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Perry on Politics: This isn't the time for presidential modesty

Published by Mike Pound on .

obama jordan

By James M. Perry

Blow your horn, Mr. President!

If you listen to the pundits and just about any Republican in the House or Senate, you would believe the Obama Administration is an abject failure. Obamacare, they say, isn't working and the economy is a shambles.

None of that is true. Obamacare is working for its target audience, those Americans who aren't covered by health insurance, and the economy is recovering. And this year, 2014, may end up as the best year for job growth in 15 years.

"How many Americans know how health reform is going?" Paul Krugman asked in a recent New York Times column. "For that matter, how many people in the news business are following the positive developments?"

"Not many," he concludes. "How is that possible?" he asks.

"Think relentless negativity without accountability." Obamacare, Mr. Krugman says, has faced "nonstop attacks," involving predictions of disaster which have not come true. And these people, once one prediction fails to come true, simply come up with another.

One of the problems, of course, is that the roll-out was bungled. But, for the most part, it's working so well these days that one Republican senator (John Barrasso of Wyoming) limply argued the other day that Mr. Obama and his henchman are guilty of "cooking the books." The fact is, as many as eight million Americans previously uninsured are enrolled and thousands more are covered by an expansion of Medicaid.

"The usual suspects will keep crying failure but the truth is that health reform is -- gasp! -- working," says Mr. Krugman, a Princeton professor and winner of a Nobel Prize in economics.

It might be that the people who complain the most already are safely enrolled in well-regarded insurance plans. And they have yet to hear from those who have been enrolled in Obamacare and say that for the most part they are pleased with their coverage. Costs average just $82 a month.

Steve Benen, a blog writer, says "2014 isn't just an encouraging year as compared to other years in the Great Recession era, it's actually a strong year on its own." Indeed, more jobs have been created this year that were created in any year in the 12 years one of the Bushes was president. The Labor Department reported Friday that employers took on 310,000 new workers in November, far more than anyone expected.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during a terrible time, the Great Depression, when millions of Americans were out of work and thousands of them had taken to selling apples on city streets. Mr. Roosevelt, the greatest presidential politician of them all, created a jumble of alphabet agencies to put people back to work. They didn't all succeed, but that's not the point. What Roosevelt did was use his bull horn to convince most Americans that happy days were once again on the way.

Mr. Obama is the anti-Roosevelt. He's all brain and not enough gumption. Mr. Roosevelt was all gumption and only as much brain as he needed. Mark Shields, a shrewd political analyst, believes Mr. Obama, by style and inclination, might be a better Supreme Court justice. Justices, after all, issue their opinions and then step aside and let others handle the fallout.

That's Mr. Obama's problem. He makes good decisions most of the time and then steps aside.

Now, with Obamacare and the economy working, it's time to step out, not aside.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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Auditor general: Ed department not cooperating with audit

Published by Mike Pound on .

Ron TomalisRon Tomalis

Eugene DePasquale could make the next few weeks pretty uncomfortable for Tom Corbett and outgoing officials at the state Department of Education, unless he gets the cooperation he's looking for.

Mr. DePasquale, the state's auditor general, said on Thursday he's getting impatient with a lack of cooperation from officials in the education department as he tries to complete a wide-ranging audit of the department before Mr. Corbett and his appointees leave office in January.

Mr. DePasquale started the audit over the summer, to examine how the effectively the department is able to help struggling districts improve; he expanded it in September to include an examination of the department's use of special advisers, after the department was unable – or unwilling – to release any information at all about the workload of Ron Tomalis, the former education secretary who was appointed to an adviser's post – while maintaining the salary he received as the department's secretary – by Mr. Corbett.

As a refresher: besides the fact that a car owned by Mr. Tomalis showed up pretty regularly at the department's offices in Harrisburg, we don't know a whole lot about what Mr. Tomalis did as a $140,000 adviser on higher education. Records requests by the Post-Gazette yielded a nearly empty work calendar and precious few telephone calls or emails; a right-to-know request filed by the campaign of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf yielded only a terse response from the department saying the personnel file of Mr. Tomalis was exempt.

Even with a stunning lack of documentation, Mr. Corbett and Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq insist that Mr. Tomalis did the work he was hired to do. And because of that stunning lack of documentation, Mr. DePasquale's audit is likely the best shot we have at determining whether Mr. Tomalis did or didn't do the work.

Officials at the department complained in the summer that the expansion of Mr. DePasquale's audit was political; in fact, spokesman Tim Eller initially said the department wouldn't cooperate with an audit of the department's special advisers until the initial audit was complete. Mr. Eller said on Thursday the department is now cooperating, but Mr. DePasquale said that hasn't been the case:

"Of all the audits we've done of all the agencies, they have been the least cooperative," Mr. DePasquale said of the education department. "They don't respond. We ask for 10 items, they respond a week later and give us one. We have to go back and chase down the other nine."

Mr. DePasquale has one more rather robust option for gaining the department's cooperation – he can issue subpoenas for the records he needs. That should be, as he noted, a last resort, although it looks more and more like it'll be a necessary option.

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Wolf gets down to budgeting business -- sort of

Published by Mike Pound on .

20141006lrtomwolflocal04-3erTom Wolf. (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

If you're the budget secretary of the sixth-largest state in the union, the phrase "only $1 million in the bank" is terrifying.

And that's where Pennsylvania stands at the moment, according to Charles Zogby, who has managed budgets for Gov. Tom Corbett – a shortfall of $1.85 billion at the start of fiscal year 2015-16 after closing the current year with just a million bucks in the bank.

How did we get here? Following the lead set by his boss during this year's gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Zogby pointed his finger squarely at the General Assembly, particularly when it came to reforming the state's public pensions and privatizing sales of booze. Mr. Zogby also said increasing tax revenue would almost certainly have to be part of the solution.

"You can't say no to pension reform, no to (state Liquor Control Board) reform, no to everything else and no to taxes and balance the budget," Mr. Zogby said. "It's just not going to work."

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has some ideas about the budget deficit he'll face when he takes office in January – and the rhetoric is like a heartwarming return to Mr. Wolf's successful campaign:

"I do not want to go into this with anybody being under the misapprehension that somehow I caused this. I want to make sure we're all in agreement that I'm inheriting a big problem here."

There was another campaign flashback, one that was as annoying as it was prior to Election Day – the continued insistence of Mr. Wolf and members of his newly appointed budget task force that they don't yet have enough information to begin formulating a solution to the budget problems Mr. Wolf wants to remind us he didn't cause.

Here's Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery County commissioner who was just appointed vice chairman of Mr. Wolf's budget task force:

"It is too soon to put those solutions out there and too soon to say what the recommendations are to turn this around because we don't understand the scope of the problem yet and how deep the hole is yet."

We'll wrap up with this: The current budget – the whole thing -- is right here. Perhaps it's time for Mr. Wolf and his staff to stop campaigning and start working towards a solution.

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Casey to Supreme Court: Protect pregnant workers

Published by Mike Pound on .

Sen. Bob Casey. (submitted photo)Sen. Bob Casey. (submitted photo)

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is urging the Supreme Court to protect the rights of pregnant working women as the court hears oral arguments today in the case of a UPS driver who lost her insurance coverage – and her job – after she sought a temporary accommodation.

Mr. Casey, co-author of legislation titled the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, is one of 123 members of Congress who filed a brief with the court in support of Peggy Young, the UPS driver; he said in a statement that there are too many instances where pregnancy is a cause for discrimination in the workplace.

"Too many women still face discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy as some employers continue to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations," Mr. Casey said. "No woman should be forced out of a job because she is pregnant. Every employer should work to provide accommodations that will allow women to keep working safely through their pregnancies."

Some background on the case: Based on a recommendation from her physician – a recommendation the company asked for – Ms. Young requested an accommodation that would have limited her to lifting no more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. Ms. Young, who notes that she rarely had to lift packages heavier than that as part of her normal route, said her request was turned down by UPS, which said it didn't grant light-duty accommodations as a result of off-work incidents.

The court will decide whether the existing federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act should mean Ms. Young and other pregnant workers receive medical accommodations. UPS, which has since voluntarily started granting light-duty requests from pregnant workers, contends that it is not in violation of the act because it applied the same policy to all workers who became disabled – that's the company's term – off the job.

Mr. Casey and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, would codify at the federal level laws from individual states that require pregnant workers like Young get the accommodations they need to continue working.

"A woman should never have to face a choice between her job and pregnancy," Ms. Shaheen said in the statement. "Women are a crucial part of our workforce, and they have every right to receive reasonable workplace accommodations to continue a healthy pregnancy while providing for their families and contributing to the economy."

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Mac and Cheese are off the holiday menu

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Reuters photoReuters photo

Mac and Cheese won’t be on anyone’s menu this Thanksgiving.

We’re talking, of course, about the poultry siblings Barack Obama pardoned this afternoon at an annual White House tradition that the president said is enjoyable but also puzzling for a chief executive whose time is more usually spent on substantive issues.

“With all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office it’s nice once in a while to just say ‘happy Thanksgiving,’ and this is a great excuse to do it,’” Mr. Obama said.

The pardon saves the birds from a “terrible and delicious fate,” Mr. Obama said.

"Let’s face it: If you’re a turkey and you’re named after a side dish, your chance of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low,” he said. “They really beat the odds.”

Cheese was the top bird and received the official pardon after beating Mac in an online contest that pit brother against brother, but both birds will be spared and will live out their days at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill in Leesburg, Va. 

Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pa., presented the Obama family with two dressed turkeys, that weren’t so lucky. The first family brought them to a D.C.-area food bank.  

Mac and Cheese were raised by Cole Cooper of Ft. Recovery, Ohio, son of National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper.

The president joked that the pardon would be his “most talked-about executive action” of the month. It came, of course, on the heels of controversial new orders on immigration

“Some will call this amnesty,” he deadpanned. “But don’t worry: there’s plenty of turkey to go around.”