Profile: John Boehner
John Boehner was a participant or observer in the following events:
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]
Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 ; New York Times, 3/11/2008]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) responds to President Obama’s order closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by wondering why anyone wants to close it. After all, Boehner says, the detainees at Guantanamo enjoy privileges denied to many Americans: “I don’t know that there’s a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is—we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” Boehner states that once “a terrorist detainee is brought to the United States[,] that terrorist is automatically afforded more constitutional rights than US military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” [Office of the House Minority Leader, 1/22/2009; Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Screen capture of an MSNBC broadcast in which the disputed recidivism claim was made. [Source: Media Matters]Many media figures repeat a disputed claim by the Pentagon that 61 former Guantanamo detainees are again engaged in terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009), without noting that the figure is being challenged. The argument is being used to criticize President Obama’s announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year (see January 22, 2009). Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of media outlets promulgating the claim. On Fox News, host Sean Hannity tells a guest, “But we know… 61 Gitmo detainees that have already been released, according to the Pentagon, went right back to the battlefield with their fanaticism.” On CNN, neoconservative guest Clifford May tells host Campbell Brown: “Many hundreds have been released. About 60 of them—a little more than that—have returned to the battlefield.” Brown fails to challenge the claim. Nor does MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenge a similar assertion from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), who says, “we know already that more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield.” [Media Matters, 1/23/2009] The Boston Globe reports, “Pentagon statistics show that of the hundreds of detainees that have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in early 2002, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities.” [Boston Globe, 1/22/2009] The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Pentagon has said that 61 former detainees have taken up arms against the US or its allies after being released from the military prison in Cuba.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009] The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Republicans also claimed that 61 detainees already released have been ‘found back on the battlefield.’” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23/2009] And an ABC News article repeats House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) statement, “Do we release them back into the battlefield, like some 61 detainees that have been released we know are back on the battlefield?” ABC does not report that the claim is disputed. [ABC News, 1/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Clifford May, CNN, Boston Globe, Barack Obama, ABC News, Campbell Brown, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Sean Hannity, John Boehner, US Department of Defense, San Francisco Chronicle, Media Matters, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times, Chris Matthews, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Conservatives and Congressional Republicans attack President Obama’s economic stimulus plan with a variety of claims centering on “earmarks” or “Democratic pork.” One claim is that the stimulus package wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on funding for contraceptives. “You know, I’m concerned about the size of the package.” says House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). “And I’m concerned about some of the spending that’s in there, [about]… how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives. How does that stimulate the economy?” [New York Post, 1/26/2009]
Reduces Costs to State, Federal Budgets - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) explains the rationale behind the funding: “Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those—one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.” [Think Progress, 1/26/2009]
Limbaugh's Suggestion - Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh retorts that if Pelosi “wants fewer births, I have the way to do this and it won’t require any contraception: You simply put pictures of Nancy Pelosi… in every cheap motel room.… That will keep birthrates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.” [Media Matters, 1/26/2009]
Savings of $700 Million - The language of the stimulus bill reads: “Under current law, the secretary [of health and human services] has the authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to states to allow them to cover family planning services and supplies to low-income women who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The bill would give states the option to provide such coverage without obtaining a waiver. States could continue to use the existing waiver authority if they preferred.” The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, explains that this portion of the stimulus bill “would not only aid states, but also provide preventative, cost-saving health care to help low-income women support their families and keep working.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the measure would save the nation $200 million over five years and $700 million over 10 years. States that choose not to participate in the program are not required to do so. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) notes, “I think that Mr. Boehner is looking for one little sound bite rather than looking at the total package here and seeing what it will do for the American people.” [Think Progress, 1/26/2009]
The salt marsh harvest mouse, currently receiving no funding from the Obama stimulus package. [Source: Environmental Protection Agency]Conservative opponents of the new stimulus package claim that the legislation allocates $30 million for saving the endangered salt marsh mouse, and would be spent entirely in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) district. The claim is part of a larger set of claims that the bill is “stuffed with Democratic pork” or “earmarks” (see January 23, 2009 and January 25-26, 2009). The claim is false, with Pelosi’s office calling it a “total fabrication” and examination of the bill finding no mention of any such funding allocation. The claim begins with an e-mail from an unidentified House Republican staff member, who claims that he was told by an unidentified federal agency source that if that agency were to receive stimulus money, it would spend “thirty million dollars for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area—including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.” The e-mail identifies neither the agency nor the source, nor does it claim that the money is actually in the package. However, the story is quickly picked up and echoed by Republicans such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), both of whom appear on Fox News stating the claim as unvarnished fact. Representative Dan Lundgren (R-CA) calls the supposed spending “absurd.” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) asks how $30 million “for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio?” The Drudge Report makes the same claim. And the Washington Times runs an article entitled “Pelosi’s mouse slated for $30m slice of cheese.” The House staffer who circulates the e-mail later acknowledges that the claim, as stated by Huckabee, Lundgren, and others, is erroneous. “There is not specific language in the legislation for this project,” he admits. However, the staffer claims: “If the bill passes, the project will be funded according to what the relevant agency told our staff. The bottom line is, if this bill becomes law, taxpayers will spend 30 million on the mouse.” Pelosi’s staff says that the $30 million is for federal wetland restoration projects such as the California State Coastal Conservancy, none of which will be spent on the salt marsh mouse or even in Pelosi’s district. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill says: “There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco. Neither the Speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication.… This is yet another contrived partisan attack. Restoration is key to economic activity, including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water.” [Washington Times, 2/12/2009; Plum Line, 2/12/2009; Associated Content, 2/14/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) accuses the Obama administration of colluding with Democrats to include a “high-speed rail system” from “Las Vegas [Nevada] to Disneyland” in the administration’s economic stimulus package. “Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district,” he demands. [US House of Representatives, 2/13/2009]
Claim at Odds with Facts - Boehner is joined in the claim by several of his House Republican colleagues, including Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), and Candice Miller (R-MI), as well as Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) includes the claim in his response to President Obama’s address to Congress regarding the stimulus package. Many of these lawmakers add the accusation that the supposed rail line, which they call a “levitating train,” is an earmark inserted for Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV), whose state would benefit from the rail line. In reality, the stimulus bill does not set aside any money at all for a train of any kind between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The bill does provide $8 billion for unspecified high-speed rail projects, which includes “magnetic levitation,” or maglev, train systems. The money will be allocated by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of two Republican holdovers from the Bush administration in President Obama’s cabinet. A Department of Transportation spokesperson says it is “premature to speculate” about what exactly will be funded; the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense says there is “no way that this provision is an earmark for Senator Reid.” The governors of Nevada and California—both Republicans—have indicated they would support such a maglev line between those two cities. The nonpartisan site FactCheck.org writes: “We can’t predict the future, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Republican who is Obama’s transportation secretary will decide to devote the entire $8 billion to a project that is nowhere near shovel-ready and that the Federal Railroad Administration says is not cost-effective—all for the benefit of the Democratic majority leader. But we wouldn’t bet on it.” [FactCheck (.org), 2/25/2009; New York Times, 2/25/2009] The Center for American Progress notes that Republicans mock the idea of “levitating trains” because, apparently, “they [think] the term sounds funny.” FactCheck observes, “In truth, ‘levitating’ trains really do exist—but they are properly called maglev trains, and they are high-tech marvels” employed in Japan, among other places. [FactCheck (.org), 2/25/2009; Think Progress, 3/2/2009]
Plans Include Ohio Lines - While there are no plans for a train line of any kind between California and Nevada in the stimulus package, there are at least two proposals for rail lines in and out of Ohio, Boehner’s state. The plans under consideration include a Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago line and a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis line. [Think Progress, 2/13/2009]
Train to Las Vegas Brothel? - In March, a Republican House member will claim that the supposed “levitating train” will not just go to Las Vegas, but to a brothel. The claim is entirely false (see March 2, 2009).
Entity Tags: John McCain, Ray LaHood, Taxpayers for Common Sense, John Boehner, US Department of Transportation, Thaddeus McCotter, Jim DeMint, Patrick McHenry, Federal Railroad Administration, Bobby Jindal, Candice Miller, FactCheck (.org), Center for American Progress, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
John Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader, calls on the Obama administration to implement a freeze on government spending, and for President Obama to veto a $410 billion spending bill. Boehner says recent spikes in unemployment figures are a sign of a worsening recession, and the only way to address the recession is to freeze government spending until the end of the fiscal year. He calls the spending bill, crafted in December with input from Congressional Democrats and Republicans as well as from the Bush White House, full of wasteful “earmarks” and “pork.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2009] Boehner introduces a resolution calling for the freeze in the House; it fails, even though all House Republicans present for the vote and eight Democrats vote for it. [Human Events, 3/6/2008] Two days after Boehner’s call for a spending freeze, conservative columnist David Brooks calls the proposal “insane” and blames the influence of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the idea. Brooks says that Limbaugh and the Republican Party is fixated on repeating a Reagan-era economic agenda. “The problem with them and the problem with Limbaugh in terms of intellectual philosophy is they are stuck with Reagan,” Brooks says. “They are stuck with the idea that government is always the problem. A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane. But they are thinking the way they thought in 1982, if we can only think that way again, that is just insane. And there are a lot of Republicans like David Frum… who are trying to say Reagan was right for his era, but it is time to move on. And there are just not a lot of them on Capitol Hill right now, and I think the party is looking for that kind of Republican.” [Huffington Post, 3/8/2009]
Republican House member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) admits that his party’s resistance to Democratic initiatives are designed to bring down the approval numbers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Congressional Democratic leadership. Speaking of Republican resistance to the Democrats’ recent budget proposal and other economic initiatives from the Obama administration and House Democrats, McHenry says: “We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010. Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” McHenry belongs to a group of Congressional Republicans helping to shape the party’s message in opposition to Obama and Congressional Democrats. Washington Post pundit Greg Sargent writes, “It’s likely that Dems will grab on to [McHenry’s] quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren’t interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority’s policies.” The article also cites a recent statement by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who told a group of reporters that House Republicans would not bother crafting bills to provide alternatives to Democratic economic legislation: “I have been trying to get my Republican colleagues to understand that we are not in the legislative business. We will spend more time communicating [with the American people], because that is what we can do.” [National Journal, 3/7/2009; Plum Line, 3/9/2009]
Minority Leader: Comments 'Largely Correct, but Incomplete' - Through a spokesman, Boehner says of McHenry’s statement: “I think that’s largely correct, but incomplete. Obviously, as Leader Boehner has said repeatedly, we stand ready to work with the Speaker and the president when it is in the best interest of the American people. When we cannot work together, Republicans will offer better solutions—rooted in our principles—to the problems facing our country. If House Democrats push for the same tired liberal agenda of higher taxes to pay for more ineffective government spending, I imagine that their standing in the polls will suffer, but our first priority is doing the right thing for the American people, and we hope it is theirs as well.” Sargent notes: “My parsing of this is that Boehner believes that McHenry’s description of the party’s strategic goal as winning the message war and dragging down Dem poll numbers is ‘largely correct,’ but that McHenry left out the GOP’s willingness on principle to work with Dems and that the GOP’s ‘first priority is doing the right thing for the American people.’ That would appear to stop short of disagreeing with or criticizing McHenry.” [Plum Line, 3/10/2009]
McHenry's Previous Utterances - In April 2008, McHenry was reprimanded by the Pentagon for breaching operational security and and giving terrorists potentially useful information (see April 4-7, 2008). In February 2009, McHenry joined in falsely accusing the Obama administration of funding a “levitating train from Disneyland to Las Vegas” (see February 13, 2009 and After).
Pie chart showing the focus of New York State’s stem cell research. [Source: New York State Stem Cell Science]President Obama lifts restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines. Promising to “vigorously support” new research, Obama’s decision reverses the Bush administration’s policy of blocking government spending for researching human embroynic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001. “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced into what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values,” Obama says during the signing ceremony. “In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.” Obama says the decision authorizes the change “so many scientists and researchers and doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years.” Scientists say the new research will lead to a variety of medical breakthroughs, and polls show most Americans support the research. Some religious and social conservative groups oppose the research, as does the Vatican. Obama promises that the government will never fund research into human cloning or other such controversial areas of study. Using discarded embryos for stem cell research is routine in private clinics, but illegal under Bush’s 2001 executive order. Analysts say that the policy change is part of Obama’s pledge to make clear that his administration wants scientific research to be free from political interference. [BBC, 3/9/2009; Guardian, 3/10/2009]
Praise for Decision - The co-director of Harvard University’s stem cell research institute, Doug Melton, says: “It is a relief to know that we can now collaborate openly and freely with other scientists in our own university and elsewhere, without restrictions on what equipment, data, or ideas can be shared.… Science thrives when there is an open and collaborative exchange, not when there are artificial barriers, silos, constructed by the government.” Harvard spokesman B. D. Colen says that the practical effects of the Obama reversal will be dramatic: “This will mean the end of the quite onerous bookkeeping and segregation of supplies, equipment, and people that were necessary under the Bush executive order,” he says. “Literally, you could not pick up a pencil off a bench if you were working with embryonic stem cells.” [Guardian, 3/10/2009] Peter Wilderotter, president of the Christopher and Dana Foundation, praises Obama for “removing politics from science” and freeing researchers. Wilderotter leads a foundation created by actor Christopher Reeve, whose fall from a horse paralyzed him and led him to die at a relatively early age. Reeve believed that stem cell research could find a treatment for his condition. Obama says that Reeve dreamed of being able to walk again, and adds: “Christopher did not get that chance. But if we pursue this research, maybe one day—maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime—but maybe one day, others like him might.” [BBC, 3/9/2009; Guardian, 3/10/2009]
Republican Criticism - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) decries the decision, and accuses Obama of undermining “protections for innocent life, further dividing our nation at a time when we need greater unity to tackle the challenges before us.” Political correspondent and pundit Chris Cillizza writes: “The stem cell signing—like the economic stimulus bill—is an example of the two different tracks that Obama and Republicans are currently on. Obama, with his base solidly on his side, is making policy with broad support among independents. Republicans, on the other hand, remain in the wilderness and are looking to rebuild from core principles.” [BBC, 3/9/2009]
At least 19 Congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), say that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” proposal would cost American families $3,128 apiece in extra taxes.
Misrepresenting an MIT Study - Boehner, McConnell, and their fellow Republicans base their claim on a 2007 MIT study. However, one of the study’s researchers, John Reilly, says that the Republicans are misreading it. According to Reilly, any tax burden on American families would not be felt until 2015, and the cost would be closer to $31 per person and $79 per year. The controversial claim originates in a Web posting by the House Republican Conference on March 24, which says: “The administration raises revenue for nationalized health care through a series of new taxes, including a light switch tax that would cost every American household $3,128 a year. What effect will this have on Americans struggling to pay their mortgages?” The St. Petersburg Times explains that the GOP’s “light switch tax” is a reference to President Obama’s proposal to tax power companies for carbon dioxide emissions, and allow companies to trade emissions credits among themselves. The program is called cap-and-trade. Republicans say the power companies would pass the tax on to electricity consumers, thus creating what they call a “light switch tax”—a term the Times calls misleading in and of itself. According to the MIT study, such a program would raise around $366 billion per year; Republicans divide that figure by the 117 million households in the US and get $3,128 in additional costs. Reilly says the Republicans are “just wrong. It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”
Corrected by Study's Author - And, Reilly says, he told House Republicans so when they contacted him on March 20. “I had explained why the estimate they had was probably incorrect and what they should do to correct it, but I think this wrong number was already floating around by that time.” Republicans also claim that the Obama administration intends to use cap-and-trade money to pay for what they call “nationalized health care,” a claim refuted by details of the program released by Obama officials. (House Republicans later amend this claim to say that the program will pay for “increased spending.”) The Times notes that Boehner rebuffs a second attempt by Reilly to correct the claim that the program will cost American households over $3,000 per year.
Further Falsehoods - Instead, nine other Republicans and the neoconservative Weekly Standard begin echoing the claim, with the Standard claiming that their figures show an annual cost of over $3,900 and accusing Reilly of “low-balling the cost of cap-and-trade by using some fuzzy logic.” Reilly says the Standard “just completely twisted the whole thing.… It’s false.” Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) takes the claim even further, saying that the huge annual tax would be levied on “every living American.” Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) restates the cost to $4,500 per family, and fellow House colleague Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) raises the rate to $4,560. Fox News correspondent Jim Angle reports Gregg’s claim without refutation or examination; on a later Fox broadcast, Gregg says, “every time you turn on your light switch, you’re going to be paying a tax.”
Denouncing the Lies - Reilly has written to Boehner and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to denounce the GOP’s distortion of the MIT study. Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) accuses the Republicans of “using an intentional misrepresentation of the study,” and says: “One of the things I find most distressing is their repeated falsehood about somehow a $3,000 increase in taxes on the American people based on a research done by MIT. They talked about it four times again last night!… The fact is that in the budget we have an opportunity for people who want to be legislators not communicators to help us allocate how those benefits will be utilized.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/30/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/2/2009]
Entity Tags: Judd Gregg, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Obama administration, John Reilly, Jim Angle, Cynthia Lummis, Earl Blumenauer, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, House Republican Conference, John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Global Economic Crises
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) produces a Republican alternative to the Obama administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal. Calling President Obama’s budget “completely irresponsible,” Boehner holds up a booklet on the floor of the House and says: “Two nights ago the president said, ‘We haven’t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.’ Well, it’s just not true because—Here it is, Mr. President.” Boehner calls the booklet a “blueprint for where we’re going.” However, the booklet contains almost no details and no actual numbers; the Associated Press calls it “a glossy pamphlet short on detail.” Boehner’s House colleague Paul Ryan (R-WI) says more details will be revealed next week. “We’re going to show a leaner budget, a budget with lower taxes, lower spending, and lower borrowing,” Ryan says. “Our plan curbs spending, creates jobs, and cuts taxes, while reducing the deficit,” says Boehner. When asked about specifics, including where the cuts would come from, Boehner tells a reporter, “We’ll wait and see next week.” [CNN, 3/26/2009; Associated Press, 3/27/2009]
Cutting Deficits, Lowering Taxes for Wealthy Americans and Working Class - The proposal does not specify how it would reduce the federal deficit. It does advocate heavy cuts in domestic spending and lowering tax rates: the Republicans propose reducing the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent tax brackets to 25 percent, which would result in significant tax cuts for wealthier Americans. The proposal would also reduce the tax rate for those making below $100,000 to 10 percent. Liberal analyst Matthew Yglesias notes, “It’s strange that the Republicans railing about long-term deficits seem to love long-term deficits when the point of the deficits is to further enrich the rich.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
No Actual Numbers - Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) says “[i]t’s not likely” that the GOP budget will be adopted. However, Pence says he believes “that a minority in Congress plus the American people equals the majority.” Pence adds, “We intend to take our case for fiscal discipline, growth, and tax relief to the American people from sea to shining sea and if the American people will rise up, anything is possible on Capitol Hill.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs laughs at the Republicans’ budget proposal, noting that the blueprint contains more pictures of windmills than charts. “It’s interesting to have a budget that doesn’t contain any numbers,” he says. “I think the ‘party of no’ has become the ‘party of no new ideas.‘… The administration is glad that the Republicans heard the president’s call to submit an alternative,” he says. “We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means.” Obama’s proposal is likely to be modified by more conservative Democrats in the upcoming days. Senate Republicans later say that they do not intend to submit a specific alternate proposal to Obama’s budget, a decision that the Associated Press notes “spares them the need to make politically difficult choices.” [CNN, 3/26/2009; Associated Press, 3/27/2009] Asked about the proposal’s effect on the federal deficit by MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell, Pence is unable to answer the question. O’Donnell asks: “So you don’t have the numbers now? About what your plan would be in terms of how it would cut the deficit or add to the deficit? You don’t have any numbers on that?” Pence attempts to duck the question: “Well, it’s really a broad—when the White House a few minutes ago was attacking the numbers in this bill, the tax cut numbers. There’s plenty of numbers in the Republican recovery plan. And we just really believe the president’s plan to raise taxes by nearly 2 trillion dollars on almost every American… deserves a debate on Capitol Hill.” O’Donnell responds, “[H]ow is your plan credible?” Pence replies: “Well, I thought through this morning, we didn’t have a plan, so it may be progress our plan is being attacked.… This is the broad outline.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
'Marketing Document' - Five days later, Ryan will admit that the “budget proposal” being offered by Boehner is nothing more than a “marketing document” (see April 1, 2009).
Republican Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) admits that the “budget proposal” offered the previous week by the GOP in response to President Obama’s own budget proposal (see March 26, 2009) was never anything more than a “marketing document.” On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Ryan says, “The thing you saw last week was not the alternative budget, this is our alternative budget.” Ryan is referring to a budget the GOP intends to release later today. The “budget” touted on the floor of the House by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was a “marketing document,” Ryan says. “Somewhere along the line there was a misimpression given that that was our budget.” In the Wall Street Journal, Ryan says the GOP budget will include the following:
A five-year non-defense spending freeze;
Cutting the deficit 50 percent more than Obama’s proposal by 2019;
More oil exploration and fewer regulations on pollution;
A revamping of Medicare for those currently below age 55;
Making permanent the Bush administration’s tax cuts for wealthy Americans, and a simplified tax code that taxpayers could choose to use.
Of President Obama’s budget, Ryan says, “If this agenda comes to pass, it will mark this period in history as the moment America turned European.” [The Hill, 4/1/2009] The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, says that a spending freeze as advocated by the GOP budget would be calamitous for the American economy. The freeze would negate the entirety of the Obama administration’s multi-billion stimulus package, and would rely entirely on economic recovery generated by supply-side tax cuts. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews compares the idea to the economic ideas that led to the Great Depression: “[I]t sounds very much like [former President Herbert] Hoover. This is a doctrine which was tried in 1932 and failed. In a period of international deflation, the worst thing you can do is join in the deflation by cutting spending.” [Think Progress, 4/1/2009]
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” [Think Progress, 4/15/2009; Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Ralph Reed, Republican National Committee, Paul Ryan, Tim Phillips, Obama administration, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Michael Steele, Barack Obama, Neil Cavuto, Center for American Progress, Ana Marie Cox, Americans for Progress, Fox Business Channel, Fox News, Koch Industries, David Vitter, American Solutions for Winning the Future, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
House Minority Leader John Boehner, protesting the release of a Senate report on the torture of prisoners in US custody (see April 21, 2009), acknowledges, probably inadvertently, that the techniques used on those prisoners amounted to torture. “Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques,” Boehner tells reporters. “That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their director of national intelligence and their CIA director.” Boehner says the report’s release is “inappropriate” because it will alert enemies as to the kind of tactics being used, and because knowledge of the techniques being used could “denigrate” the US and its allies. “This is another sideshow here in Washington,” Boehner says, referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding torture. “When it comes to what our interrogation techniques are going to be or should be, I’m not going to disclose, nor should anyone have a conversation about what those techniques ought to be. It’s inappropriate. All it does is give our enemies more information about us than they need.” Boehner cites the 9/11 attacks as justification for the use of torture, and for keeping knowledge of torture programs secret. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel later attempts to clarify Boehner’s use of the word “torture,” saying: “It is clear from the context that Boehner was simply using liberals’ verbiage to describe these interrogation techniques. The United States does not torture.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]
Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l). [Source: PR Watch (.org)]Former health care executive Wendell Potter, who left the insurance giant Cigna after fifteen years, appears on “Bill Moyers’ Journal.” He was formerly the head of corporate communications before he resigned his position, a post he calls “the ultimate PR job.” He says he was not forced to leave the company, and was extremely well compensated for his duties. He left after realizing that the health care industry is using underhanded and hurtful tactics to undermine the drive towards health care reform. He never went to his bosses with his observations because, he says, “for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.”
Health Care Expo Changed His Perceptions - In June 2007, Potter recalls, his perceptions were drastically changed by his visit to a health care exposition in Wise, Virginia (see June 2007).
Changing Plans - The industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, he says, to what they call “consumer-driven plans.” Despite the name, they are health care plans with high deductibles and limited coverage.
'Highlight Horror Stories' - Moyers shows Potter a copy of an “action plan” devised by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade association. In large gold letters, the plan tells lobbyists and industry representatives to “Highlight horror stories of government-run systems.” Potter says that AHIP and other industry representatives try to paint government-run health care as socialism, and as inevitable failures. “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them,” he says, “that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.” Moyers also notes that the AHIP plan targets the film Sicko, a 2007 documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore that portrayed America’s health care industry in a dismal light. AHIP’s action plan is to “Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats’ larger agenda.” Potter says that was an effort to discredit the film by using lobbyists and AHIP staffers “to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.’” If they did, AHIP would retaliate by running negative ads against the lawmakers in their home districts or other electoral punishments. AHIP focused strongly on the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Another tactic, as delineated in the memo: “Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status.” Moyers says that AHIP attempted to “radicalize” Moore and portray him as an extremist who could not be believed. Many politicians used AHIP talking points in discussing Moore and his film. “So your plan worked,” Moyers observes. Potter agrees: “It worked beautifully.” The lesson that was lost from Moore’s film, Potter says, was that Americans “shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.”
Conservative Counter-Strategy - Moyers then displays a memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who in the spring of 2009 wrote a strategy memo for health care reform opponents. The memo reads in part: “First, you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, ‘government takeover,’ ‘delayed care is denied care,’ ‘consequences of rationing,’ ‘bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.’” He then shows film clips of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and others using Luntz’s talking points in discussions on the floors of Congress. Potter says that many conservatives—Democrats as well as Republicans—“are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans. They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.” He notes that Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who grew up very near Potter’s childhood home in Chattanooga, told reporters that half of America’s uninsured don’t want health care, they would rather “go naked and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.” Potter notes that the word “naked” is an industry term for people who choose not to buy health insurance. He calls Wamp’s comment “ridiculous” and “an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.” Moyers cites conservative Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as another politician central to the health care reform process who is heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists—two of whom used to work on his own Senate staff. Potter says: “[I]t does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.”
Fierce Opposition to Public Option - The “public option,” the idea that the government would extend a non-profit, government-run health care alternative for citizens, is fiercely opposed by the health care industry. Potter says the reason why is “[t]he industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate.” Government programs such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration’s medical providers are far more efficient than private, for-profit health care providers, and the industry fears that having to compete with such a program will slash their profits. Medical companies will do whatever it takes to keep their profit margins—and shareholder returns—above a certain threshold. They will deny more claims, kick more people off their rolls, purge employer accounts, whatever it takes. Potter, evidently bemused, says, “You know, I’ve been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don’t get this. I just don’t understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don’t want to do it themselves.… I’m a capitalist as well. I think it’s a wonderful thing that companies can make a profit. But when you do it in such a way that you are creating a situation in which these companies are adding to the number of people who are uninsured and creating a problem of the underinsured then that’s when we have a problem with it, or at least I do.” A public option would help “keep [health care corporations] honest,” he says, and they would inevitably lose profits.
Predictions - Right now the industry is primarily involved in what Potter calls a “charm offensive,” where it is attempting to give the perception that it, too, is for health care reform. But once Congress begins putting out specific legislative language, the industry and its flacks will begin attacking specific provisions. Moyers says the upshot is for the industry to either “kill reform” or prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a bill, just like what happened in 1993-94 under the Clinton administration. No matter what they say—favoring the elimination of pre-existing condition restrictions, for example—the industry will adamantly oppose reform of any kind. “They don’t want a public plan,” Potter says. “They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan. They want—they see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. So they’re in favor of that. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future. The strategy is as it was in 1993 and ‘94, to conduct this charm offensive on the surface. But behind the scenes, to use front groups and third-party advocates and ideological allies. And those on Capitol Hill who are aligned with them, philosophically, to do the dirty work. To demean and scare people about a government-run plan, try to make people not even remember that Medicare, their Medicare program, is a government-run plan that has operated a lot more efficiently.… [T]hey want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy. And that these people will have to wait in long lines to get care, or wait a long time to get care. I’d like to take them down to Wise County. I’d like the president to come down to Wise County, and see some real lines of Americans, standing in line to get their care. [PBS, 7/10/2009]
Entity Tags: John Boehner, Frank Luntz, Cigna, Bill Moyers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Zach Wamp, Wendell Potter, US Veterans Administration, Senate Finance Committee, Michael Moore, Medicare, Max Baucus, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) issue a statement that warns the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal would provide for “government-encouraged euthanasia” of senior citizens. Boehner and McCotter’s statement reads: “Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation [HR 3200, the most recent version of the reform proposal] encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on ‘the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration’ and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign. This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law. At a minimum this legislative language deserves a full and open public debate—the sort of debate that is impossible to have under the politically-driven deadlines Democratic leaders have arbitrarily set for enactment of a health care bill.” Boehner and McCotter also state that the reform bill would encourage state-assisted suicide: “With three states having legalized physician-assisted suicide, this provision could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing, and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself. Health care reform that fails to protect the sanctity and dignity of all human life is not reform at all.” [House Republican Leader, 7/23/2009] The next day, McCotter will add: “This is very dangerous. We, in Michigan, have already fought back in attempted assisted suicide several years ago. And yet you see that the people who support this are trying to use this bill to advance this agenda.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009] The statement is quickly challenged by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who with Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced a separate bill that would provide for end-of-life consultations for senior citizens. Both bills propose nothing more than having Medicare pay for such consultations, if the patients or the patients’ families desire them. “I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see this type of reaction to a carefully crafted piece of legislation we have been working on for more than six months that is bipartisan and that speaks to the needs of American families,” Blumenauer says. “The American public, especially our senior citizens, deserve our best efforts to meet their needs—not treat them like political footballs.” A Boustany spokesman says the congressman stands behind the measure he co-authored, but says it should include language stating that taxpayer money would not be used to counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. Two states—Oregon and Washington—allow physician-assisted suicide in certain situations, and the Montana Supreme Court is considering a lower-court ruling that found physician-assisted suicide to be a right under Montana’s Constitution. [Politico, 7/28/2009] Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters calls the statement’s analysis “repulsive.” [Media Matters, 7/24/2009] The characterization of the bill by Boehner and McCotter will be disproven by a St. Petersburg Times analysis (see July 23, 2009).
Lewin Group logo. [Source: WNY Media]The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” [Ingenix, 7/27/2009; MSNBC, 7/28/2009]
Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Tom Price, UnitedHealth Group, Rachel Maddow, Lewin Group, Obama administration, Paul Ryan, Ingenix, John Boehner, Howard Dean, MSNBC, Newt Gingrich, Charles Grassley, John Barrasso
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) appears on an MSNBC talk show hosted by progressive Rachel Maddow. Three days before, Doggett was accosted in a Texas grocery store by an angry, shouting mob of anti-health care reform protesters (see August 1, 2009). Doggett says opposition such as this just bolsters his commitment to battle for reform. He says that the anti-reform protests are “staged” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). “[M]y real complaint is not their cameras or their taunts or their silly signs saying I was a traitor to Texas and a devil to all people—my complaint is that when other neighbors show up, they should not be silenced. And that’s what this crowd did. After I listened to their taunts and questions and discussed the bill with them for an hour, they insisted on yelling, ‘just say no,’ any time anyone else wanted to speak.”
Countering the Anti-Reform Protesters - Doggett says that pro-reform advocates need to counter the anti-reform protesters: “[P]eople need to not sit back and think that President Obama and a Democratic Congress can solve all of these problems. They have to be engaged and involved. We cannot turn over the agenda to folks that really remind me, Rachel, like that crowd of Republican staffers that showed up for Bush against Gore down in Florida. It’s the same kind of approach.” Maddow reminds viewers that Doggett is referring to the “Brooks Brothers” mob riot from the 2000 presidential recounts in Florida, where the “spontaneous” riot was created by Republican aides and operatives brought down from Washington. She notes that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and the National Republican Congressional Committee “have sent out the footage of what was done to you at this town hall meeting. They’re bragging about it. They’re publicizing it. They’re implicitly calling for more of this sort of thing.” Doggett says of his Republican colleagues: “No, nothing surprises me about these people. They’ll do anything they can to block health care reform just as they have for six decades.… [The protesters are inflating their numbers] because they’re under-numbered at the people that have been being abused by the health insurers come out [sic] and tell their story.” Doggett gives his fellow Democrats the folliwing advice: “Don’t give up or give in. This is too important. We have few more important issues in America today, and we need to be steadfast in our commitment to learn from those who have legitimate concerns and criticisms. But there’s no way you can rewrite this bill to satisfy this mob. We need to be firm and committed to a strong, public plan that will give that nudge to the insurers.”
Obama 'Judo' - After Doggett’s interview is completed, Maddow interviews Chris Hayes, an editor for The Nation magazine, who adds to Doggett’s statements by saying he believes the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are trying to use the excesses of the anti-reform rhetoric against reform opponents. Maddow says: “I think the lesson that the Obama folks took from the—this past year’s presidential campaign, where they didn’t try to organize people to go to McCain-Palin rallies, to shout down the ‘kill them all’ rhetoric that they were hearing from their crowds.… They publicized it, essentially… they used those displays of extremism to try to splinter the people who were on the right… who were either tolerating that stuff or denouncing it.” Hayes says he believes the same thing is beginning to happen now. “I mean, this is sort of signature Obama political strategy, which is a kind of judo, right? To kind of use the excesses of your enemy against them. And I think that you’re already seeing that DNC [Democratic National Committee] and other people sending the message out showing the signs of swastikas that are showing up at these rallies. The images of Stalin, the screaming, the sort of red-face spittle-flecked anger that is coming out in these town halls to show that, look, this is isn’t just, you know, some kind of middle-of-the-road, undecided independent voter who’s having some reservations about the possible cost of the health care bill. These are radicals. These are extremists. These are zealots.… They should just be called out for what they are.” [MSNBC, 8/5/2009]
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), says the outcry and dissension over health care reform as demonstrated by protesters in town hall meetings across the US (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009) will help the Republican Party elect more people to Congress. Democrats say Cornyn, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), and other Republican lawmakers are actively encouraging the sometimes-explosive town hall confrontations. Inciting fear and anger among conservative voters is a perfectly defensible strategy for a party that has been soundly defeated in two straight elections, Cornyn says. “Fear, I would say, precedes anger, and I think there are a lot of people who tell me they are scared of what they see coming out of Washington in terms of spending and the debt and muscular federal intervention on everything from financial institutions to healthcare,” he says. “It’s almost like a part of the grieving process.… I see real opportunities for us.” [The Hill, 8/5/2009] In July, Cornyn’s colleague James Inhofe (R-OK) said that for the GOP to succeed in 2010, it must “stall” health care reform (see July 22, 2009).
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” [CNN, 8/5/2009] Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Van Hollen, Robert Gibbs, Bill Schneider, Barack Obama, Arlen Specter, Brian Burgess, Obama administration, Republican National Committee, Ken Spain, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Gail Gitcho, National Republican Congressional Committee, Joseph Biden, John Boehner, Brad Woodhouse
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele tells a Washington Times reporter that his organization had no role in the recent spate of raucous and near-riotous confrontations by conservative anti-health care reform advocates (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). “I had nothing to do with that, I did not encourage that,” Steele says. “And we’re not encouraging people to be angry, I mean to the point of being nasty and brutish and ugly. That’s not what this is about. There’s no upside for the Republican Party or the people involved to do that. Now some people, you know, that’s how they express their frustration, that’s how they express their frustration. But that’s not something deliberately coordinated by me or any one state party.” Steele’s statement is at odds with recent exhortations and statements of support from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who has just issued a press release that celebrates the “success” of the town hall disruptions, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which has celebrated the disruptions with a “Recess Roast” e-mail urging more disruptions. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is another Republican who disagrees with the angry, confrontational tactics: hours before Steele’s statement, he sent out a Twitter message that said, “Town hall meetings are an American tradition—we should allow everyone to express their views without disruption—even if we disagree!” [Think Progress, 8/5/2009]
Investigative journalists find that at least seven prominent Republicans who now denounce what they call “death panels” and claim that the Democrats’ health care legislation will lead to the untimely deaths of US senior citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, and August 13, 2009) actually supported proposals similar to the legislation’s provision for government-funded “end-of-life counseling.”
Palin, Gingrich Supported 'Advance Directives' - In August 2008, Sarah Palin (R-AK), then the governor of Alaska, proclaimed “Healthcare Decisions Day.” She urged public health care facilities to provide more information about so-called “advance directives,” and said that seniors must be informed of all their options as the end of their lives draw near. The proclamation has recently been deleted from the Alaska governor’s Web site. Reporter Matt Taibbi notes that in late 2008 and early 2009, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) endorsed an aggressive “end of life” program from a Wisconsin health care provider, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, and wrote, “If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.” Taibbi accuses Gingrich of “lying [about death panels] in order to scare a bunch of old people.” [Matt Taibbi, 8/12/2009; Think Progress, 8/13/2009]
Five Others Voted for End-of-Life Counseling - In 2003, five Republicans who now oppose the supposed “death panels” voted in favor of an almost-identical provision in that year’s Medicare reform legislation. Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and John Mica (R-FL), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all voted for the bill, which provided coverage for “counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” Boehner, McCotter, and Mica have claimed that the current attempt at health care reform would lead to “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Isakson opposes the House legislation because it allows the “government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct end-of-life counseling.” And Grassley told constituents that they are “right to fear” that government could “decide when to pull the plug on Grandma” (see August 12, 2009). [Plum Line, 8/14/2009]
Widespread Republican Support in 2003 - In all, 202 House Republicans and 42 Republican Senators voted for the Medicare bill. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will say: “And there was not a peep about then-President Bush having a secret plan to kill old people. Bottom line? Either Republicans like Chuck Grassley and John Boehner and John Mica have totally changed their minds about whether living wills are really a secret plot to kill old people, or they voted for something just a few years ago that they actually thought was a secret plot to kill old people. Take your choice.” [MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Matt Taibbi, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, Charles Grassley, John Boehner, Johnny Isakson, Thaddeus McCotter, John Mica, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Medicare, Rachel Maddow
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
In an op-ed for USA Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) takes the White House to task for “letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] and Congress run health care reform into the ground,” and says that Republicans have always “stood ready to work with him to pass bipartisan health care reforms that reflect the priorities of struggling American families and small businesses.” Boehner says Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats have crafted a bill that “puts Washington in control of Americans’ health care—something most Americans staunchly oppose.” He then accuses President Obama of trying to “spin the American people” about what he calls the “hopelessly flawed bill.” He terms the bill “radical,” and claims, falsely, that Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer labeled opponents of the bill “un-American” (see August 10, 2009—Pelosi and Hoyer wrote that “[d]rowning out opposing views is simply un-American”). Boehner says that neither Republicans nor anyone else “condone… the actions of those who disrupt public events,” but decries those who claim the dissent against the bill is in any way “manufactured” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009). He says Obama is lying about the portion of the bill that would allow Americans to keep their present health care, and cites the debunked study by the Lewin Group (see July 27, 2009) as evidence. He says the bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over the next decade, says Obama is lying about not cutting Medicare benefits, and says Obama is lying when he says the bill would not lead to health care “rationing.” Boehner concludes by claiming that “Republicans are offering better solutions that would make quality health care more affordable and accessible for every American,” and calls on Obama to “scrap this costly plan, start over, and work with Republicans on reforms that reflect the priorities of the American people.” [USA Today, 8/13/2009] Liberal news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that Boehner’s office has sent out messages promoting the town hall disruptions, and notes that Boehner’s claims of “rationing” are wrong. [Think Progress, 8/13/2009]
Charles Grassley (R-IA), a Republican senator considered a key element in the Obama administration’s push for bipartisan health care reform, says that the recent outpouring of anger and resistance at “town hall” forums has “fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.” Grassley says he believes the public is strongly against the Democrats’ ideas for health care reform, and considers the ideas a run-up to what he calls “a government takeover of health care.” Grassley is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a group of three Republican and three conservative Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee primarily responsible for writing the committee’s reform proposal. In recent days, some Democrats have accused him of attempting to suborn any bipartisanship in the process by his advocacy of “death panels” (see August 12, 2009) and his misleading use of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s terminal illness (see August 5, 2009) in his arguments against reform.
Obama Should Prove Commitment to Bipartisanship by Abandoning Public Option - Grassley says that if President Obama is serious about a bipartisan approach to reform, he should abandon his support for the so-called “public option” entirely. Such a statement, he says, is “pretty important… if you’re really interested in a bipartisan bill.” Grassley also says that a reform bill would not be truly bipartisan unless it received far more than a 51-vote majority, or even a 60-vote “supermajority,” enough votes to defeat a filibuster attempt. “It’s not about getting a lot of Republicans. It’s about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent contrasts Grassley’s contentious position with the more accomodating overtures from the White House. He writes: “Grassley knows the White House is under tremendous pressure to contain a revolt on the left over the public option. It’s hard to imagine any reason for demanding Obama renounce the public option right now, before there’s even a bill out of the finance committee, other than to make life politically difficult for the president. How does that compare with the White House’s treatment of Grassley? When the Senator endorsed the ‘death panel’ claim, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to working with him. Dems quietly let Grassley claim a big victory by dropping the public option from the Senate bill he’s negotiating. And when Rahm Emanuel questioned the sincerity of GOP leaders yesterday, an apparent shot at Grassley, the White House rapidly walked it back. Grassley, meanwhile, has now raised the bar yet again for what will constitute true bipartisanship on the White House’s part. Pretty telling.” [Plum Line, 8/20/2009]
Bipartisanship Not Universally Desired - Other Republicans are less interested in bipartisanship. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) blames Obama for the increasingly strident tone of the debate, and accuses Obama officials of “reject[ing] our efforts to work together.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), considered a likely 2012 candidate for president, says flatly: “The Republicans should kill the bill. It’s a bad idea.” House Member James Clyburn (D-SC) says Democrats might do well to abandon any idea of bipartisanship and work on a bill without Republican input, especially since it is unlikely that Republicans will vote for any reform bill at all. But Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he remains committed to the idea of bipartisanship. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Banner at the Capitol Hill rally depicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an ‘Unamerican McCarthyite.’ [Source: MSNBC]Conservatives gather on Capitol Hill to protest the Obama administration’s push towards health care reform, in a rally featuring guest speaker Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). [Media Matters, 11/6/2009] Bachmann called the rally the “Super Bowl of Freedom,” and told Fox News viewers that “socialized medicine is the crown jewel of socialism. This [health care reform] will change our country forever.” [TPM LiveWire, 11/3/2009; Mediaite, 11/11/2009] Actor Jon Voight, speaking to the crowd, says of President Obama: “His only success in one year as president is taking America apart piece by piece. Could it be 20 years of ‘subconscious programming’ from Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright [Obama’s former pastor] to damn America?” And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) tells the crowd, “Pelosi care [referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA] is the greatest threat to freedom I’ve seen in my 19 years in Washington.”
Signs Use Racial Images; Call Obama Communist, Nazi - Signs visible in the crowd proclaim, among other sentiments:
“Get the Red Out of the White House”;
“Traitor to the US Constitution” (featuring a photo of Obama);
“Ken-Ya Trust Obama?” (referring to theories that Obama is a citizen of Kenya—see January 24, 2007, January 16, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, and August 11, 2009—and with autographs from Representatives Steve King, R-IA and Ron Paul, R-TX);
“Un-American McCarthyite” (featuring a photo of Pelosi);
“I’m the King of the World: Remember the Titanic?” (featuring a drawing of Obama as the “Jovial Sambo” character from the Jim Crow era);
“National Socialist Health Care” (featuring a photograph of a pile of corpses from the Holocaust, and claiming that health care reform is the next “holocaust”).
Nine rally participants are arrested for attempting to force their way into the Hart Senate Office Building. Hundreds more attempt to force themselves into nearby government office buildings while chanting, “Kill the bill!” [MSNBC, 11/5/2009]
Sponsored by GOP - MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro writes: “It is important to know that this rally was set up by the GOP. While other groups certainly got people to show up, the folks who came here ultimately came at the invitation of the Republican Party. The GOP provided the speakers and the music, etc.” [MSNBC, 11/5/2009]
Fox Pundit Inflates Crowd Estimates - While other media sources use local police reports to estimate the crowd at around 4,000, Fox News’s Sean Hannity tells listeners that the crowd is closer to 20,000 in size. Hannity later drastically scales back this claim. Hannity, who along with other Fox News pundits and on-air anchors had heavily promoted the rally for days beforehand, predicted the crowd would be “massive” in the hours before the protest. On his radio show, aired on ABC Radio Network, Hannity tells listeners: “We announced on Hannity Friday night on the Fox News Channel, we had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on, and she mentioned that there was going to be on Thursday, she was going to put together in less than a week a little town hall on—what do you want to call it—march on our nation’s Capitol. And anyway, 20,000 people showed up today.” Hannity echoes the claim several times on his radio show. However, with no explanation, he concludes his radio broadcast by saying, “I heard there was, like, 5,000 people plus there.” [MSNBC, 11/5/2009; Media Matters, 11/6/2009] On Hannity’s Fox News broadcast later that evening, he returns to his earlier estimates of “20,000” rally participants, and shows viewers old footage from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009) to bolster his claim. [Crooks and Liars, 11/11/2009] On November 11, Hannity will admit that he “screwed up” in showing the footage, and claims it was merely “an inadvertent mistake.” [Think Progress, 11/12/2009] Hannity does not address how the mistake came to be made. [New York Times, 11/11/2009] Media critic Rachel Sklar will write, “It’s really blatant and remarkable… this sort of misrepresentation is simply not an accident.” [Mediaite, 11/11/2009] A week later, Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett will make a similar mistake (see November 18-19, 2009).
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, John Boehner, Fox News, Gregg Jarrett, Glenn Beck, Steve King, Domenico Montanaro, Ron Paul, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, Nancy Pelosi, Jon Voight, Rachel Sklar, Republican Party, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
John Boehner. [Source: Slate]House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) makes what some believe to be an implicit threat towards Representative Steve Driehaus (D-OH). Boehner, discussing Driehaus’s vote for the health care reform package, says Driehaus will pay a heavy price for his vote. “Take Steve Driehaus, for example,” Boehner says. “He may be a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati. The Catholics will run him out of town.” After Boehner’s statement is publicized in the national media, Driehaus begins receiving death threats, and a right-wing Web site, The Whistleblower, publishes directions to his house urging readers to “protest” at his home. The headline of the article: “Tea Party Vows Revenge.” Driehaus’s press secretary Tim Mulvey releases a statement that reads in part, “This comes during the same one-week period that a right-wing special interest group published a photo of Rep. Driehaus and his children, the local Democratic Party headquarters in Cincinnati had a brick thrown through its front window, and Rep. Driehaus’s office received death threats.” Driehaus tells a reporter: “I’m very protective of my family, like most of us. There is no reason for my wife and kids to be brought into any of this. If people want to talk to me, if people want to approach me about an issue, I’m more than happy to talk about the issue, regardless of what side they’re on. But I do believe when you bring in a member’s family, that you’ve gone way too far.… Mr. Boehner made comments about me and my predicament when I go home which I felt were wildly out of bounds for his position and very irresponsible, quite frankly. He’s from next door [Boehner’s district adjoins Driehaus’s]. That’s not helpful. That’s irresponsible.” Shortly thereafter, Driehaus confronts Boehner on the floor of the House. “I didn’t think it was funny at all,” Driehaus will later recall. “I’ve got three little kids and a wife. I said to him: ‘John, this is bullsh_t, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.’” According to Driehaus, Boehner did not intend to urge anyone to commit violence against him or his family: “But it’s not about what he intended—it’s about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work.” Driehaus will recall that Boehner is “taken aback” when confronted on the floor, but never actually says he is sorry: “He said something along the lines of, ‘You know that’s not what I meant.’ But he didn’t apologize.” [National Review, 3/18/2010; Cincinnati Enquirer, 3/24/2010; Politico, 3/24/2010; Rolling Stone, 1/5/2011] Republican Party chairman Michael Steele says of Boehner’s comments: “The leader does not condone violence, and his remark was obviously not meant to be taken literally. He is urging Americans to take the anger they’re feeling and focus it on building a new majority that will listen to the people.” [Politico, 3/24/2010] Boehner says that when he called Driehaus a “dead man,” he was referring to Driehaus’s political career. [Talk Radio News Service, 3/25/2010]
Congressional Democrats are calling on Republicans and tea party leaders to curb the harassment and death threats being directed at Democratic lawmakers and their families. The harassment and threats stem largely from tea party members and others who are virulently opposed to the health care reform proposed by Democrats and the Obama administration. As lawmakers head home for spring recess, the FBI, the Capitol Police, and the House sergeant-at-arms meet with the Democratic Caucus to hear lawmakers express their worry for the safety of themselves and their families. Phil Hare (D-IL) says he knows Democrats who have told their families to leave their home districts while the lawmakers are in Washington. “If this doesn’t get under control in short time, heaven forbid, someone will get hurt,” Hare says. Hare is holding eight town hall meetings in his district over the recess, and has requested that the Capitol Police coordinate with local law enforcement authorities to provide security. Hare’s wife has asked him to cancel the events, but Hare intends to go forward. “My wife is home alone, and I’m worried for her,” Hare says. “I am about to have my first grandchild. I don’t want to have to be worried.” In recent weeks, an unknown perpetrator cut the gas lines at the home of Thomas Perriello (D-VA)‘s brother, prompting an FBI investigation; the gas lines were cut after a tea party activist posted the brother’s address online, believing it to be Perriello’s (see March 19, 2010 and After). Steve Driehaus (D-OH) has had his address posted on tea party Web sites with exhortations for protesters to visit him at his home to protest his support for health care reform; a photo of Driehaus’s family was printed in a recent newspaper ad attacking Driehaus’s support for health care reform. A brick was recently thrown through the window of the Democratic Party’s office in Cincinnati (see March 19, 2010 and After). Bart Stupak (D-MI) says he has received numerous death threats (see March 19, 2010 and After). Hank Johnson (D-GA) says Democrats need to coordinate an internal security plan. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) says he fears that violence may erupt in the districts. Minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) has condemned the threats, but Driehaus has complained that Boehner has implied his own threat towards himself and his family, calling Driehaus a “dead man” for voting for the health care legislation (see March 18, 2010 and After). Boehner blames Democrats for causing the violence: “I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” he says in a statement. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard—but let’s do it the right way.” Hare says Boehner needs to apologize for his own words and restrain fellow House Republicans, whom Hare says often “rile up” protesters from the Capitol balcony. “If he can’t control his members, they have to find someone who can,” Hare says. At least one Democrat has stood up to the threats; when tea party activists paid a visit to the office of Jim Moran (D-VA) earlier this week, aides got between the protesters and the clearly angry Moran. When the activists asked the aides if Moran needed “bodyguards” to protect him, one aide responded: “We’re not protecting him from you. We’re protecting you from him.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says he believes that Democrats and their families are in real danger from protesters. [Politico, 3/25/2010] House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) denounces “this crazy stuff the Republicans are doing here,” and says Boehner and other GOP leaders “ought to be ashamed of themselves for bringing these people here to Washington, DC, and they’re acting like this.” Tim Ryan (D-OH), on the House floor, criticizes “these tea bagger protesters who have been out today” and “call[s] on the Republicans to say shame on the tea party for that type of behavior.” Many Republicans and tea party officials claim that the incidents are fabrications, and have called on Democrats to apologize for making false accusations. Some say the racial epithets and death threats come from Democratic supporters who want to cast a poor light on the tea parties. Memphis tea party organizer Mark Skoda says there is an orchestrated attempt among Democrats and liberals to falsely paint the tea parties as racist. [Politico, 3/22/2010]
Entity Tags: John Boehner, Hank Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Democratic Party, Bart Stupak, James Moran, US Capitol Police, Patrick Murphy, Thomas Perriello, James Clyburn, Obama administration, Mark Skoda, Phil Hare, Steny Hoyer, Steve Driehaus, Tim Ryan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. [New York Times, 8/28/2010]
Entity Tags: Rand Paul, Koch Industries, Sharron Angle, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Kim Phillips-Fein, John Birch Society, Barack Obama, Americans for Prosperity, American Liberty League, Charles Koch, John Boehner, David Koch, Fred Koch, FreedomWorks, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Randall Terry meets with John Boehner’s chief of staff Mick Krieger and other Boehner aides. [Source: Randall Terry]Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist who formerly headed Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986 and 1996) and currently heads several smaller anti-abortion organizations, sends out an email alert touting his recent meeting with Mick Krieger, the chief of staff for Representative John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner is presumed to become speaker of the House when the Republicans formally assume control of the House in January 2011. In his email, Terry writes that he intends to pressure Boehner to repeal abortion entirely throughout the US, stating: “We must demand that Republicans who won the House of Representatives hasten the end of legalized child killing in America. Their victory could be a strong step forward for the babies, but it also might be yet another set back after 50,000,000 dead babies.… When the Republicans are in power, pro-life groups and leaders become way too ‘polite.’ We lose our edge; we don’t hold them accountable; we settle for trite phrases and broken promises as long as they will meet with us for 10 minutes, and we can take our picture with them, or they come to one of our meetings and receive some useless award.… Unless the Republicans do something concrete to save babies from murder, then they are collaborators with child killers, and we must treat them as such. We have Pro-Life DEMANDS for Mr. Boehner & House GOP[.] We Must Play Hard Ball: They Must Fear Pro-Lifers!” [Contacting the Congress, 2010; Randall Terry, 11/27/2010; Right Wing Watch, 11/29/2010] Writing for the progressive news Web site Think Progress, Tanya Somanader notes that Terry’s “incendiary antics don’t seem to phase many conservatives.” Obviously, she observes, Boehner feels “comfortable bringing such a radical extremist into the establishment fold.” [Think Progress, 11/29/2010]
Tim Phillips (L) and David Koch, together at an Americans for Prosperity event. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]Oil billionaire and conservative activist David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010) attends the 112th Congress’s swearing-in ceremony, accompanied by Tim Phillips, the head of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) and a number of current and former Koch Industries lobbyists, including Nancy Pfotenhauer. The event marks the ascendance of Republicans to the majority of the House, and the selection of John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker of the House. After the ceremony, Koch asks Frank Guinta (R-NH), a freshman Republican and “tea party” member elected in part by lavish AFP spending on his behalf, if he will attend a party that Koch is throwing for Republican Congressional members. Guinta affirms that he will attend. Lee Fang, a reporter for Think Progress who observes the Koch-Guinta conversation, speaks to Koch after the two conclude their discussion. Fang identifies himself as a Think Progress reporter and asks Koch what he expects from the Boehner-led Congress; Koch replies, “Well, cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and, uh, support business.” Phillips immediately intervenes, identifying Fang to Koch as “a good blogger on the left, we’re glad to have him—” but Fang continues interviewing Koch. During the relatively brief interview, Phillips repeatedly attempts to push Fang’s cameraman Scott Keyes away from Koch, and shouts into Keyes’s camera, in an apparent attempt to disrupt the interview. However, Koch is cooperative with being interviewed. Koch is apparently proud of the work being done by AFP and says, “We’re going to do more too in the next couple of years.” Fang asks Koch if he is proud of the tea party movement, and Koch replies: “Yeah. There are some extremists there, but the rank and file are just normal people like us. And I admire them. It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion.” Koch is hesitant to answer questions about “climate change,” agreeing only that “[c]limate does fluctuate,” but refusing to answer questions about the effect of carbon pollution on the climate. Instead, he says that any attempts to regulate carbon emissions will “really damage the economy.” Fang concludes by asking about the Citizens United decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). According to Fang, Koch looks uncomfortable discussing the subject and is quite reticent. Koch refuses to answer when Fang asks him about a recent meeting he sponsored with former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck “and several other conservatives” (see June 26-28, 2010). While Phillips continues to interrupt and chide Fang for asking about the Citizens United decision, Koch refuses to answer Fang’s question, “Could you tell the public what you discussed at that meeting?” [Think Progress, 1/5/2011; Think Progress, 1/6/2011; Think Progress, 1/7/2011; Think Progress, 1/10/2011]
Mitch McConnell. [Source: Daily Political (.com)]Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposes an alternative to the Obama administration’s economic proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid the US defaulting on its debt. Republicans in the House and Senate have repeatedly refused to consider raising the debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011 and July 13, 2011); some have welcomed the possibility of a default, simultaneously saying that the nation will suffer little real economic damage by defaulting on its debt and blaming the Obama administration for any such damage. Obama officials and an array of economists and financial leaders have warned that if the US defaults on its debt, such a default could trigger a national economic collapse and send the world’s economies into a downward spiral (see May 20, 2011). McConnell’s alternative would raise the debt ceiling in three short-term increments of up to $2.5 trillion in total over the next year, as long as President Obama matched the raises with equivalent spending cuts; House Republicans could vote for non-binding resolutions of disapproval. The London Daily Mail notes that McConnell’s proposal would put the onus of raising the debt ceiling, and the negative impact of draconian spending cuts, directly on Obama and the Democrats, absolving the Republicans of blame and giving Republican presidential candidates the opportunity to slam Obama’s economic policies during the height of the 2012 presidential campaign. McConnell has blamed what he calls the intransigence of the Obama administration for the nation’s deficit, which was largely inherited from the Bush administration, and has told the Senate, “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable.” Obama has said that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by August 2, Social Security recipients and veterans may not get the checks they are due to receive on August 3. Few Obama officials or Congressional Democrats have any positive remarks about McConnell’s plan, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refuses to endorse it. [Daily Mail, 7/13/2011]
Three members of the US House of Representatives’ “tea party” caucus introduce a measure to force the federal government to pay the principal and interest on the debt, and to continue to pay military personnel, even if the government goes into default because Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling. The Obama administration and a bevy of economists and financial leaders have warned that if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, the US will go into default on its debt, sending the nation’s economy into a tailspin and perhaps triggering a worldwide economic downturn (see May 20, 2011). Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA), and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) introduce House Resolution 2496, the PROMISES Act (Payment Reliability for Our Obligations to Military and Investors to Secure Essential Stability Act). All three accuse the Obama administration of lying about the potentially disastrous effects of a national default (see April 30, 2011 and June 26, 2011). President Obama recently said he could not promise that Social Security and disability checks would go out to senior citizens and veterans on August 3 if the nation defaulted on its debt on August 2 (see July 11-12, 2011); Bachmann and the others accuse Obama of lying and “fear mongering.” Bachmann says, “Don’t allow military men and women to dangle over a fire and claim they won’t get paid.” All three say that even if the government defaults on its loans, there is enough money to pay the Defense Department, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Gohmert says that Obama should have told the nation, “The only thing that you have to fear is fear itself,” and says House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) should “not… trust the president anymore.” King says of Obama, “I can’t imagine what his argument would be against paying our military and keeping our credit rating up.” Obama has offered Congress a package containing $4 trillion in spending cuts and small tax increases on the wealthy, a package that has been rejected by Congressional Republicans. Instead, Bachmann says, “President Obama is holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage so he can continue his spending sprees.” Bachmann refuses to say who would not get paid if the nation went into default, saying instead, “We want to take the politics out of this issue.” [Minnesota Independent, 7/13/2011]
Mo Brooks. [Source: Public domain / Wikimedia]Many Congressional Republicans, particularly “tea party” freshmen, believe that not only is the Obama administration lying about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a US credit default that would follow the failure of Congress to raise the nation’s debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011, May 20, 2011, June 26, 2011, and July 11-12, 2011), but some even say that a credit default would be ultimately good for the nation. President Obama is joined by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Moody’s credit rating agency in saying that Congress’s failure to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 would be an economic disaster and must be avoided. But Representative Eric A “Rick” Crawford (R-AK) says otherwise. Crawford says all Obama would have to do to handle a default and the subsequent halt in US borrowing would be to use existing tax revenue to pay for what Crawford sees as “essential” federal services: the military, Medicare and Social Security, and interest on existing debt. If other government services, programs, and agencies such as the FBI, veterans’ benefits, and others would be interrupted, Crawford says that would be acceptable. “That wouldn’t work for just a few days. That would work for a few years,” he says, adding that he will not vote for a debt ceiling increase unless it is coupled with massive federal spending cuts. Budget deficits require “that we take some painful measures now. I’d rather swallow that bitter pill today.” Most of the cuts Crawford and fellow Republicans want would be in social safety-net programs, from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits to funding for education and veterans programs. Crawford and a number of House Republicans simply refuse to accept statements that economic calamity would result from a missed deadline, the Washington Post reports. That opinion, the Post says, will make raising the debt ceiling far more difficult than similar ceiling raises of previous years. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) says that not raising the debt ceiling would actually benefit the economy in the long run. Raising the debt ceiling, he says, just enables the federal government to spend itself into more debt. “A debt ceiling problem, as large as it is, is not anywhere near as a big or as bad as” more debt, he says. He adds that the government can continue paying creditors even if it is refused further credit. “There should be no default on August 2,” he says. “In fact, our credit rating should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.” Most financial leaders in government and the private sector believe that the US credit rating will be dropped, perhaps significantly, if the US defaults on its debt, and the consequences of that drop could send the nation’s economy into a full-blown recession or even a depression. Even Boehner says the debt ceiling must be lifted. “Missing August 2nd could spook the [stock] market,” he says. “And you could have a real catastrophe. Nobody wants that to happen.” An Obama official recently said of legislators like Crawford and Brooks, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.” Washington Monthly editor Steve Benen writes: “The problem that plagues the nation is not about competing parties, ideologies, or creeds. It comes down to a dispute between those who believe empirical reality exists and deserves to be taken seriously vs. those who don’t. With Republican members of Congress and their supporters choosing the latter, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine the United States thriving in the 21st century.” [Politico, 5/13/2011; Washington Post, 7/14/2011; Washington Monthly, 7/15/2011]
Entity Tags: Morris Jackson (“Mo”) Brooks, Jr., Barack Obama, Eric A. (“Rick”) Crawford, Moody’s Investors Service, US Congress, John Boehner, Washington Post, Obama administration, US Federal Reserve, Steve Benen
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. [CBS News, 8/1/2011; The Hill, 8/1/2011] Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).
The outside of the Standard & Poor’s office complex on Wall Street. [Source: Satellite Radio Playground (.com)]The US loses its top-rank AAA credit rating from the financial services company Standard & Poor’s; the firm drops the US credit rating one notch to AA-plus. The US has never had anything but top-tier credit ratings in its financial history, and has top credit ratings from S&P since 1941. S&P makes its decision based on the huge Congressional battle over raising the US’s debt ceiling, normally a routine procedural matter that was used by Congressional Republicans, who threatened to block the ceiling raise unless they were given dramatic spending cuts by the entire Congress and the White House. (House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his Republican colleagues got “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling deal—see August 1, 2011.) Because of the dispute, the US was hours away from an unprecedented credit default until legislation was finally signed and the default avoided. S&P also cites the government’s budget deficit and rising debt burden as reasons for the rating reduction, saying in a statement, “The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.” The drop in the US credit rating will result in a rise in US borrowing costs for American consumers, companies, and the government. US treasury bonds, once seen as the safest securities in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Canada. S&P says the outlook on the US’s credit rating is “negative,” implying another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months. A senior investment officer with a West Coast management company says such a downgrade was “once unthinkable,” and says the entire global economic system will be affected. After the fierce Congressional battle, President Obama signed legislation mandating $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, but S&P officials had asked for $4 trillion in savings as a “down payment” for restoring the US’s financial stability. Part of S&P’s rationale for the downgrade is its assumption that Congressional Republicans will not allow tax cuts implemented by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003 to expire as scheduled by the end of 2012. The Obama administration immediately notes that S&P’s made a $2 trillion error in calculating the US debt, an error that the firm acknowledges but says does not affect its decision to downgrade the US credit rating. A Treasury Department spokeswoman says, “A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011] Credit rating agencies such as S&P have suffered tremendous damage to their credibility in recent years; a Congressional panel called the firms “essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction” after what the New York Times calls “their wildly optimistic models [that] led them to give top-flight reviews to complex mortgage securities that later collapsed.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011]
S&P Explains Decision: 'Political Brinksmanship' - S&P explains its decision in a press release. The firm is “pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the [Obama a]dministration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.” Fiscal policy decisions between Congress and the White House, the firm says, “will remain a contentious and fitful process.” The firm accuses Congressional Republicans in particular of “political brinksmanship” in threatening to allow a debt default if their conditions were not met, and says such tactics destabilize both the US and the global economy. “The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” the firm says. “[T]he majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the” legislation. “The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.” [Standard and Poor's, 8/5/2011] In an email before the debt ceiling was raised, S&P’s global head of sovereign ratings wrote: “What’s changed is the political gridlock. Even now, it’s an open question as to whether or when Congress and the administration can agree on fiscal measures that will stabilize the upward trajectory of the US government debt burden.” [New York Times, 8/5/2011]
GOP Presidential Candidates, Congressional Members Blame Obama - The day after the downgrade, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail blame the Obama administration for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011).
Economist Lambasts S&P, Blames Congressional Republicans - Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman lambasts S&P and blames Congressional Republicans for the downgrade (see August 5-6, 2011).
Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. [Washington Post, 8/6/2011; Reuters, 8/6/2011; National Journal, 8/6/2011; Politico, 8/7/2011; Politico, 8/9/2011]
Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Timothy Geithner, David Loebsack, Ben LaBolt, Tim Pawlenty, Tim Kaine, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, John Boehner, Jon Huntsman, Chris Coons, Ronald H. Johnson, National Republican Congressional Committee, Michele Bachmann
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
Joydeep Mukherji, the senior director for the credit firm Standard & Poor’s, says that one of the key reasons the US lost its AAA credit rating (see August 5, 2011) was because many Congressional figures expressed little worry about the consequences of a US credit default, and some even said that a credit default would not necessarily be a bad thing (see May 20, 2011). Politico notes that this position was “put forth by some Republicans.” Mukherji does not name either political party, but does say that the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default. That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable. This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.” Since the US lost its AAA credit rating, many Republicans have sought to blame the Obama administration (see August 6-9, 2011), even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he and his fellow Republicans “got 98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling legislation whose passage led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, led many Republican “tea party” members in voting against raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and claimed that even if the US did not raise its debt ceiling, it would not go into default, a statement unsupported by either facts or observations by leading economists (see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011). “I want to state unequivocally for the world, as well as for the markets, as well as for the American people: I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” she said. Now, however, one of Bachmann’s colleagues, Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA), says that the media, and S&P, misinterpreted the Republican position. “No one said that would be acceptable,” McClintock says of a possible default. “What we said was in the event of a deadlock it was imperative that bondholders retain their confidence that loans made to the United States be repaid on schedule.” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says of S&P’s response to the default crisis: “They, like many people, looked at this terrible debate we’ve had over the past few months, should the US default or not, really a remarkable thing for a country like the United States. And that was very damaging.” [Politico, 8/11/2011] TPMDC reporter Brian Beutler recalls: “For weeks, high-profile conservative lawmakers practically welcomed the notion of exhausting the country’s borrowing authority, or even technically defaulting. Others brazenly dismissed the risks of doing so. And for a period of days, in an earlier stage of the debate, Republican leaders said technical default would be an acceptable consequence, if it meant the GOP walked away with massive entitlement cuts in the end.” He accuses McClintock of trying to “sweep the mess they’ve made down the memory hole” by lying about what he and fellow Republicans said in the days and weeks before the debt ceiling legislation was passed. Beutler notes statements made by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), where they either made light of the consequences of a possible credit default or said that a default was worthwhile if it, as Cantor said, triggered “real reform.” Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX), one of the “tea party” members, accused the Obama administration of lying about the consequences of default; Beutler writes, “This was a fairly common view among conservative Republicans, particularly in the House” (see July 14, 2011). [TPMDC, 8/11/2011]
Entity Tags: Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor, Brian Beutler, Joydeep Mukherji, US Congress, Standard & Poor’s, Timothy Geithner, Paul Ryan, Obama administration, John Boehner, Tom McClintock, Politico
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
Ethan Harris of Bank of America. [Source: National Association for Business Economics]Many prominent economists and financial leaders lay the blame for the US credit rating downgrade (see August 5, 2011) at the feet of Congressional Republicans. Republicans have been unified in blaming the Obama administration’s economic policies for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011), though House Speaker John Boehner boasted that he and his fellow Republicans received “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt-ceiling legislation that led to the downgrade (see August 1, 2011). Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman, a self-described liberal, blamed Congressional Republicans for the downgrade hours after credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced it (see August 5-6, 2011), and S&P itself implied that Republicans were at fault for the downgrade for being willing to risk sending the nation into default if they were blocked from getting their way in the debt-ceiling legislation (see August 11, 2011). Even before the credit rating downgrade, the New York Times reports, “macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year—for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever—was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years” (see May 20, 2011). These economists and forecasters generally agree with the Obama administration’s wishes to immediately stimulate the economy to include greater private-sector spending and create more jobs, with spending cuts more useful as a long-term remedy. Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, however, continue to insist that their policies are what will rescue the US economy; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says that he and his fellow Republicans “were not elected to raise taxes or take more money out of the pockets of hardworking families and business people,” and will never consider tax or revenue increases of any sort. Even Republican economic figures such as Reagan advisor Martin Feldstein and Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, say that revenue increases should balance any spending cuts, a position Congressional Republicans—particularly “tea party” Republicans such as presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN)—refuse to countenance. Bank of America senior economics research official Ethan Harris writes: “Given the scale of the debt problem, a credible plan requires both revenue enhancement measures and entitlement reform. Washington’s recent debt deal did not include either.” Ian C. Shepherdson, the chief US economist for research firm High Frequency Economist, says, “I think the US has every chance of having a good year next year, but the politicians are doing their damnedest to prevent it from happening—the Republicans are—and the Democrats to my eternal bafflement have not stood their ground.” Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, and Laurence H. Meyer, former Federal Reserve governor, both call the Republicans’ calls for spending cuts “job-kill[ers].” Bill Gross, head of the bond-trading firm Pimco, lambasts Republicans and what he calls “co-opted Democrats” for throwing aside widely accepted economic theory for Republican-led insistence that draconian spending cuts, largely in social safety-net programs such as Social Security and Medicare, will “cure” the US’s economic ills. Instead, Gross writes: “An anti-Keynesian, budget-balancing immediacy imparts a constrictive noose around whatever demand remains alive and kicking. Washington hassles over debt ceilings instead of job creation in the mistaken belief that a balanced budget will produce a balanced economy. It will not.” [New York Times, 8/12/2011]
Entity Tags: Ian Shepherdson, US Congress, Eric Cantor, Bill Gross, Standard & Poor’s, Henry Paulson, Paul Krugman, New York Times, Joel Prakken, John Boehner, Laurence H. Meyer, Martin Feldstein, Michele Bachmann, Ethan Harris, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
A journalist and activist sues to overturn provisions in a US defense spending bill that authorize indefinite military detention, including of US citizens, who are accused of being associated with groups engaged in hostilities with the United States (see December 15, 2011, December 31, 2011). The indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA caused considerable controversy from the time they were first proposed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, and his attorneys, Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, file the suit seeking an injunction barring enforcement of section 1021 (formerly known as 1031) of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), alleging it is unconstitutional because it infringes on Hedges’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are named as defendants in the initial complaint, individually and in their official capacities. [TruthDig, 1/16/2012] Six other writers and activists will later join Hedges as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, “US Day of Rage,” Kai Wargalla, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is also a member of parliament in Iceland. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Harry Reid (D-NV), and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), John Boehner (R-OH), and Eric Cantor (R-VA), will be added as defendants, in their official capacities. [Final Complaint: Hedges v. Obama, 2/23/2012 ] The plaintiffs, their attorneys, and two supporting organizations, RevolutionTruth and Demand Progress, will establish a Web site to provide news and information related to the case, including legal documents. [StopNDAA.org, 2/10/2012] The Lawfare Blog will also post a number of court documents related to the case, including some not available at StopNDAA.org, such as the declarations of Wargalla, O’Brien, and Jónsdóttir. [Lawfare, 4/4/2012] Journalist and activist Naomi Wolf will file an affidavit supporting the lawsuit. [Guardian, 3/28/2012] The judge in the case, Katherine B. Forrest, will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the contested section, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012).
Entity Tags: Chris Hedges, US Congress, US Department of Defense, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, Carl Mayer, Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, RevolutionTruth, Alexa O’Brien, Barack Obama, Noam Chomsky, White House, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Eric Cantor, Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Bruce Afran, Nancy Pelosi, Kai Wargalla, John McCain, Katherine B. Forrest, Leon Panetta, John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Grover Norquist, a highly influential conservative lobbyist and activist, says that if President Obama wins re-election in 2012, Congressional Republicans will impeach him to regain control of the nation’s governance. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a hardline opponent of government taxation, tells the National Journal that he expects Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2013. He is best known for his anti-tax pledge, which almost all Congressional Republicans and a few Democrats have signed, and which states their absolute opposition to any tax hikes of any kind. The online news site National Confidential says that signers who break that pledge will likely “face a primary opponent funded by Norquist and his shadowy multi-millionaire donors.” Norquist says of Obama’s record of cutting taxes on middle- and lower-class taxpayers: “He came up with this idea for the one-year tax holiday so he could claim that he’s for a tax cut. Mind you, it’s a temporary tax cut, but he does not want to run as a tax increaser. I think [Republicans are] in reasonably good shape. Between now and November, I believe we will see a one-year extension of the FICA tax [cut]. I believe we will see the extension of [the break on] depreciation spending. And then the third one that you could have is repatriation. If I was Obama’s political consultant, I’d have put repatriation on the table when he extended the Bush-era tax cuts by two years [in 2010]. The estimates are that it would bring $6 [billion] to $800 billion back. If I were president, I would love to have that money flow back into the real economy, not the Solyndra economy, the year before I’m running for office.” [National Journal, 1/28/2012; National Confidential, 1/28/2012] “Repatriation” is the idea that American corporations can receive one-time tax breaks by putting their foreign earnings into the American economy. Norquist’s reference to “the Solyndra economy” refers to the controversy surrounding the recently bankrupted Solyndra Corporation, which received $528 million in federal loan guarantees and which some conservatives, including Norquist, have attempted to tie to the Obama administration. [Investopedia, 2012; New York Times, 2012] Norquist predicts that if re-elected, Obama will allow a number of tax cuts on large corporations and the wealthy to expire at the end of 2012, and this, he says, will allow Congressional Republicans to begin impeachment proceedings. “We’re focused on the fact that there is this Damocles sword hanging over people’s head,” he says. “What you don’t know is who will be in charge when all of this will happen. I think when we get through this election cycle, we’ll have a Republican majority, [though] not necessarily a strong majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House. The majority in the House will continue to be a Reagan majority, a conservative majority. [House Speaker John] Boehner never has to talk his delegation going further to the right. If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I’m told that they could do an early budget vote—a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years. You take all of those issues off the table and then say, ‘What do you want to do for tax reform?’ Then, the question is, ‘OK, what do we do about repatriation and all of the interesting stuff?’ And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare],” referring to House Representative Paul Ryan’s plan to virtually end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system. If the Democrats retain control of Congress and the White House, Norquist says: “Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.” [National Journal, 1/28/2012] According to the US Constitution, “The President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” [Constitution of the United States, 6/21/1788] It is unclear how Norquist frames his prediction of Obama’s allowing tax cut legislation to lapse as constituting “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes [or] Misdemeanors.”
During a state Democratic Party convention in San Diego, Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) calls Republican legislators “demons.” In response, Fox News talk show host Eric Bolling advises Waters to “step away from the crack pipe,” earning Bolling accusations of employing racist rhetoric against Waters. Waters, an African-American, speaks in support of Democrats retaking the US House of Representatives in November 2012, and says of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): “I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens [at the convention]. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. They are bringing down this country, destroying this country, because they’d rather do whatever they can do destroy this president rather than for the good of this country.” After news of Waters’s remarks becomes publicly known on February 15, Brad Dayspring, a spokesperson for Cantor, calls Waters’s rhetoric “sad and unfortunate.” [Fox News, 2/15/2012] On February 16, Bolling, the host of Fox News’s The Five, appearing as a guest host on Fox News’s morning show Fox and Friends, responds to Waters’s rhetoric: “What is going on in California? How’s this? Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston (see February 12-13, 2012). Step away from the crack pipe. Step away from the Xanax. Step away from the Lorazepam. Because it’s going to get you in trouble. How else do you explain those kinds of comments?” Co-hosts Steve Doocy and Juliet Huddy laugh uncomfortably at Bolling’s comments; after a commercial break, Bolling modifies his comments by saying he was “kidding about the crack pipe, but obviously the rhetoric, you know.” Doocy immediately responds: “Of course. We knew that.” Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters says Bolling’s rhetoric is “racially charged,” particularly with his reference to Waters smoking crack, a drug stereotypically associated with African-American gangsters and street criminals. Politico notes that there is no evidence crack or any other illegal drug was involved in Houston’s recent death. [Media Matters, 2/16/2012; Media Matters, 2/16/2012; Politico, 2/16/2012] On Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show later in the day, guest host Andrea Tantaros, a Fox News commentator, defends Bolling’s racially inflammatory rhetoric. “How is that a racist remark?” Tantaros asks a caller. She goes on to say that Bolling was just joking, and says that “when you inject race into everything, you legitimize when people are actually really genuinely making racist remarks, which Eric Bolling was absolutely not doing.” [Media Matters, 2/16/2012] Liberal news blog The Grio calls Waters’s rhetoric “incendiary” and Bolling’s comments “racially provocative and insensitive.” [The Grio, 2/16/2012]
Entity Tags: John Boehner, Eric Bolling, Brad Dayspring, Andrea Tantaros, Fox News, Whitney Houston, The Grio, Maxine Waters, Steve Doocy, Juliet Huddy, Eric Cantor, Politico, Media Matters
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Over 75 Congressional Democrats issue a letter calling on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to condemn radio host Rush Limbaugh for his vilification of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who testified in opposition to a House amendment that would have allowed health care providers to deny contraceptive coverage and other health care necessities if they had religious or moral objections (see March 1, 2012). For two days, Limbaugh has blasted Fluke, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” (see February 29, 2012 and March 1, 2012). In the letter, written by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the Democrats call Limbaugh’s language “sexually charged, patently offensive, and obscene,” and continue: “Mr. Limbaugh is as free as any American to speak his mind about the political and social issues of our time. But using his radio show as a means for blatantly insulting a hard-working American with obscene and indecent language because he disagrees with her personal choices is an abuse of the public airwaves.” [Politico, 3/1/2012]
Some Republican lawmakers begin issuing carefully worded criticisms of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh in the wake of Limbaugh’s crude personal attacks on law student Sandra Fluke (see February 29, 2012 and March 1, 2012). Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), fighting for re-election in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts, issues the strongest criticism of Limbaugh, saying on Twitter: “Rush Limbaugh’s comments are reprehensible. He should apologize.” A spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tells CNN, “The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation.” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who refused to allow Fluke to testify before his panel concerning government coverage of contraception (see March 1, 2012), calls Limbaugh’s comments a “distraction,” but uses the controversy to attack Democrats for “using” it for political gain, and claims his office’s female staffers have been exposed to insulting language from callers opposed to Republicans’ attempts to deny health care coverage on religious or moral grounds. He writes that he does not agree “with many comments that have been made during the effort to examine the constitutionality of Obamacare’s mandates on individual freedom, including the ones by Mr. Limbaugh, I find your narrow focus on this particular comment to be self-serving and dismissive of other inappropriate comments and attacks on Americans of faith.” [Talking Points Memo, 3/2/2012] Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum issue mild criticisms of Limbaugh (see March 2, 2012), and National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Carly Fiorina calls Limbaugh’s comments “insulting” and “a distraction from what are very real and important issues” (see March 2, 2012).
On ABC’s This Week morning talk show, an array of political commentators from around the political spectrum unite in condemning radio host Rush Limbaugh’s three-day tirade against Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke over her stance on contraception coverage (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Perhaps the most surprising statements come from conservative columnist George Will, who not only slams Limbaugh’s comments, but criticizes Republicans for not coming out more strongly against Limbaugh (see March 2, 2012, March 2, 2012, and March 2, 2012). “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh,” Will says. “[House Speaker John] Boehner comes out and says Rush’s language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that’s inappropriate. Not this stuff. And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.” Will says that it is the duty of Republican leaders to keep Limbaugh in line: “It is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right and its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses on their own side.” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd agrees, saying that Republican leaders fear criticizing Limbaugh because they believe what Dowd calls the “myth” of Limbaugh’s powerful influence among Republican voters (see January 1993, October 16, 2001, December 17, 2004, July 2008, and January 28-29, 2009). “I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don’t have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon,” Dowd says. “They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus. It’s great he is entertaining and all that. But nobody takes him seriously.” Peggy Noonan, an advisor to former President George H. W. Bush, calls Limbaugh “crude, rude, [and] piggish” on the same broadcast (see March 4, 2012). [ABC News, 3/4/2012; Think Progress, 3/4/2012; Los Angeles Times, 3/5/2012]
US District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest (Southern Division, New York) finds a controversial section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) unconstitutional and issues a preliminary injunction barring enforcement. Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention without trial of any person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces” (see December 15, 2011). The law makes no exception for US persons. It has been under review by the court because seven individuals (journalists, activists, and politicians) sued, alleging this section is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and Fifth Amendment right to due process, and that it imposes military jurisdiction on civilians in violation of Article III and the Fifth Amendment (see January 13, 2012). [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Finds NDAA Undermines Protected Speech and Association - The plaintiffs argued that, due to their association with and/or reporting on al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the course of their work as journalists and activists, they might be subject to detention under § 1021, and that, due to the vagueness of the law, there was no way to know if the law could be used against them. In testimony and briefs, the plaintiffs gave examples of how they had altered their speech and behavior out of fear they might be subject to detention. In her Opinion and Order, Forrest notes: “The Government was unable to define precisely what ‘direct’ or ‘substantial’ ‘support’ means.… Thus, an individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so.” And: “The Government was given a number of opportunities at the hearing and in its briefs to state unambiguously that the type of expressive and associational activities engaged in by plaintiffs—or others—are not within § 1021. It did not. This Court therefore must credit the chilling impact on First Amendment rights as reasonable—and real. Given our society’s strong commitment to protecting First Amendment rights, the equities must tip in favor of protecting those rights.” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Rejects All Three Arguments Made by the Government - Forrest summarizes the government’s position in this way: “[F]irst, that plaintiffs lack standing; second, that even if they have standing, they have failed to demonstrate an imminent threat requiring preliminary relief; and finally, through a series of arguments that counter plaintiffs’ substantive constitutional challenges, that Section 1021 of the NDAA is simply an ‘affirmation’ or ‘reaffirmation’ of the authority conferred by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Rejecting the first and second arguments, Forrest finds the plaintiffs do have standing because their fear of imminent indefinite detention without charge or trial is reasonable, due to the vagueness of § 1021 and the government’s failure to state that the plaintiff’s activities aren’t covered under section 1021, leaving the plaintiffs with no way of knowing if they might be subject to detention. Furthermore, Forrest finds the plaintiffs have suffered actual harm, evidenced by incurring expenses and making changes in speech and association due to fear of potential detention. Regarding the third argument, Forrest rejects the idea that § 1021 could simply be affirming the AUMF, because “[t]o so hold would be contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning”; otherwise § 1021 would be “redundant” and “meaningless.” Furthermore, Forrest finds § 1021 of the NDAA is substantively different than the AUMF; it is not specific in its scope and “lacks the critical component of requiring… that an alleged violator’s conduct must have been, in some fashion, ‘knowing.’” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Judge Finds Lawsuit Will Likely Succeed on Merits, Justifying Injunction - Based on the information put forward by the seven plaintiffs and the government, Forrest concludes the lawsuit will likely succeed on its merits, thus it should be allowed to proceed, stating: “This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.” Forrest also notes that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement is unusual, but called for given the evidence and circumstances, stating: “This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution. However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights.” [OPINION AND ORDER: 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) Hedges et al v. Obama, preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of NDAA Section 1021, 5/16/2012]
Entity Tags: Chris Hedges, US Department of Defense, Carl Mayer, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, White House, Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, US Congress, Alexa O’Brien, Barack Obama, Noam Chomsky, US Department of Justice, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Eric Cantor, Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Nancy Pelosi, Leon Panetta, John Boehner, Katherine B. Forrest, John McCain, Bruce Afran, Kai Wargalla
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Obama’s Justice Department files a motion urging a federal judge to reconsider a ruling and order that blocked enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention. The case is Hedges v. Obama and the law at issue is section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The filing calls Judge Katherine B. Forrest’s preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA (see May 16, 2012) “extraordinary” as it restricts the president’s authority during wartime. It also questions whether “an order restraining future military operations could ever be appropriate,” and disputes Forrest’s finding that the plaintiffs who had sued to overturn the law (see January 13, 2012) have standing to sue. In footnote 1, the government states that it is construing the order “as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit.” Forrest will clarify in a subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by blocking enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons covered are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” (see June 6, 2012). [Hedges v. Obama: Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of Its Motion for Reconsideration of the May 16, 2012, Opinion and Order, 5/25/2012]
Background - The NDAA was passed by Congress on December 15, 2011 (see December 15, 2011) and signed into law by President Obama on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The provision for indefinite military detention of any person accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States, without charge or trial, began to generate controversy soon after it was disclosed (see July 6, 2011 and after).
Entity Tags: Noam Chomsky, US Congress, White House, US Department of Justice, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, US Department of Defense, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Katherine B. Forrest, Carl Mayer, Bruce Afran, Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, Barack Obama, Alexa O’Brien, Chris Hedges, Leon Panetta, Kai Wargalla, Daniel Ellsberg, John McCain, John Boehner, Jennifer Bolen, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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