Cantor and ObamaCare Repeal

Eric Cantor’s office spent the day beating back a story in the Hill, which initially reported that the Republican whip favored preserving certain provisions of ObamaCare. The Hill later updated and corrected the item, though the current version still has Cantor speaking about covering younger Americans and those with pre-existing conditions.

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring dismissed the story, and said that the Virginia Republican favors the full repeal of ObamaCare, and replacing it with a Republican alternative. When asked about the alternative, Dayspring pointed me toward this legislation House Republicans introduced earlier in the year, which he said is representative of the GOP approach to issues such as covering those with pre-existing conditions.

Overall, the GOP plan was not very ambitious and is not a true free market alternative. It does allow Americans to purchase insurance accross state lines, but it doesn’t remove one of the biggest barriers to the creation of a free market for health care, which is a tax code that discriminates against those who purchase insurance on their own instead of through an employer. Nor does it include any significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

While stopping short of forcing insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, the plan would force states to set up “qualifying” federally-subsidized high risk pools or reinsurance programs. It would also make dependents out of everybody through the age of 25, so younger Americans can stay on their parents policies longer. Under ObamaCare, the age is 26.

By all means, the first order of business for conservatives is finding a way to repeal ObamaCare. But winning the health care debate in the long-run will require much bolder solutions than Republican leadership has embraced thus far.

Pawlenty’s Pardon

The news that somebody Gov. Tim Pawlenty pardoned is now accused of sexual assault is triggering a debate over how it may affect his presidential ambitions, particularly given that Mike Huckabee has come under criticism for controversial pardons. However, the circumstances surrounding Pawlenty’s pardon were a lot different.

Pawlenty pardoned a man who served jail time for having sex with his 14-year old girlfriend who he went on to marry. Pawlenty spokesman Bruce Gordon told the Star Tribune:

The pardoned offense “involved sexual conduct between two people who became husband and wife, maintained a long-term marriage, had a family together,” Gordon said. “The defendant completed his sentence many years before seeking the pardon, which his wife and others supported.”

It now turns out the man, Jeremy Giefer, is accused of assaulting a different girl hundreds of times, both before and after he received the pardon.

Yet in Huckabee’s case, it isn’t a matter of just one pardon that had wide support at the time. As I documented when he ran for president, Huckabee set loose savage criminals convicted of grisly murders over the passionate objections of prosecutors and victims’ families. Over the course of his 10 and a half years as governor, Huckabee granted a staggering 1,033 clemencies, according to the Associated Press. That was more than double the combined 507 that were granted during the 17 and a half years of his three predecessors: Bill Clinton, Frank White, and Jim Guy Tucker.

In one of the more high profile cases, convicted rapist Wayne Dumond went on to murder a woman in Missouri after being let out of prison under Huckabee’s watch. Since the last presidential election, another one of the men who was released under Huckabee, Maurice Clemmons, went on to kill four cops in Washington state.

So, clearly, Pawlenty is on much stronger ground defending his decision against Huckabee’s record. That said, should Huckabee run, he’d likely exploit Pawlenty’s pardon to respond to attacks against his own record. And even if it isn’t an apt comparison, it may help Huckabee muddy the waters a bit for voters who don’t pay much attention to details.

UPDATE: Pawlenty spokesman Bruce Gordon, quoted above, emails to emphasize that pardon decisions are made by a three-person board, and not by the governor alone. In this case, the decision was unanimous. He also passes on the following statement:

The Governor has consistently opposed pardons for sex offenders and believes sex offenses are heinous. However, the Board made an exception in this case and voted unanimously to pardon this 1994 conviction because it involved sexual conduct between two people who became husband and wife, maintained  a long-term marriage, had a family together, and because the defendant completed his sentence many years before seeking the pardon which his wife and others supported. Obviously, had this new information been available to the Board at the time of the pardon request, the pardon should not and would not have been granted. 

Wikileaks and the Chilling Effect on Diplomatic Communication

From Tunku Varadarajan article at the Daily Beast:

This is “something of a disaster for U.S. diplomacy,” Charles Hill, a professor at Yale and a former U.S. diplomat, told me in an email. “Not because of what’s revealed–everyone knows all diplomatic services do and say such things–but because it has been revealed in a way that indicates the U.S. has lost its ability or willingness to keep such material closely held. So foreigners will tell us less and we will write less down and less substance will be conveyed to Washington. An earlier phase of this came in the late 1980s when it became clear –I was involved–that notes of internal Washington meetings could not be protected from release. So people stopped keeping notes. The result has been that the official record has withered, as has history’s knowledge of what happened. Now that loss is extended to foreign meetings.”

This to me is the key point that has been lost in all of the controversy over whether there were any major revelations from this batch of leaked documents that would endanger America’s relationships around the world. The key revelation isn’t the substance of what’s in the cables, but the fact that America has such lax security when it comes to protecting these communications in the first place. In the wake of this scandal, were I a foreign diplomat, I’d be a little extra cautious about what I share with my U.S. counterparts, for fear that it could end up in the next batch of leaked documents. And that’s a bigger problem than anything that’s in the current cables themselves.

Cantor and the Table

In an earlier post, Joe noted that Rep. Eric Cantor has said that military spending and entitlement cuts should be “on the table.” Yet it’s important to caution that when a politician says something is on the table it’s often just another way to dodge a question since it doesn’t commit him to anything — this is especially true if the lawmaker, like Cantor, puts “everything on the table.” Thus, if it turns out that Cantor doesn’t support actual cuts, he isn’t breaking any promise — they could have still been theoretically “on the table” at some point. In reality, the only way I’d take Cantor seriously would be if he were to propose specific cuts.

That said, it is a noteworthy development for Cantor to even say that defense spending is on the table. That’s something that Mitch Daniels and Tom Coburn have said, and it puts all of them at odds with those national security conservatives who are protective of defense spending. This will be one of the key debates conservatives will be having in the coming years.

Ahmadinejad Says U.S. Behind Wikileaks Document Dump

Via the Washington Times:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday accused the United States of orchestrating WikiLeaks’ Sunday release of more than 250,000 internal State Department cables, some of which suggest that Arab leaders fear Iran‘s nuclear program and regional influence.

“The material was not leaked but rather released in an organized way,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, adding that the WikiLeaks “game” is “not worth commenting upon and that no one would waste their time reviewing them.”

The Federal Pay Freeze, In Context

Earlier this morning, I noted that President Obama’s proposal to freeze the pay of federal employees (excluding the military) for two years wouldn’t have much impact on the debt. Now we have more specifics. In his press conference, Obama claimed that the move would save the government $28 billion over five years. Taking that number at face value, that would represent a sixth-tenths of one percent reduction in the projected $4.52 trillion deficit over that same period (2011 through 2015). It would be the equivalent of a person who expects to rack up $10,000 of of credit card debt over the next five years touting the fact that he’s found a way to reduce his expenses by $60 over that time period. In football terms, it would be like a kickoff return that gains about a half of a yard.

To demonstrate this visually, I put together a pie chart.

Obama To Back Pay Freeze for Federal Employees

Later this morning, President Obama is set to announce support for a two-year pay freeze for all federal employees (save the military), the New York Times reports.

Even if the federal payroll were to remain flat, it would not have much of an impact on the overall budget, so in that sense, this isn’t a very significant development. On the other hand, it is a glimpse into how Obama plans to react to the Republican victory. He’ll use, small, symbolic actions such as this to say he’s being bipartisan and is aware of public anger over the growth of the federal government with out making any real concessions on anything that actually matters. This also is a way of stealing the thunder of Republicans, who were planning on pushing this idea.

Republicans, it should be said, have been calling for a federal hiring freeeze in addition to a pay freeze, and there’s no indication from the news reports that Obama will get behind that idea.

Poll: Nearly 70% of S. Koreans Support Military Action

It’s still unclear what the long term implications are of the North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, but a pair of recent polls suggest one thing is for sure — the attack has made South Korans decidedly more hawkish.

Back in April, after the North Koreans sunk the South Korean Naval ship, less than 30 percent of the public supported a military response. Yet now, nearly 70 percent of South Koreans say they support at least limited military action, according to poll results reported by the newspaper Chosunilbo.

Also in April, the public was divided on whether the South Korean government handled the situation adequately, but now, just 24 percent say the government responded adequately, while 72 percent said they did not.

A separate poll found that 80 percent of South Koreans said the military should have responded more strongly.

The public reaction would seem to suggest that the government will be under significant political pressure to respond  more aggresively to the next provocation by the North.

Gallup: Indys Favor Tea Party Over Obama on Policy

A plurality of independent voters would prefer that Tea Party-inspired members of Congress influence policies as opposed to Obama, a new Gallup poll reveals.

The poll found that 32 percent of independents want Republican members of Congress supported by Tea Parties to have the most influence over federal government policies, compared with 25 percent who say President Obama. An additional 23 percent said Republican leaders in Congress and 11 percent said Democratic leaders. 

Over the past four election cycles, the voting preferences of independents have fluctuated wildly, leading to dramatic shifts in the balance of power in Washington. In the wake of the election, many commentators have argued that Republicans risk alienating independent voters by catering to Tea Party activists. But as we see from this poll, the reality is a bit more complicated. While the policy preferences of Tea Party supported candidates may not be favored by a majority of independents, they’re still more popular than the rest of the crowd in Washington.

Among all voters, Obama was favored by 28 percent, compared with 27 percent for the Tea Party supported members — owing to the overwhelming unpopularity of the Tea Party among Democrats.

TSA and Amtrak

This morning, I boarded an Amtrak train leaving Washington, DC, where the security measures consisted of me having to flash my ticket to an agent before proceeding to the track. In other words, they were non-existent. A lot of criticisms have been leveled at the TSA for its body scan/pat down policy, especially as it pertains to privacy. But something that particularly bothers me about the procedure is that it’s indicitive of the American tendency to respond to the last attack rather than anticipate future attacks. There’s a shoe bomber, so we have to take off our shoes. There’s a plot involving liquids, so we can’t carry bottles of water. There’s an underwear bomber, so we have to have our junk touched. At the same time, we allocate scant resources toward securing other potential targets, such as our train system. A well-coordinated attack on Amtrak trains could wreak havok with the Northeast Corridor and cause a national panic during the busy Thanksgiving travel week, and there are virtually no measures in place to stop it. Yet if terrorists were actually to attack the trains, the next day we’d see a series of ad hoc security measures at train stations, and be treated to countless news stories about how the warning signs were there and we failed to act. I’m not arguing that train security should be as stringent as airport security, but it seems absurd to place such an inordinant focus on stopping the next underwear bomber while acting as if trains (or whatever else) could never be a target.