Why Was The Christmas Star Visible From Afar But Not Noticed In Bethlehem?

There are many mysteries about the miracles that form the basis of Jesus Christ’s claim of divinity. Jesus is claimed to have healed the sick and raised the dead of the Roman province of Palestine during his short ministry. These miracles made him famous and inspired disciples to follow him but from a modern perspective, they are impossible to verify. The witnesses to these miracles are long dead. Even Lazarus and the others that Jesus restored to life eventually returned to the grave. However, there is one miracle associated with the life of Jesus that should be easy to verify because it was apparently visible from around the world.

The miracle of the Christmas star occurred at the time of Jesus’ birth and according to the Biblical account was visible to learned travelers from a distant land. Matthew tells us that the Magi saw a star that they recognized as symbolizing the birth of the king of the Jews and traveled to Jerusalem “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea” (Matt. 2:1). The star apparently appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth (2:7) and lasted months until the Magi could make their journey from a distant land. The problem for Christian believers is that other observers of the time don’t report significant astronomical events around the time of Jesus’ birth. The lack of reports would seem to rule out stars as well as nebulas and comets.

Beyond the lack of extrabiblical support for a stunning celestial display, there is another problem with the story of the Christmas star. There is a paradox in the Bible’s claim that the Magi could see the star from thousands of miles away while King Herod seemed ignorant of it only five miles away in Jerusalem. Any obviously bright star would be easily visible to anyone who looked up at night, yet Herod and his court were unaware of it.

Further, consider that stars typically seem to move when viewed from the earth’s surface. The location of stars is fixed in space, but the earth’s rotation makes them appear to move. A star that rises in the east would set in the west a few hours later yet the Bible says that the star “stopped over the place where the child was” (2:9). The typical depiction of the Christmas star as an immense, blindingly bright star hovering above the Bethlehem stable seems more and more unlikely.

The problems with identifying the star of Bethlehem seem insurmountable. The star was allegedly seen clearly from a great distance away but unobserved in and around Bethlehem. The meaning of the star was so obvious that the Magi left on an international trip yet other astronomers around the world missed it entirely. Stars normally move but this one was reportedly stationary. The problems are so difficult that many consider the Christmas star to be nothing more than a myth.

A clue to the answer can be found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. In his fascinating look at the historical foundations of the Bible, “The Bible As History,” Werner Keller pointed out that in verse two, the Greek word translated as “star” for thousands of years is actually plural rather than singular.

Keller offers a theory as to the identity of Matthew’s Christmas stars. For hundreds of years prior to the time of Christ, Jewish exiles had lived in Babylon. Babylon, located to the east of Palestine in present-day Iraq, was also the home of an advanced school of astronomy. Clay tablets discovered by archaeologists that date back to more than 400 years before the time of Christ detail calculations by which the Babylonians could predict the paths of the planets, which of course look like stars when viewed without a telescope.

Two planets in particular may have been of interest to the Magi. Jupiter, the king of the planets, was considered to be a royal star and was also associated with luck. The second largest planet, Saturn, was associated with Israel according to ancient Jewish traditions described by Tacitus, a famous Roman historian.

Keller describes how Jupiter and Saturn came together not once but twice in 7 BC. The first conjunction occurred on May 29 and was followed by a second on October 3. He writes that the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem would have taken about six weeks by camel caravan in Biblical times. It would have been unwise to undertake such a journey across Middle Eastern deserts at the beginning of summer but an October departure would have placed the Magi in Jerusalem in late November. This would place the birth of Jesus prior to the onset of winter in Palestine when shepherds would have still had their flocks in the fields (Luke 2:8).

Frederick Larson of BethlehemStar.com has a similar theory but arrived at a different date for the star’s appearance. Larson looked at the movements of the heavens and found an interesting occurrence over a period of months in the years 3 and 2 BC. At that time, Jupiter and Regulus, a star the Romans considered royal, entered a triple conjunction that would certainly have attracted the attention of Babylonian astrologers.

Larson also provides an answer for how the star could have stopped above the stable in Bethlehem. If the Magi were observing Jupiter from Jerusalem as it entered retrograde, the planet would have appeared to stop over the town of Bethlehem, five miles to their south. One of the dates that this could have occurred was December 25, 2 BC.

Regardless of which celestial event is the particular one observed by the Magi, the theory that the eastern travelers observed astrological signs that pointed them to the newborn Messiah is an idea that can overcome the difficulties inherent in a traditional reading of the Christmas story. The astrological event would have been visible to trained observers but would not have been apparent to King Herod or the people of Judea. The meaning of the signs would have been lost on other astronomers who were not aware of the association of various planets and stars with Israel and Judaism.

The search for the Christmas star has lessons for those who are seeking God. At the outset, it seemed that it was impossible that the account of the star could be more than a myth. The very idea seemed to make no sense and the problems presented by skeptics seemed insurmountable.

Upon closer inspection, however, when the original writings and understanding of the Bible’s writers were taken into account, it turns out that there is a rational explanation that can back up the story of Matthew’s Magi. As it was with the ancient Jews, who thought the Messiah would be a military leader who would overthrow the hated Romans, our problem with the Christmas star lies in our lack of understanding of what the Bible’s writers were trying to convey. When we put aside our preconceived ideas about what the star must have been, we find the answer was there all along.

The lesson of the Christmas star is that God answers those who seek him. While not all of the answers and explanations to Biblical questions are readily apparent, we do have enough answers to know that Christian faith can be based on verifiable facts and does not have to be a blind faith. The Bible’s accuracy is a launching point for the relationship with Christ that offers our only hope for conquering death.

That is the true meaning of Christmas.

To Experience Texas History, Look Beyond The Alamo To Goliad

“It isn’t what you expect,” people told me. “You’ll be disappointed.”

A lot of people had the same reaction about my upcoming visit to the Alamo. After a year in Texas, we decided to take our family to visit the famous shrine to the Texas Revolution in San Antonio. When we got there, even my children sensed what our native Texan friends had been telling us.

I have visited many different battlefields from the Revolution and the Civil War, but the Alamo was different. Most battlefields are national parks that have preserved the tranquility and dignity of the historic sites. The fact that the Alamo was located just outside the town of Bexar in Mexican Tejas and, after Texas independence, the city of San Antonio grew up around it probably accounts for much of why the Alamo battlefield is different.

When we arrived at the Alamo, we found that, unlike the Gettysburg battlefield, for instance, the Alamo was surrounded by a carnival atmosphere akin to that of a boardwalk. While the actual remnants of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, the old Spanish mission that became the Alamo fortress, were a solemn place, across the street was a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, The Amazing Mirror Maze and Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks. To us, the festive atmosphere seemed out of place on the site where hundreds of soldiers on both sides had died.

A few years later, we made a brief detour through Goliad, the south Texas town most known to outsiders as the town that didn’t send reinforcements to the Alamo. Goliad is home to two old Spanish missions that have been restored. The two missions, Espíritu Santo at Goliad State Park and Presidio La Bahia just down the road, are much better representations of the history of the Texas revolution.

In particular, the Presidio La Bahia, which has been completely restored, stands in contrast to the Alamo, most of which was destroyed in the battle. The building commonly referred to as the Alamo was the mission’s chapel, only one small part of entire complex. The Presidio La Bahia gives visitors a feel for what the Alamo would have been like in 1836.

While there was no major battle at Goliad, La Bahia was the site of a lesser known massacre of Texas soldiers by the Mexican army. Shortly after the fall of the Alamo, Col. James Fannin’s men surrendered to the Mexicans and were imprisoned at Goliad. Santa Ana ordered the execution of the prisoners a short time later. More Texans were killed in the Goliad Massacre than at the Alamo. Their common grave and memorial is just outside the presidio walls.

Today, Goliad State Park and the Presidio La Bahia, privately owned by the Catholic Diocese of Victoria, Texas, both provide good museums with that describe the area’s history in context and showcase period artifacts. La Bahia also features a short video that recounts the Texas Revolution.

Whether you’re a Texan or visitor to the Lone Star State, if you are in San Antonio, by all means, visit the Alamo. From the bar of the historic Menger Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt enlisted the Rough Riders, to the Riverwalk and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio has a lot to offer as a vacation destination.

But don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. If you’re interested in the Texas Revolution, a side trip to Goliad may be even more enlightening and rewarding.

BREAKING: McCain Just Delivered A Speech You’ll Be Quoting For Years

Today, on the floor of the Senate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appeared briefly to give a speech to his colleagues on why he was voting for the Motion to Proceed on Obamacare repeal/replace legislation. He also explained why he doesn’t intend on voting for the bill itself as written. However, he gave a master class on Senate history, the purpose of our Republican government, and why he felt it was necessary at times to do things he did not agree with.

You and I will find many things to dislike in what he said. But, we’ll likewise find many things to cheer for.

Either way, this speech will likely go down as one of the great speeches by a Senator in the modern era. This is not an exaggeration. His 2,000 word speech contained both history, reflection, reverence for the founders, defense of federalism, America’s destiny, and even took a swipe at his own party – then waited for applause from one side – just to take a swipe at the other party for their irony. It brought much needed laughter to a floor too often full of bloviating and partisan bickering.



It’s worth reading, and sharing.

 


 

“I stand before you today, looking a little worse for wear I’m sure. I have a refresh appreciation for protocols and customs of this body, and for the other 99 privileged souls who’ve been elected to the Senate.

I’ve been a member of the United States Senate for 30 years. I had another long, if not as long career before I arrive here. Another profession that was profoundly rewarding, in which I had experiences and friendships that I revered. But make no mistake. My service here is the most important job I’ve had in my life.

I’m so grateful to the people of Arizona for the privilege, the honor of serving here and the opportunities he gives me to play a small role in the history of the country I love. I’ve known and admired men and women in the Senate that played much more than a small role in our history. True statesmen, giants of American politics. They come from both parties, and from various backgrounds.

Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on issues of the day. And they often had very serious disagreements on how to best serve the national interest. But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important to the continuing success of our Republic. Our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all.

The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems, and defend her from her adversaries. That principled mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it come to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as “the worlds greatest deliberative body.” I’m not sure we can clean the distinction with a straight face today. I’m sure it wasn’t always deserved in previous years either, but I’m sure there have been times when it was. And I was privileged to witness some of those occasions.

Our deliberations today, not just our debates, but the exercise of all of our responsibilities – authorizing government policies, appropriating funds to implement them, exercising our advise and consent role – are often lively and interesting. They can be sincere and principled. But we are more partisan, more tribal, more of the time that I’ve any time that I can remember. Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we’d all agree, they haven’t been over burdened by greatness lately.

Right now, they aren’t producing much for the American people.

Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll find we all conspired in our decline, either by deliberative actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it. Certainly, I have. Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I’ve made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning, than to achieve a contested policy.

Incremental progress, compromises each side criticize but also accept, just plain muddling through to chip away at at problems and keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous, or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph. But it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government, operating in a country as diverse and quarrelsome and free as ours. Considering the injustice and cruelties inflicted by autocratic governments, and how corruptible human nature can be, the problem-solving our system does make possible, the fitful progress it produces, and the  liberty and justice it preserves is a magnificent achievement.

Our system doesn’t depend on our nobility. It accounts for our imperfections, and gives us an order to our individual strivings that has helped to make ours the most powerful and prosperous society on earth. It is our responsibility to preserve that. Even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than “winning.” Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts managed just three yards in a cloud of dust while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to “triumph.”

I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other, and learn how to trust each other again. And by so doing, better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and Internet.

To hell with them! *applause*

They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood. Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. We’re getting nothing done, my friends. We are getting nothing done!

And all we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Our healthcare insurance system is a mess. We all know it. Those who support Obamacare, and those who oppose it. Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet. And I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we tried getting rid of it. I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue, and amendments to be offered.

I will not vote for this bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now. We all know that. I have changes urged by my state’s governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage of any bill.

I know many of you will have to see the bill changed substantially for you to support it. We tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors, in consultation with the administration. Then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them that it’s better than nothing. It’s better than nothing? Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition… I don’t think that’s going to work in the end. And probably shouldn’t.

The administration and congressional Democrats shouldn’t have forced through Congress, without any opposition support a social and economic change as massive as Obamacare. And we shouldn’t do the same with ours.

Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate? The way our rules and customs encourage us to act, if this process ends in failure – which seems likely – then let’s return to regular order. Let the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under chairman Alexander & ranking member Murray hold hearings, try to write a bill of committee with contributions from both sides. *Democrats applaud*

Something that my dear friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t allow to happen nine years ago. *Republicans applaud/laugh*

Let’s see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side, but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today. What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We are not getting much done apart.

I don’t think very many of us feel very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles – agreements made in good faith to help improve lives and protect the American people.

The Senate is capable of that. We know that. We’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it happen many times, and the times when I was involved, even in a modest way, working on a bipartisan response to a national problem or threat are the proudest moments of my career. And by far the most satisfying.

This place is important. The work we do here is important. Our strange rules and seemingly eccentric practices that slow our proceedings and insist on our cooperation are important. Our Founders envisioned the Senate as the more deliberative, careful body that operates at a greater distance than the other body from the public passions of the hour.

We are an important check on the powers of the executive. Our consent is necessary for the president to appoint jurists and powerful Government officials, and in many respects, to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal.

As his responsibilities are onerous, many and powerful, so are ours. We play a vital role in shaping and directing the judiciary, the military, the cabinet, and the planning and supporting foreign and domestic policies. Our success in meeting all these awesome constitutional obligations depends upon cooperation among ourselves.

The success of the Senate is important to the continuing success of America. This country, this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country needs us to help at thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interest, or political affiliation.

We are the servants of a great nation. A nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

More people have live free and prosperous lives here than in any other nation. We’ve acquired unprecedented wealth and power because of our governing principles, and because our government defend of those principles. America’s made a greater contribution than any other nation to an international order that has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have been the greatest example, the greatest supporter, and the greatest defender of that role. We aren’t afraid. We don’t covet other people’s land and wealth.

We don’t hide behind walls. We breach them. We are a blessing to humanity.

What greater cause could we hope to serve than in helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of dignity of all human beings, and their right to freedom, and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us, and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us.

What a great honor, and extraordinary opportunity it is to serve in this body. It is a privilege to serve with all of you. I mean it. Many of you have reached out in the last few days with your concern and your prayers. And it means a lot to me. It really does. I’ve had so many people say such nice things about me recently, that I think some of you must have me confused with someone else. *laughter*

I appreciate it though. Every word. Even if much of it isn’t deserved.

I’ll be here for a few days. I’ll help managing the floor debate on the defense authorization bill, which I’m proud to say is again a product of bipartisan cooperation and trust among the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. After that, I’m going home for a while to treat my illness. I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me. And I hope to impress on you again that it is an honor to serve the American people, in your company.

Thank you, fellow senators.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.”

Could a Newly Unearthed Photo Solve the Amelia Earhart Mystery?

Eighty years ago this week, pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, and for all of those eight decades, their disappearance has been the source of plenty of speculation and rumors.

The theories surrounding the Earhart mystery include hypotheses that she became a spy for the American government, that she became the infamous Tokyo Rose, that she survived the flight and took on a new identity, and that her plane simply sank into the ocean.

But could a newly discovered photograph shed light on the truth behind her disappearance? The History Channel seems to think so, and they’re banking on it for a new special that they are broadcasting this Sunday.

The photo, found in a long-forgotten file in the National Archives, shows a woman who resembles Earhart and a man who appears to be her navigator, Fred Noonan, on a dock. The discovery is featured in a new History channel special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” that airs Sunday.

Independent analysts told History the photo appears legitimate and undoctored. Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI and an NBC News analyst, has studied the photo and feels confident it shows the famed pilot and her navigator.

Though Japanese officials have claimed for years that Earhart and Noonan were never in their custody, one researcher who have studied the disappearance believes the theory, and facial recognition experts are convinced that the man and woman in the photo are Noonan and Earhart.

Proponents of the theory believe that the Japanese ship Koshu took Earhart and Noonan to the island of Saipan, where they died in custody. Locals recall seeing the aviator and the wreckage of her plane, and rumors abounded about who they thought was their famous captive resident.

Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who lived on Saipan as a child, has long claimed she saw Earhart in Japanese custody.

“I didn’t even know it was a woman, I thought it was a man,” said Akiyama. “Everybody was talking about her — they were talking about in Japanese. That’s why I know that she’s a woman. They were talking about a woman flyer.”

Does the photo solve the mystery, and is there more evidence? I guess we’ll have to tune in Sunday night to find out.

American Patriotic Songs Praise God

The past few decades have seen a great debate about the separation of church and state. Christian symbols and references to God are often purged from history books and the public landscape on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibition on a state religion mandated a secular nation.  The claim that America was established apart from God and religion is easily debunked when we read the words of Founders, but all we have to do is sing patriotic songs to see how inextricably the idea of divine providence is to American freedom.

The two most obvious songs that link God and country are Irving Berlin’s “God bless America” and Lee Greenwood’s “God bless the USA.” Both songs are recent additions to the American patriotic anthology. Berlin wrote “God bless America” in 1938 and originally included an introduction that foreshadowed the looming world war. “God bless the USA” was released in 1984, but achieved classic status in 1991 with America’s victory in the Persian Gulf War. These two recent songs are far from the only songs that link America to divine providence, however.

Although “Yankee Doodle” is remembered today as the anthem of the Revolutionary War, “Chester” was a song that rivaled “Yankee Doodle” in popularity at the time. Originally composed as a hymn in 1770 by William Billings, an associate of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, the original lyrics were revised in 1778 and the song became a popular marching song for Continental soldiers:

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,

And Slav’ry clank her galling chains;

We fear them not, we trust in God—

New England’s God forever reigns.

The song specifically credited God with leading the Continental Army to victory over the British:

When God inspired us for the fight,

Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced,

Their ships were shattered in our sight,

Or swiftly driven from our coast.

Another early patriotic song that often served as an unofficial national anthem was “My Country Tis of Thee.” This song combines the melody of the English national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” with words written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831. The fourth verse pays homage to God as the author of liberty and asks for his protection:

Our fathers’ God to Thee,

Author of liberty,

To Thee we sing.

Long may our land be bright,

With freedom’s holy light,

Protect us by Thy might,

Great God our King.

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” may be the most theological of the American patriotic songs. The lyrics were written in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe while the music was borrowed by “John Brown’s Body,” which in turn came from a Methodist hymn, “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us?” by William Steffe. From the opening line of “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” every stanza carries overt references the Christian God, but the fourth verse is particularly religious:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;

As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

Even the “Star Spangled Banner,” which officially became the national anthem in 1931, has religious references. The story of the “Star Spangled Banner” is well known. The lyrics were penned by Francis Scott Key as he watched the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry from the deck of a British warship in 1814. Key’s words were set to the music of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a British drinking song composed in 1775.

The fourth verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” like several other patriotic songs, credits God with saving the United States. It also contains the origin of “In God we trust,” the official motto of the United States since 1956.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand

Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!

Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land

Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The “lost” verse of the “Star Spangled Banner” became an internet sensation in 2010 with an impromptu performance by a former Marine named Louis at a Tea Party rally in Douglasville, Ga. Louis’ rendition of the fourth verse was posted on You Tube and eventually generated more than 11 million views. (You might even catch a glimpse of the author of this article who was in attendance that day standing by the blue tent).

These patriotic songs take their cue from the father of the country himself, George Washington. In his inaugural address in 1789, Washington gave credit for American independence to God, saying, “No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States.” Washington also warned future generations, “the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Regardless of your views on church and state separation, when you sing patriotic songs this Independence Day you will be praising God. That follows the tradition that goes back to the earliest days of our Republic.

AHCA May Be Best Chance to Replace Obamacare In Our Lifetime

The House of Representatives finally passed a bill to gut Obamacare and many conservatives are upset. Admittedly the bill is not full repeal. It is far from perfect. If I was going to write a health care reform plan, the American Health Care Act would not be it. Still, I’m very glad that the House passed the bill and I fervently hope that the Senate moves the legislation forward. Why? Because it is the only health care reform that has any chance of passing.

Many myths have grown up around Obamacare and the Republican repeal and replace effort. Over time, we have forgotten that Obamacare was not passed by a budget reconciliation. “HR 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” was passed on Christmas Eve 2009 after a cloture vote by 60 Democrats ended a Republican filibuster. It was a traditional bill that requires a traditional bill to repeal.

So, what was the controversy about the budget reconciliation? After Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was elected to the Senate, the Democrats could no longer break Republican filibusters. If the Democrat-controlled House amended the ACA, it would be subject to another cloture vote, which the Democrats would lose. The answer was to have the House pass the bill unchanged and use the budget reconciliation process to pass a second bill, “HR 4872, The Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act,” by a simple majority vote. This bill was subject to the same limitations that the GOP now faces in passing their own budget reconciliation.

Even though Republicans hold the presidency and control both houses of Congress, they were not granted a blank check by voters. A full repeal would require 60 votes for cloture in the Senate and there are only 52 Republicans. The mathematical problem is obvious.

But what about the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama, you may ask. Republicans didn’t have 60 votes in 2015 either, but they passed a repeal bill then. Why can’t they do it now?

The answer is that the 2015 repeal bill was not a full repeal either. The 2015 bill, was also a reconciliation bill that carried the unwieldy title, “HR 3762 To Provide for Reconciliation Pursuant to Section 2002 of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2016.” The text of the bill states in Section 102 that the ACA “is amended,” not repealed.

If the 2015 bill was better that the AHCA of 2017, it is for two reasons. First, there were 54 Republicans in the 114th Congress where there are only 52 now. The GOP could afford to lose more votes in the Senate in 2015 that it can today.

Second, four Republican senators who voted for the 2015 bill now say that they won’t vote for a bill that does not provide for a phase out of the Medicaid expansion. Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio,) Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) refuse to back the same bill that they voted for two years ago. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted against the 2015 bill and would presumably do so again. Other Republicans are reluctant to repeal the popular provision concerning pre-existing conditions. It is these five senators and House moderates, not the Republican leadership or President Trump that are forcing a more watered-down version of the bill.

Some conservatives suggest that Republicans should get rid of the filibuster to pass a repeal. We wouldn’t need 60 votes then and the Democrats will probably kill it anyway the next time they have a majority, they argue.

The problem with this strategy is that full repeal could not even win a simple majority vote. The five Republican defectors in the Congress and the Tuesday Group of 50 Republican moderates in the House would kill it.

Removing the filibuster would also mean that Democrats would only need simple majorities to replace Republican health care reform with a national single-payer system the next time they control both houses of Congress and the presidency. It would also usher in a host of other bad ideas from gun control to a higher minimum wage to higher taxes to onerous regulations on practically everything. It is true that Democrats might one day choose to remove the filibuster, but it is certain that if Republicans remove it now, for no strategic reason, Democrats will have a field day when they return to power.

What, then, are the options for Republicans on Obamacare? One option is to wait and hope for a filibuster-proof majority. If you favor this option, be aware that the last time that Republicans had a 60-vote majority was the 61st Congress from 1909 to 1911. It is extremely likely that before the Republicans get a supermajority, Obamacare will implode, health insurance premiums will skyrocket, insurance companies will cancel policies and hell will freeze over. I have little doubt that if Republicans hold out for the perfect, full repeal bill that I will die of old age with Obamacare still intact. (I’m only 45.)

Waiting until 2018 might give the Republicans a few more votes to craft a better compromise. It is also possible that two years into the Trump Administration, voters might deliver a rebuke to Republicans in the form of Democrat majority in either the House or Senate that makes any sort of conservative impossible. In any event, it is doubtful that the numbers would change enough in the GOP’s favor to justify putting off a cornerstone promise of the campaign for two years. The longer Republicans wait to take action, the more entrenched Obamacare will become.

A better option is to take baby steps toward the full repeal of Obamacare starting now with the AHCA. The current bill has the support of moderates as well as the Freedom Caucus and has decent chance of becoming law. While far from ideal, it is a reasonable bill that can hopefully be improved further in its journey through the Senate. Even if it became law in its current form it would mark a vast improvement over Obamacare.

The Republican reform bill should not be viewed as a final step, but as a first step toward total repeal. Without a supermajority, it may take years of nibbling at the edges of Obamacare to fully repeal the behemoth, but conservatives have to start somewhere. The logical place to start is the bill that has the support of the two disparate factions of the GOP. The only bill that has a chance of becoming law.

Conservatives must decide whether it is worth trading a chance to gut Obamacare now to wait for a perfect bill in the distant future. The answer should be obvious. We should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of good and the possible.

Seize the day and start saving American healthcare!

 

 

 

How Obamacare Was Passed – And Why It Can’t Be Repealed By Reconciliation

 

A common question since President Trump took office is why Republicans can’t simply repeal the entire Affordable Care Act with a budget reconciliation. The Democrats passed it that way, the argument goes, so why should Republicans have to worry about filibusters, cloture votes and the arcane rules of the Senate when they try to repeal Obamacare?

The most obvious reason is that with the four Republican Senators who are holding out to preserve the Medicaid expansion, Republicans don’t even have a simple majority that would vote for a clean repeal. The Medicaid Four, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, vowed to oppose any repeal and replace bill that did not allow a phase out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

A more technical reason is that Obamacare was not passed with a budget reconciliation. Not exactly anyway.

At the beginning of the 111th Congress in 2009, Democrats held 58 seats in the Senate. The wave election of 2008 had given them a majority that was just short of filibuster proof. Then the Democrats got two lucky – or at least underhanded – breaks. First, in what is often considered to be a stolen election, Al Franken unseated Republican Norm Coleman in a hotly contested recount. Second, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) switched his party affiliation to Democrat in April 2009. Suddenly, the Democrats had the 60 votes necessary to stop a Republican filibuster in its tracks.

Specter’s defection set the stage for the Senate to pass the Affordable Care Act. On December 23, 2009, the Senate voted to end debate on the bill. The next day, Christmas Eve, the Senate passed the bill in a strict party line vote with every Republican voting “no.” The bill then went to the House of Representatives.

The next month, the Democrats faced a setback when Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) died suddenly. In a special election widely interpreted to be a referendum on the health care bill, Scott Brown defeated the heavily favored Democrat candidate and broke the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority.

What saved the Democrats was the fact that the House and Senate had negotiated most of their differences prior to the introduction of the bill into the Senate. To win over the final few House Democrats, the Democrat leadership urged them to pass the Senate bill with no changes and then pass a second bill via the reconciliation process. If the Senate bill was passed without changes, it would avoid going to conference and being subjected to a second Republican filibuster attempt before a final vote. The reconciliation bill, although its content would be restricted to tax, spending and debt limit legislation by Senate rules, would also not be subject to a filibuster.

After President Obama signed an Executive Order that purported to ensure that federal funds would not be used for abortion, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and the last few Democrat holdouts signed onto the bill. The promise not to fund abortion was broken almost immediately.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by the House without amendment on March 21, 2010 and went directly to the president’s desk. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 was passed by both Houses of Congress on March 25, 2010. President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23 and the Health Care Reconciliation Act on March 30.

The bottom line is that Obamacare passed with two bills. One was a reconciliation bill and one was not. The largest part of Obamacare legislation was passed in a normal bill that Republicans did not have the numbers to filibuster. The Republicans cannot pass a clean repeal because they do not have the votes to stop the Democrat filibuster that would be certain to come.

But what about the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama? How could this bill repeal the entirety of Obamacare and get past the Democrat filibuster to the president’s desk if it was limited to the Senate rules on budget reconciliations?

The answer is that the bill, HR 3762, which was assigned the unwieldy name “To provide for reconciliation pursuant to section 2002 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2016,” was not a clean repeal of Obamacare any more than the AHCA was. The 2015 bill, like the AHCA, begins with the statement that the Affordable Care Act is amended, not repealed.

A House Republican fact page about HR 3762 also doesn’t make the claim that the bill would have repealed Obamacare in full. The bill summary on the page says, “HR 3762 repeals the health exchange subsidies and the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), repeals the ‘Obamacare slush fund,’ eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood, repeals the individual and employer mandate penalties, and repeals the medical device and ‘Cadillac’ tax, among other provisions.” If you doubt this, you can read the text of the bill for yourself here.

HR 3762 might have been a better bill than the AHCA, but the Republican position in Congress was also better in 2015. Republicans held 54 Senate seats and 246 House seats in the 115th Congress. In the squeaker election of 2016, President Trump’s short coattails reduced those numbers to 52 Senate seats and 241 House seats. There is still a GOP majority in both houses, but a slimmer one with less margin for defections on votes.

HR 3762 passed the Senate by a 52-47 vote. Two Republicans voted against the measure, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine. Mark Kirk lost his reelection bid in 2016, but Susan Collins remains in the Senate as a prospective “no” vote on the AHCA.

The Medicaid Four were all in the Senate in 2015 and all voted for HR 3762. These four Senators switched their positions on the Medicaid expansion and made it necessary to present a weaker bill to Congress. It is ultimately these four Senators, along with Susan Collins, who should be held responsible for the failure of the GOP to repeal Obamacare because, without their votes, not even a reconciliation bill can pass, let alone a cloture vote on a clean repeal bill.

The failure of the Republicans to pass a clean repeal bill is not due to a lack of will on most members of the party. It is due to math. Democrats used the extremely rare and temporary 60 vote majority to force Obamacare through Congress with no Republican support. The current Republican position is much weaker than that of the Democrats in 2010.

If it is the fault of “RINOs” in Congress, it must be noted that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is not the RINO to blame. Ryan and other Republican leaders worked to provide the strongest bill possible given the electoral realities of their caucus.

The blame lies with a handful of Republican Senators who are holding up the drive for a strong bill to replace Obamacare. Their names are Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Col.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelly Moore Capito (W. V.) and Susan Collins (Maine).

Trump’s Respect for Andrew Jackson Matters

When President Donald Trump visited the grave of Andrew Jackson during a recent trip to Tennessee, some commentators recoiled at the thought that Trump, a populist who clearly believes in a strong, forceful chief executive, would find in Jackson an historical figure with which he could identify. The nation’s 7th president was a colorful, deeply flawed individual, not unlike the 45th occupant of the highest office in the land. But instead of worrying over Trump’s decision to pay homage to Jackson, honest observers should at least see the basic merit of the action.

Just days before he took office, Trump quite bluntly said that he had no use for heroes. The remarks came during a press availability with foreign reporters. “Well, I don’t like heroes, I don’t like the concept of heroes, the concept of heroes is never great,” Trump said before talking about how you can respect certain people (he cited his father) who have done good things.

The moment was a revealing one, and Trump skeptics rightly pointed out that the remarks sounded like they came from someone who didn’t spend a lot of time pondering history, the past, or weighing his actions in the context of what others in his position might do. It is possible the remarks were just another attempt by Trump to portray himself as a forward-looking, confident leader and did not represent any real philosophical outlook that denied the good in having heroes.

But one has to take the comments at face value. And on their face they revealed a leader who believes that he is capable of shaping history without holding it in overly high regard.

Fast forward to Trump’s actions at the Hermitage and his subsequent comment that “It was during the revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite. Does that sound familiar?” The Daily Beast reports that Trump’s love of Jackson is relatively newfound and strongly influenced by his close advisers. In fact, the public comparison of Trump to Jackson appears to have first come from Trump boosters, with The Atlantic publishing a piece on the parallels weeks after the presidential election. The magazine named several Trump allies who promoted the comparison even before the election.

Trump’s willingness to pay public respect to an historical figure, even one as deeply flawed as Jackson, is a sign that on at least some level he is aware of the immense duties of his office. Only 45 people have ever held the office of President of the United States. There is no rulebook for how the job is to be done, and the only academic program of study that can prepare one for the task is a vigorous look at how different predecessors handled the awesome responsibility. History is hardly a predictor of the future, but it is a reasonable guide that offers real lessons for what did and did not work in similar situations in the past.

A cursory study of Jackson will reveal the political popularity he achieved by holding the elites and special interests accountable. It will also reveal the long-term folly of his policy toward Native Americans. Both are lessons that Trump could apply to contemporary challenges, from how to deal with illegal immigration (forced deportation of all illegal aliens likely won’t solve the problem) to how to rebuild the nation’s image abroad while expanding economic opportunity at home.

One must be careful to not assume that Trump’s homage to Old Hickory involves respect for the many flaws of the backwoods president. Michael Gerson, speechwriter to President George W. Bush, rightly summarized Jackson’s many shortcomings in a recent column criticizing Trump’s display of public respect for his distant predecessor. But Gerson also failed to recognize that it is possible to respect the positive qualities of complex historical characters while learning from their deepest and most tragic mistakes.

We should never be ashamed to judge a previous generation’s actions as wrong when they violate basic standards of morality, but we should never be so arrogant as to assume that we cannot learn something from those who have gone before. If Trump chooses to study Jackson and learn from his predecessor, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Time will tell what lessons were learned, but for now, the humility in recognizing that there are some lessons to learn is a commendable thing.