Open Thread: GOP Casting for A Scapegoat?

The Washington Post says that “Thursday is shaping up to be a critical day for any possible breakthroughs, with a series of key huddles of Republicans and meetings at the White House.”

Just possibly, the not-completely-insane members of the GOP might be looking for some disposable figurehead to blame for getting them into a battle it now seems they won’t win. Dana Milbank interviews “The shutdown’s enforcer-in-chief“:

“Obama will feel pain,” Michael Needham predicted.

Needham looked as though he were angry enough to administer the pain himself. The 31-year-old chief executive of the conservative group Heritage Action gripped his coffee cup tightly with both hands as he spoke to reporters over breakfast Wednesday. When he reached for his water glass, there was a slight tremor in his hand.

But the ones feeling the pain from Needham right now are Republicans. His group, funded by the Koch brothers and anonymous donors, is the one that joined Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to rally opposition to Obamacare this summer. Together, Cruz and Heritage Action deserve much of the credit for forcing the government shutdown — and Heritage is threatening to use its considerable war chest against Republicans who waver in the effort to abolish the nation’s health-care law….

At the moment, Needham is fighting alongside Republicans. But Heritage Action’s broader goal is to turn the GOP into a “libertarian populist” party freed from Wall Street and K Street. Slate’s John Dickerson asked whether Needham was trying to force a confrontation to induce a “massive crackup of the old order” in the GOP.

“I’m pretty optimistic that it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen pretty soon,” Needham said.

Perhaps. But Needham won’t say who’s contributing to his populist movement or how much, other than the $500,000 from the Kochs. “The laws in this country are such that 501(c)(4)s don’t disclose their donors,” he told the reporters. “If you have a problem with that, you should change the laws.”…

And there’s this, from the AtlanticWire:

Koch Industries, umbrella corporate behemoth for the conservative Koch brothers, sent a letter to members of the Senate on Wednesday disavowing any rumored positions on shutting down the government over the president’s health care law. Even for the controversial and unloved Kochs, it seems, the Republican plan to force a shutdown over Obamacare went too far…

What the Koch letter says is not that the company doesn’t support the push to defund or block Obamacare. (This interesting analysis of why they support stopping the law is worth a read.) It simply attempts to put boundaries on the company’s involvement in those efforts: no lobbying, no support for blocking funding to stop Obamacare. And this applies to Koch Industries — not the Koch brothers who are the ones that cut the checks to Heritage Action and Generation Opportunity.

But the point is taken. Even the deeply unpopular Koch brothers think being associated with the shutdown is risky. And that says more than the letter itself.

Nice outcome for Boehner, Cantor, Ryan — even Cruz and the Koch brothers — if the “stupid, damaging” shutdown can be blamed on a thirty-something staffer who can disappear into the damp depths of wingnut welfare until the public outrage blows over. Mike Needham, an Ed Meese for a new generation!

The Obamacare Website: Blame Canada


Actually, it’s a pretty informative WaPo article, allowing for Tim Lee’s ingrained pessimism:

The primary Obamacare exchange contract went to the CGI Group, a Canadian consulting company that has also played a role in administering Canada’s single-payer health care system. CGI has been awarded at least $88 million by CMS to build the federal exchange and provide related technical support.

CMS provided another $55 million to Quality Software Services, a Maryland-based health care IT company, to build the data hub, software that serves as an intermediary between all those federal agencies and the Obamacare exchanges.

Several other federal contractors have also been awarded multi-million dollar contracts to assist with various aspects of building and operating the exchanges. A June report by the Government Accountability Office found that CMS had already committed to spend $394 million on the system…

Broadly speaking, the sites have suffered from two types of problems. In the first few days, the system was simply overwhelmed with traffic. Last week was probably one of the highest-traffic weeks the site will ever experience, and websites often discover unexpected problems during their first big traffic spikes. Early users of Twitter remember the “fail whales” that popped up regularly on the site as Twitter struggled to accommodate surging demand.

That initial traffic rush is now over and the Obama administration says it’s buying more servers to cope with future traffic spikes. So in the long run, dealing with traffic volumes shouldn’t be a serious problem…

The more fundamental problem is that the system is operating on a tight deadline and a limited budget—at least by the standards of federal agencies. Three years and hundreds of millions of dollars might seem generous, but federal agencies have wasted a lot more money with a lot less to show for it in the past…

Unfucking: Much More Difficult than Fucking

No more predictable lede than this could have been written about the failure of the insurance exchange software (emphasis mine):

The technical problems that have hampered enrollment in the online health insurance exchanges resulted from the failure of a major software component, designed by private contractors, that crashed under the weight of millions of users last week, federal officials said Monday.

Our friends at Demos have done a little bit of research on the whole government contractor grift, and here’s what they’ve found:

In this brief, we extrapolate from the GAO study to estimate that the federal government is spending an estimated $20.8 to $23.9 billion a year to pay private contractors for the compensation of top executives. $6.97 to $7.65 billion in taxpayer dollars is spent annually on pay that exceeds the U.S. Vice President’s salary of $230,700 a year.

In a nutshell, here are my educated guesses of why exchange software is failing:

  1. The massive overhead involved in government contracting (not just C-level salaries, but also the waste involved in the sales process) meant that percentage of the budget for exchanges devoted to actual work and workers wasn’t sufficient for the development and testing the sites needed.
  2. Government outsourcing culture leads itself to lack of accountability on the part of government employees and lies on the part of contractors. Lack of accountability comes from the contractor, not the contract manager, getting the blame for failure. Lies come from the contractor saying anything to win the contract, knowing that failure just means more money will be thrown at the problem.

But those are just my guesses. Maybe some of you who have been involved in contracted government software have a few other ideas.

The Big Money Behind the Teahadists’ Shutdown

I saved this over the weekend, so that more of you would see it. The NYTimes had a long expose on the One Percenters doing the planning for Ted Cruz’s totally spontaneous grass-roots uprising against Obamacare and other public spending:

Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam…

A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law. …

Money changes everything

Let’s raise some money off this shutdown thang.

Goal Thermometer

Update: Can give to the DNC, DCCC, DSCC here.