Five myths about the Affordable Care Act

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

 

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been a “debacle” even according to the administration, but there is more to the confusion than just poorly written code. Take a deeper dive with this quick list from the Washington Post:

“Frustrating.” A “debacle.” That is how President Obama’s own secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, has described the rocky launch ofHealthCare.gov. Americans were supposed to begin shopping for insurance coverage on Oct. 1, but millions have been unable to log into the federal online exchange . Congress, meanwhile, shut down the government for 16 days in a dispute over whether to fund the health-care law. As the debate continues, let’s look at some of the most persistent myths about the law — and some new ones that have cropped up.

1. Americans will be forced to buy health insurance.

The health-care law’s individual mandate, despite its name, isn’t meant to force Americans into health plans. Instead, it is supposed to encourage people to purchase coverage by giving them two options: Buy insurance or pay a fine. In 2014, that fine is $95 or 1 percent of an individual’s income, whichever is higher.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for collecting this penalty from individuals who indicate on their annual tax filings that they have not purchased coverage. The agency can take the penalty out of a filer’s refund, but beyond that, its ability to recoup those dollars is extremely limited. The IRS cannot, for example, send agents to people’s homes or put liens on their houses. In the health-care law, Congress specifically curtailed the ability to enforce this penalty, giving the IRS fewer ways to collect it than there are for other tax fines.

2. If you like your health plan, you can keep it.

Obama has repeatedly made this key promise about his signature legislation. “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance,” he said in June 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the law.

In truth, the health-care law makes a number of changes to the insurance industry that will affect the nearly 165 million Americans covered by private plans. For one, it requires all health plans to include a wider set of benefits, among them maternity care and mental health services. Employers have responded by increasing premiums by less than 3 percent, on average, to make up for the cost of these new benefits.

The individual market, where 15 million Americans buy their own coverage, will see even bigger changes. Experts estimate that insurers will discontinue at least half of these plans in 2014 because they do not cover the benefits that the Affordable Care Act requires. Some say the number could be even higher, around 75 to 80 percent.

CBS News has reported that more than 2 million people have already received word from their insurers that the health plans they have now won’t be available next year. Customers who receive a cancellation notice will need to shop for new coverage. Those plans could have a higher price tag because they offer more benefits, although many people will receive financial help from the government to buy a new policy.

3. The exchange’s big problem is that it ’s overwhelmed by traffic.

The federal exchange did get a lot of web traffic at first; the White House estimates that 8 million people visited the site in its first four days. To put that in perspective, as one Web developer recently did, that’s more users in HealthCare.gov’s first 24 hours than Twitter had in its first 24 months.

Traffic has decreased since then, and some people have successfully purchased insurance through the online marketplace. That’s led insurance companies to discover an even more serious problem with the exchange: It’s sending inaccurate enrollment data to insurers. Companies are supposed to get a file from the exchange each time someone enrolls in one of their plans. These files include important information such as where the new subscriber lives and how many people are in her family. But insurers say these files are sometimes wrong, listing children as spouses, for instance, or including an address that doesn’t exist.

Some companies have assigned employees to hand-check each file for errors. This works now because few people are enrolling through the exchange. But at some point, insurers expect that they’ll receive thousands of files each week and won’t have the manpower to check each one. If lots of people start signing up before the problem is fixed, insurers worry that they won’t know who actually bought their plans. And without knowing who has subscribed, insurance companies won’t be able to send out membership cards, for example, or begin paying claims for trips to the doctor.

4. The exchanges will transform the insurance industry.

While the federal exchange has gotten much attention in recent weeks, only a small fraction of Americans are expected to use the new marketplace to buy health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, by 2023, 24 million people will buy insurance through the state and federal exchanges; that’s about 7 percent of the population. It’s telling that many of the large insurance companies, such as Cigna and UnitedHealthcare, have decided to participate in only a handful of the states’ marketplaces. So far, they don’t see this segment of the market as key to their growth.

The vast majority of Americans will still get their health insurance the way they did before the Affordable Care Act: through their employers or through a public program, mainly Medicare and Medicaid.

5. The health-care law will increase the deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, over the next decade, the health-care law will reduce the deficit by $109 billion. That’s because the Affordable Care Act includes new spending cuts and tax increases, which more than offset the cost of expanding health insurance to millions of Americans.

The law’s new revenue sources fall into three main categories. First are cuts to Medicare providers, such as hospitals and doctors. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay slightly lower rates.

Second are cuts to private health insurance plans, known as Medicare Advantage plans, that cover Medicare patients. The federal government has, in recent years, paid these private plans more to cover Medicare beneficiaries than it has spent on seniors who sign up for the traditional public program. The health law aims to reduce those differences by cutting Medicare Advantage payments.

Lastly, the law includes new taxes on a number of health-care industries, including hospitals, medical-device makers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

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Everyone is unhappy with Obama’s budget proposal, and that’s a good thing

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Reporters, politicians, and pundits all over are tearing apart the budget President  Obama has recently outlined, which he will submit to Congress Wednesday of next week.

The big takeaway is that the President is essentially offering the same policy Speaker Boehnor rejected during the fiscal cliff talks from December. The plan involves tax and spending increases, closed loopholes, and some spending reductions, the key of which involves changes to the cost-of-living adjustment for entitlement spending. The President is essentially putting his foot down with Republicans, and reaffirming this as the Democrat’s imperfect compromise plan.

Mandatory spending, mostly comprised of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is rising, and unsustainably. There are many ways of dealing with this, and using chained CPI may not be the best one, but at least it is an idea.

I don’t love the President’s budget. And I very well shouldn’t. Neither should congressional Democrats or Republicans. In attempting to compromise, neither side should or could responsibly expect to get everything they want. We have seen this dysfunction go on too long to believe a soon-to-be-lame-duck Democratic president or fingers-on-the-ledge Democratic senate majority can manhandle House Republicans. So any pragmatic hopes of getting a serious, long-term budget passed need to include major concessions to Republicans. Democrats refusing to look at ways to reform entitlements (which can and should be much more than just a reduction in benefits) are being just as obstinate as their partners in crime across the aisle.

I 100% agree that the President’s outlined budget is a bad break for progressives. But while some worry any hope for a grand bargain is pointless, I would argue that it is more unreasonable to allow two increasingly polarized political groups to act completely self-interested. Nothing will happen if both sides deem the argument all or nothing. There were periods in the past with much less polarization where compromises were business as usual. Aspiring to create such an atmosphere again seems much more useful work than continued refusal to act at all.

Check out this breakdown via the Washington Post:

President Obama will propose a budget next week that embraces a risky strategy of courting Republicans for a grand bargain on the debt while angering Democratic allies with cuts to the nation’s entitlement programs.

White House officials said Friday that Obama’s budget would cut Medicare and Social Security and ask for less tax revenue than he has previously sought. The budget, to be released Wednesday, will fully incorporate the offer Obama made to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during December’s “fiscal cliff” talks — which included $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts and tax increases.

On Friday, liberals expressed outrage that a freshly reelected president would concede so much. Some of Obama’s allies said they were concerned that he was making a strategic mistake. Yet the president’s aides said he was intent on showing that he was not backing away from the compromise he had offered.

“The budget reflects his priorities within a budget world that is not ideal,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “It requires compromise, negotiation and a willingness to accept that you won’t get 100 percent of what you want.”

The budget will break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities. But the spirit of compromise did not win Obama much immediate support, as Republicans and Democrats questioned whether it would lead to an agreement.

Boehner accused Obama of holding entitlement cuts “hostage” in an effort to win support for more tax increases, despite warnings from congressional Republicans not to do so.

“That’s no way to lead and move the country forward,” Boehner said.

But some of the most heated commentary came from the left, which was furious that the president was enshrining cuts to Social Security as official administration policy. Obama proposed changing the cost-of-living calculation for Social Security in a way that will reduce benefits for most recipients, a key Republican request that he had earlier embraced only as part of a compromise.

“I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats. “I remember when Obama said he was concerned about retirees struggling to get by and was unequivocal in his opposition to cutting cost-of-living adjustments.”

Overall, the budget request reflects Obama’s stark shift in strategy over the past month, as he has adopted a far more congenial posture toward the opposition. He has begun a charm offensive, reaching out to rank-and-file House and Senate Republicans, dining and speaking privately with them. Obama is set to have dinner with a group of Republicans on Wednesday night, just hours after his budget is released.

Obama’s aides have not been overly optimistic about the prospects for a deal. But they now argue that a strategy of private outreach, coupled with public events, offers the best path for progress not only on the deficit but also on other issues, including immigration and gun control. The White House says the concessions in Obama’s budget should not be viewed as a list of options but rather as a cohesive package.

Obama decided to incorporate the approach he had offered Boehner after a debate among his advisers and allies on Capitol Hill, according to people familiar with the discussions. Some worried that the White House was giving away concessions before Republicans agreed to make some of their own.

“I have some tactical concerns about the White House approach and some substantive concerns,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a White House ally in pursuit of a broad budget deal.

“The president has essentially said this is his end point and this is a compromise proposal,” Van Hollen said. “Republicans have rejected this as a compromise. From the Republican perspective, the president’s budget is the starting point for negotiation.”

White House officials say Obama felt that, as president, it was important he stand by his original offer and include it in his budget proposal.

“We want to make clear that it’s something that we’re willing to do. To not put it in [the budget] would be a conversation disconnected with reality,” a senior White House official said. Failing to do so, the official said, would have provoked howls from Republicans that “you moved the goal posts.”

Officials also pointed out that the president’s budget goes beyond the Boehner offer. Obama’s budget would fund several new priorities, including the creation of a program offering preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.

Officials proposed an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for the early childhood education initiative and would also seek to generate revenue by limiting how much wealthy individuals can accrue in their tax-protected retirement accounts. Such accounts would be capped at $3 million in 2013 dollars — which officials say is enough to finance a $205,000-a-year income. The president would also seek to scrap a loophole in the law that lets people collect both unemployment insurance and disability payments — so called double-dipping.

The budget request comes on top of a deal struck at the start of the year to raise taxes on the wealthy by more than $600 billion over a decade.

Through that pact and earlier agreements, Congress and Obama have agreed to reduce the annual budget deficit — how much more the government spends than it collects — by $2.5 trillion over the next decade. If left in place, the deep spending cuts that took effect March 1, known as sequestration, would reduce the deficit by an additional $1.2 trillion over the same period. That would be just about enough to keep deficits from rising and to stabilize the debt, as measured as a percentage of the overall economy.

But Obama’s budget proposal would eliminate sequestration and replace it with a variety of other deficit-reduction measures, together worth $1.8 trillion, according to White House estimates.

The deficit, which is projected this year to be equal to 5.5 percent of the size of the economy, would shrink to 1.7 percent of the economy by 2023. By comparison, the House Republican budget — which would curtail spending on dozens of programs for the poor, repeal Obama’s health-care law and partially privatize Medicare for people now younger than 55 — aims to eliminate the deficit by 2023. A more liberal plan passed by Senate Democrats would make the deficit 2.2 percent of the size of the economy by that point.
The budget is more conservative than Obama’s earlier proposals, which called for $1.6 trillion in new taxes and fewer cuts to health and domestic spending programs. Obama is seeking to raise $580 billion in tax revenue by limiting deductions for the wealthy and closing loopholes for certain industries such as oil and gas.
The budget proposal slices $200 billion from already- tight defense and domestic budgets. It would cut $400 billion from Medicare and other health programs by negotiating better prescription drug prices and asking wealthy seniors to pay more, among other policies. It would also generate $200 billion in savings by scaling back farm subsidies and federal retiree programs, among other proposals.
The proposal to change the formula to calculate Social Security payments, also originally part of the offer to Boehner, would generate $130 billion in savings and $100 billion in revenue, a result of the impact of the change on other government programs.
Obama is submitting his budget two months late, after aides scrambled to deal with the end-of-year “fiscal cliff” and then the March 1 deadline for sequestration. With the House and the Senate having passed dueling budget proposals, both sides will see whether they can find a compromise.

Two upcoming debates will provide opportunities. This summer, Congress will once again be forced to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk a default on the national debt. Republicans in February decided not to mount a fight over the debt ceiling, as they had in 2011, and it is not yet clear whether they will oppose an increase this time. In addition, Congress and the White House will have to agree to a new budget plan at the end of September.

The political genius of Rand Paul’s drone filibuster

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

 

Rand Paul made quite a statement with his legitimate, physically-present filibuster of President Obama’s pick for CIA director John Brennan, and by extension the administration’s proposals for drone policy in the US. With a lot of similar views to his father, Ron, I can’t say I totally agree with Paul’s take that we could be seeing the government striking down citizens with unmanned drone strikes for political dissent anytime soon. The famous “slippery slope” argument is a hyperbole that rarely holds water, and doesn’t take into account the gravity of the scenario in this case. But I 100% agree with Paul’s public defense of his position, one not in line with a large wing of his party (gasp!), his ability to find common ground with those across the aisle, and the fact that he actually spoke about drones and civil liberties for almost 13 hours. Definitely take note of that point in the article, as that element is even more unusual than a traditional filibuster.

Via Peter Weber at The Week:

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Rand Paul has managed to pull a Willie Nelson. Nelson, in songwriter Bruce Robison’s playfully deifying telling, moved to Austin from Nashville in the 1970s and, “like a miracle,” gave “all the rednecks and hippies from New York City down to Mississippi” something to cheer about, side by side. The list of senators who stepped onto the Senate floor to help the Kentucky Republican keep up his nearly 13-hourold-timey talking filibuster about President Obama’s drone policy didn’t include senators from New York or Mississippi, but it did encompass Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) among a supporting cast of Tea Party and establishment Republicans. The groups of people cheering him on outside the Senate defied the idea of an America polarized along strict partisan lines.

The filibuster is working for Paul for a number of reasons. First, there’s the novelty and drama of pulling a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style feat — and, from all reports, doing it quite coherently. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got some similarly glowing press for his eight-and-a-half hour Senate talkathon in 2010. Paul one-upped him, though. Through some combination of design, stamina, and serendipity, Paul has become the toast of Twitter and the big story in Washington.

In truth, Paul had to resort to a talking filibuster because the other kind — simply requiring 60 votes to move a bill or nomination, as Senate Republicans had just done with Obama judicial nominee Caitlin Halligan — probably wouldn’t have worked in this case; CIA director–designate John Brennan, the proximate target of Paul’s filibuster, almost certainly had the necessary support to overcome that threshold. But the political stars were aligned for Paul. “Within hours, reporters who rarely covered drone policy were live-tweeting Paul quotes,” says David Weigel at Slate. “The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a #StandWithRand fundraiser for senators who ‘remained committed to upholding the values and the mandates of the Constitution.'”

Politically, Paul’s unpredictability and ability to grab attention with “an unorthodox move” like this should also make his potential 2016 presidential rivals very nervous, says Sean Sullivan atThe Washington Post. At least one of them, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), joined in the filibuster effort. If Paul keeps this up, he’ll be “a pretty dangerous candidate” to run against.

But there’s more to it than that. Quick, without looking: Can you remember what Sanders was filibustering in 2010? Unlike the Vermonter’s lost cause (opposing an Obama tax deal with Republicans), Paul hit on a hot, substantive topic that creates interesting and unusual political bedfellows — and he kept his filibuster focused on that topic instead of reading the phonebook or recipes. The nomination of Brennan, a chief architect of Obama’s drone policy, was the premise of the filibuster, but Paul’s larger issue is with a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder in which the chief U.S. law enforcement officer said that, in very extreme cases, it was theoretically possible that Obama would order a lethal drone strike on an American terrorist suspect.

Paul’s wariness at that response resonates with a wide group of people: The same coalition of “constitutional conservatives,” libertarians, and college Republicans that were attracted to the presidential campaigns of Paul’s father, retired Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). But he also drew plaudits from hawkish Republicans, ACLU liberals, Code Pink anti-war activists, and other people who never embraced the elder Paul. The idea of death-by-drone is more immediate and existential than whether we should re-adopt the gold standard.

Best of all for Paul, you don’t even have to agree with the specific points he was making — essentially, that once you allow U.S. drone strikes under “extraordinary circumstances,” it’s a slippery slope to Arab-Americans being obliterated without warning “in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich.” or dropping “a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda.” In fact, most of the senators who aided Paul’s filibuster surely don’t agree with his every point. (A fairly reliable GOP barometer, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, applauded Paul’s “theatrical timing,” but urged him to “calm down,” sided with Holder and Obama on the legal merits, and said that if “Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.”)

The issues of when to use remote-control warfare, what boundaries we should have for fighting terrorism and domestic surveillance, when the government can use lethal force against American citizens, and what constitutes due process are complicated and filled with ample grey areas. But Paul can look like at least a minor hero to so many people because of the one big idea uniting the motley #StandWithRand crew: We should really be having this conversation in the U.S., now, publicly, before (probably non-lethal) drones above our heads become just another part of this American life.

“My country — always right, never wrong”: The least thoughtful and most primitive form of patriotism

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I liked this article more for it’s explanation of the philosophy of the neoconservative movement, and what that means within the context of the various modern political theories at work in the larger system.  The continued bashing of the GOP as a whole gets tiresome when it no longer makes original critical constructive arguments.  I think they know they need to change.  But the articulation here of the origins and nature of the hawkish strain of the Republican party is important in the context of the debate over Hagel’s suitability for the role of Defense Secretary.  How pro-war must that civil servant be?  By what criteria should we measure? I would hope more pragmatic voices win out, if not for Hagel, then for another who can be judged by more than an absolutist pro-war position.

Via Damon Linker at The Week:

In the three months since the GOP’s trouncing in the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party has shown numerous signs that it’s willing to change course to improve its future fortunes. First, the House GOP crumpled in the fiscal cliff standoff. Then it refused to engage in yet another game of chicken over the debt ceiling. And now Republicans in both houses of Congress appear ready to pursue a bipartisan deal on immigration. Those who care about the future of the party should applaud these developments. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be sufficient to solve the GOP’s problems. On the contrary, Republicans will continue to find themselves at an electoral disadvantage until they break free from the grip of neoconservatism.

Since the term neocon is so often deployed for polemical purposes these days, let’s be very precise about what it means. Back in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the original neoconservatives — Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and their colleagues at The Public Interest and Commentary — had two main aims: In domestic affairs, to expose the defects of Great Society social programs and propose more effective (read: less ambitious) alternatives; and in foreign affairs, to counter McGovernite isolationism with hawkish realism, which meant adopting a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

The domestic side of neoconservatism reached its apex of influence in the 1990s, with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crime-fighting policies and, at the federal level, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Today, domestic neoconservatism is largely extinct, a victim of its own success at changing the public policy conversation.

As for the neocons’ foreign policy agenda, it, too, became irrelevant once the Soviet Union collapsed and the Democrats showed (under Bill Clinton) that they were no longer averse to using military force.

Yet some of the neocons — or rather, some of their children — were unwilling to accept their fate. By the mid-1990s, Irving Kristol’s son William had teamed up with Norman Podhoretz’s son John to found The Weekly Standard, a magazine that would reorient neoconservatism entirely toward foreign policy — and toward a very different and far more reckless style of foreign policy thinking than the one their parents championed.

Neoconservatism 2.0 is the apotheosis of hawkishness. A latter-day neocon isn’t just convinced that force is often necessary in specific cases, which is what hawks have always maintained. Rather, he’s convinced that force is invariably good any time and any place it is used by the United States. As Kristol put it in a seminal 1996 essay co-authored with Robert Kagan, a foreign policy in which the United States started and fought wars around the globe would be, axiomatically, “good for conservatives, good for America, and good for the world.”

“My country — always right, never wrong”: It’s the least thoughtful and most primitive form of patriotism. And yet, since September 11, 2001, the Republican Party has adopted and repeatedly reaffirmed the outlook as its guiding ideology in foreign affairs. Why? First, because it perfectly fit the angry, wounded mood of the country (and within the Bush administration) after 9/11. Second, because it perfectly fit the angry, wounded mood of the GOP base after the White House was captured by a man many Republicans consider an anti-American Kenyan socialist.

Fortunately, the country as a whole seems to have moved beyond its post-9/11 collective PTSD, aided by the passage of time as well as by the sobering experience of having to clean up the mess that followed the neocon-inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s a very good sign for the nation — and for Democrats — that the American people prefer President Obama’s more measured style of conducting foreign policy to the one-size-fits-all bellicosity favored by the neocon-infatuated GOP.

Obama has managed to lead the U.S. through a period of considerable global volatility with only minor missteps — and he’s been able to do so because his approach to foreign policymaking is shaped by a clear-eyed assessment of the emerging post-Cold War world order. For a time, the implosion of the Soviet Union left what appeared to be a “unipolar” world ruled by the one remaining superpower. But unipolarity was always an illusion — and it’s revealed to be less and less accurate with each passing year.

Yes, American power is formidable in many areas. But there’s an awful lot we cannot do — and at the top of the list is bending whole peoples and regions of the world to our will. In the multi-polar world we now inhabit, the U.S. will remain the single most powerful nation, but not by orders of magnitude. We will defend the nation’s borders and its interests. We will offer support to allies in those selective cases (NATO in Libya, France in Mali) when we judge that doing so really will be “good for America and good for the world.” But we will not be leading any crusades to transform (and liberalize) entire civilizations at the barrel of a gun. Why? Because the effort would fail — and failure is bad for America and bad for the world.

The president deserves our support in his attempt to adjust American expectations to fit the reality of a complicated, recalcitrant world — just as the GOP deserves our disdain for denying that same reality. Which is precisely what leading Republicans are doing in their efforts to block Obama’s choice to head the department of defense. What is it about Chuck Hagel that so rankles the right? Some cry anti-Semitism, but the charge is so groundless that Hagel’s critics have yet to produce a single shred of evidence to substantiate it. What is it, then, that supposedly disqualifies him from serving as secretary of defense? The answer: Hagel is a Republican who dares to believe that the use of American military force is only sometimes (as opposed to always) a good thing. That’s all it takes to provoke denunciations in today’s GOP.

Until that changes, the Republican Party will continue to be punished — and to earn its punishment — at the ballot box.

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Damon Linker is a senior writing fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Theoconsand and The Religious TestYou can follow him on Twitter:@DamonLinker.

Why the GOP should embrace Obama (and perhaps Dems should hug them back)

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I often harp on the importance of context and history.  I think the last few years show a great opportunity for that kind of thinking by both parties.  Rather than fighting a partisan battle based solely on party lines, why can’t we look more objectively at policy and see the commonalities?  For all the insistence that things are worse than ever, Obama has been far less radical than many of his critics would like you to believe.  Couched in context of decisions made by politicians on both sides of the aisle the last 20 years at least, we can see that while there are loud voices on the far ends, there happens to be more commonality in policy proscription if not rhetoric in the middle.  This represents an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans: ignore the nonsense, put down the swords, and do your jobs when there are common solutions.  The article is about the challenges President Obama will face in his second term, but you can extrapolate the message to the entire system.

Paul Brandus of The Week has more:

Despite conservatives insisting he’s an out-of-control socialist, the president is downright Republican on many key issues.

As the curtain rises on Barack Obama’s second term, where’s the love from Republicans? After all, when you think about some of things he did over the past four years, he’s one of them.

Like Richard Nixon, Obama raised taxes on the rich and cut them for everyone else. Like Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama fought for cleaner air and water. Like Ronald Reagan, Obama backed tough measures to curb gun violence. Like Reagan, he dreamed of a cap and trade plan to help the environment. (Reagan’s dream came true with a global treaty to save the ozone layer in 1987.) Obama copied Mitt Romney’s health-care plan and George W. Bush’s immigration plan. Like Bush, he ordered a troop surge to gain strategic advantage in an unpopular war — before cutting a deal to end it. And like Reagan and Bush (and Dick Cheney, who said deficits don’t matter), under Obama, the debt exploded.

Yet despite all these similarities to their own polices over the years, some Republicans say, “What a commie! Fascist! Socialist! Tyrant!”

The right’s distaste for Obama’s first-term policies extends overseas as well. He has been accused of weakness on North Korea and Iran, two charter members of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” Bush admitted both Pyongyang and Tehran to this exclusive club in his 2002 State of the Union (Iraq was the third member of this troika), and issued this explicit warning:

“The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

But Bush did permit it. In October 2006, North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Bush also did little to stop Iran from marching ahead with its own nuclear program. Now, Bush did stop someone: Israel. In 2008, he rejected a request from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for bunker-buster bombs needed to hit Iranian nuclear targets buried deep underground. Bush also rejected an Israeli request to fly over U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace on its proposed raid. Yet somehow, it’s Obama who inherited both of these nuclear messes, who is called weak and disrespectful of our key allies.

Of course, I’m half-joking about Obama being a Republican. But the joke’s on the GOP. Republicans have moved so far to the right in recent years that they can’t recognize how centrist most of the president’s policies — taken from past Republican playbooks — really are. On big issues like immigration, climate change, and reducing gun violence, and on issues that effect important voting blocs, like Latinos, students, and women, Republicans today are simply out of touch. This dynamic looms large over the second term, and the president will take advantage wherever he can.

And there’s this: Barack Obama is not the same president he was four years ago. It has been said that no job can truly prepare one for the presidency, and given Obama’s thin résumé and inclination for hubris (a trait all presidents have), it was inevitable that there would be growing pains. He made mistakes. He boasted about how he would stop the oceans from rising and cut the deficit in half. His advisors said unemployment wouldn’t go beyond 8 percent. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But like all presidents, Obama has learned on the job. He has acquired a better sense of power and how it is applied in pursuit of a goal. He has a more realistic understanding of the entrenched forces that are working against him. This understanding, and the 332 electoral votes he won on November 6, have given him a backbone. He always had one, but it wasn’t evident because he spent much of the past four years bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans (with the major exception of health-care, which was shoved down the GOP’s throat). Obama has wised up. And he’s disdainful of the Republicans who spent the last four years blocking him at every turn.

What does all this mean for the president’s agenda? Take one of his big second term goals: Immigration reform. The president knows — as do Republicans — that he won the Latino vote by 44 percentage points. That’s eight percentage points more than in 2008. Obtuse, arrogant policies doomed Republicans from the beginning, and given the fact that Latinos are not only the fastest-growing voter bloc in the country but also the youngest, Republican policies will have to change if the GOP hopes to reverse this trend in 2014, 2016, and beyond. Obama has little reason to play nice with the GOP on immigration reform.

Republicans are already changing. During the year-end tax fight, Obama’s divide-and-conquer strategy peeled off 85 Republican votes in the House, shattering what had been a rock-solid GOP caucus. 85 votes. Among those voting the president’s way: Former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Then last week, Republicans caved on the debt ceiling, stepping back from threats to shut down the government. Look for Obama to keep up the pressure on the sequester, the big spending cuts that were kicked down the road until March, and on other fiscal matters as well.

The president is holding the best cards he has held in four years. But political winds are fickle. Obama and the Democrats won in 2008, received a “shellacking” (his word) in 2010, and then rebounded last November. He begins his new term with a modest 52 percent approval rating, below Bill Clinton’s 60 percent in 1997 and Ronald Reagan’s 62 percent in 1985. In fact, Obama is right about where George W. Bush was when his second term began in 2005. The numbers are worse on the one issue that his administration will ultimately be judged on: the economy. The New York Times reported last week that just 46 percent of Americans approve of the president’s ability to handle the economy; 49 percent don’t.

Obama also knows that presidents tend to lose ground in midterms, and that after 2014, he will be a lame duck. He has a narrow window in which to act. If the president wants to make a mark with his second-term agenda, he has months, not years, to do so.


Paul Brandus is an award-winning member of the White House press corps and the founder of WestWingReports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport.