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Entries from October 2014

Message for the Commenters

January 6th, 2012 at 9:23 pm 16 Comments

Hello everyone. David and I have been in meetings all day but we made time to check in on the comment thread announcing the move to the Daily Beast and Newsweek. The support in the comments has been remarkable. However, there seems to be some misunderstanding going around so we wanted to clear up a few things:

1. Although David has been mandated with writing excellent magazine pieces for Newsweek, he will still be blogging regularly at The Daily Beast. In fact, we will be getting our own Andrew Sullivan-style blog. As of my most recent meeting, the url will be: This blog will be updated as frequently as FrumForum always was.

2. This new blog will have comments! I strongly encourage all our regulars to sign up for the Daily Beast & Newsweek’s comment system. You are a dynamic and well informed commentating community, and I have no doubt you can raise the caliber of the debate at the Daily Beast (and if nothing else, you will continue the work of keeping us honest).

3. will be retooled into an archive. The URL,, will redirect to the new site, but all the content and blog posts will be saved. The current homepage should be accessible via a new url: All the content that has ever been written on FrumForum will be preserved.


All Good Things…

January 6th, 2012 at 10:09 am 215 Comments

-FrumForum Goes Live

FrumForum launched itself almost exactly three years ago, on Inauguration Day 2009. Over the subsequent interval, our hundreds of contributors have reached more than 5 million individual readers. I like to think that together we have helped to move the national debate. When we launched, Sarah Palin was a leading candidate for president and Glenn Beck was broadcasting conspiracy theories on cable TV. Three years later–not so much. OK, maybe we can’t claim all the credit. But we won’t refuse some fair share.

Now like all good things, this adventure is coming to an end. I’ve been invited to move my blog and print journalism to the Daily Beast/Newsweek, a larger and more technologically advanced platform. Tina Brown is one of the great media visionaries of our time. The opportunity to work with her–and learn from her–is deeply exciting.

Starting Monday, my work will shift to the Daily Beast/Newsweek site. The FrumForum URL will forward readers to the David Frum page at Daily Beast/Newsweek. FrumForum itself will continue to exist as an archive site, preserving three years of debate–the brilliant insights of our writers–and the passionate comments of our readers. Noah Kristula-Green will join me on the Daily Beast/Newsweek team.

I sincerely thank all who participated and supported this project. The world is changed only very slowly. It’s a big rock, and as human beings we represent only very minuscule and fleeting drips of water. But change is made, and together I believe the change we have offered here has been for the good.

Above all, I thank every reader–those who dissented fully as much as those who read with agreement. Journalism in the digital age is a process rather than a product; an exchange rather than a presentation; intimate rather than abstract. That process continues as ardently as ever, but in a new and improved form and at a bigger and stronger venue.

Gridlock Forever

January 5th, 2012 at 4:50 pm 28 Comments

Far from yielding an ambiguous electoral outcome, the Iowa caucuses solidly confirmed the Balkanization of the Republican Party, a fact that will lead to potential electoral failure in 2012 unless neutralized soon. These internal divisions hurt the party’s leadership in Congress in 2011; they have already improved Democratic chances to retain the Senate, gain substantial seats in the House, and keep the White House in 2012.

Super-imposed on this chaos is a 2012 Congressional legislative schedule that virtually no one on Capitol Hill believes has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever passing.

Let’s take a look at the GOP. Mitt Romney gets a quarter of the vote, what we can call the “competency vote.” Ron Paul gets a quarter of the vote, what has been called the “Libertarian” vote, mostly male, mostly an exaggerated macho response to external order, such as what government provides. Rick Santorum, coupled with the Michelle Bachmann cohort, gets about a quarter, centered on traditional “values” like abortion and prayer in school. The remaining quarter of the self-identified Republican base (those who vote in primaries) represent a Newt Gingrich kind of amalgam of the fiscal conservatives, neo-cons, political scientists, and a few “establishment” Republicans.

The overlaps are obvious. Romney will get many of the fiscal conservative/deficit hawks eventually. Paul will continue to get the theological “no government is best” crowd, but may steal a few of Santorum’s vote. Gingrich’s folks could split easily toward Romney if and when Gingrich throws in the towel, but some may go to Santorum on social issues and to Paul in the primaries. The divisions between Tea Party Republicans and social conservatives have been over-stated by the media as revealed in Iowa. As someone with a particularly sadistic sense of humor said, “Oh, great, we make get a real convention for the Republicans this time.”

Meanwhile, incumbents in Congress have work to do, work that will raise almost every contentious issue that matters to voters.

Here’s a rough sketch of the upcoming Congressional schedule that the Congress confronts:

*the Congressional Budget Office reveals its current law and current policy baselines for FY2013-17 later this month;

*President Obama makes his State of the Union Address the January 24;

*President Obama sends his recommended increased of $1.2 trillion in the federal debt limit Congress, and Congress must approve or disapprove by a 2/3rds margin;

*President Obama submits his budget recommendations for FY2013-17 the first week of February,incorporating the defense recommendations released today by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta;

*House and Senate must confront another round of warfare over the payroll tax holiday, Unemployment Insurance, and the Medicare doc’s fix in February.

*CBO re-estimates the President’s budget submission;

*Literally hundreds of hearings on all aspects of the federal budget proceed in Congress;

*Congress should produce a Congressional Budget Resolution for FY13 in April, but has failed to do so the past two years;

*Individual appropriations bills for FY13 stall (c.f. the past several years);

*Congress spends until the August recess in wrangling, producing little of any consequence;

*After the August recess, Congress faces the same agenda it faced in 2010 and 2011, with two added wrinkles: expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a sequester (across-the-board) of $1.2 trillion in selected, discretionary appropriated accounts;

*By this time, all focus will be on a closely fought Presidential race, and the hand-to-hand combat for Senate and House seats.

Review that list. Think about the likely behavior of the factions within Congress, and the little “Balkan” nations with the Republican Party as this agenda unfolds. Deficits, realistically, will once again reach the $1 trillion mark. Economic growth is likely to be slow. The size of layoffs in the defense industry throughout the country begin to dawn on voters. The debt ceiling question inflames Congressional passions.

Remember this schedule when analysts and pundits tell you the following three things: Congress will pass major infrastructure legislation; Congress will do something serious about deficits; Congress will reach compromise before the elections on defense and the Bush tax cuts.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

And just a final, politically realistic note: if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, an interesting “back to where we started” road begins. Romney has endorsed the Medicare reform proposals of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Wyden. President Obama announced his opposition to those proposals the very day they were unveiled. That vote that House and Senate Republicans took way back in 2011 on the Ryan Budget Plan, which incorporated fundamental Medicare reform, will come back to haunt Republicans as Democratic strategists roll out the 30-second commercials and the blogosphere machinery.

One would think that the scenario outlined above would concentrate the minds of the House Republican caucus on unity and survival. It probably won’t.

John Boehner still has the hardest job in town.

It’s Time to Debate Birthright Citizenship

January 5th, 2012 at 4:04 pm 53 Comments

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has introduced a bill to repeal “birthright citizenship.” It’s probably the most significant immigration reform bill introduced in Congress since 1965 when nation quotas on immigration were repealed. That revision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) significantly changed the racial and ethnic composition of the country and the number of unskilled immigrants.

Whether you believe the change has been good, or not good (my view), we can all agree that such a far-reaching change in the INA should have been the subject of vigorous two-party debate. That did not occur because the Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans did not offer a coherent opposition to the bill, and there was residual sympathy for anything originally offered by the recently assassinated JFK.

It’s time for a vigorous national debate about legal immigration without name calling, histrionics, and, unlike 1965, guided by an understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment. Let’s start with the relevant text of that post-civil War Amendment, which everyone agrees, was offered to protect and enfranchise the newly freed black slaves. It states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction there of, are citizens of the United States…” (emphasis added) (the “Citizenship Clause”). Sen. Jacob Howard (R-MI), introduced the Citizenship Clause to the version of the Amendment which had passed the House in 1866. He stated: This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers… but will include every other class of persons.”

Senators proceeded to debate whether Indians living on reservations would be citizens. Sen. Lyman Trumbill (R-IL), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, answered that they would not be citizens because of the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” of the Citizenship clause. “That means  subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof… not owing allegiance to anybody else.” There was some discussion about whether “gypsies” and legal Chinese immigrants in California would be covered by the Citiizenship Clause. Sen. Howard indicated they would be.

I don’t think there is any way to interpret the original intent of the Citizenship Clause as applying to the children of illegal immigrants. No member of Congress expressed such a view. And my opinion is supported by the second sentence of Sec. 1 of the amendment which expressly provided that the states had to give equal protection of the law to “any person within its jurisdiction,” a broader guaranty than that expressed in the Citizenship Clause. So the Senate was creating two levels of rights for two different classes, citizens and equal protection for everyone including aliens.

The Supreme Court interpreted the Citizenship Clause as requiring “consent” of the U.S. government. So, an Indian wanting to register to vote in Omaha, Nebraska was properly denied the franchise even though he was born in the state. According to the Court, birth was insufficient. Because he was born on an Indian reservation, he needed to become naturalized in order to obtain citizenship. Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94, 103 (1884). Thus, the concept of “citizenship” also included sole political allegiance.

However, in 1898 the Supreme Court changed course. In a controversial decision written by Justice Gray, who had written the Elk opinion, the Court held the child of legal Chinese immigrants born in the U.S. was a U.S. citizen. The decision limited the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” phrase of the Citizenship Clause to foreign diplomats and persons at war with the U.S. United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 655 (1898). It must be pointed out that neither Mr. Ark nor his Chinese-born parents were in the country illegally. It must also be noted that there was no statutory change in U.S. immigration law between the Elk and Wong Kim Ark decisions that may have changed the Court’s analysis. The fundamental flaw in the reasoning is that the Supreme Court is supposed to adhere to its prior decisions, a principle known as stare decisis. Supporters of Roe v. Wade like to bring this up whenever a new Supreme Court justice is nominated. Justice Gray should have followed his own analysis from Elk. Instead, he settled on a meaning of the word “jurisdiction” (which has several meanings in the law) from an admiralty case from 1812, 54 years before the 14th Amendment was written. That admiralty case held that a particular vessel was under U.S. jurisdiction by virtue of being in U.S. territorial waters.

Justice Gray also made the incorrect conclusion that the United States had always adhered to the rule of birthright citizenship. But the very first naturalization statute, enacted in 1790, allowed only “free white” people to become citizens. 654. And the law in effect at the time of the decision allowed birthright citizenship only when the father was a U.S. citizen. Id. at 674. Justice Gray also stated that the American colonies and states adhered to a policy of “birthright citizenship.” Yet his research failed to cite any precedent from any state court agreeing with that view. Id. at 682. Needless to say, there was a vigorous dissent written by Justice Fuller. His most compelling point, and one completely overlooked by the majority, was that under the English common law, there was a distinction between the law of domicile which was decided by where one’s birth and the law of allegiance, based upon nationality. The concept of American citizenship was a hybrid of the two, as expressed inElk. And if this was the correct view of the law then Justice Gray made a tremendous error.

More recently the Supreme Court has held that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applied to the children of illegal immigrants. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). The 5-4 majority struck down a Texas law that withheld public education funding for the children of illegal immigrants. But the Court did not hold they were citizens.

All of this brings me back to the INA. Does the law provide for birthright citizenship? The answer is ambiguous. 8 U.S.C. 1401(a) simply provides that a person born in the U.S. “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is a citizen and national of the U.S. But the INA does not define “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Under the Wong Kim Ark interpretation of that phrase, children of illegal immigrants might be citizens, and certainly a lawyer can make a strong argument that they are. But I’ve made the contrary argument here, and it is not frivolous. Certainly, we would benefit from revising that INA to clearly define citizenship. I think Rep. King and his 80 co-sponsors are correct in doing away with birthright citizenship. The only other country having such a rule outside the third world is Canada. The U.K., France, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and India have repealed birthright citizenship in the last 30 years as immigration has increased. According to the Rasmussen poll of likely voters, 65% favor repeal. Birthright citizenship is a magnet for illegal immigrants. This costs the taxpayers billions of dollars each year just in paying for illegal immigrant births in hospitals, which as I’ve written here, are barred under another federal law from turning anyone away from their emergency rooms if they want Medicare funding.

It’s time for a robust and civil debate in Congress.

Heed McCain’s Warning on Immigration

January 5th, 2012 at 1:32 pm 31 Comments

Someone should listen to John McCain. Asked by First Read whether he thought Arizona was in play this election cycle, McCain reportedly responded “I think that if not this election cycle, the demographics are that Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, even Texas will all be in play.” The Senator then added, “We have to fix our problems with the Hispanics.”

McCain is absolutely correct. As I have noted previously, the demographic tides are indeed shifting rapidly within the United States in ways that do not favor the GOP. Specifically, Hispanics are growing at a much faster clip than the whites that make up the GOP base and, should they decide to vote, the polls mentioned above suggest that they are increasingly likely to vote Democrat (if they vote, of course).

So where does a solution start? Senator McCain told First Read that “It starts with a way to address the issue of immigration in a humane and caring fashion–at the same time emphasize the need to secure our borders.” I agree with the old war hero here as well. Unfortunately, the highly visible fight for the 2012 GOP nomination and for the White House features Republicans that are decidedly not compassionate or thoughtful on the issue of illegal immigration, which of course deeply affects the Hispanic and Latino communities within the United States.

The likely frontrunner, former Gov. Mitt Romney, has run a commercial on immigration that features prison wire as the backdrop of a revolving display of ominous statistics on illegal immigration. But this pales in comparison the rhetoric of the “other than Mitt crowd.” In his failed re-election bid for his old Senate seat, the Santorum campaign attempted to label his opponent as an “amnesty” supporting sissy and in a clip featured on his YouTube channel from one of the Senate debates, he implies that many illegal immigrants are also identity thieves. Santorum ripped into Newt Gingrich for supporting granting “amnesty” to illegal immigrants.

Thankfully, if Mitt Romney wins the nomination, he probably will avoid the sort of “round up the illegals and ship them out of here” rhetoric that might otherwise be expected because, well, Mitt Romney once had a reasonable position on illegal immigration before he decided he wanted to be the Republican nominee for President. But McCain is right: going into the future, the GOP must actually be willing to address this problem in a thoughtful manner if it is to hold onto the political territory it has claimed as its own for decades.

Follow Jeb on Twitter, @JGolinkin

The Cordray Crisis

January 5th, 2012 at 11:02 am 89 Comments

Constitutional abuse begets constitutional abuse.

President Obama has engaged in a dubious maneuver to force a recess appointment through a Senate that denies it has recessed.

(Brad Plumer has a good run-down of the legal issues, here.)

The president’s action has ignited a fireworks show of Republican outrage. And yes, Obama has here pushed presidential power beyond past limits.

But it’s not only presidents who can bend the rules. The Senate has also pushed its powers here beyond the usual limits. The Senate is pretending to be in session when it’s obviously not in session. It is engaging in this pretense in order to use its power over confirmations to negate an agency lawfully created by the prior Congress. Most fundamentally, the Senate here is further extending a weird quirk in its own rules–the quirk that allows individual senators to delay votes on appointments–in ways that allow the Senate minority to impose its will on the whole US government.

Over the past three decades, we have lived through a prolonged cycle of partisan revenge. Each party pushes the law to score partisan points in ways that would have been deemed unacceptable only just a little while ago. Then at the next turn of the cycle, the other party pushes the law further and wider and even more destructively. One by one, they sequentially smash the customs and traditions that enabled the US government to function. This latest episode over the Cordray appointment may be the most extreme example. But it’s surely not the final example.

It is instead an ominous milestone in the deterioration of the US political system into ever more intense acrimony and paralysis.

Romneycare Bent the Cost Curve

January 5th, 2012 at 8:53 am 44 Comments

Via an interesting post by Chris Conover, I came across this recently released National Health Expenditure report, which has data on health-care spending up through 2009.  This data includes a state-by-state breakdown of personal health-care spending (a number that includes direct expenditures on health-care but does not include administrative costs).

Digging into these numbers allows one to calculate (roughly) the growth of health-care spending in each state from 1991 to 2007.  This data set tells an interesting story for Massachusetts after the passage of health-care reform there: after the passage of Romney’s reforms, the rate of per capita health-care spending growth slowed in Massachusetts both in absolute terms and relative to the national average.

Here’s a chart I put together looking at the cumulative growth over two periods: from 2004 to 2006 (prior to Romneycare) and from 2007 to 2009 (after the measure was applied).  I’ve included the US national average as a whole as well as the New England average in order to situate Massachusetts in its local context.  New Hampshire offers the example of a New England state which did not engage in Romney-style reforms, and Ohio offers a counterexample of a Midwestern state with relatively slower-growing health-care costs.  Texas, often touted as an alternative model for the nation, also helpfully sets up a contrast with Massachusetts.  This chart looks at the cumulative percentage change in per capita personal health-care spending over the 2004-2006 and 2007-2009 periods.

Spending Growth 2004-2006

Spending Growth 2007-2009

US National Avg



New England


















Perhaps in part due to the recession, the rate of growth for health-care spending dropped for the nation as a whole (though spending did still grow).  However, it’s worth noting that, in the years after Romney’s reforms went into effect, the rate of growth for health-care spending in Massachusetts dropped even faster than the national average did.  Between 2004 and 2006, health-care spending in Massachusetts grew almost 27% faster than it did for the nation as a whole; between 2007 and 2009, it grew only 5% faster.  After Romney’s reforms, Massachusetts went from having a health-care spending growth rate well above the national average to one just a little bit above.  For example, between 2008 and 2009, personal health-care spending increased at a rate of 3.8% in the US, while Massachusetts saw its spending increase by 3.9%.  Compare that to the changes between 2005 and 2006: US spending grew at 5.3%, but Massachusetts spending grew at 7.6%.  Situating Massachusetts in the context of the rest of New England makes the change in spending rates even starker: prior to Romney’s reforms, Massachusetts personal health-care spending grew faster than the New England average most years.  After his reforms, it grew slower than the New England average (often having one of the lowest rates of health-care spending growth in the region).  These numbers suggest that Texas is doing a worse job at taming the rate of health-care spending growth than Massachusetts (though, for the moment, per capita health-care spending in Texas is lower than that of Massachusetts).

Massachusetts seems to have especially slowed down the rate of growth in hospital spending.  Between 2004 and 2006, Massachusetts hospital spending jumped 16.5%; between 2007 and 2009, it only climbed 5.5% (a 67% reduction in the rate of growth).  US spending on hospital care grew 12.7% between 2004 and 2006; between 2007 and 2009, it grew 8.6% (a 33% reduction in the rate of growth).  Spending in Massachusetts hospitals rose much more slowly than the national average.  One of the key premises of Romneycare was that bringing all of the commonwealth into the health-care system would lower the need of hospital use (especially the use of emergency room care) and thereby lower spending at the hospital level.  These numbers seem to suggest that something like that may be happening.

In many areas of health-care spending, the rate of growth for spending in Massachusetts either fell more than it did for the nation as a whole or fell at roughly the same rate.  This data would seem to muddy the waters for the claim that Romney’s reforms caused health-care spending in Massachusetts to skyrocket.  Since Romneycare, health-care spending in Massachusetts (at least until 2009) grew more slowly than it did in many other states and also grew much more slowly compared to the rate of spending growth in Massachusetts before Romneycare took effect.

Health-care spending depends upon a variety of factors (including population aging and economic growth), so this data set does not tell the whole story regarding the effect of the 2006 reforms on health-care spending.  It does, however, pose a challenge to the argument that Romney’s reforms uniquely inflated health-care spending in Massachusetts.  In terms of raw health-care spending, Massachusetts seems to have bent slightly down the curve of growth—compared to many other states and, in many respects, the nation as a whole.

(Of course, the rate of growth in health-care spending is not the sole deciding issue for Romneycare: other questions about long-term sustainability, the role of government coercion and spending, and other topics are also very important.  Nor is there a direct correlation between health-care spending and private insurance premiums, which seem to have increased in recent years.  Moreover, data for years after 2009 might tell a more complicated story.)

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.


MSNBC Joins the Anti-Romney Bandwagon

January 5th, 2012 at 12:15 am 52 Comments

I have always been weary of the whine regarding the purported “liberal media”; having won 60% of presidential elections over the last 40 years, near-complete dominance of the radio airwaves, and a cable news behemoth with ratings greater than the aggregate of both its nearest competitors, conservatives are hardly the most suppressed segment of our society. Yet even for a skeptic like me, MSNBC’s coverage of the Iowa caucuses was truly a sight to behold.

For starters, once it became apparent in recent days that Mitt Romney was at least charted for the top three—a squeaker of a victory or a third place finish in a closely bunched spread—”Hardball” host Chris Matthews began rallying to the defense of the bombarded Newt Gingrich. Matthews upbraided the insidious Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future at the close of his Monday broadcast, trumpeting the end of democracy as we know it with Newt Gingrich as the first slain giant.

Like Gingrich himself, he made no assertion that the content of anti-Gingrich advertisements was false. Nor did he document what, exactly, was “nasty” about the PAC advertisements. Matthews’ qualms were couched entirely in the advertisements’ funding apparatus (undercutting his very own argument by identifying Romney as the attributable candidate Restore Our Future supports). Were any viewers unaware that Restore Our Future is a pro-Romney Super PAC? If they were, Matthews certainly took care to remove all premise of anonymity. Problem solved.

But Matthews’ duty was not yet done. Once it became clear that the anti-Newt barrage was doing nothing to diminish Romney’s support in Iowa on Tuesday, Matthews took up the cause of giving a Gingrich attack line free air-time—quite a favor given Gingrich’s inability to afford a riposte on his own behalf. In Matthews’ hypothesis of the nominating contest going forward, he began echoing Gingrich’s recent charge that the Massachusetts state health law signed by Romney had provisions for state-funded abortion. No less than four times over the course of Tuesday’s broadcast, Matthews repeated various iterations of how an ennervated Gingrich would now fly to New Hampshire and South Carolina to warn them that Romney funded abortion at the state level as governor, energizing “the Pat Buchanan crowd” in the former and the southern evangelicals in the latter. Howard Fineman, nodding sagely in agreement, couldn’t help but concur, confirming the real threat now posed to Romney’s candidacy by the emergent Rick Santorum—just as he had done previously regarding Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and most recently, Gingrich himself.

There was another instance of strange bedfellows made Tuesday night: Ed Schultz waxed poetic about Santorum’s closing speech, praising it as a refreshing ode to the American working class before declaring Santorum’s retail politicking to be superior to that of President Obama. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton’s contribution to the evening consisted of declaring that every development somehow redounded to the president’s benefit, at one point declaring how worried the Romney camp should be given “the clear lack of enthusiasm among Iowans to remove the incumbent”. By the evening’s conclusion, the MSNBC narrative was clear: Romney was an insidious corporate toady whose chance at the nomination was quickly fading; Gingrich the beleaguered victim of the cruel underbelly of modern campaign finance, ready to expose the liberal governor’s pro-choice record; Santorum the only hope for a Republican Party looking to reconnect with Reagan Democrats; and the coming war involving the three would only help President Obama.

One can be forgiven for suspecting that the MSNBC crowd would prefer that President Obama not face the candidate universally considered to be the toughest challenge to his reelection. Could it be that the channel’s talent has decided to do its part to stop Romney at the gate? With an apparent move underway by movement conservatives to do the same, the thought isn’t entirely out of the question. Strange bedfellows, indeed.