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Archive for December, 2013

2014: Another Election About Obamacare

December 23rd, 2013

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Here we go again.

2014 will be the third election in a row in which Obamacare is the central issue. The Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2010, contributed to a fierce voter backlash against Democrats in November 2010. After the Supreme Court upheld the law in June 2012, the issue seemed to be settled by Obama’s re-election that November.

But no.

The botched Obamacare rollout this year has again thrust the issue to the top of the political agenda. Republicans are counting on opposition to Obamacare to propel them to a majority in the Senate next year. A conservative group is already running an ad attacking Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for supporting Obamacare: “Next November, if you like your senator, you can keep her. If you don’t, you know what to do.”

2013 came to a close with two big political stories. The government shutdown in October was immensely damaging to Republicans. So damaging that House Republicans defied their conservative base and voted for a compromise budget deal last week. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) attacked the Tea Party, accusing them of pushing congressional Republicans “into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government.” A fight Boehner said all along was unwinnable.

The message was, “No more shutdowns.” Republicans didn’t want to step on the second big political story, one immensely damaging to Democrats: the rollout of Obamacare.

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NSA Snooping’s Negative Impact On Business Would Have The Founding Fathers ‘Aghast’

December 20th, 2013

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James Madison would be “aghast.” That was one of the incendiary charges leveled at the National Security Agency and its mass surveillance activities by Judge Richard Leon in his December 16 opinion ordering the government to stop collecting some of the data that it’s been gathering on private citizens here and abroad.

But Thomas Jefferson might be horrified as well, because the NSA collection efforts are having a fairly profound effect on American business and its efforts to sell goods and services abroad. Jefferson, a big believer in the American “taste for navigation and commerce,” would be dismayed that our government was doing things that could hurt our competitiveness and our ability to set the terms of global trade.

To be sure, there has always been some tension between U.S. high-tech industries and our national security. In the 90s, the rules were fairly primitive, such as limitations on exports of high-performance computing designed to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. Those restrictions were quickly rendered outdated by Moore’s Law, but had they remained they would have prevented the exports of game consoles like Xbox.

Since then, increased globalization and the rise of terrorist organizations operating in the shadows and across national boundaries have complicated both the security and economic issues. The current debate about Edward Snowden’s intelligence revelations may seem like an unlikely place to see that tension emerge, but beyond the discussions of civil liberties and counterterrorism, it is becoming clear that the post-9/11 surveillance apparatus may be at cross-purposes with our high-tech economic growth.

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Natural Gas Offers an Opportunity for Success, Not a Guarantee

December 12th, 2013

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Remember that movie “The Jerk”, in which Steve Martin plays a monumental idiot who stumbles into a fortune, and then blows it all on things like a giant stuffed camel and a private nightclub in his basement? Ultimately, Martin’s character is rescued by family members who prudently invested the money he’d occasionally sent them—providing both a happy ending and a life lesson about responsible resource management.

Technological developments like hydraulic fracturing have suddenly given the U.S. access to a fortune in natural gas, which is already providing opportunities for economic growth. And recent studies like those being conducted by Environmental Defense Fund further support the tremendous environmental opportunities presented by natural gas, including climate change mitigation. But opportunity alone does not guarantee success. A certain amount of planning and public support can help ensure we maximize the benefits of this resource, and avoid being… jerks.

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Keeping the Peace in Asia

December 12th, 2013

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If you’re an Asia-focused security analyst, you’ve certainly been earning your paycheck these last few months. To wit: In late November, Beijing unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone over a broad swath of the Pacific Ocean; the U.S. responded by flying two B-52 bombers straight through it a few days later. South Korea and Japan then followed suit. Just this week, South Korea declared its own zone that overlaps waters and a submerged rock that China also claims.

The situation underscores why the U.S. needs to maintain a robust naval and air force presence in Asia: because it keeps all the regional powers — rising, declining or otherwise — from escalating a crisis into a conflagration. Treaties and trade help ameliorate the jagged regional political dynamics, but American hard power on the seas and in the air is what keeps tensions from rising to a fever pitch.

How can the U.S. continue to stabilize Asia without firing a shot? One way is to continue to blunt Japan from making a serious move that would further enflame Chinese nationalist passions, and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. Once these nationalist fires are re-lit in Asia, it could burn down the whole continent, as we saw a few generations ago.

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The Bipartisan House Immigration Bill You’ve Never Heard Of

December 9th, 2013

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By now we’ve heard all the doom and gloom predictions of the chances of passing immigration reform. The media may paint a pretty pessimistic picture, but secretly Congress agrees on more than you think they do.

In May, the House Committee on Homeland Security voice voted—unanimously—in favor of the Border Security Results Act of 2013. Almost as shocking as a bipartisan vote in support of an immigration bill is the fact that the bill focuses on border security—one of the most contentious and partisan issues in the immigration policy debate. And rest assured, this is no minor messaging bill.

The Border Security Results Act requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a national strategy for border security based on an analysis of the state of the border—a common sense approach to avoid both over-spending and over-militarizing at the Southern border. The bill would put Department of Defense sensor technology no longer needed in Iraq or Afghanistan to work monitoring the border so border patrol troops and resources can be allocated where they are truly needed. DHS would have 180 days to submit a data-based plan for maintaining control of the border and 90 days to craft a strategy for implementation. Within 2 years of the submission of the implementation plan, the strategy must lead to the apprehension of 90% of illegal border crossers in high traffic areas. Within 5 years, 90% of all illegal border crossers must be apprehended. Homeland Security must certify that these goals have been met. The strategy, implementation plan, and the metrics they rely upon must be verified by the Government Accountability Office, a National Laboratory that specializes in border security, and the DHS centers of excellence network. No money can be spent on new resources until the strategy has been evaluated by these independent experts. In addition, the bill requires the implementation of a biometric exit program at ports of entry to better track who is leaving the country and when, as well as a review of border security duplication and cost effectiveness.

Surely, if the House can figure out how to come together on border security, the rest of a comprehensive immigration reform package is in reach. When the Senate was considering this issue, the border security “surge” amendment was the final step in negotiations before a bipartisan bill was passed. Perhaps this House Committee on Homeland Security bill is a good omen—and at the very least, it is place to start. Americans—even the ones in Congress—aren’t really as far apart on immigration as it seems. Seventy-four percent of the country says current immigration policy either needs major changes or to be completely rebuilt. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said reform is “going to happen” and Speaker Boehner proclaimed immigration reform is “absolutely not” dead. The Senate’s Gang of 8 set an example of how it can be done—but there isn’t only one route to fixing our broken system. If the House could come together on a bill or a series of bills, built off of the foundation of the Border Security Results Act, they could give Congress a chance to do what we elected them to do—make progress on the issues that matter.

Response to “Conscience of a Liberal”

December 6th, 2013

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In a recent blog post, Paul Krugman writes of Third Way’s “fact-free denunciations of progressives for not being willing to cut entitlements.” In response, I offer three points.

First, Mr. Krugman says the “[Social Security] system might possibly have to pay lower benefits in the future.” If you believe the Congressional Budget Office or the Social Security Actuaries, there is no “might possibly” about it. Without changes to either benefits or revenue, the Social Security Trust Fund will be insolvent. The only question is whether that occurs in 2031 (CBO) or 2033 (the actuaries).

Second, our support for balanced fixes to Social Security and Medicare is not to reach some magic budget number, but based on the fact that over the past five decades the balance of federal spending has shifted. At the dawn of the Great Society in the 1960s, federal investments (as defined by the Office of Management and Budget) outstripped federal entitlement spending three-to-one. While that balance obviously needed to change to address poverty and elderly health care, by last year the ratio flipped to one-to-three. In ten years, the ratio will be five dollars for the three major entitlement programs for every one dollar in federal investments. As we’ve seen with the recent budget deals and sequestration, investment programs are the first on the chopping block and entitlements are treated as sacrosanct.

Third, Mr. Krugman says that it is his “strong guess” that Third Way means “raising the retirement age” to address Medicare cost containment. That is incorrect. We do not support raising the retirement age for Medicare eligibility. He also says that we do not offer any ideas to reduce Medicare spending, but on our website are several ideas to do so. They include means testing Medicare premiums for high income seniors, dealing with end of life care, bundled payments to improve care and reduce duplicative treatment, and medical homes. And of course, we fought alongside other progressive groups in Washington to pass the Affordable Care Act.

To be sure, Republicans have been intransigent in their refusal to consider new taxes and their opposition to the Medicare cost saving measures in the ACA. But we believe that Democrats must also be willing to take on some sacred cows if we are going to be able to invest in the future and meet our obligations to our seniors and our poor.