comments on the news that the Health and Human Services Department exaggerated the number of Obamacare enrollees.

“Senior Administration officials swear they made an honest mistake. They’ve offered what sounds (at least to me) like a plausible explanation. But even if that explanation is accurate, the error would still be inexcusable. ”

“It’s one more stumble for a program that, for despite its very real successes, has had too many already.”

Margot Sanger-Katz contends that the mistake “reveals how all the glitches in the government’s computer system have yet to be worked out.”

“The story behind the misstatements highlights the significance of continuing problems with invisible parts of the health law’s enrollment system, and the challenges the administration is likely to face in reporting enrollment numbers in the months ahead.”

“Though the consumer-facing part of appears to be working much better than last year, the administration acknowledges that what it calls the ‘back end’ of the health insurance enrollment system is still unfinished.”

Sophie Novack in the National Journal writes that it simply “gives Republicans another talking point to support their broader attacks on the law.”

Posted at 8:06 a.m.

Supporting Immigration: Good Policy, Bad Politics

New York Times: “President Obama’s executive order eliminating the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants is good policy. It is the right thing to do. But it is a dangerous move for the Democratic Party.”

“Latinos and Asian-Americans made up only 11 percent of the electorate … Whites, meanwhile, accounted for 75 percent of the electorate. Far more than any other group, whites will decide the fate of the parties in the years to come. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, the data suggest that immigration very much matters for whites.”

“Polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of white Americans view illegal immigration as a serious problem. A third think immigration over all is bad for the country.”

In sum: “Many white Americans see that America is changing, believe that immigration is driving many of the negative changes and know that one party stands largely on the side of immigrants while the other party stands largely in opposition. For many whites, this is a powerful motivation to vote Republican.”

Posted at 7:08 a.m.

Can Voter ID Laws Be Used to Steal Elections?

Nate Cohn: “Voter ID laws might well be a cynical, anti-democratic attempt to disenfranchise voters to help Republicans, as Democrats claim. But that doesn’t mean that voter ID laws are an effective way to steal elections. They just don’t make a difference in anything but the closest contests, when anything and everything matters.”

“The so-called margin of disenfranchisement — the number of registered voters who do not appear to have photo identification — grossly overstates the potential electoral consequences of these laws.”

“Those without ID are particularly unlikely to vote. And many who do vote will vote Republican. In the end, the seemingly vast registration gaps dwindle, leaving enough voters to decide only elections determined by fractions of a point.”

“The studies ostensibly showing a relationship between voter ID and Republican strength are dubious, at best. They often conflate changes in turnout resulting from other factors, like whether there’s a statewide election, with changes caused by voter ID laws.”

“The impact of voter ID laws is basically indiscernible in the results … Voter disenfranchisement is anti-democratic, regardless of whether it swings elections. But voter ID laws haven’t been swinging elections.”

November 20, 2014

Obamacare Enrollment Number Included Dental Plans

“The Obama administration included as many as 400,000 dental plans in a number it reported for enrollments under the Affordable Care Act, an unpublicized detail that helped surpass a goal for 7 million sign-ups,” Bloomberg reports.

“Without the dental plans, the federal government would have had 6.97 million people with medical insurance under the law known as Obamacare, investigators for the House Oversight and Government Reform committee calculated, using data they obtained from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

“Federal officials said in September they had 7.3 million people enrolled in coverage through new government-run insurance exchanges. They didn’t distinguish between medical and dental plans, breaking from previous practice without notice.”

Posted at 12:24 p.m.

Could Obama Use Keystone as Leverage for His Domestic Agenda?

Reuters: “President Barack Obama might be open to using the Keystone pipeline as leverage with Republicans if they cooperate on other aspects of his long-stalled domestic agenda, such as investing in infrastructure, closing tax loopholes or reducing carbon emissions.”

“After years of fighting over TransCanada’s crude oil pipeline from Canada, a Keystone deal is not entirely out of the question, sources inside the administration and others close to the White House told Reuters on Tuesday.”

“Any deal would have to yield concrete gains for Obama on his agenda. Obama also likely would insist on making an executive decision on the $8 billion pipeline from Canada, rather than letting Congress approve the permit, sources said.”

“‘Whatever the president decides, I expect it will be driven by the bottom line on carbon pollution, not by symbolism,’ one former administration official told Reuters.”

Which is Dumber: Gruber’s Comments or GruberGate?

Michael Hltzik in the L.A. Times argues that the Grubergate controversy is far dumber than Gruber’s “dumb comments.”

“So this is how low the debate over the most far-reaching social insurance program of our time has fallen. Never mind that the act has brought health coverage to at least 10 million Americans who didn’t have it before. Or that it has eradicated medical underwriting — that process by which insurance coverage denied policies to people with pre-existing conditions or jacked up their rates to unaffordable levels. Or that it has wiped out a broad range of traditional health insurance abuses.”

“While we’re arguing over whether a working law should be invalidated by a health economist’s casual description of the legislative process of 2009 and 2010 — the inaccuracy of which can be documented — here’s what we should be be noticing: The healthcare consultancy Avalere Health just reported that 2015 premiums for benchmark silver plans rose only 3% on average compared with 2014 among the 34 states using the federal insurance website to enroll their citizens in the ACA.”

“So tell me again why we should be fixated on Jonathan Gruber.”

“By calling Gruber the ‘architect,’ the right wants you to think that he all but cooked up the law, wrote the language, supervised its legislative strategy and political PR, whipped up all 279 votes for it in the House and Senate (or maybe cast them himself), then signed the bill as president.”

Posted at 8:58 a.m.

Is Obama an ‘Emperor’ or ‘Savior’ on Immigration?

New York Times Editorial Page: “The result will not be ideal, but no broad executive action on immigration was ever going to be. Only Congress can create an immigration system that rescues workers and families from unjust laws and creates legal pathways to citizenship. The best Mr. Obama can offer is a reprieve to people trapped by Congress’s failures — temporary permission to live and work without fear.”

The editors note that Republicans didn’t “complain when Mr. Obama aggressively used his executive authority to ramp up deportations to an unprecedented peak of 400,000 a year.”

Brian Beutler writes that Republican rage doesn’t make Obama’s actions unlawful: “It turns out that the laws on the books actually don’t say what you might think they say. Other presidents have discovered this, too. And since nobody wants to write a ‘maybe I should’ve asked some lawyers first’ mea culpa column, they shifted the debate from the terrain of laws to the murkier terrain of political precedent, norms, and procedure.”

Danny Vinik points out that Reagan and Bush also acted unilaterally on immigration, adding: “As long as Obama, or any president, for that matter, is implementing the law in line with congressional prioritiesas I believe Obama ishis actions are legal.”

But Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg cautions: “If Obama is not departing from norms in this case, he certainly looks to be pushing the line … We don’t have a functioning Congress, and we do have millions of people living in limbo. It’s not hard to understand why Obama is doing this, and perhaps party relations in Washington really can’t get much worse. But I think they will.”

Posted at 8:45 a.m.

13 Million Americans Could Lose Insurance Subsidies

Wall Street Journal: “The Supreme Court is expected to rule next year on King v. Burwell, the lawsuit in which the federal government’s authority to provide financial assistance to people who buy insurance in federally operated insurance exchanges is being challenged under a strict reading of the Affordable Care Act.”

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“In this case, whatever the merits of the legal arguments, the consequences are significant. The Kaiser Family Foundation has done calculations based on Congressional Budget Office projections for 2016 showing how many people would get financial assistance when the ACA is fully implemented. As the chart above shows, a decision for the plaintiffs would deny financial assistance for insurance premiums to approximately 13 million Americans in 2016. More than half are in a few big anti-ACA states that chose not to run their own exchanges: Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.”

Majority Say Ensuring Universal Healthcare is Not Government’s Job

Gallup: “For the third consecutive year, a majority of Americans (52%) agree with the position that it is not the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans have healthcare coverage. Prior to the start of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009, a majority of Americans consistently took the opposite view.”

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“The act’s proponents have pointed out that Americans favor a number of the act’s provisions when tested in isolation, and that the act has already lowered the nation’s uninsured rate. Yet, a majority of Americans continue to say they disapprove of it, even as the ACA is making progress toward its stated goal of expanding health insurance coverage. That more than half of Americans think it is not the government’s role to make sure Americans have healthcare coverage suggests that opposition to the ACA may be centered more on its philosophical underpinnings, rather than on the specifics of its actual provisions and outcomes.”

Posted at 6:51 a.m.

November 19, 2014

Is ‘The Nice Guy’ Clouding Abuse of Executive Authority?

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post: “Every Democrat should be nervous about President Obama’s plan for unilateral action on immigration reform.”

“Democrats should be nervous about the implications for presidential power, and the ability of a future Republican president to act on his or her own.”

“For me, the question is one of double containment: First, is there a limiting principle that would constrain the president’s authority to effectively legalize everyone in the country? Second, is there a limiting principle that would constrain future presidents inclined against enforcing other laws with which they don’t agree — and on which they’ve been unable to convince Congress to act accordingly?”

Damon Linker of the Week adds: “The rule of law is far more about how things are done than about what is done … I will be deeply troubled about how the president went about achieving this goal — by violating the letter and the spirit of federal law.”

“What is so galling about the president’s pending circumvention of federal immigration law is that the White House hasn’t even attempted to justify it on grounds of necessity — no doubt because any effort to do so would be risible. The nation obviously faces no immigration emergency that could possibly justify the kind of extralegal action that Obama is contemplating.”

“Have we really gotten to the point where the executive can ignore and even violate, on the absurdly open-ended basis of ‘discretion,’ the express intent of a federal law he is constitutionally empowered to execute — not because of an emergency, not because of a national threat, but merely because he wants to be a nice guy?”

Posted at 9:10 a.m.

Is the Keystone XL Pipeline Project Now Irrelevant?

Rebecca Leber argues that the push to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project comes at time when it has become irrelevant.

“Since it was first proposed, the economics surrounding it have changed, with oil prices falling sharply, and the oil industry has pursued other options for oil transportation, including other pipeline projects and railroad shipments. Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire and CEO of Continental Resources, recently told Politico the debate is no longer relevant. ‘We’re supporting other pipelines out there, we’re not waiting on Keystone,’ he said. ‘Nobody is.’ Bloomberg News quoted several energy consultants that said the same. TransCanada’s CEO, however, continues to make the case that its pipeline will be necessary.'”

Poverty and Inequality Converge in the South

Wall Street Journal: “Poverty and income inequality are two of America’s biggest problems. So where are both present in great quantities? A new study by demographers Mark Mather and Beth Jarosz of the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit demographic research group, points to the South—where a majority (59%) of counties now struggle with both high poverty and inequality.”

PovertySouth Poverty and Inequality Converge in the South

No Solyndra ‘Smoking Gun’ But Loan Program Still Mired in Scandal

National Journal: “Most people have heard about the Solyndra program only in the context of scandal.”

“And yet no smoking gun or any real evidence of ‘crony capitalism’ ever emerged. Even the claim that the government was picking political losers was wrong in context. Solyndra represented just 1.3 percent of an otherwise strong portfolio, and now that message is coming home to roost. Last week, the department revealed its much-maligned loan program has started turning a profit and is on track to make taxpayers $5 billion or more, according a first-ever estimate of gains.”

In fact, the agency has a loss rate of roughly 2 percent and “collected $810 million in interest, putting the program $30 million in the black.”

“It also isn’t particularly surprising that the department didn’t have favorable numbers to tout early on. That the losers lose before the winners win is something of an adage within the investment community, a phenomenon known as the J curve.”

Jonathan Silver, former head of the program, enumerated his top complaints about media coverage: “One is reporters suggesting that because Solyndra failed, the larger loan program is a failure, ignoring the rest of the portfolio. Another is reporters saying that the $535 million in loan guarantees allocated to Solyndra were ‘lost’ when it went bankrupt. ‘It recirculated in the American economy,’ Silver said. ‘It may have been suboptimal, but the money’s not lost.’ Meanwhile, success stories, like DOE’s early investment in electric-car company Tesla Motors, have largely flown under the radar.”

Modest Increases in Insurance Premiums?

Wall Street Journal: “Here’s some good news for boomers in need of health insurance: Premiums for the most popular plans available under the Affordable Care Act are slated to rise by a relatively modest 3% to 4% in 2015. Open enrollment runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15.”

“The data comes from Avalere Health, a health-care consulting firm in Washington D.C., which priced the three cheapest policies in the 30-plus states where consumers purchase policies through federally run exchanges.”

“The news is especially helpful to boomers, the youngest of whom turn 50 this year. Last year, people ages 45 to 64 flocked to the health-insurance exchanges created by the 2010 law. (At 65, most people become eligible for Medicare.) One reason is that insurers can no longer turn applicants down. And the most insurers can charge the oldest consumers is three times the average premium paid by a 21-year-old.”

Margot Sanger-Katz clarifies: “It’s not easy to say simply whether premiums are going up, or by how much. The health law set up marketplaces that allow for state regulation of insurance and regional variation in prices. It also offers a wide variety of insurance plans. That’s the consequence of the structure the Affordable Care Act envisioned: lots of plans competing on price and features in local markets.”

Sanger-Katz offers a guide to the most popular ways of looking at the question.

Posted at 8 a.m.

The Most Effective Tool to Cut Carbon Emissions

Eduardo Porter argues that despite advances in promising technologies designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions “civilization is mostly not yet on such a low carbon path. While promising technologies to get there have been developed, it is unclear whether nations will muster the political will and mobilize the needed investments to deploy them.”

“There is one tool available to trim carbon emissions on a relevant scale: a carbon tax. That solution, however, remains off the table.”

“If a carbon tax were to be imposed next year, starting at $25 and rising by 5 percent a year, the Energy Information Administration estimates, carbon dioxide emissions from American power plants would fall to only 419 million tons by 2040, about one-fifth of where they are today. Total carbon dioxide emissions from energy in the United States would fall to 3.6 billion tons — 1.8 billion tons less than today. By providing a monetary incentive, economists say, such a tax would offer by far the most effective way to encourage business and individuals to reduce their use of fossil fuels and invest in alternatives.”

November 18, 2014

Most Want Obama to Wait On Immigration Action

USA Today: “President Obama’s plan to sign an executive order on immigration, expected as early as this week, will meet more resistance than support, a new USA TODAY Poll finds. Close to half of those surveyed, 46%, say he should wait for the new Republican-controlled Congress to act, and another one in 10 are unconvinced either way.”

“On the issue of immigration, Democrats overwhelmingly want Obama to take action now, 60%-28%. Republicans by an even wider margin want him to wait, 76%-17%. Independents split with 44% supporting acting now, 46% endorsing delay.”

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Posted at 1:35 p.m.

Mitch McConnell is Now a Scientist

Rebecca Leber of The New Republic: “During his midterm campaign, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell regularly deflected questions about climate change by saying he is ‘not a scientist.’”

“But apparently McConnell will make an exception when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. In remarks on the Senate floor, hours before a vote on a bill that fast-tracks construction of the pipeline, McConnell pointed to the ‘science’ supporting the legislation.”

“’Those who took a serious look at the science and the potential benefits reached the conclusion long ago,’ he said Tuesday. ‘They understand that the whole drama over Keystone has been as protracted as it is unnecessary. We hope to turn the page on all of that today.'”

Tough Odds for Passage of Keystone XL Bill in Senate

Reuters: “Keystone XL supporters in the U.S. Senate faced tough odds for passing a bill to approve the oil pipeline from Canada on Tuesday after one lawmaker they hoped might be a “yes” said he would vote against the project.”

“‘Congress is not – nor should it be – in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,’ Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, said in a news release.”

“With the 100-member Senate one vote short of the needed 60 to pass a version of a bill that sailed through the House of Representatives last week, supporters including Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu lobbied for more support.”

“King, who often votes with Democrats, had been seen as a possible swing vote despite his support of climate activism. He said he was ‘frustrated’ by President Barack Obama’s failure to make a decision on the pipeline that has been pending for six years.”




Are We Inured to a New Gilded Age?

Steven Rattner contends that with the Democrats’ defeat in the midterms “the prospect of addressing income inequality grows dimmer, even as the problem worsens.”

Screen Shot 2014 11 18 at 8.28.16 AM 420x335 Are We Inured to a New Gilded Age?

“Perhaps income disparity resonated so little with politicians because we are inured to a new Gilded Age. But we shouldn’t be.”

“Our taxes, while progressive, are low by international standards and our social welfare programs — ranging from unemployment benefits to disability insurance to retirement payments — are consequently less generous.”

“Conservatives may bemoan the size of our government; in reality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, total tax revenues in the United States this year will be smaller on a relative basis than those of any other member country.”

“Lower taxes means less for government to spend on programs to help those near the bottom [And] we spend less on early childhood education and care.”

“All told, social spending in the United States is below the average of that of the wealthiest countries.”

“But much more can and should be done — like raising the minimum wage nationwide and expanding the earned-income tax credit (a step supported by Republicans).”

Posted at 8:29 a.m.

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