'Nuclear Option' Helps Obama Regulatory Agenda

According to The Hill, “the Obama Administration’s second-term regulatory agenda should be an easier lift, thanks to changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules that make it easier to fill key agency positions and install federal judges.”

“But Obama is unlikely to suddenly start making contentious nominations, said Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, who serves as president of Center for Progressive Reform.”

“Rather, … the new Senate rules would help Obama fill long vacant positions at agencies already reeling from strained resources following this year’s sequester cuts.”

Steinzor: “I don’t expect a bunch of fiery appointments.”

Republicans Can Still Block Obama Nominees

The ‘nuclear option’ did not completely obliterate Senate Republicans’ ability to block judicial nominations, reports The New York Times.

“It left unchanged the Senate’s “blue slip” custom, which allows senators to block nominees to judgeships associated with their states.”

And that’s a potential problem as “all but one [of the 12 vacant appeals court seats] are in states with at least one Republican senator.”

White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler: “It is hard to overstate the change’s importance for the D.C. Circuit, which has a disproportionate impact on the world, but it won’t have overwhelming impact elsewhere … The blue slip rule for judges has been more problematic than the filibuster, in part because it is a silent, unaccountable veto.”

'Nuclear Option' Won't Obliterate GOP Obstruction

Now that the ‘nuclear option’ has been invoked, don’t count on smooth sailing for the 231 presidential nominees waiting to be confirmed by the Senate.

Molly Ball explains: “That’s because the filibuster … wasn’t the only bottleneck in the long and convoluted process of getting presidential appointments through the Senate. So while [Harry] Reid chastised Republicans for ‘deny[ing] the president his team,’ President Obama’s bench isn’t likely to be suddenly flooded with new players.”

“Two other big bottlenecks—the administration’s difficulty putting up nominees for red-state judgeships and getting them through committee—remain. And even when those are surmounted, the process will still be lengthy and cumbersome. Nominations may well be the key to Obama’s second-term agenda, but they’re not about to suddenly sail through the Senate.”

Stop Worrying About Low Obamacare Enrollee Numbers

Ezra Klein tells us not to worry that Obamacare enrollees might not reach a “bottom-line goal” of 7 million by the end of March.

Arguing that this CBO “estimate” should be “thrown out entirely”, Klein contends that a true definition of Obamacare success is “a function of the mix of people in the exchanges — the “ratio” — rather than the number of people in the exchanges.”

“The reason the ratio matters so much was that it is crucial to keeping premiums low. The White House always thought it possible that demand in the first year would be underwhelming, and until people actually saw the system was working, many would hang back from the system. But so long as the ratio was right, the premiums will remain low, and so when people eventually come to buy insurance, they can get a good deal, and they’ll want to sign up.”

“Or, to put it differently, success in Obamacare’s first year was all about setting up success in Obamacare’s second year.”

“No one will ever look back on Obamacare’s launch and call it a success. The question is whether they’ll look back and say that Obamacare subsequently became a success.”

Majority Not Impacted by Obamacare

A new Gallup poll reports that “69%, say the [healthcare] law, so far, has not had an effect on them … More Americans say the law has hurt (19%) rather than helped (9%) their family, a slightly larger gap than was found last year.”

“A much higher percentage [(41%)] expect that it will affect them in the long run … Roughly … 20%, say the law will improve their healthcare situation.” This gap is the largest to date.

Implications: “First, the law has not to this point directly touched most Americans or affected their health insurance status in any way. Second, despite that fact, they generally do not view the law positively.”

Latest Obamacare Challenge is not Valid

New York Times‘ editorial page weighs in on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear religious challenges to  Obamacare’s requirement that employer health plans cover birth control:

“The 1993 [Religious Freedom Act] was not intended to cover profit-making corporations, and any burden imposed on the employer’s religion is trivial — the law, after all, merely allows employees to make independent decisions about birth control.”

“In short, there is no substantial burden on religious exercise. Company owners remain free to protest against the different forms of birth control to which they object and call for repeal of the contraception coverage rule.”

“The Supreme Court’s challenge now is to recognize the real assault on religious freedom here — namely the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.”

Obama Seeks to Shine Light on Dark Money

According to The New York Times, the Obama administration has taken a major step toward greater oversight of political activity by 501(c)4 non-profit organizations.

“New rules proposed by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service would clarify both how the I.R.S. defines political activity and how much nonprofits are allowed to spend on it. The proposal covers not just television advertising, but bread-and-butter political work like candidate forums and get-out-the-vote drives.”

“Political spending by tax-exempt groups … skyrocketed to more than $300 million in 2012 from less than $5.2 million in 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”

Although the proposed rules would not prohibit non-profits’ political activity, it would, as a Treasury spokesman explained, be a “first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations.”

Some Obamcare Bright Spots

All is not lost for Obamacare, according to David Nather.  Nather contends that “the Obamacare roll-out that we’ve all seen is not the story of a fatally flawed law. It’s a story of incompetence.”

“There are states that are running their own websites and enrolling a lot of people … Medicaid enrollment, another part of the law, is going significantly better than the signups for private insurance — nearly 400,000 people were determined to be eligible in October.”

“And nationally, 1.5 million people applied for health coverage in October — suggesting that there’s a lot more potential interest than the 106,000 who got all the way through the federal and state Obamacare websites to select a private health plan.”

Nather acknowledges there are major obstacles to success, including poor mismanagement,  “unpopular tradeoffs”, and certain aspects of the law that are “fatally flawed”. But he also highlights what has worked in states that have had higher enrollment:

  • Less bells and whistles
  • Using existing technologies
  • Using outside contractors
  • A supportive political environment
  • Picking the right vendors
  • Aggressive outreach

The bottom line: “It’s not impossible for the law to work … because if it really were impossible, it wouldn’t be working anywhere.”

White House Cautious as Healthcare.gov Relaunches

According to The New York Times , “White House officials, fearful that the federal health care website may again be overwhelmed this weekend, have urged their allies to hold back enrollment efforts so the insurance marketplace does not collapse under a crush of new users.”

“At the same time, administration officials said Tuesday that they had decided not to inaugurate a big health care marketing campaign planned for December out of concern that it might drive too many people to the still-fragile HealthCare.gov.”

“With a self-imposed deadline for repairs to the website approaching on Saturday, the administration is trying to strike a delicate balance. It is encouraging people to go or return to the website but does not want to create too much demand. It boasts that the website is vastly improved, but does not want to raise expectations that it will work for everyone.”

“Officials said the website was now able to handle 50,000 users at a time, providing enough capacity on a daily basis to enroll millions of people in the next four months.”

“But those charged with fixing the site worry that 250,000 people might try to use the site simultaneously at times on Saturday and in the days ahead.”