Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns the fourth largest stake in News Corp “” the parent company of Fox News “” making him the largest shareholder outside the family of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. According to the Financial Times, News Corp announced today that it is purchasing a $70 million dollar stake in Prince Alwaleed’s Rotana Media, a Middle Eastern music and news conglomerate. Boasting about the increased cooperation between the Murdoch empire and his own media corporation, Prince Alwaleed said, “This is a qualitative leap not just for Rotana but for the whole Arab world.” Because Prince Alwaleed has publicly acknowledged that he has forced Fox News to edit its coverage he disliked, conservative activists have attacked the business partnership as “really dangerous for America.”
President Obama is arranging a bipartisan health care summit Thursday to allow both parties to have a venue to discuss their “best ideas” for reform. Republicans have since been sending “mixed signals” about the President’s invitation, continuing to urge bipartisanship but decrying the President’s attempt at it, sometimes in the very same press release. House Minority Leader John Boehner suggested that the summit was “some kind of trap.” Rep. Tom Price called it a “Hollow PR Blitz.” Now that House GOP leaders have finally committed to attending, however, they’re facing a new PR problem: selling the decision to their own caucus. Minority Leader John Boehner took his best shot, telling his conference today that he has decided to attend in order to “crash the party:”
According to a House GOP leadership aide familiar with the top-ranking Republican’s remarks at the weekly closed-door conference meeting, Boehner appealed to skeptical Republican lawmakers, saying, “We shouldn’t let the White House have a six-hour taxpayer-funded infomercial on ObamaCare. We need to show up. We need to crash the party.”
It hardly needs mentioning that Boehner cannot crash a party to which he was invited from the start.
Democrats are privately conceding that passing the President’s health care plan — that is, passing a series of fixes through reconciliation and adopting the Senate health care bill — may prove to be an uphill battle, particularly in the House. Since last year, “three House Democrats who voted for the measure have left Congress and have not been replaced – Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), who resigned to run for governor of Hawaii, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), who resigned to run a think tank, and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who died from complications following gallbladder surgery.” If the Democrats are to pass reform again in the House, they have to hold together a fragile coalition of moderate and progressive Democrats.
House leaders (with the exception of Majority Whip James Clyburn) haven’t said if they had the 218 votes needed to pass reform and most House Democrats have only — and unenthusiastically — acknowledged Obama’s plan. Today House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) admitted that Democrats may still come up short:
“We may not be able to do all. I hope we can do all, a comprehensive piece of legislation that will provide affordable, accessible, quality health care to all Americans,” Hoyer said at his weekly media briefing. “But having said that, if we can’t, then you know me – if you can’t do a whole, doing part is also good. I mean there are a number of things I think we can agree on.”
Hoyer’s uncertainty may be the reason for the White House’s reluctance to support the public option and its attempts to distance itself from the public option letter. The White House has to craft a bill that achieves a delicate balance between progressive and moderate provisions; openly supporting the public plan may tip the scales and alienate important moderate votes. In this environment, urging the repeal of the health insurers’ anti-trust exemption could be seen as somewhat of a compromise. As Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted today, “We have seen obviously that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn’t enough political support in a majority to get [the public option] through.”
As a general matter, I agree with Ezra Klein’s argument that White House should pick a position on the public option and stick to it. But as a practical matter, I think the White House feels that they don’t have the luxury of choosing a side. As the Hoyer-Clyburn disagreement demonstrates, nobody knows where this latest push for reform is heading. Any sudden turns could push the whole effort off the cliff.
There have been consistent assertions from conservatives and from the mainstream media that the Administration’s strategy of engagement was “naïve” and had “failed.” A new meme is now emerging that the Administration is shifting to Hillary Clinton’s hard nosed pressure approach. All of this overlooks the fact that the engagement policy is playing out just as Obama described. There are in fact increasing signs that UN security council sanctions, once seen as improbable, are becoming increasingly possible.
What naysayers don’t seem to understand is that sanctions are a byproduct of engagement. For engagement to work, Iran and the US did not have to become best buddies. While constructive talks that led to Iran renouncing nukes would have been ideal, engagement was just as much about building an international consensus and demonstrating to our allies and the world that Iran was the problem not America’s refusal to talk. During the first 2008 presidential debate against Senator McCain, Obama argued this point:
I do not agree with Senator McCain that we’re going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China that are, I think Senator McCain would agree, not democracies, but have extensive trade with Iran but potentially have an interest in making sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. But we are also going to have to, I believe, engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran. … Again, it may not work, but if it doesn’t work, then we have strengthened our ability to form alliances to impose the tough sanctions that Senator McCain just mentioned.
This is playing out just Obama said it would. The Administration appears to be closing in on the votes at the UN. European powers, France, Germany, and the UK, after clashing and working off different playbooks during the Bush administration are firmly supportive of UN sanctions. The Administration’s effort to reset relations with Russia is paying dividends, as Russia is now seemingly in near lockstep with the Administration on Iran. If Russia does end up supporting security sanctions, this will be quite a feat for the Administration given that some experienced Iran hands dismissed the notion that Russia would support sanctions.
China has been a much trickier case. Despite extensive US outreach to China last year, China pushed back against the move toward sanctions earlier this year. However, China has now gone silent – a sign that it may be recalibrating. The Israeli Ambassador has said that it is a “mystery” what China will do. US-Sino relations have gotten a bit pricklier and China has tremendous economic interests in its relations with Iran, as it has overtaken Europe as Iran’s largest trading partner and is dependent on Iranian oil. However, as Roger Cohen noted, “I expect China, averse to conspicuous isolation, will eventually abstain on a new round of U.N. sanctions on Iran.” The International Crisis Group similarly concluded in a recent report, “if Russia finally supports sanctions, China will likely come on board to avoid diplomatic isolation.”
UN security sanctions would put significant additional pressure on the Iranian regime, as it would highlight their international isolation and would clear the way for coordinated targeted sanctions against the regime. It would also be a big win for the Administration and would vindicate, not contradict, their strategy of engagement. As General Petraeus said on Meet the Press on Sunday engagement has laid the groundwork for greater pressure.
PETRAEUS: We have over the last year of course pursued the engagement track, I think no one over the course of this time can say that the United States has not given Iran every opportunity to resolve the issues diplomatically, that puts us on a solid foundation to go on what is termed the pressure track.
Rest well tonight:
— The Senate’s got 290 problems.
— Hold colleges accountable and they get better.
— True confessions of a former figure skater.
— The Wyden-Gregg tax reform plan isn’t perfect, but it has a lot of merits.
— Kids these days aren’t into blogging.
Love Like Fire “From a Tower”.
President Obama’s health care bill doesn’t contain many new proposals, but a provision that would allow the federal government to review and deny excessive, unreasonable or discriminatory health insurance premium increases is stirring up some controversy. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed the amendment — which would limit insurers’ ability to exploit the time between passage of the bill and 2014, when reforms are fully in place — but it was not included in the final Senate bill “because of the objections” of an unnamed Democratic senator.
Conservatives are now seizing on the provision to further their claim that Obama wants the government to take over the health care system:
– “In other words, de facto price controls….The result of this rate-setting board will be less competition in the individual market, as insurers flee expensive states or regions, or even a cascade of bankruptcies if premiums are frozen and the cost of the care they are expected to cover continues to rise.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/23/2009]
– “But more important, attempts to control prices by government fiat ignore basic economic laws — and the result could be disastrous for the American health-care system.” [New York Post, 2/23/2009]
But if conservatives want to argue that rate review will lead “less competition in the individual market” or “a cascade of bankruptcies” they should point to some specific examples in the more than 25 states that have already instituted the policy. Of course, it’s unclear that they can.
The same health insurers that operate in states that do not review premiums “also operate in many other states that do have prior approval requirements.” Rate regulation protects consumers from sudden spikes and limits insurers ability to lure consumers with low introductory rates without drastically undermining the market. In fact, states with rate review, like Minnesota — which “has had prior approval in place since 1993 — “has a vibrant, competitive individual health insurance market with plenty of carriers and stronger-than-average individual enrollment.”
The problem with rate review isn’t that it goes too far; it’s that it may not go far enough. Insiders predict that insurers could game the review by transferring cost increases into higher deductibles and co-payments, despite their objects to Obama’s proposal. As former health insurance executive Wendell Potter pointed out this morning on CNN, “I think they’ll find away around it.” “The regulators need to focus on how the insurance companies are shifting the cost of health care from them and to their consumers to people who are insured. Obviously they’ve been increasing premiums and making people pay more out-of-pocket. They can see they are increasing the premiums modestly. But if you look closely, they are shifting more and more of the cost to consumers. That’s something that regulators will have to watch in the future.”
Rep. Clyburn: ‘I find it appalling’ that Rep. King would call the IRS terror attack ‘a noble happening.’
Yesteday, ThinkProgress reported that Rep. Steve King (R-IA) attempted to justify last week’s suicide attack on an IRS office in Texas. While acknowledging the attack was “sad,” King argued, “by the same token,” it was justified because if the IRS is abolished, “it’s going to be a happy day for America.” Today, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) took to the House floor to condemn King’s comment, noting that one of victims of the attack was a Vietnam veteran from his district:
CLYBURN: But, Mr. Speaker, I rise also to ask my colleagues as they think about recent events involving the Texas federal building where the IRS building was — exploded by an airplane and one of our colleagues has now called the act of terrorism a noble act.
The fact of the matter is that the gentleman that lost his life in that building, Vernon Hunter, was from Orangeburg, South Carolina, that I proudly represent in this body. He spent two tours in Vietnam and was about the business of carrying out his duties and responsibilities to this great country of ours. If anybody is a hero it is this victim. And I find it appalling that a member of this body would call his death a noble happening.
Vernon Hunter’s son told local reporters that he was distraught that “some people are trying to make [attacker Joe Stack] out to be a hero, a patriot.” “My dad served two terms in Vietnam. This guy never served at all. My dad wasn’t responsible for his tax problems,” Ken Hunter said. (HT: Iowa Independent)
Andrew Brietbart promises to take down the “the institutional left” within “the next three weeks”:
Working as I do here in the institutional left, I’m pretty frightened about my looming unemployment. I’ve been considering an ideological conversion lately, but my thinking had been that it would be smarter to wait until some future time when the right is feeling embattled and defensive again (early 2013, I would think) and eager to embrace converts.
Newt Gingrich, through his political attack group “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (ASWF), has organized tea party protests, conservative legislative efforts, and is best known for driving the Republican “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign in 2008. Until now, the only known financial backers of ASWF were the donors disclosed on his 527 IRS forms, like Peabody Coal and investor Rex Sinquefield. Gingrich — who once believed in climate change science and believed the U.S. must act “urgently” to reduce carbon emissions — has moved far to the right on environmental issues, and has allied himself with polluters fighting tooth and nail against clean energy reform.
While his support from King Coal is widely known, new revelations reveal that Gingrich has established direct support from the oil lobby. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is the umbrella trade association for the oil industry, lobbying on behalf of corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron, as well as for refineries and pipeline companies. In addition to spending millions on political lobbying, API has blanketed the country with pro-oil drilling ads and has coordinated “grassroots” rallies to oppose clean energy reform.
At CPAC — which was sponsored in part by API — ThinkProgress spoke to API representative André Carter at his organization’s booth at the convention. Carter is an account executive at Edelman, the K Street public relations firm that manages API. Carter told ThinkProgress that API has been “sharing resources, coordinating efforts” with Gingrich’s ASWF group for some time. When contacted for comment, API spokesman Bill Bush disputed that API was “working in any way” with Gingrich.
ASWF spokesman R.C. Hammond also denied Carter’s comments, telling ThinkProgress that “there’s no record of us working together.” But ThinkProgress interviewed Gingrich yesterday at an event he was hosting at the press club, where he told us that indeed he has been working with API since the “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign:
TP: But do you know how long you guys have been working with API? I’m trying to chart it.
GINGRICH: I have no idea. I think it came after the Drill Here, Drill Now campaign.
Gingrich postures as a man dedicated to simply serving the “key concerns of the American People.” But through ASWF, his constant strategy sessions with GOP lawmakers, and his ubiquitous punditry, Gingrich is actually advancing the narrow interests of corporations, in this case the oil industry. Given API’s attempt to conceal its relationship with ASWF, the oil industry understands they need ostensibly independent ambassadors like Gingrich to build public support for their policies.
As the Wonk Room has detailed, GOP politicians fighting reform have relied heavily on corporate lobbyists to orchestrate their efforts. Gingrich touts himself as an author, a “futurist,” a conservative thinker. Anything but a lobbyist. Considering the fact Gingrich lobbies lawmakers on policy, and does so in concert with industry that would benefit from his lobbying, in many ways Gingrich is essentially an unregistered lobbyist.
Jane Van Ryan, a senior communication manager at API, disputed the accuracy of our post. She e-mailed ThinkProgress the following statement tonight: “API does not have, and has never had, a relationship with Newt Gingrich’s group. We do not share resources or coordinate efforts.”
Yesterday, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on a $15 billion jobs bill by a vote of 62-30, with Republican Sens. Scott Brown (MA), Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), George Voinovich (OH) and Kit Bond (MO) voting to advance the measure, along with all but one Democrat (Nebraska’s Ben Nelson). Debate on the bill is taking place today and Reid is hoping for final passage tomorrow.
During today’s discussion, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) took to the floor to decry what he sees as a lack of open debate on the part of the Senate — because a jobs plan that he has isn’t being considered — and to take a shot at Democrats for “the partisan, procedural position we’re in”:
Why shouldn’t this [proposal] be actively considered, and debated, and voted on on the floor of the Senate? We’re supposed to be considering a jobs bill. That’s progress. At least, finally, we’re focusing on jobs…I came to the Senate hearing that this was the body of full, open debate, full, open consideration of amendments. Problem is, my experience here in five years has been anything but that, including, yet again, this week, on this legislation, as we’re trying to address the top issue of the American people — jobs and the economy — why can’t we have a full debate?…I find it unfortunate that that’s the partisan, procedural position we’re in.
Of course, all of these complaints would hold a lot more water if Vitter hadn’t voted just last night, along with 29 other Republicans, to prevent the Reid bill from ever coming to the floor. Now he’s calling it “progress” that the Senate is addressing jobs, while last night he was content to block a jobs bill from ever seeing the light of day.
In fact, prior to last night’s vote, Republican leadership was “hoping to persuade waffling members” to block the jobs bill entirely. And the GOP was very up front that it wasn’t objecting to the bill’s substance — as its members very openly advocated for portions of it in the past — but because they didn’t like the process in which it was crafted.
But this is just part and parcel of the unprecedented level of obstruction that Republicans have employed recently. As Ezra Klein pointed out, at the rate the Senate is going, the number of cloture votes filed by the end of the year will bring the 2007-10 total “to about what the Senate saw between 1919 and 1984.” “Say what you will about the Senate, but this is not traditional,” Klein added.
Meanwhile, the jobs plan that Vitter would like to have considered is the same as the “no-cost stimulus” plan that he offered early last year, which consisted entirely of opening more land up to oil drilling and removing regulations on oil companies. Back when it was first presented, MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer mocked the plan by saying “so your answer here is to allow damage to the environment, in order to create jobs?”