Our Common Good

But let’s focus on this claim, from Republicans, that Obama only wants to raise taxes and isn’t serious about spending cuts. Here’s an analysis from one senior Republican aide, as relayed to ABC News’ Jonathan Karl:

The White House keeps saying it wants a ‘balanced approach’ but this offer is completely unbalanced and unrealistic. It calls for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes – all of that upfront – in exchange for only $400 billion in spending cuts that come later. Plus, the only entitlement changes they proposed come from the exact proposals in the President’s budget.

The trouble with this analysis is that it ignores history: As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, Obama agreed to spending reductions of about $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. If you count the interest, the savings is actually $1.7 trillion. Boehner should have no problem remembering the details of that deal: As Greg Sargent points out, Boehner at the time actually gloated about the fact that the deal was “all spending cuts.” 

And now, with this latest offer, Obama is proposing yet more spending reductions, to the tune of several hundred billion dollars. Add it up and it’s more than $2 trillion in spending cuts Obama has either signed into law or is endorsing now. That’s obviously greater than the $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue he’s seeking. (And that doesn’t even take into account automatic cuts from the 2011 budget sequester, which Obama has proposed to defer, or savings from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.) So, yes, Obama’s proposal is unbalanced—but not in the way Republicans seem to think. If Obama were proposing a truly balanced plan, he’d be calling for even more tax revenue or even less spending reduction.

CBO | Monthly Budget Review

The federal government’s fiscal year 2012 has come to a close, and CBO estimates that the federal budget deficit for the year was about $1.1 trillion, approximately $200 billion lower than the shortfall recorded in 2011. The 2012 deficit was equal to 7.0 percent of gross domestic product, CBO estimates, down from 8.7 percent in 2011, 9.0 percent in 2010, and 10.1 percent in 2009, but greater than in any other year since 1947. CBO’s deficit estimate is based on data from the Daily Treasury Statements; the Treasury Department will report the actual deficit for fiscal year 2012 later this month.

Ninety-one people including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were charged criminally after an investigation of Medicare fraud that involved $430 million in false billing in seven cities, officials said on Thursday.

It was the government’s second big raid in recent months after a similar investigation in May involving $452 million in possible fraud in Medicare, the health program for the elderly and disabled.

The accusations include billing the government for unnecessary ambulance rides in California, writing prescriptions for patients in Dallas who did not qualify for them and paying kickbacks like food and cigarettes to patients in Houston if they attended programs for which a hospital could bill.

The investigation is part of an effort by the Obama administration to find health care savings.

Indictments against the 91 defendants were unsealed on Thursday after a coordinated investigation led by the departments of justice and of Health and Human Services, officials said. Most of the 91 surrendered or were arrested.

The Obama administration warned hospitals on Monday that the government would vigorously pursue cases of fraud involving the use of electronic medical records to inflate bills and generate extra revenue. In a sternly worded letter to several major hospital groups, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to prosecute any abuses.

“We will not tolerate any health care fraud,” Sebelius and Holder wrote. “Law enforcement will take appropriate steps to pursue health care providers who misuse electronic health records to bill for services never provided.”

Electronic medical records may be contributing to higher health care costs, according to a story from The New York Times, because it makes it easier for hospitals and doctors to simply check a box and bill for an additional service. The story found that hospitals received an additional $1 billion in Medicare reimbursements in 2010 than they did five years earlier, partly because of changing the billing codes assigned to patients in emergency rooms.

Sebelius and Holder specifically warned hospitals and doctors against “cloning” patients, or simply copying one patient’s information into multiple patients’ records, a practice that is far easier using electronic records than using a pen and paper. They also specifically noted reports of “upcoding,” when health care providers increase the severity or intensity of a patients’ recorded care simply to make more money and not at any benefit to the patient.

[…]

In May 2009, Sebelius and Holder established an interagency task force to fight Medicare fraud, which some estimate can reach as much as $100 billion every year. Prosecutions for Medicare fraud were 75 percent higher in 2011 than in 2008, according to the letter.

Medicare fraud fighting is also one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement on health care among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. In May, six members of the Senate Finance Committee from both sides of the aisle sent letters to the broader health care community seeking new solutions to fighting fraud.

American Hospital Association CEO Rich Umbdenstock responded in a letter to Sebelius and Holder, promising that hospitals would not game the system.

Tumblr lawyers and political science gurus, what do you think of this argument?

What we are looking at here is a strategic maneuver by the President to strip away these provisions. The USA PATRIOT act put them where the courts could not easily touch them, so he worked hard to make sure that they were attached to the NDAA in just the right way to open up the door. He cut a deal to get certain judges in on certain dates, which put a judge he selected in to the correct court at just the right time for the NDAA signature. Then, he gave a strong enough defense to make sure that Congress could not go after him for failing to do his job as President, but not strong enough to drag out the case. Then the administration prematurely executed their appeal, ensuring that getting another appeal opportunity would be more difficult, and even then it would not be in the hands of any successor.

This is playing political chess. Without ever exposing himself to liability, the President, a constitutional lawyer before entering into politics, used the system in order to overturn one of the most easily abusive and abhorrent provisions which has ever been signed into law, the suspension of Habeas Corpus.

It is the third consecutive month that high-level bankers have been found guilty of manipulating the U.S. municipal bond market.

This time it is three former UBS executives who today were convicted of corrupting bidding processes and defrauding cities across the country, according to a Department of Justice press release.

The defendants, Peter Ghavami, Gary Heinz, and Michael Welty, were charged in 2010 but denied any wrongdoing, Reuters reported.

A federal jury in New York City found all three guilty of conspiring to commit wire fraud. Ghavami and Heinz were also convicted of substantive wire fraud.

"Ghavami, Heinz and Welty deprived the municipalities of competitive interest rates for the investment of tax-exempt bond proceeds that were to be used by municipalities to refinance outstanding debt," according to the release.

The DOJ, which has been leading such investigations under pressure from Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), was also successful in the conviction of former JPMorgan Chase & Co banker Alexander Wright on the same charges, Reuters reported.

Bet a Romney administration would not be going after bankers…..

If you assumed that the federal mandate requiring automakers to reach the 54.5 miles per gallon corporate average fuel economy standard by 2025 was negotiated cordially and ended in a group hug, think again. Verbal fisticuffs and head butting would be more accurate descriptions, with members of Congress and automakers joining the squabble with the federal regulatory agencies. During the negotiation process, foreign automakers took umbrage with more favorable treatment domestic makers seemed to be receiving by the White House.

While the White House did keep the process quiet and off the public radar, it was more like a boiling cauldron behind the scenes, according to new reports. On Friday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Republican majority staff released a report stating foreign automakers had bitterly complained about how they were treated. Jim Lentz, the U.S. sales chief for Toyota, said Toyota executives in Japan feel like, “they’ve been screwed” by the mandate that nearly doubles the fuel economy standards by 2025 and what they see as preferential treatment given to larger trucks, calling it a “second bailout for Detroit.”

The White House defended the deal, with White House spokesman Clark Stevens saying the historic standards for 2017-2025 model year light-duty vehicles will save families $1.7 trillion dollars at the pump and dramatically reduce fuel consumption. More than a dozen automakers, along with the United Auto Workers, the state of California (which, at that time, made things more difficult with its even more stringent standards), and environmental organizations, supported the mandate, Steven said.

Toyota wanted a few things out of the deal – credits for hybrid electric vehicles, a category in which the company dominates, more flexibility to use car credits for meeting truck standards, and inclusion of the Toyota Tundra in the definition of full-size trucks in the mandate. Volkswagen and other German automakers complained that the deal didn’t give credits for clean diesel, while it did favor EVs, compressed natural gas and ethanol. Resentment with the state of California and its regulatory agency, the California Air Resources Board, also raised hackles in the negotiation process.

At the end of the day, the major automakers are now quietly complying with the federal rules and it doesn’t look like they will be fighting the state of California in court over its zero emissions rules, as they did a few years ago.

cognitivedissonance:

Ten Republican-controlled state legislatures have voted to defund Planned Parenthood since the 2010 midterm elections, but the clinics affected by the cuts will not have to shut their doors any time soon. The Obama administration so far has awarded hefty new federal family planning grants to Planned Parenthood clinics in three states that have cut the providers’ funding: New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina.

While Obama supports Planned Parenthood, the direct Title X grants are not exactly unusual: HHS has contracted directly with Planned Parenthood providers for years, including under former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But the Planned Parenthood clinics that are receiving new federal grants this year are applying for those grants for the first time after defunding in their states created a need for federal money.

Paige Johnson, a spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood clinic in Durham, said that clinic has never appealed to HHS for Title X grants because it was always able to partner with the state. But after the state stopped contracting with Planned Parenthood, the clinic made the case to HHS that it is the primary provider of family planning to low-income women in the area. Under federal law, HHS is required to award grant funds in a manner that expands women’s access to care in the most cost-effective way possible in areas of the greatest need.

Trust me, they mad.

A huge thank you to the Obama administration for putting women’s health above the GOP’s hissy fits.

  • "On May, 7, 2012, the Senate will finally finish dealing with the nominees left pending on the Senate floor at the end of last year.  The Senate has yet to confirm a single nominee submitted by the president in 2012.
  • During President Obama’s first term, current vacancies on the federal bench have risen by 43%. This trend stands in stark contrast to President Clinton and President Bush’s first three years, when vacancies declined by 57% and 60%, respectively.
  • "Nearly one out of ten federal judgeships remains vacant.  Judicial vacancies are nearly double what they were at this point in President George W. Bush’s first term.
  • "As of May 7, the number of seats considered to be "judicial emergencies" will have risen by 70%, from 20 at the beginning of President Obama’s term to 34.
  • "The Senate has confirmed far fewer nominees at this point in President Obama’s first term than it had for his two predecessors in office. The percentage of confirmed district court nominees is at historically low levels…”

There’s lots more. The second point on the list above deserves special attention. For all their differences, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were able, during their first three years in office, to place many more judges on the federal bench than left or retired. Thus, the vacancy rate went down. Obama has been able to place many fewer. Thus vacancies have gone up. Also, as the report makes clear, both the Republican minority in the Senate and the Obama Administration bear responsibility for this problem. The Republicans have been more willing to filibuster nominees than previous Senate minorities have — and the Obama administration has been slower than George W. Bush or Clinton in getting nominees submitted to begin with or fighting the filibuster head-on.

No administration has reduced aggregate government spending as a precentage of GDP as much as Obama’s in forty years. If you look at the full chart, back to George HW Bush, you reach an inescapable conclusion: the biggest spenders and borrowers are Republicans and the most fiscally conservative presidents have been Democrats. Given the last two decades, the Tea Party, if they really want to shrink government, should be voting for Obama. (via "Big Government" Obama? - The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan - The Daily Beast)

No administration has reduced aggregate government spending as a precentage of GDP as much as Obama’s in forty years. If you look at the full chart, back to George HW Bush, you reach an inescapable conclusion: the biggest spenders and borrowers are Republicans and the most fiscally conservative presidents have been Democrats. Given the last two decades, the Tea Party, if they really want to shrink government, should be voting for Obama. (via "Big Government" Obama? - The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan - The Daily Beast)

An Obama administration task force probing misconduct that fueled the financial crisis is increasing its ranks, adding five financial analysts and 10 new federal prosecutors spread across the country, according to a senior Justice Department official.

Earlier this afternoon, following a screening of the documentary Bully at the White House, the Obama administration officially endorsed the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

[…]

The administration is on board. Now it is time for Congress to act. Please join the ACLU in urging Congress to pass this critically important legislation today.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act would provide students with explicit federal protections by establishing a comprehensive prohibition against discrimination and harassment in all public elementary and secondary schools across the country based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Importantly, the legislation also protects students who associate with LGBT people, including students with LGBT parents and friends.