Cooch Denies Existence of Health Care Lawsuit Records, Pushes Forward With Frivolous Lawsuit

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By , March 31, 2010 8:54 pm

In case you somehow missed it, Virginia Attorney General (AG) Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) recently filed a lawsuit (Virginia v. Sebelius) that challenges the legality of the health care reform legislation signed into law by President Obama last week.

Cuccinelli is certainly no stranger to controversy. From the moment he assumed office in January, he has made a point of using the Attorney General’s office to push his right-wing social agenda. This includes arguing in a letter to the state’s public colleges and universities that “sexual orientation” could not and should not be included in any anti-discrimination policies.

So his latest push to mount a legal challenge to the recently passed health care reform legislation should come as no surprise? This is simply another attempt to use the AGs office to further his political agenda – and that of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA).

As Virginia is facing a severe budget crisis that will affect so many folks throughout the state, Cuccinelli and McDonnell file a frivolous lawsuit that is politically motivated.  Not to mention that this lawsuit comes at a cost to taxpayers, right? You’re darn right!

As Blue Virginia reported on Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Virginia formally filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) formally requesting records of:

hours spent by Cuccinelli and Office of the Attorney General staff preparing Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius; cost to taxpayers of staff work on the suit; a list of conference calls or written correspondence that the Office of the Attorney General had with other states’ attorneys general or national conservative groups in planning the lawsuit; any outside firms contracted to assist on the lawsuit; and, the Attorney General’s full schedule since taking office, including any scheduled television interviews in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

David Mills, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia summed up things best when he said that

the Attorney General is acting like taxpayer funds are just a piggy bank for his personal political agenda. More than 10,000 Virginians [(in a petition launched by the DPVA)] have demanded that Ken Cuccinelli come clean about his use of taxpayer-funded state resources. This week, we’ll find out if Ken Cuccinelli still believes he’s accountable to the taxpayers of Virginia. We’re looking forward to his response.

Drum roll please. In response to the FOIA request, Stephen R. McCullough, senior appellate counsel for AG Ken Cuccinelli has responded by saying that “No such record exists” listing any attorney’s, both inside or outside the AGs office, that worked on producing the legal filing and any hours that they may have billed to the state to prepare it.

McCullough did acknowledge that existence of “correspondence between Cuccinelli’s office and the offices of 13 other state attorneys general who have also filed suit against the federal government, as well as Cuccinelli’s schedule since his took office Jan. 16.”

There were a total of 40 records related to correspondence between the Virginia AGs office and the offices of 13 other state attorneys general; and 170 pages that would provide insight into Cucinelli’s schedule, since he took office in January. McCullough said that the AGs office would not be releasing them, since the office considered them “working papers of the attorney general that are entitled to remain confidential.”

In a release yesterday, Cucinelli actually made the claim that all work “was being done in-house and said costs would be minimal beyond the $350 fee to file the suit in U.S. District Court.”

Color me skeptical, so much for government transparency. Taxpayers deserve to know the cost that is being accrued to fund Cucinelli’s personal political agenda, especially when the health care lawsuit has zero chance of being won. That’s right, ZERO!

Nevada’s Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto provided a good analysis in a letter to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons on why joining Cuccinelli’s health care lawsuit was essentially pointless and “would not come without a cost.” When looking at Supreme Court precedence, AG Masto writes:

One theory to consider is that Congress lacks authority under the Constitution’s Commerce and Spending Clauses. However, the authority give to Congress is extensive and appears strong enough to support the Act. Health care costs affect our nation’s economy, and the Act is Congress’ answer to alleviating those costs. The United States Supreme Court long ago determined that insurance is commerce and is therefore subject to federal regulation. United States v. South-Eastern Underwriters Ass’n, 322 U.S. 533 (1944). Since the 1930s and the “long-rejected Louchner-era precedents,” MeadWestvaco Corp. ex rel. Mead Corp. v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue, 553 U.S. 16, 128 S.Ct. 1948, 1510 (2008) (Thomas, J. concuring), Congress’ broad authority has been acknowledge to, among other things, uphold mandatory contributions to the Social Security Act system, Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619 (1937), and legislate many other federal programs.

So while Cuccinelli and McDonnell defund our public education system (and make several other extreme cuts) they have no problems wasting taxpayer dollars to further their radical political agendas. Hey while national Republicans plan to “sweep problems under the rug,” Virginia Republicans have become masters at creating problems.  Where’s the TEA Party when you need them!

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Steele Pushing Right Wing XXX-tremism

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By , March 31, 2010 4:08 pm
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I’m guessing expenditures on faux lesbian bondage-themed strip clubs by the Republican National Committee will not sit well with social conservatives and potential Republican donors. What’s most surprising is the “lack of vocal opposition to Steele” amongst Republicans, notes the Washington Post.

Steele has come under fire recently for a recent expenditure used to take several donors to an adult-themed strip club, to the tune of $2K. Steele is also under fire for other “lavish” spending — $17K for private planes, $13K for limos and car service and $9K for a trip to a Beverly Hills Hotel. A former Republican opponent of Steele had a warning for Republicans:

Katon Dawson, a South Carolina Republican who lost to Steele in the contest for the RNC chairmanship, said in an interview that the committee needs to demonstrate fiscal responsibility at a time when the party is attacking Democrats on spending issues.

It’s funny how Republicans are so concerned with out of control spending in Washington. If this proves anything, it is that Republicans are still being Republicans. After all, wasn’t it the Democrats who handed the Republicans a $900 billion budget surplus only to have it squandered, through out of control deficit spending, and turned it into an $11 trillion deficit? They also voted against a health care reform bill that will reduce the deficit by over $1 trillion over the next 20-years.

Regardless of the extravagant spending by Steele, including a trip to a bondage-themed strip club, Republicans appear to have his back.

“Republicans are sticking together to get back the majority and are willing to sweep family problems under the rug,” said Ron Bonjean, a former top House GOP staffer.

This is the same attitude that Republicans had when they got us into our current fiscal mess, which President Obama and Congressional Democrats have been fixing ever since regaining control. The Republicans haven’t seemed to learn their lesson. Haven’t Republicans swept enough “problems under the rug” and on the backs of future generations of Americans? Americans have a choice come November: vote for Republicans who will continue to “sweep problems under the rug” and hope that they go away or vote for Democrats who will deal directly with the problems our nation faces, while continuing to fight for middle-class families and small businesses.

My vote goes to the Democrats!

UPDATE: According to CNN, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, issued the following statement on the RNCs strip club expenditure:

I’ve hinted at this before, but now I am saying it – don’t give money to the RNC.

Penny Nance, the head of Conservative Women for America, also issued the following statement:

If the RNC wants to represent conservatives and the Republican Party, then they have to act like conservatives – in a moral, fiscal and ethical manner. When RNC officials seem to think it wise to spend a grandmother’s monthly donation on wooing the younger generation by taking them to a bondage-themed sex club instead of helping to elect a conservative, a real problem exists.

I’d say all of this doesn’t bold well for Republicans and presents serious challenges in their efforts to win back control of Congress in November. All I can say is “Go Steele!”

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President Obama Signs Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act Into Law

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By , March 30, 2010 8:59 pm

In a second straight victory for the American people, the President signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act into law at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia.  He was joined by Representatives Bobby Scott and Tom Perriello; the Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This reconciliation bill improves upon the core health care reforms, which were signed into law last week. I’m not going to go into all the details, since I had a pretty detailed post on this subject last week that included the improvements contained within the reconciliation bill (“What the New Health Care Reform Law Means for You?”).

In addition to making several key improvements in healthcare, this reconciliation bill also contained some much-needed educational reform measures. As the President noted today:

You see, for almost two decades, we’ve been trying to fix a sweetheart deal in federal law that essentially gave billions of dollars to banks to act as unnecessary middlemen in administering student loans.  So those are billions of dollars that could have been spent helping more of our students attend and complete college; that could have been spent advancing the dreams of our children; that could have been spent easing the burden of tuition on middle-class families.  Instead, that money was spent padding student lenders’ profits.

By cutting out the middlemen, American taxpayers will save $68 billion over the next 11 years. No longer will taxpayers be underwriting these loans and assuming all the risk while the banks get to keep all the interest collected. This amounts to a huge giveaway to the banks at taxpayer expense. This reconciliation build ends this subsidy, once and for all.

As it stands today, the federal government provides 80 percent of college loan financing for the “private” market.

Here’s a little more background:

Under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the US government has been providing subsidies to private companies making student loans ever since 1965. Every independent agency that has calculated the cost of the FFELP, from the Congressional Budget Office to Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget to George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, has found that direct lending could save the government billions of dollars annually. But the mills of Congress grind slowly, and it has taken until now for this reform to work its way through the system.

[…]

the FFELP, which privatized the banks’ profits while socializing losses by imposing them on the taxpayers. The loans continued to be “originated” by the banks, which meant the banks advanced credit created as accounting entries on their books the way all banks do. Contrary to popular belief, banks do not lend their own money or their depositors’ money. Commercial bank loans are new money, created in the act of lending it. The alleged justification for allowing banks to charge interest although they are not really lending their own money is that the interest is compensation for taking risk. The banks have to balance their books, and if the loans don’t get paid back, the asset side of their balance sheets can shrink, exposing them to bankruptcy. When the risk is underwritten by the taxpayers, however, allowing the banks to keep the interest is simply a giveaway to the banks, an unwarranted form of welfare to a privileged financier class at the expense of struggling students.

The short of it all is that if a student loan defaults, the federal government will use your tax dollars to cover the bank loss. So the banks are essentially not taking any risks, but benefiting by collecting the interest on these loans.

Some of you may have also been a bit surprised to learn that banks don’t actually lend their own money, but create money. Here’s an example of fractional-reserve banking and how it works:

In this example, when I am granted a $100,000 loan, the banker actually created $100,000 of new money in the form of credit, in the form of bookkeeping money, which is just as good as coins and paper money.

The banker is not afraid to do this. My cheques to payees will give them the right to draw money from the bank. But the banker knows very well that nine-tenths of these cheques will simply have the effect of decreasing the money in my account, and of increasing it in other people’s accounts. He knows very well that a ratio of bank reserves to deposits of 1/10 is enough for him to meet the requests of those who want pocket money. In other words, the banker knows very well that if he has $10,000 in cash reserves, he can lend $100,000 (ten times the sum) in bookkeeping money.

In technical terms, the capacity for a bank to lend 10 times the amount of paper money it has in its safe is called fractional-reserve banking. The origin of this system goes back to the Middle Ages.

As noted by the President today, it should come as no surprise that “Sallie Mae, America’s biggest student lender, spent more than $3 million on lobbying last year alone” to protect these huge tax payer subsidies. It probably wouldn’t come as surprise to folks that banks have also discovered ways to “game the system.”

Under the FFELP, banks actually profit more when students default than when they pay back their loans. Delinquent loans are turned over to a guaranty agency in charge of keeping students in repayment. Pre-default, guaranty agencies earn just 1 percent of the loan’s outstanding balance. But if the loan defaults and the agency rehabilitates it, the guarantor earns as much as 38.5 percent of the loan’s balance. Collection efforts are also much more profitable than efforts to avert default, giving guaranty agencies a major incentive to encourage delinquencies. In 2008, 60.5 percent of federal payments to the FFELP came from defaults. An Education Department report issued last year found that only 4.8 percent of students who borrowed directly from the government had defaulted on their loans in 2007, compared to 7.2 percent for the FFELP; and the gap widened when longer periods were taken into account.

These sorts of abuses are only the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about the corruption that has taken place between colleges and lenders here.

Thanks to this reconciliation bill, the cost savings ($68 billion) realized by eliminating these corporate welfare subsidies will be poured back into making college more affordable for students and strengthening our higher education institutions.  Per the President today:

…we will reinvest a portion of those savings to upgrade our community colleges, which are one of the great, undervalued assets in our education system…to help open the doors of higher education to more students, we’ll also reinvest part of that $68 billion in savings in Pell Grants, one of the most popular forms of financial aid…we’re going to restore a measure of fairness to how students repay their loans…Right now, if you’re a borrower, you don’t have to spend more than 15 percent of your income on loans.  But starting in 2014, you won’t have to pay more than 10 percent of your income in repaying your student loans…We’re also going to give students an incentive to do what’s right — if you pay your loans on time, you’ll only have to pay them off for 20 years.  And you’ll only have to pay them off for 10 years if you repay them with service to your community, and to our country, as a teacher or a nurse or a member of our Armed Forces…Finally, we’ll reinvest some of the $68 billion in savings to strengthen our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions

The reforms in this bill are significant, but they’re just part of a broader effort to strengthen our entire higher education system.  We’re putting college tuition tax credits in the pockets of millions of students from working families to help them pay for college.  We’ve taken steps to simplify the federal college assistance form -– called the FAFSA -– because it shouldn’t take a PhD to apply for financial aid.  And we’re helping ensure that America’s high school graduates are ready for college.  All of this is paid for.  We’re redirecting money that was poorly spent to make sure we’re making investments in our future.

These educational reforms are a first step in America reclaiming the top spot in having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. This administration has set an ambitious goal of claiming this top spot by 2020. Today marked a great first step!

You can read the President’s full transcript here.

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A Passover Miracle — Happy Pesach!

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By , March 29, 2010 5:43 pm

Although this video is a year old, it still makes me laugh.

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As Jews gather for the Passover Seder this evening, they will not be alone. In a new tradition introduced by President Obama, the President and many guests will be holding their second-annual “White House Seder” this evening.

This special Seder, first done last year, sprung from Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Some staff members planned an improvised Seder while on the trail in Pennsylvania, and word filtered back to the boss.

Obama showed up with the salutation, “hey, is this the Seder?,” according to this fine account of the event. At evening’s end, Obama replaced the traditional declaration — “Next year in Jerusalem!” — with a bit of an update: “Next Year in the White House!”

And so it was. And even after Obama moves out, there will probably be many “next years” to come with White House Seders.

To everyone celebrating Passover out there, Happy Pesach!

[IMAGE via Pete Souza/The White House]

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Robinson Drops Bid for Virginia’s 1st CD Democratic Nomination, Krystal Ball Now De Facto Nominee

By , March 29, 2010 4:13 pm

Late this afternoon Scott Robinson, issued the following press release:

When we started this campaign seven months ago, I had just retired from a 25-year career in the United States Army and was attempting to catch up to my would be opponents by building a political operation from scratch.  The factors surrounding that short amount of time proved to be a daunting task. That is why I will be changing directions and am putting aside my aspirations to serve in Congress for now.

I wanted to send you this note so that you would be the first to know of my decision and also be the very first to know how much you meant to me during this campaign.  Your support, your financial contributions and most of all, your friendship have made this transition from the military to the political arena much more meaningful.

For now, I am going to take some time off and spend it with my wife, Sandy.  Through all of this she has been an amazing advisor and friend.  There really is something to be said about having a partner in marriage for over 25 years and I am so thankful she is my wife.

As I move into this new phase in my life, I look forward to your continued friendship and the experiences we will share.

Again, thank you for all that you have done.

Sincerely,

Scott

I understand that this decision had to be tough for Scott and I applaud him for making the right one. The math was just too insurmountable for him at this point. I’d like to thank Scott for his incredible sacrifice and look forward to working with him moving forward to elect Krystal come November. 

UPDATE: Krystal Ball just issued a statement on the withdrawal of Scott Robinson from the race.

Friends,

We did it! I am happy to announce that I am the presumptive Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 1st Congressional District! With the concession of our primary opponent this afternoon, we are now moving swiftly into the general election.

But our work is just beginning! We are now fighting against incumbent Republican and rubber stamp for Eric Cantor, Rob Wittman, and Tea Partier Catherine Crabill, who in 2008 campaigned against, “the socialist power-grab of B. Hussein Obama.”

[…]

On behalf of my family and my entire staff, thank you. I am overwhelmed by your hard work, generosity and dedication and I look forward to continuing this fight with you by my side.  Thank you also to our primary opponent Scott Robinson for his service to our country, and a race well fought.

[…]

Again, thank you. I am honored to have your support.

Most sincerely,

Krystal Ball, VA-1

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President Obama’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

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By , March 28, 2010 9:43 pm

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Ball Shuts Out Robinson Again, Democratic Nomination Now Within Grasp

By , March 27, 2010 9:26 pm

With the way Krystal Ball has thoroughly dominated caucuses around Virginia’s First Congressional District, you would be surprised to learn that she actually has an opponent. She has swept one contest after another and the results should speak for themselves. So it should come as not surprise that Krystal dominated today at the York Poquoson Caucus, completely shutting out Scott Robinson (yet again!).

With today’s result, Krystal is now poised to secure the nomination in little more then a week. The only question that remains is how Scott plans on losing: with dignity and class or as a sore-loser. I hoping for the former, but I’m expecting the latter. I’d really like to be proven wrong on this one.

As has been the case with just about every caucus that has happened to date, the Robinson campaign resorted to their usual shenanigans. I’ve learned that Scott was actually inside the polling place harassing folks who were in line to vote. It got so bad that the chair of the committee had to ask Scott to stay 20 feet back. All of this could have something to do with why he lost by a 2 to 1 margin. I expect that Scott will throw out some wild claims that the vote was rigged and that the committee failed to do x, y and z. He may even threaten to sue, if his campaign money hasn’t already dried up. You see any other candidate would be gracious and would have exited the race when the results became clear a week ago, but not Scott.

At this point you have to also start questioning the advice Scott is getting from his staff, especially from his Campaign Manager Gregory Richardson. I’m thinking that this gig isn’t going to get him any gold stars on his resume. The field operation for this campaign has been atrocious. And in the perhaps the strangest allocation of resources I’ve ever seen, the Robinson campaign had folks canvassing Stafford and Fredericksburg on Thursday. So instead of focusing resources on York Poquoson, they chose to canvass an area that already conducted a caucus. Huh?! If that doesn’t boggle your mind, this will. These same canvassers, in making a case for Scott to a friend of mine, had the following to say (and I’m quoting):

I need to give you a little briefing of why Scott Robinson is running.  Krystal Ball is not an adequate candidate for Virginia.  For one thing, she’s not old enough to lead yet.  She doesn’t know the true values of Virginians like yourself.  Scott Robinson was born and raised in Virginia and he knows what Virginians need.  They need health care, to reform our schools, and fix our traffic problem.  Scott Robinson was a crab farmer on the Chesapeake on a boat called the ‘Betty May.’

Scott and his folks are shameless. I’ve spoken to several folks within the district and have heard much worse things that Scott and his people have said about Krystal. Some of it being so bad that I wouldn’t even dignify it with a post. Just as an FYI, Krystal was born in King George, VA and now lives in Fredericksburg; Scott has NO plan for health care, our schools or relieving our traffic problem. His whole platform has been one of avoidance on virtually all of the major issues (see my original analysis of this race).

If that wasn’t bad enough, they sent an expensive, poorly written mailer to folks within Stafford and Fredericksburg. Do they not understand how caucuses work? They essentially flush money down the toilet on a mailer that was just awful, when they should instead be focusing on committing resources to the various caucuses that have yet to be conducted. Scott should fire his entire staff and then himself!

The math for Scott at this point is simply insurmountable. He has only managed to secure 13 percent of the 123 delegates so far. Only 78 remain up for grabs. Even if he were able to win every single remaining delegate, he could not clinch the nomination. Heck, uncommitted has captured more delegates than Scott – 29 to be exact. The reality is that all Krystal needs to do is capture 30 percent of the remaining delegates and she is the nominee. She is 24 delegates away. Anybody with a basic understating of math realizes that this race is over. Scott is not going to win.

Regardless of whether Scott stubbornly decides to push forward, this will be over in the next week or so.  Scott needs to really think about how he wants to be remembered? With honor and class or does he want to continue the deplorable behavior we’ve all witnessed first hand. I’m rooting for Scott to choose the former.

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