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Reflections on 'Fast and Furious' and Supreme Court Decision on Health Care

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For the first time in the history of the United States, a Cabinet Secretary -- the Attorney General -- has been voted by members of Congress to be "in contempt of Congress." No Cabinet Secretary in the executive branch of the government, on any matter whatsoever, with or without the assertion of "executive privilege" by the president of the United States, on any matter whatsoever, has ever been held in contempt of Congress.

On the eve of the vote by Congress, Fortune Magazine, published the results of their six-month investigation, which among other things, reported:

[T]here's a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.

What was so egregious and willfully unlawful in AG Eric Holder's actions, to "justify" such an unusual, unprecedented, and historic action by the Congress of the United States?

The conflict between Attorney General Holder and Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is occurring against the background of a larger canvas. A canvas defined by the stranglehold that the National Rifle Association has on limiting the sales of guns, the failure of the federal government to decriminalize possession of marijuana, and the semi-failed state of Mexico's inability to successfully deal with their narco terrorists' distribution of illegal drugs into the United States.

These cartels are principally responsible for feeding the insatiable demand for drug use in our nation. Their automatic weapons of choice are purchased from gun dealers in our country.

"Fast and Furious" was a successor secret program to "Operation Wide Receiver" initiated by George Bush and his second Attorney General, Michael Mukasey. It's not unreasonable to ask why, during the entire right-wing outcry over the continuation of the program under Attorney General Holder, Chairman Issa did not seek testimony from former Attorney General Mukasey and other officials in the Bush Justice Department then in charge of implementing their "Operation Wide Receiver"?

Is the inquiry by Chairman Issa and the subsequent vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress racially motivated? Maybe not in the eyes of most non-African-Americans. We, on the other hand, often look at incidents like this through the historically conditioned lens of our treatment, on multiple issues, by white society and the government.

Accordingly, the presumption of "innocence" and non-racial bias that Issa would otherwise be entitled is no longer appropriate. In the absence of a showing by Issa and the Republicans on his committee of significant bi-racial support for the measure, and participation by African-Americans either in the Committee or by the contempt vote in the House, it is not unreasonable for African-Americans and others to assume Issa's actions against Holder and President Obama are racially motivated. (No, this is not "playing the race card.")

This week Mexico elected a new president, Enrique Pena Nieto. He announced that one of his first acts as president was hiring Oscar Naranjo, former anti-drug czar in Colombia who conducted that country's fight against the cocaine cartels. Naranjo has been credited with success in Colombia. Mexico, however, may pose a more profound challenge.

The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF's congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.

NRA contributions in opposition to President Obama's re-election are expected to reach an annual all time high.

Chairman Darrell Issa appears to be orchestrating the inquiry against AG Holder not only for the benefit of the parents whose border patrol son was killed by Mexican drug traffickers but also for the NRA's opposition to all reasonable limitations of gun sales under the Second Amendment.

Issa is part of the broader, coordinated Republican Party attack against President Obama. These attacks are likely to escalate following the 5-4 United States Supreme Court decision upholding the president's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to overhaul our outdated and increasingly costly health care system.

Whether deemed a "tax" or a "penalty," Republican opposition to the alleged government takeover of the availability and administration of health services continues to be a centerpiece of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Often, in what appears to be principally a political dispute, it is useful to step back from arguments for and against the Court's decision, and dig deeper with the trusted tool of "following the money."

Health care constitutes 17.3 percent of our gross national product and 21 percent of the $3.6-trillion-dollar 2011 federal budget. This is real money. Insurance companies and other health-care providers have a vested interest in assuring that their cash register of profits from providing health care is not severely limited.

Consequently, their representatives in Congress and legion of lobbyists have unleashed a firestorm of protests against the constitutionality and application of what they derisively call "Obamacare."

The ultimate irony, however, is that some Republican governors say they are going to "opt out" of the new national health legislation. These governors also have some of the largest concentrations of minorities and disadvantaged people on Medicaid in their respective states.

In an article in the July 2, 2012 of the New York Times', Annie Lowrey, describes how much Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would cost and/or benefit various states.

Last week's Supreme Court decision held that each state could choose whether to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults living within 133 percent of the poverty line -- an expansion that could add as many as 17 million previously uninsured people to the Medicaid rolls. The federal government would cover a vast majority of the new costs, but strapped states would need to kick in some money, too.

The Medicaid amounts associated with the various states below are from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. They have estimated the amount of money the states will receive respectively from the federal government "as percentage of 2011 spending of the GDP"; for example:

  • Texas --52.5 billion, 4.2 percent of federal spending GDP
  • Georgia --14.4 billion, 3.47 percent
  • Ohio --17.1 billion, 3.54 percent
  • Florida --20 billion, 2.66 percent
  • Mississippi --9.8 billion, 10 percent
  • South Carolina --10.9 billion, 6.5 percent

Why would the above states, as an example, opt out of the new health-care law provisions extending Medicaid benefits to the people living in their respective states when, under "Obamacare," the federal government will provide 90 percent of the cost of providing such Medicaid coverage?

To repeal and replace Obamacare requires the election of Mitt Romney as president, regaining and expanding control of the house and regaining control of the Senate. Karl Rove and others with anti-Obama "super PACs" have made this their number one political agenda. This is not "Redux 2008." The 2012 presidential election campaign is shaping up to be the most expensive, no-holds-barred form of opposition against an incumbent president, ever.

In earlier blogs I cited the possible overturn by the Supreme Court of President Obama's health care bill as one of three potential adverse "game changers" during the forthcoming presidential election. Fortunately, it did not happen. The other two are a possible preemptive strike by Israel against Iran and an increase in the nation's joblessness.

There are ominous signs that the manufacturing sector of the economy is contracting and that Europe's banking and economic problems are beginning to affect the U.S. economy. These factors, coupled with the absence of any deal on deficit reduction between the White House and Congress, could significantly benefit Mitt Romney, especially among independent voters.

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