Obama Appoints U.S. Attorney Who Contributed to His Campaign

President Obama on Friday announced the nominations of four U.S. Attorneys, at least two of whom made political contributions exclusively to Democrats, and one of whom contributed directly to his presidential campaign.

Timothy Heaphy, a Virgina lawyer who Obama has tapped to be a U.S. Attorney, gave $2,401 to Obama’s 2008 election campaign, and $5,101 total to Democrats over the past two election cycles, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Another nominee, Deborah Gilg of Nebraska, donated $1,750 to Democratic candidates.

Two other nominees, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Peter Neronha of Rhode Island, were not listed in the contributions database.

UPDATE: Bogden was one of the attorney’s forced to resign during the Bush administration.

Blue Dogs May Get an Earful

The Politico is reporting on an overnight deal between Blue Dogs and liberals that will allow the House Democratic health care bill to clear the Energy and Commerce Committee. But as Blue Dogs return home during August recess, they may be facing a backlash among their constituents. While there’s no polling data that breaks down support for health care legislation by Congressional district, what we do know is that legislation is even less popular among independents than it is among the national at large, and independents are more abundant in Blue Dog districts. According to Pew survey, just 34 percent of independents said they support the health care plans currently being discussed in Congress, compared to 49 percent who are opposed. But the actual break down of the numbers is even worse. Among those who say who they are following the issue closely, just 27 were supportive, compared to an overwhelming 70 percent who were opposed. And presumably, those who are paying more attention to the issue are the ones more likely to be attending town hall meetings and calling their members of Congress.

Strictly Business, Nothing Personal

Yesterday, toward the end of a post taking issue with Andy McCarthy for using shoddy sourcing to raise questions about President Obama’s biography, I noted that what’s driving down Obama’s approval ratings are his positions on the issues, not concerns about him personally. I just wanted to add some data to back up my point.

If you examine the recent Pew survey titled, “Obama’s Ratings Slide Across the Board” you will find that he has a 54 percent approval rating overall, while on any given issue, he polls lower: a minority of 42 percent approve of Obama’s handling of health care; just 38 percent approve of his stewardship of the economy; and a mere 32 percent like the way he is handling the budget deficit. Yet if you keep scrolling down you will notice that an overwhelming 74 percent of Americans say they like Obama personally, compared with just 12 percent who say they dislike him.

So, putting aside any disagreements that may exist between McCarthy and I concerning Obama’s biography, from a purely pragmatic perspective, the best chance conservatives have toward stoping Obama from implementing big government policies that will damage our country, is to focus our critcisms on intellegently explaining why his policies are failing and why his proposals will prove destructive. The American people have already decided that they generally like Obama the person, and barring a smoking gun, that isn’t going to change in the near future, and certainly not by peddling stories based on pure speculation. Focusing on Obama the person rather than on his policies doesn’t help stop the march toward socialism, if anything, it accelerates it.

WH Cautious in Touting Better Than Expected GDP Number

Christina Romer, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic advisers, was cautiously optimistic on CNBC about the better than expected GDP numbers, which showed the economy shrank at at 1 percent rate last quarter. “It is still minus, but less minus,” she said.

Romer said that without the stimulus package, the economy would have shrank 2 or 3 percent instead, and insisted the numbers showed the economy was on “the right trajectory,” and would begin to show growth in the second half of the year.

At the same time, she noted that the fact that economy still shrank implied that next week’s unemployment report would show another few hundred thousand job losses.

Though the economy contracted at a slower pace, consumer spending was worse than expected, suggesting to economists a sluggish recovery.

The stock market has had a mixed reaction in early trading, fluctuating between slightly positive and slightly negative territory.

All Or Nothing At All

Charles Krauthammer argues in today’s column that even though President Obama’s health care push is in trouble, he’ll likely settle for a more modest set of insurance reforms, which Democrats will give him because they’ll suffer if he completely fails on this issue. While Krauthammer makes a good case for the “he’ll at least sign something” school of thought and I would by no means discount that possibility, there’s also the argument for the “all or nothing” outcome. By that I mean either  Obama will sign a very liberal comprehensive health care bill, or come away with nothing at all. There are both political and policy reasons behind my reasoning.

Politically, Obama deciding to scale back his ambitions is one thing, but getting liberals in Congress to agree to that is another story entirely. Just this week, Lynn Woosley, a leader of the House Progressive Caucus, denounced a deal that was struck with Blue Dog Democrats even though it included a government plan, because of a disagreement over reimbursement rates. I can’t imagine how her group of 80 House members would react if Obama tried to argue that they’d have to settle for bill that merely stepped up regulation of private insurers. And even though, broadly speaking, it would make sense for Democrats to give Obama some sort of victory, it doesn’t mean that in reality any single lawmaker or group of lawmakers will be willing to sacrifice what they want. As Jim Antle has noted on a number of occasions, the liberal members of the House are from safe districts and are virtually assured reelection no matter what happens. So they very well may be willing to go the distance to fight for what they want, and reject any sort of watered down legislation.

As for policy, Krauthammer argues that, “the president will in the end simply impose heavy regulations on the insurance companies that will make what you already have secure, portable and imperishable: no policy cancellations, no preexisting condition requirements, perhaps even a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.” He acknowledges that imposing these new regulations will create the need for a mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. But the problem is that once you adopt the liberal mindset for health care reform, you can’t stop at these changes, because more government begets more government. Obama won’t be able to mandate that individuals buy insurance if they can’t afford it, so that will create the need to expand Medicaid and/or offer sliding scale subsidies for people to purchase coverage. But given the problems with the way the individual insurance market is currently set up, they’ll want to create some sort of exchange on which people can purchase insurance. Then we’re back where we are now, debating whether that exchange should include a new government run plan. The point is that to adopt any aspect of the liberal changes, you end up having to adopt them all. 

So my view is that either moderate Democrats will fold and vote for a very liberal bill, or the whole effort will go down in flames.

UPDATE: David Hogberg has a piece exploring whether the House liberals will actually risk killing health care legislation to fight for a “robust public option.”

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Everybody knew it would happen at some point.

The moment when the fresh pair of shoes got muddied, when people started to see beyond the façade, and when the curtain was lifted to reveal a tinkerer pulling levers rather than a wonderful wizard.

We are in the midst of that moment.

Back in January, just after President Obama took the oath of office, Gallup found that 68 percent of Americans approved of him, compared to just 12 percent who disapproved. Yet in the past month, those two numbers have been racing toward convergence, and as of Thursday just 52 percent approved of Obama’s handling of his job, compared to 41 percent who disapproved.

The story is the same no matter the poll, and the numbers get worse the deeper one looks into the data. Particularly troubling is that while Democrats continue to give Obama high marks, he’s losing the independents, according a poll released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center, which showed his support among the group dipping to 48 percent.

There were many points when candidate Obama looked like he was on the ropes, only to bounce back. But there are significant differences between a campaign and a presidency.

No matter how bad things got during the campaign, Obama could exploit frustration with George Bush, and employ the rhetoric of hope and change. But it’s hard to point fingers when you’re running the show.

Not that this has stopped him from trying. During last week’s prime time news conference, Obama reiterated that he inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit. And in desperate search for a foil, he used comments by Sen. Jim DeMint and Bill Kristol to argue that Republicans were blocking health care legislation. Given that Obama’s budget adds an estimated $9.3 trillion to the deficit over 10 years and that Democrats’ majorities in Congress are so large that they could pass anything without a single Republican vote, neither argument has gained any traction.

Pew found that a minority of 42 percent approve of Obama’s handling of health care; just 38 percent approve of his stewardship of the economy; and a mere 32 percent like the way he is handling the budget deficit.

At times, Obama has slipped back into the role of the consummate analyst, diagnosing the nation’s condition as if he were an outsider who has no power to change anything. “[W]e’ve just become so cynical about what government can accomplish,” he said during the news conference, falling back on a tired old campaign theme that he’s employed since his days as a state senator. He added, “[F]olks are skeptical, and that is entirely legitimate because they haven’t seen a lot of laws coming out of Washington lately that help them.”  Apparently, he forgot that he’s been responsible for signing all of those laws.

During the campaign, Obama the salesman could convince people that he would provide everybody with a brand new luxury car for the price of an old jalopy. But after selling the American people a $787 billion stimulus package that has failed to create promised jobs, they aren’t buying his health care proposals.

After months of White House events, speeches, town hall meetings, and news conferences touting Democratic health care proposals, support for health care plans currently being discussed has cratered to 38 percent, while 44 percent now oppose them, according to Pew.

While Obama is known as a talented communicator, it turns out that the more people hear about the health care plans, the more fiercely they oppose them, and this is true even if you remove Republicans from the equation. Among independents who said they’ve heard little or nothing about health care legislation, just 35 percent opposed; but among those who said they’ve heard a lot about the proposals, opposition doubled, to 70 percent.

To be sure, just because Obama’s approval ratings have come back down to earth, it doesn’t mean he’s doomed, as polls are bound to fluctuate over the course of a presidency. But the key question confronting Obama’s presidency has been: Will he prove a complete disaster like Jimmy Carter, a politically successful president who fails to meaningfully advance liberalism like Bill Clinton, or a transformational liberal leader in the mold of Franklin D. Roosevelt?

The problem for Obama is that economic news is likely to be mostly bad over the next several months, suggesting continued downward pressure on his approval ratings in the near term. And it’s just during this time period that health care legislation will be moving through Congress. If he fails to get a health care bill passed this year, his odds of ever doing so decrease dramatically. Next year is an election year, and after the 2010 midterms, Republicans are likely to gain more power to block his agenda.

While public perception of Obama will go up and down for the rest of his time in office, the next few months will largely determine whether he’ll remake the nation in his image. No wonder he’s in such a rush.

Not a McCarthyite

I have to wholeheartedly disagree with Quin Hillyer’s endorsement of Andy McCarthy’s paranoid National Review rant on President Obama. It does not seperate fact from fiction, but rather substitutes speculation and conjecture for actual reporting, and its sourcing is atrocious.

For instance, McCarthy’s source for claiming that Obama’s description of his early employment “is bunk” is the Sweetness & Light blog. If you link to the post he cites, Sweetness & Light offers an expired link to another blog, Analyze This, written by somebody claiming to be one of Obama’s former coworkers. Sweetness & Light also cites a commenter to the Analyze This blog. Now, it’s entirely possible that everything written on Analyze This, including its comments section, is completely accurate. But if McCarthy wants to see Obama’s original birth certificate (because the official “certification of live birth” does not provide enough information for him), you’d think he’d want to do more legwork to corroborate his own claims, instead of just lazily linking to another blog and writing without skepticism, “As the website Sweetness & Light details, this is bunk.”

At another point, McCarthy writes:

There’s speculation out there from the former CIA officer Larry Johnson who is no right-winger and is convinced the president was born in Hawaii that the full state records would probably show Obama was adopted by the Indonesian Muslim Lolo Soetoro and became formally known as “Barry Soetoro.” Obama may have wanted that suppressed for a host of reasons: issues about his citizenship, questions about his name (it’s been claimed that Obama represented in his application to the Illinois bar that he had never been known by any name other than Barack Obama), and the undermining of his (false) claim of remoteness from Islam. Is that true? I don’t know and neither do you.

It’s stunning enough that McCarthy, a former prosecutor, would engage in such amateur speculation without backing it up with actual facts. But his favorable citation of Larry Johnson is even more alarming. As Dave Weigel reminds us, Johnson is not a reliable source, but a “now-discredited blogger who blew his credibility last year after insisting, for weeks, that he knew ‘sources’ who were holding onto a tape of ‘Michelle Obama railing against ‘whitey’ at Jeremiah Wright’s church.'” In addition, Johnson erroneously reported that Karl Rove was indicted during the Valerie Plame affair, in a post titled, “Rove Indicted — Frog March the Bastard.” Johnson also has the distinction of having authored a New York Times op-ed titled “The Declining Terrorist Threat” — which was published just two months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. It is simply irresponsible journalism by McCarthy to cite the authority of this man.

Right now, Obama’s approval ratings are sinking. And it isn’t because people like McCarthy are raising questions about his biography. It’s because his economic policies aren’t working as promised, and Americans are not buying the health care proposals he’s trying to sell them. By writing this dreck, all McCarthy is doing is providing fodder to liberals who seek to distract attention from Obama’s fading popularity and his disasterous health care plan by arguing that conservative opposition to Obama is rooted in an effort to portray him as somehow illegitimate.

GDP: The Most Important Number of the Week

With President Obama’s approval rating continuing to falter, one of the few things that can help him at this point is an economic recovery (or at least signs that one is underway). Tomorrow, the U.S. Commerce Department will provide a sneak peak of the second quarter gross domestic product. The number, which will be subject to several revisions, is expected to show that the economy shrunk at a slower rate than in previous quarters, which no doubt the White House will use to argue that its economic policies are working and we’re on the path to recovery. The adminsitration’s ability to do so will depend in large part on the way investors react to the news. Markets have already rallied in anticipation that the report will show a modest contraction. Marketwatch‘s survey of economists has the Q2 GDP number at -1.2 percent, while Reuters‘ has it at -1.5 percent. This compares with the steep 5.5 percent contraction in the first quarter. If the GDP meets or beats expectations, the market is likely to react positively, giving Obama a much-needed bit of good news to take into the weekend. If the number is worse than expected, then Friday’s story will likely be a market sell-off as investors determined that the recession would be deeper and last longer than anticipated. The news will be released tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning.

UPDATE: I should also note that any good news for Obama in tomorrow’s number could be short lived, because next week we’ll get the July unemployment report.

New Poll Shows AARP Doesn’t Speak for Older Americans

I’ve been reporting on AARP’s cozy relationship with the Obama administration, particularly on health care. While the group insists that it hasn’t endorsed a specific bill yet, it has been echoing White House talking points on just about every aspect of the health care debate. And just this Tuesday, the group, which purports to represent older Americans, hosted a staged “townhall” meeting with pre-screened questions allowing President Obama to promote his health care proposals. But a new Pew poll, which is bad for Obama in general, highlights just how out of touch AARP is with its own membership on the health care issue. Taking a look at the full report shows strong opposition to health care plans currently being discussed in Congress among the 50-plus crowd, which is AARP’s membership base. While Pew found that within the 50 to 64 age group, a slim plurality of 45 percent supported the current proposals compared to 41 percent who opposed them, among the over-65 set, just 29 percent were supporters, compared to 48 percent opposed. In fact, those above retirement age were more opposed to current health care proposals and less supportive than any other age group. The bottom line is that AARP’s full-throated support for the Democratic health care agenda stands in stark contrast to the actual sentiments of older Americans, which range from tepid support to fierce opposition.

How to Get Real Competition in Health Insurance

One of the arguments liberals have repeated in making their case for the creation of a government-run plan is the idea that there isn’t enough competition in the health insurance market. Last month, the liberal activist group Health Care for America Now released a study finding that in most states, just a handful of insurers dominate the market, leading to skyrocking premiums. “This is the starkest evidence yet that the private health care insurance market is in bad need of some healthy competition,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said of the report. “A public health insurance option is critical to ensure the greatest amount of choice possible for consumers.”

This is just the latest example of liberals arguing for a  government solution to a problem that was created by government.

To start with, liberals — particularly those who support single-payer — typically argue that the health insurance market is too “fragmented.” The 1,300 insurance companies in America, they say, carve up the risk pool instead of allowing the risk to be shared among the broader population.

Greg Scandlen, President of Consumers for Health Care Choices, testified before Congress on this very issue. During his testimony, he recounted that in the late 1980s insurance regulators determined that, “the small group market was suffering from an excess of competition that was confusing to purchasers. They thought it would be better if there were only three or four competing companies in each state.”

As a result, they imposed a raft of new regulations on insurers, and Scandlen explained:

All of these regulations, however well-intentioned, add to the cost of coverage. Moreover, many carriers found it expensive and difficult to comply with all the varying requirements of many different states, especially as the requirements changed from year to year. As a consequence, many carriers decided to get out of the health business and sold off their blocks of business to larger carriers who could afford the compliance costs. This is the primary cause of concentration in this market.

Regulation, in other words, creates what economists call “barriers to entry” into a given market, rigging the game in favor of larger companies with deep pockets.

At the same time they have pushed for more regulation, liberals have fought the introduction of new kinds of insurance products, such as health savings accounts, which have been one of the few areas where we’ve seen new players enter the insurance market. But they are still subject to heavy restrictions.

If the goal is to increase competition in the insurance market, the solution is pretty simple. Stop fighting the introduction of innovative new insurance policies. Cut down on unnecessary regulation. And create a national market for insurance by allowing Americans to purchase insurance across state lines, as Rep. John Shaddegg has been pushing for years. As an alternative, Scandlen suggests giving insurers the option of being federally chartered (allowing them to operate nationally) or state chartered (allowing them to operate only in a single state), which would counter the liberal argument that if purchasing insurance across state lines were allowed, all insurers would move to the state with the lowest standards.

Don’t hold your breath for liberals to entertain any of these ideas for fostering competition. As Rep. Paul Ryan put it on MSNBC during his brilliant takedown of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, liberals are “using capitalist rhetoric to try and move a plan that is inherently anti-market.”

Liberals want to create a system in which government provides subsidies to individuals to purchase insurance on a government-run exchange, and to create a new government-run health care plan modeled after Medicare. Even if this doesn’t ultimately lead to a single-payer system (as I and many others believe), it’s clear that the only insurers who could possibly go up against the government would be the very large insurers. This is not a plan to tackle the problem of consolidation in the insurance market — it is a plan to accelerate it.