Fresh off the funding battle over the Department of Homeland Security, GOP Representative Charlie Dent noted to the New York Times: “We really don’t have 218 votes to determine a bathroom break over here on our side. So how are we going to get 218 votes on transportation, or trade, or whatever the issue? We might as well face the political reality of our circumstances and then act accordingly.”
The issue is that there are certain funding that Congress must vote on—and nowhere is that more apparent than with the return of the debt ceiling. On March 16th, according to the Treasury Department, the U.S. reached the limit for the amount of funds it is allowed to spend. As with previous debt ceiling debates, Treasury is able to draw out the period of time before actually defaulting on the national debt through using accounting maneuvers and other extraordinary means. But ultimately, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling—or risk a default on the debt that will greatly impact the interest rate the US pays on the national debt and harm the full-faith and credit of the United States.
Following the 2014 election, Senate Majority Leader McConnell promised an end to governing-by-crisis. And despite the theatrics around the Department of Homeland Security, there was no shutdown and the Senate handled the dispute with relatively few fireworks. The problem with the debt ceiling is that even approaching it becomes dangerous. In 2011, despite not defaulting on the national debt, consumer confidence dove dramatically as businesses and Americans anticipated disaster. The debt ceiling was first hit in May—and the crisis peaked in August. It would take 6 months to return to neutral ground, and longer to steady growth in confidence.
Since then, Congress has submitted the U.S. economy to additional funding stand-offs: the fiscal cliff on taxes following President Obama’s re-election, a second debt ceiling fight in early 2013, the government shutdown over the ACA in 2014, and the standoff over the Department of Homeland Security. As the Times notes, this spring will bring additional conflict over the expirations of the Highway Trust Fund, the Expert-Import Bank, and the return of the Sequester—alongside the disagreements that are already occurring in Congress between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks in the 2015 FY budget.
Senator McConnell has argued that the process itself will play out over the next couple of months, but what Dent’s quote highlights is the difficulty, particularly in the House to pass any legislation regardless of necessity. Congressional Leaders should return to their previous tactics for using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip as the risk is way too great. Unfortunately, the last few months have only shown that the contrast between how the Democrats and Republicans run government exists not only in the Presidency in Congress as well—the lack of focus on jobs growth, sound fiscal policy, and governing by crisis all impacts how well Americans perceive the economy as well as the political system.
At a time when Americans are “turning a page” on the U.S. economy, there is no need to return to a dangerous round of governing by crisis.
Something potentially very significant happened last night in the ongoing debate over the President’s recent immigration reforms: 14 states asked a higher court to release them from the Texas judge’s injunction that is preventing DAPA and DACA expansion from proceeding.
This is important for whatever the merits of the case brought by Texas and 25 states that led to the injunction, that the injunction was applied to 24 states who did not join the suit and do not believe they were harmed by the President’s seems to be a clear and unsustainable overreach by Judge Hanen of Texas.
As the case moves to the 5th circuit, it is important to note that there at least two separate legal tracks emerging. As I’ve written elsewhere, the core of Judge Hanen’s decision was legally weak and is likely to be overturned. That process could take months. But on the question of whether to release the 24 states who have claimed harm and did not join the current suit, that decision could come much sooner as there simply is no legal basis to block the implementation of the President’s reform in these states who want the reforms to take place.
This also means that this debate will start to move to the political realm. Will for example, the GOP’s new US Senate candidate in California, Rocky Chavez, support his state’s call to be released from the injunction or does he support Judge Hanen’s decision? And what about in Iowa, a state who has been asked to be released? Will the 2016 GOPers publically challenge this decision? Will prominent GOPers in the 14 states who have filed an amicus brief come out in support of their state or will they oppose? Lots of fun ahead.
But as I’ve said, I am confident the President will win in the courts and his reforms will be implemented this year. What may happen sooner, however, is that the 5th circuit may release some states from the injunction, allowing these reforms to begin to be implemented soon, perhaps as early as this spring.
We are proud to announce that today NDN has joined people and organizations from across the nation and the political spectrum in supporting the bold work of the Campaign for Free College Tuition.
The Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) was launched in 2014 with the aim to make college tuition free in all 50 states. Their plan – available at www.freecollegenow.org – aims to provide a tuition free college education at a public institution without raising federal taxes or accruing additional debt by redirecting existing federal spending in support of higher education, significantly reducing the profits the federal government currently makes on student loans, and asking states to do their part to restore their support for higher education to historical levels. The cornerstone of CFCT’s plan is the establishment of a National Promise Scholarship (NPS) program that would provide every academically qualified student from a middle or lower income family enough money to pay for in state tuition at either a two or four year public college.
CFCT also applauds President Obama’s America’s College Promise initiative to make community colleges tuition free in partnership with state governments, as well as existing efforts by the State of Tennessee and dozens of “Promise” communities throughout the country that have made free college tuition a reality for their residents.
In announcing our support, we released the following statements:
“Understanding the millennial generation and their impact on the future of American politics has been one of NDN’s main areas of focus over the past decade.” said Simon Rosenberg. “Ensuring that America has a well-educated workforce that isn’t crippled by student loan debt is a noble cause that would have a positive benefit for all. We applaud the works of CFCT and NDNer Morley Winograd on their work thus far, and are excited about helping the campaign move forward.”
“It is imperative that we restore our nation’s historic commitment to free and universal education,” said CFCT President Morley Winograd. “To ensure our nation’s future competitiveness, we must fundamentally reform the way the country finances higher education by making public colleges tuition free. We are pleased that NDN is joining our coalition and look forward to working with Simon Rosenberg and his colleagues to make the attainment of an affordable college education a possibility for every American.”
While NDN has provided tacit support to CFCT already, look for us to step our advocacy for their important work in the months ahead. We hope that you will take the time to visit the Campaign for Free College Tuition website to learn more, and if you are so moved, sign up online to join the Campaign. NDN would also like to applaud the Obama Administration for its recently announced Student Loan Bill of Rights and continued efforts to make tuition more affordable.
In the coming years this effort has the opportunity to do something truly important for the country – but they will only get there by growing a broad-based coalition with your support.
You can also read CFCT's coverage of the NDN endorsement on their website.
The condition of most American households, and of the country as a whole, is set largely by people’s income – both the levels, and the income progress that people make as they age from their 20’s to their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. For generations, most Americans have believed that if they work hard, they’ll have real opportunities to earn steadily rising incomes. Such broad based upward mobility is one of the reasons that Americans have been generally optimistic and willing to extend opportunity to successive minority groups. But is that the way America really works? One common view argues that wages have stagnated and most Americans have made, at best, modest income progress since the 1970s. This view is based on a time series of a single statistic, “aggregate median household income.” In fact, the true picture is more complex.
Today, the Brookings Institution issues a new report which I worked on for the past year. Using new Census Bureau data, I analyze household incomes by age cohort – say, people age 25 in 1980 or in 1990 –and then follow those age cohorts as they age. The results revise what we thought we knew about incomes. The data show that broad, strong income gains were hallmarks of the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, the steady progress of the Reagan and Clinton years covered just about everybody -- households headed by men and by women; by whites, blacks and Hispanics; and by those with college degrees, high school diplomas, and no degrees at all. This broad upward mobility, however, simply stopped under Bush and has not recovered under Obama. Moreover, this dramatic turnaround, including declining incomes from 2002 to 2013 for a majority of American households, affects every demographic group.
I’ll be writing more about what’s really happened to income, why, and what we can do about in coming weeks and months. If you want to read the report for yourself, click here
This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.
Later this week, the Supreme Court takes up a new case regarding the Affordable Care Act, King v. Burwell. At risk are subsides that make insurance affordable for many of the Americans who have signed up via the healthcare exchanges. We thought that given how far the law has come, that now would be a good moment to put its progress in perspective. A court decision that rules against the government would have enormous ramifications.
While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has used 11.4 million as the number of beneficiaries of the ACA, we find that the number of Americans benefitting from the ACA is far higher. Steve Ratter’s recent piece in the New York Times cites data from ACAsignups.org, and illustrates that the true number of beneficiaries is over 31 million Americans. And the number may be even higher as neither analysis can fully account for the number of young people who gained insurance coverage by staying on their parents’ healthcare until 26.
If we go with the 31 million number as an estimate, then we have an almost intangible amount of Americans benefiting from the law. How do we put that number in a better context?
Within the first 18 months, the 31 million people benefitting from the ACA are now:
About 15.1% of the entire American population that falls between the ages of 18 and 65.
The size of 1/5th of the entire workforce in the United States.
More than twice as large as the number of members of labor unions in the United States.
Eight times larger than the entire federal government (including military and civilian personnel).
60% of the total Medicare population. There are currently about 50 million people enrolled in Medicare.
Beneficiaries of the ACA are a larger group than labor, the number of employees of the federal government, and other major political groups. This number is likely to grow, as the law has only been fully operating for a year-and-a half. Thus, their needs should not be ignored by Congress or the Supreme Court—particularly when a court case later this week threatens the health insurance benefits of many ACA enrollees. According to a new poll by Hart Research, the American public disapproves of the Supreme Court negatively impacting subsidies by 63% to 29%. Republicans are not far off disapproving of a removal of subsidies by a margin of 56% to 31%.
In the past two years, the number of people uninsured has fallen by about 11 million people. The percentage of the country that is uninsured, according to Gallup, has fallen from about 18% to 12%. These changes have enormous impact, in terms of how Americans will go about taking new risks and what type of impact this freedom will have on their general view towards the U.S. economy. For what it’s worth, the general view on the ACA has reached the point where for the first time more people want to keep or expand the bill as opposed to replace it, according to a poll by Yougov.
Essentially, the ACA has reached the point of no return, and has woven itself into the American healthcare system. It is working as intended, by lowering the number of uninsured, bending the cost curve, and reducing the deficit. What this new data and polls number suggest is the proponents of the law have been underselling the positive and monumental changes that are brought forth when Americans finally feel secure in that an injury or illness will not bankrupt their family. And that the political landscape around the ACA has shifted in the short time since full implementation began.
One of the reasons folks like Steve King are and will continue to fight so hard against Speaker Boehner on DHS funding is that the obvious weakness and narrowness of Judge Hanen's recent ruling blocking elements of the President's Executive Actions did not give them confidence they would prevail in the courts.
The judge's decision did not block the central focus of King's efforts in 2013/4, which was to roll back the "Morton Memos" and the way the President began to change the imm/border enforcement system in 2011. The "King Amendment" in 2013, and a similar measure which passed the House in 2014, targeted prosecutorial discretion itself not only DACA. The failure of the judge to challenge PD and block the portions of the President's executive actions which build upon these earlier changes means that Judge Hanen's decision could not possible satisfy Rep. King and his Congressional allies. It didn't go far enough, and as far as King is concerned, Hanen's ruling did not address the core flouting of the law by the President we've heard so much about these last few years. This is one reason why they are fighting and will continue to fight so hard today and in the weeks to come in the House - they no longer see the Court as a way of solving this problem. Congress is going to have to do it, now. This is their only shot.
My MSNBC op-ed from earlier this week goes a bit more in depth in this political terrain. I've been saying all week that I never say a path for a clean bill to pass the House, even a CR, without Democratic support.
Sat AM Update - As predicted, Rep. King and his allies did not relent. And what is perhaps most important for the next iteration of this debate at this end of this coming week Speaker Boehner lost 5 votes from the first to second vote - from 50 to 55. Amazingly, more GOP House Members voted against the one week CR than the earlier three week version. What can explain this level of oppostion to Speaker Boehner? Read above, and be sure to read Frank Wilkinson's take in Bloomberg why the 24 states who did not challenge the President's immigration reforms may hold the key to what happens next.
Finally, it needs to be understood that by keeping DHS on a CR is an affirmative step to lower America's defenses during a time of rising threats. As someone who works closely with DHS and has for years, there should be no mistaking it - the GOP have purposefully weakened our ability to deal with foreign and domestic threats for their own political gain. It is shameful and reckless behavior.
This piece originally appeared on February 24th on MSNBC's website in-advance of a townhall they hosted with President Obama.
MSNBC’s televised town hall discussion with President Obama on Wednesday comes at a critical juncture in the debate over how to best improve our immigration system.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas blocked the implementation of parts of the president’s executive actions on immigration, which would provide deportation relief for millions. And this week, congressional Republicans may recklessly allow the Department of Homeland Security to shut down, endangering our border, cyber security and counter-terrorism operations, in order to register a symbolic protest.
So where are we heading in this debate, and what will the president say later this week? Here are a few things we know:
Obamacare may be a road map. The experience of the Affordable Care Act may be a good guide for what could happen with the president’s reforms in the years ahead. The ACA has been through a controversial 5-6 years. There were ups and down along the way, problems with implementation, legal challenges and intense political opposition.
But almost six years after Obamacare was first introduced, it is looking increasingly like a significant policy and political success. Signups have exceeded expectations this year. Tens of millions of people have seen dramatic improvements in their lives in just the first 18 months of full implementation. The famous “health care cost curve” is bending, and during the first months of the ACA, we’ve seen one of the strongest economic performances from the U.S. economy in the last 20 years. And the public is noticing. New polling shows that a majority of Americans now approve of Obamacare for the first time since this debate began in 2009.
Advocates of reform should draw from the tough but ultimately successful implementation of Obamacare, not only for inspiration for their own work in the years ahead but also to continue to explain to the American people why they are so confident the reforms will work as intended..."
The legal and policy arguments against reform are weak. With a full week to review the injunction by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, the Texas justice who blocked the implementation of the president’s reform, the decision is looking more like the desperate political act of a losing side than a sound, sustainable legal opinion. The injunction was granted on a minor technicality and did not attempt to meaningfully challenge the legal theory of “prosecutorial discretion” behind Obama’s executive actions.
In fact, very significant applications of this legal theory regarding other aspects of border and immigration enforcement were not blocked and will continue to be implemented. As this Washington Post analysis demonstrates, the judge’s clearly hastily-written opinion betrayed a shocking and potentially disqualifying lack of understanding of how the immigration system works in the United States. And the injunction overreaches, covering all 26 states in the suit though he cites “harm” in only one, Texas (and the 24 other states who did not join the suit).
That the opinion was so sloppy and narrow reinforces how political the ruling was. Rushed out on a federal holiday just days before the reforms in question were set to take effect, the decision now appears intended to buy some time for Hanen’s ideological allies in Washington who have so far failed to find a way to block Obama’s reforms.
The reason the GOP’s challenge ultimately will fail is that there is ample legal precedent for the president’s actions. And, as with Obamacare, these smart reforms will be good for the nation, boost the U.S. economy and enhance our security. By allowing immigration agents to focus on true criminals and illegal border crossers, the U.S. will become more effective at deterring future unauthorized migrants. Federal and local law enforcement will be freed up to go after truly dangerous criminals – not working moms with kids in public schools.
Important parts of the president’s reforms were not blocked. What is perhaps least well known is that Judge Hanen did not strike down Obama’s far-reaching reforms of the immigration and border enforcement systems, which will continue to be implemented without challenge in the months ahead.
And they are significant. Building on earlier reforms in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security will further focus enforcement resources on those trying to enter the country illegally and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with serious criminal records. The net effect of these reforms will be to remove the threat of immediate deportation from 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It will also make it far more difficult for undocumented immigrants to be put in detention without a formal arrest.
Prioritizing immigration and border enforcement in this way will improve the security of communities across the nation while building a more powerful deterrent on our border for those thinking of entering the country illegally. These reforms are smart and humane, and will guarantee that Obama leaves his successor a border and immigration enforcement system far better than the one he inherited – despite years of extraordinary opposition from the GOP.
So what’s next for immigration reform? I am fairly confident the administration will prevail in the courts. The Republicans will back down on their DHS shutdown threat, which recklessly threatens American security in a time of heightened fears. And the president’s reforms will proceed, ending a decade of gridlock, giving the country a better immigration system and millions of people a renewed chance to pursue the American Dream for them and their families.
The lessons of the health care reform fight point the way: years of battle, legal victories and defeats; but at the end, a better America with millions and millions having the chance to make an even more powerful contribution to their adopted home. As Obama is certain to remind us when he speaks Wednesday night, positive social change only comes about through relentless, hard-fought struggle.
Simon Rosenberg is the president of NDN/New Policy Institute, a pro-immigration reform think tank based in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to DHS the GOP's current strategy is already degrading the nation's security. DHS is on a continuing resolution which freezes in place its budget from last year. Imagine running a business – or a newspaper or media organization – using last year’s priorities or budget. It makes it far harder for the institution to adapt to new threats or challenges, weakening the overall effectiveness of one of the key pillars of our global security apparatus.
Additionally, the threat of a shutdown is causing untold number of person hours being spent now on prepping for the shutdown itself. This too is weakening the overall effectiveness of DHS. Look at all the time the DHS Secretary alone is spending managing this crisis rather than focusing on counter-terrorism, cyber-threats, border security, expediting trade through our borders and ports and all the other truly important responsibilities he has. It is just reckless and irresponsible for the Republicans in Congress to be acting this way, particularly given their very outspoken criticism of how the Administration is handling its broader national security portfolio. If you want to take the fight to the terrorists disabling DHS is sure a strange way to do it.
Congress must give DHS its budget for the year, and let it do its job. The stakes are far too high, particularly in a period of heightened threats, for Congress to be playing reckless political games with the security of the American people. It is time to pass a clean DHS bill and stop using extra-ordinary means outside the traditional Congressional process to challenge the President. We understand Republicans are frustrated, angry. But taking their political frustrations out on the American people is the very opposite of the kind of leadership our nation wants and needs. Anything short of a clean bill this week is an affirmative step to lower our nation’s defenses in a time of heightened threats to our homeland.
President Obama hosted a press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel early today. We were particularly struck with this particular paragraph at the close of his remarks :
"And let me end on an historic note. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It marks the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. So in a time when conflicts around the world sometimes seem intractable, when progress sometimes seems beyond grasp, Germany’s story gives us hope. We can end wars. Countries can rebuild. Adversaries can become allies. Walls can come down. Divisions can be healed. Germany’s story -- and the story of Angela’s life -- remind us that when free people stand united, our interests and our values will ultimately prevail. And as we look to the future, as I prepare to visit Bavaria in June, I’m grateful for my partnership with Angela, as Americans are grateful for their partnership with the people of Germany."
You can find video of this press conference here (passage referenced is at minute: 7:22), as well as a full transcript.
There is a growing body of public opinion data showing that Americans have indeed “turned a page” on the economy, and feel that things are improving. In many of the main measures cited by experts, the improvement has been significant in recent years, and it is harder and harder to describe the American people as pessimistic about our prospects. This comes at a time of course when income and wages while up slightly still have yet to show meaningful increases. Let’s review some recent data:
Consumer Sentiment: This metric, which I’ve discussed previously, is a five-question measure that asks Americans how they see their current position as well as their perception of the future. Consumer Sentiment rose by almost 20 points in 2014. For context, last year’s improvement was about half the total rise in consumer sentiment during the Obama Administration.
Gallup: A similar positive trend is noted in a new Gallup poll that shows a large change in the group’s perception of whether there is an opportunity for Americans to move ahead if they work hard. Generally, this measure remains high, but rapidly declined during the 2008 recession. In the past year, the margin of those who were satisfied increased from +9 to +22.
Gallup has other measurements, including its own Economic Confidence Index, which rose into positive territory for the first time since they began measuring in 2008. The organization concludes that:
The president's positive spin on the economy is certainly defensible as most economic measures have been trending in a positive direction over the past year, including official government reports of economic growth and unemployment, but also measures that Gallup tracks, including on employment, company hiring and consumer spending.
NBC/WSJ: A recent NBC/WSJ poll highlights similar positive sentiments: 50% of Americans believe that the economy improved a lot or somewhat in 2014; Only 49% feel that the country is declining, which is the lowest since 2007; and those polled who are very/somewhat satisfied with the state of the U.S. economy stands at a seven-year high at 45%.
So how can the American public be feeling so much better about the economy if their wages haven’t gone up? Perhaps it is that for many the economy is far better. Millions of people have gotten jobs in recent years and still have them. At least 15 million Americans – one tenth of the workforce – have gained health insurance through the ACA. 21 states have raised the minimum wage for 2015. 3-4 million people found out late last year that they would be able to get temporary work permits through the President’s immigration actions. Gas/energy prices are dramatically lower for everyone. And for those Americans who own homes or are invested in the stock market, there has been a big uptick in housing prices and the stock market. So as Gallup mentions above, the economy is actually far better for tens of millions of Americans than it was a few years ago and voters are feeling it.
It is also important to note that both the very real improvements in the US economy we’ve seen in recent months, and dramatically improved public sentiment, have come at a time when the President’s health care plan was fully implemented. It not only raises questions once again about the economic literacy of the Republicans, but should cause analysts to start wondering whether tens of millions of people getting health insurance may actually be contributing to the improving public sentiment about the economy. This many people gaining health insurance is a big enough event to alter public opinion all on its own – and more research should be going into this.
This rising optimism is going to change US politics in the next two years. GOP indictments of the Obama Presidency will be far less compelling, and will put more pressure on Republicans to articulate how they will make things better in the coming years. Both parties are going to have to be careful not to sound too pessimistic about where the economy is at—the voters are moving to a different place. This gives Democrats a real opportunity, as we’ve written elsewhere, to draw a very bright line between the economic success of the last two Democratic Presidents and the failure of the last two Republican Presidents.
We will be tracking consumer sentiment closely in the coming months. For the changes we are seeing in the public perception of the economy and of the future of the US are significant, and are in the process of creating a very different political landscape in 2016.
NDN’s Simon Rosenberg contributed to this analysis.