Jeremy Peters of the New York Times has an interesting report this morning that claims John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress is backfiring: It is unintentionally rallying Democratic support behind President Obama’s position on Iran.

While for a time Democrats were split on Obama’s demand that Congress hold off on an Iran sanctions vote that could scuttle negotiations over that country’s nuclear program, now Dems are more inclined to heed Obama’s call. As Peters reports: “Netanyahu’s planned speech, a provocation of the president that many Democrats found distasteful and undiplomatic, has helped shift the political dynamic.”

That political dynamic has been very slow in shifting. At various times throughout this process, Dems have moved towards an Iran sanctions vote, only to stand down after intense White House pressure. Given that polls have shown solid majority support for the general idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran restricting its nuke program, the hostility to allowing diplomacy to run its course has shown just how skittish some Democrats can be about the politics of appearing out of sync with what Israel wants.

Along those lines, here’s something to watch: Peters reports that House Democrats are now circulating a letter urging Boehner to delay the Netanyahu speech until after the current diplomacy with Iran wraps up. I’ve got the text of the letter; here’s the key bit:

We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March….
The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit.  Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the Presidency.
Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concerns that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.
A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and our consideration of the current round of Iran-related legislation has concluded. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.

Thus far only a handful of Democrats — Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters, among them — have signed the letter. I’m told J-Street, the liberal pro-Israel group, will lobby more to sign on. J-Street has tried for years to carve out a political space where Congressional Democrats might not feel bound by the long-running political stricture that “the only allowable public position for a politician to take is that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do,” as Paul Waldman recently put it. This, then, is an interesting test.

The letter’s request is not wildly outlandish. But it would not be at all surprising if very few Democrats ultimately agree to sign on to it — which would stand as another sign of just how hard that political shift has been in coming.

On the other hand, perhaps the mere fact that this letter exists at all — even if there is an extremely slim chance the speech will actually be delayed — is a noteworthy development. Nancy Pelosi has now forcefully demanded that Netanyahu stand down from giving the speech, arguing that it could scuttle diplomacy with Iran, in effect echoing the message in the letter. This, and the fact that Congressional Democrats have repeatedly backed down from pursuing sanctions legislation that could derail diplomacy, suggest that perhaps some political movement is taking place. How much movement remains unclear, of course. We’ll see how many Dems sign on.


* STATES PUSH BACK ON ANTI-OBAMACARE LAWSUIT: More than a dozen states have filed their brief siding with the government in King v. Burwell, arguing that if Supreme Court sides with the challengers, it will result in millions losing coverage and collapsing insurance markets. There’s no link yet, but the crux is that such a decision would

violate basic principles of cooperative federalism by surprising the States with a dramatic hidden consequence of their Exchange selection. Every State engaged in extensive deliberations to select the Exchange best suited to its needs. None had reason to believe that choosing a federally-facilitated Exchange would alter so fundamental a feature of the ACA as the availability of tax credits. Nothing in the ACA provided clear notice of that risk, and retroactively imposing such a new condition now would upend the bargain the States thought they had struck.

* HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY PUSHES BACK ON ANTI-OBAMACARE LAWSUIT: Sam Baker reports that health insurance companies and hospitals have also filed major briefs siding with the government, arguing that upholding the challenge would hurt millions and unleash massive disruptions:

Health insurers said a ruling against the subsidies would have widespread and severe ripple effects, potentially throwing states’ entire insurance markets into chaos. Stopping the flow of subsidies “would create severely dysfunctional insurance markets” in 34 states, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s leading trade organization, said in its amicus brief. “It would leave consumers in those States with a more unstable market and far higher costs than if the ACA had not been enacted.”
…the consequences would spill well beyond consumers who personally lost their subsidies, AHIP argued. The industry organization warned of an insurance “death spiral” if the court rules against Obamacare.

It’s unclear whether the possibility of millions losing health coverage will weigh on Roberts, but the potential of business disruptions might factor into his thinking.

* BOEHNER ONCE AGAIN PROMISES OBAMACARE ALTERNATIVE: We’ve had five years of such promises, but John Boehner once again renewed the promise of a GOP health reform plan to replace Obamacare in an interview last night. Philip Klein runs through all the reasons it will be hard for Republicans to coalesce around any such alternative.

Once again, all of this is probably just a bait-and-switch designed to make Republicans look as if they will step up to help the newly-uninsured in the wake of a bad SCOTUS ruling, making the consequences of such a ruling appear less dire, and thus perhaps easier for the Court.

* OBAMA WANTS TO END ERA OF SEQUESTRATION: Sam Stein has a good report on the coming White House budget’s plan to boost spending and blow through old sequestration caps, which is a good indicator that Obama is hoping to break with the austerity that he accepted in the wake of the 2010 shellacking. As Stein notes:

For Republicans, the proposal will likely be perceived as fiscally reckless, if not politically brazen. After all, it was the GOP wins in the 2010 election that set the stage for sequestration’s across-the-board budget cuts in the first place.

Brazen, indeed! By contrast, Republicans were so humbled by the decisive 2012 Democratic victories that they put an end to Obamacare repeal votes, dropped their crusade for a dramatic Paul Ryan-style rollback of the safety net, and ended destructive debt ceiling brinksmanship to force further spending cuts. Oh, wait…

* REPUBLICANS UNLIKELY TO SHIFT THINKING ABOUT AUSTERITY: So how will Republicans react to the Obama push to end sequestration? The New York Times previews with this:

While Republicans are also speaking more about wage stagnation and income inequality, the party remains united around a traditional platform of spending constraint and deficit reduction, which leaders still say is the answer to sluggish growth and bridging the divide in incomes. “Wage stagnation is a byproduct of slow economic growth,” Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia and the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, said.

Sigh. The falling deficit just won’t change things in the slightest, apparently.

* PUBLIC UNAWARENESS OF OBAMACARE PLAGUES IMPLEMENTATION: The Kaiser Family Foundation has released a comprehensive survey of the uninsured and has concluded that many remain without insurance not because of logistical problems, but because of lack of awareness of coverage options and financial assistance. Note this:

Even among those likely eligible, only about half of uninsured adults indicate that they plan to get health insurance from any source in 2015, and few who do plan to get coverage identified Medicaid or Marketplace coverage as their goal.

Kaiser’s implicit conclusion is that public lack of awareness of the law’s benefits could continue to hamper the accomplishment of its goal of expanding coverage. Also: It appears the relentless media coverage on the implementation problems of late 2013 and 2014 focused on something that wasn’t all that relevant to the law’s actual long-term prognosis.

* REPUBLICANS VERY UNHAPPY ABOUT IMMIGRATION: Gallup finds that a solid majority of Americans, 60 percent, are dissatisfied with current levels of immigration. However, note the numbers among Republicans:

More than four out of every five self-identified Republicans say they are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration (84%), a figure that towers above the number of independents (54%) or Democrats (44%) who feel similarly. Moreover, the number of GOP affiliates saying they are dissatisfied on this issue swelled by 19 percentage points compared with 2014 — suggesting that the overall increase in public dissatisfaction with immigration levels is driven primarily by Republicans, perhaps in reaction to the president’s actions. 

Which perhaps could make it harder for GOP leaders to resist demands for maximum resistance against Obama’s executive deportation relief. A Homeland Security shutdown fight, anyone?