Ted Cruz Moves To End FCC Stifling Of Net Neutrality

Arguing that “a five-member panel at the FCC should not be dictating how Internet services will be provided to millions of Americans,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday announced his plan to introduce a new bill that would revoke the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to tinker with broadband speeds under an obscure provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“I will be introducing legislation that would remove the claimed authority for the FCC to take such actions, specifically the Commission’s nebulous Sec. 706 authority,” said Cruz.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act affords the FCC, in conjunction with State utility service commissions, to take swift action against broadband providers if the FCC determines in its annual report to Congress that they are not, “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” providing convenient, consistent and affordable internet access to customers.

It’s a vague provision that, given the FCC’s proclivity to interpret its administrative powers broadly, gives the agency enormous enforcement power that borders on lawmaking. It was written nearly 20 years ago, when Congress was far more concerned with other networked infrastructure based on cable television and telephone services.

Writing for the Federalist Society in 2012, Howard Waltzman described the contemporary problems posed by the FCC’s reliance on Section 706 to force its square-peg regulatory agenda into a round hole:

Section 706 of the ’96 Act was a somewhat obscure, but now highly debated, provision of the law. Section 706(a) provides that the Commission and State Public Utility Commissions must “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” Section 706(b) requires the Commission to conduct regular inquiries into “the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.” If the Commission determines that such capability is not being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the Commission is required to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

… But, if nothing else, the complexity and fluidity of the Internet market demonstrates that Section 706 is an unsustainable framework for this rapidly changing market. Congress needs to provide clearer guidance to the Commission beyond simply prodding the agency to incentivize infrastructure investment. Rather than simply telling the Commission that there needs to be more broadband network deployment, Congress should establish a clear framework regarding the Commission’s authority (or lack thereof) over broadband services and infrastructure; the relationship between broadband network providers and applications providers; and what, if any, rules apply to the transmission of applications over the Internet. Twenty-first century technology and services warrant a twenty -first century framework.

That was in 2012. Cruz’ new proposal, on the heels of a fresh eruption of the FCC’s role in the net neutrality debate, would mark the first step in doing exactly what Waltzman recommends: putting Congress, and not a Federal agency chaired by a Presidential appointee, in charge of establishing a framework for the way a Nationwide Internet infrastructure will serve Americans.

Cruz isn’t a maverick on the net neutrality issue, either: Congressional action of one kind or another has bipartisan support. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week that the FCC should not be in the business of turning Internet access into a shop-your-speed bandwith store that favors wealthy content pushers.

“I believe [Obama] pledged to appoint FCC commission that would honor net neutrality and keep net neutrality as law,” Franken told Time magazine in an interview recapping his letter to the FCC. “[But] The latest proposed rules by Wheeler — what he’s really talking about is creating a fast lane where people can pay to have their content treated unequally. That’s not net neutrality. That’s pay for play. That’s antithetical to net neutrality.”

Cruz’ statement on his new bill takes direct aim at that concern.

“More than $1 trillion has already been invested in broadband infrastructure, which has led to an explosion of new content, applications, and Internet accessibility,” said Cruz.

“Congress, not an unelected commission, should take the lead on modernizing our telecommunications laws. The FCC should not endanger future investments by stifling growth in the online sector, which remains a much-needed bright spot in our struggling economy.”

Rand Paul Vows To Block Obama’s Judicial Nominee Until DOJ Comes Clean On Targeting Killings

On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted President Obama’s nomination of a controversial former member of the legal team that green-lit the drone killing of two radicalized Islamist U.S. Citizens in 2010, penning a lengthy column for Breitbart pledging to block the judicial appointing process in Congress until the nominee, Judge David Barron, had squared his position on the assassination of Americans without due process.

“President Obama’s nomination of Judge David Barron to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is troubling because it relates directly, again, to the issue of whether this Administration believes we have a Fifth Amendment,” wrote Paul, referencing his now-famous 2013 filibuster, which compelled the Obama Administration to relent – albeit snarkily – via a terse memo from Attorney General Eric Holder.

But Barron’s nomination carries baggage, since the U.S. Department of Justice is withholding advisory documents Barron authored pertaining to the 2010 drone assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan – both U.S. citizens. Without knowing Barron’s views on the Constitutional issues in play in both cases, Paul argued, it would be irresponsible to support his elevation to the bench on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In 2010, Barron was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, a group that dispenses legal advice to executive branch agencies,” wrote Paul. “That year, Barron circulated a memo that authorized the extra-judicial killing of two American citizens, radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Islamic extremist Samir Khan. Both would be assassinated by a CIA drone the following year.”

I have no sympathy for al-Awlaki, Kahn, or others like them. But that does not mean the president or anyone else in government has the authority to kill an American citizen without due process where there isn’t an imminent threat.

…What is this Administration trying to hide?

On April 21, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ordered that the Department of Justice disclose a redacted version of the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum that authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. David Barron was one of the principal writers of this memorandum. He has spoken openly about his role in crafting the Administration’s legal position that it can kill Americans abroad without due process.

It would be irresponsible for the Senate to move forward on this nomination until the Department of Justice has complied with the court order to disclose this document, which will highlight Barron’s views on international law, the Fifth Amendment and its guarantee of due process, and the civil liberties of our nation’s citizens.

“The right to due process is not some negotiable aspect of our Constitution, subject to the whim of whoever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office,” Paul concluded. “Such legal protections are quintessential to our most basic freedoms, dating all the way back to the Magna Carta. Our constitutional rights are not negotiable… Until that memo is made public, I will do everything in my power to stop David Barron’s nomination to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Read Paul’s full piece here.

Reid’s Sudden Zeal For Campaign Finance Amendment Just More Koch Brothers Rhetoric

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Wednesday his intention to hold repeated floor votes, if necessary, on a piece of legislation he’s aiming straight at the Koch brothers, Reid’s favorite conservative-libertarian punching bag in the 2014 election cycle.

And this is no ordinary footnote of a bill; it’s a proposal to amend the Constitution.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would authorize Congress to regulate fundraising and spending for Federal campaigns, authorize States to do the same for State elections, and, as Udall puts it, “not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges.” The text of the bill is here.

“It’s been tried before, we should continue to push this and it should become our issue. That really puts the Koch brothers up against it. We believe and I believe that there should be spending limits. We’re going to push a constitutional amendment so we can limit spending because what is going on today is awful,” Reid told BuzzFeed Politics.

“We’re going to arrange a vote on it. We’re going to do it until we pass it because that’s the salvation of our country.”

Of course, this bill has no chance of amending the Constitution, or Harry Reid wouldn’t be ready to stage a floor show themed around a phony battle against evil Republicans intent on frustrating its chances. This is the kind of bill that makes for great Sunday news show fodder once it’s failed: “If you’ll remember, back in 2014 my Democratic colleagues and I fought in the Senate to bring about a Constitutional amendment that would level the playing field for candidates and make elections focus on the American people instead of big corporate donors. But my friends in the Republican Party would not cross the aisle on that important vote to clean up our elections laws, because they’re too vested in the old big-money system.”

The hypocrisy of that move won’t be lost on anyone familiar with opensecrets.org, which currently lists the Democratic Party’s haul for the 2014 midterms at nearly $100 million more than what the Republicans have raised.

The page devoted to Reid, who plans to run again in 2016, is pretty interesting, too. “Large individual contributions,” which channel most corporate money to a campaign by passing it through the hands of a person to keep things legal, represent $13,633,682 of Reid’s support from 2009-2014. Another $4,743,764 came from PACs, which can receive corporate money as well. Reid himself thought enough of his candidacy to throw $99,750 of his own money behind it. “Small individual contributions” — donations of less than $200 from living, breathing people — came in at $2,091,999.

At least Reid is being remarkably transparent about one thing: his motives for getting hung up on a Constitutional amendment right here at the start of summer 2014.

“The Koch Brothers, I’m not walking away from them,” he told BuzzFeed. “I’m going to be on their tail for the whole campaign because if they think [Mitt] Romney was watched closely by me, that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to be like with the Koch Brothers.”

New Mexico County Defies Feds In Another Ranching Dispute

The governing body of a rural county in southern New Mexico threw down the gauntlet against the Feds this week in another land use dispute, voting to defy the U.S. Forest Service by granting local ranchers access to a watering hole for cattle that the Forest Service had gated and declared off limits.

In a 2-0 vote, the Otero County commission agreed to authorize the county sheriff to open the disputed gate, clearing the way for approximately 200 cattle to venture into a 23-acre area the Forest Service had, for years, quarantined to protect a natural spring and the meadow jumping mouse, which inhabits the area.

“We are reacting to the infringement of the U.S. Forest Service on the water rights of our land-allotment owners,” Otero County Commissioner Tommie Herrell told the Reuters news service. “People have been grazing there since 1956.”

“The winds are blowing, we’re in a drought. Sacramento Mountains are dry. So whatever water source these animals can find, they have to be able to get to it,” fellow commissioner Susan Flores told KVIA news earlier this month.

A Forest Service supervisor told KVIA that both parties in the dispute had remained civil in their disagreement so far, assuaging present concerns that the land-rights battle will take on the acrimonious tenor of the Nevada dispute involving Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.

“We all recognize that there are different ideas and value systems at play here,” Travis Moseley said, “and I respect that.”

Pressure From Democratic Senator Contributed To Washington-Led IRS Discrimination Against Conservatives

Judicial Watch, the organization that has done more than anyone except House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to untangle the skein of corruption in the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory targeting of conservative groups, released on Wednesday another round of revelations gleaned from IRS emails it obtained via a FOIA request.

The government transparency organization disclosed today that, contrary to Obama Administration talking points in the weeks immediately following the scandal, the marching orders for the agency’s discriminatory targeting came from Washington, D.C., and not from a rogue batch of employees in the IRS field office in Cincinnati.

That confirms what former Cincinnati employee Cindy Thomas reportedly told her superiors last May, accusing former exempt organizations division director Lois Lerner (now under a Congressional contempt charge) of throwing the Cincinnati office under “a convoy of Mack trucks.”

“Cincinnati wasn’t publicly ‘thrown under the bus’ [but] instead was hit by a convoy of Mack trucks,” Thomas wrote to Lerner on May 10 of last year – the same day Lerner was apologizing for the scandal and blaming it on the Cincinnati office. “As you can imagine, [Cincinnati] employees and managers furious. Was it also communicated at that conference in Washington that the low-level workers in Cincinnati asked the Washington office for assistance and the Washington office took no action to provide guidance to the low-level workers?”

The other revelation from today’s Judicial Watch release is the apparent involvement of a career Democratic Senator, Carl Levin of Michigan, in fomenting IRS discrimination against conservative nonprofits organizations during President Obama’s reelection campaign.

“The documents also show extensive pressure on the IRS by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to shut down conservative-leaning tax-exempt organizations,” Judicial Watch said in a press release. “The IRS’ emails by Lois Lerner detail her misleading explanations to investigators about the targeting of Tea Party organizations.”

Here’s more:

A series of letters between Senator Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, and top IRS officials throughout 2012 discuss how to target conservative groups the senator claimed were “engaged in political activities.” In response to a Levin March 30 letter citing the “urgency of the issue,” then-Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller assured the senator that IRS regulations were flexible enough to allow IRS agents to “prepare individualized questions and requests” for select 501(c)(4) organizations.

The newly released IRS documents contain several letters and emails revealing an intense effort by Levin and IRS officials to determine what, if any, existing IRS policies could be used to revoke the nonprofit exemptions of active conservative groups and deny exemptions to new applicants. In a July 30, 2012, letter, Levin singles out 12 groups he wants investigated for “political activity.” Of the groups – which include the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, and the Susan B. Anthony List – only one, Priorities USA, is notably left-leaning.

And then there’s much more, including a synopsis of emails Levin sent the agency with increasing urgency ahead of the 2012 Presidential election “intensifying his [Levin’s] campaign against predominantly conservative nonprofit groups.”

“These new documents show that officials in the IRS headquarters were responsible for the illegal delays of Tea Party applications,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in today’s statement. “It is disturbing to see Lois Lerner mislead [sic]the IRS’ internal investigators about her office’s Tea Party targeting. These documents also confirm the unprecedented pressure from congressional Democrats to go after President Obama’s political opponents. The IRS scandal has now ensnared Congress.”

South Carolina Republicans Censure Lindsey Graham Only One Month Before Primary Election

The best that Republican challengers hoping to unseat incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) can hope for in next month’s South Carolina primary election is that somebody will force him into a runoff. Repeated polling ahead of the June 10 primary shows that Graham will finish first, but it’s an open question whether he’ll end up with the clear 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher.

But there’s a lot of antipathy toward Graham among South Carolina conservatives; and, in the home stretch ahead of the primary, it appears to be growing. On Monday, the Charleston County Republican Party became the ninth local party in the State during the current election cycle to formally censure Graham by an executive committee vote.

The 39-32 vote may have been close, but, as Ben Swann observed Tuesday, Charleston County is supposed to be an electoral haven for Graham.

“The Charleston County Party is located in the ‘low country’ which is considered a Graham stronghold,” wrote Joshua Cook. “The fact that Graham was censured by executive committeemen who represents voters in their precincts shows how weak and vulnerable Graham really is.”

The resolution itself lists 30 separate grievances against Graham’s Senate voting record, as well as for siding with Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama on a range of issues. His body of work in the Senate is “fundamentally inconsistent with the South Carolina Republican Party Platform,” according to the censure resolution.

Here’s a sampling:

[Senator Graham:]

  • Voted to Confirm Obama’s appointment to Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection: In July of 2013, Senator Graham voted with the Democrats to confirm Richard Cordray, a noted leftist promoter of aggressive economic regulation, as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while Senator Scott voted in opposition.
  • Supported arming Al Qaeda / Muslim Brotherhood Revolutionaries in Syria: In June of 2013, Senator Graham called for supplying American arms to known affiliates of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and assistance in the form of a “no-fly zone” and bombing of Syrian airfields.
  • Supported amnesty but not border control: In June of 2013, on the issue of an immigration bill that provides effective amnesty to illegal aliens without taking action to close the border first, Senator Graham joined the Democrats in invoking cloture and supporting the bill while Senator Scott voted in opposition.
  • Supported NSA spying on private American citizens: In June of 2013, Senator Graham displayed a cavalier attitude, as he has done repeatedly, toward Americans’ right to privacy by stating “It does not bother me one bit for the National Security Administration to have my phone number…”
  • Supported abridging the First Amendment for those who criticize the government: In June of 2013 Graham displayed a similar cavalier attitude about restricting freedom of speech: “Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves,” he said. “Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times.”
  • Supported massive new Internet sales tax: In May of 2013, Graham joined Democrats in voting to pass a massive new Internet sales tax with burdensome reporting requirements. Senator Scott and most Republicans opposed the bill.
  • Supported restrictions on the Second Amendment: In April of 2013, when he had the opportunity to join fellow Republicans in support of a filibuster against unconstitutional limitations on the right to keep and bear arms, Senator Graham voted to invoke closure against those Republicans opposed to the bill.
  • Supported Obama’s drone program against American citizens: In March of 2013, when Republican Senator Rand Paul bravely stood up to the White House to seek reassurances that drone strikes would not be used on American soil in contravention of the Constitution, Senator Graham stated that he was “disappointed in Senator Paul and that his positions were ‘not a Republican view.’”
  • Supported subordinating American sovereignty to the United Nations: In November of 2012, and in prior years, while Senator DeMint was strongly opposing the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would unconstitutionally cede American sovereignty rights to the United Nations, Senator Graham sided with Democrats and failed to support Senator DeMint.
  • Supported giving foreign aid to terrorist governments in the Middle East: In October of 2012, when Republican Senator Rand Paul began running advertisements attacking Democrats for voting to continue foreign aid to Middle-East countries who are actively anti-American, Senator Graham defended the Democrats.

And those are just the first 10. Keep reading and you’ll find support for Obama nominees to the Supreme Court, voting with Democrats to keep George W. Bush-era tax cuts from becoming permanent, coming down in favor of “cap and trade” environmental policy and even nationalizing the banking system.

States With Democratic Governors Raise Taxes; Those With Republicans Lower Them

If the Republican Party is working for the people who vote their candidates into office anywhere at all, it appears to be happening in the States, where the election of GOP Governors and lawmakers tends to correlate to results that reflect the party’s platform more closely than at the Federal and executive levels.

Take a newly released survey of recent taxation trends in all 50 States. In broad terms, those States that have had Republican Governors in office since 2011 have seen a net decrease in State taxes of $36 billion. Over the same time period, States with Democratic Governors have seen a net State-level tax increase of $58 billion.

The report, released last week by Americans for Tax Reform, notes that the comparison represents a general trend rather than a one-to-one correlation between political affiliation and States’ fiscal policies. Yet the trend is there, led by Democratic Governors Pat Quinn of Illinois ($12 billion in higher taxes) and Martin O’Malley of Maryland ($3 billion since 2011; $11 billion since 2008).

“It should be noted that many, but not all, Democrat governors have raised taxes,” the report summary states. “In fact, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) recently went against the Democratic governor grain by signing a corporate tax cut into law this year.

“However, in general, Democrat governors have been increasing taxes in their states, while Republican governors have been moving in the opposite direction. With some of the politicians on this list considering a White House run, this is a compilation worth saving.”

View Americans for Tax Reform’s item-by-item review of each of the tax increase initiatives led by Democratic Governors here. It’s worth mentioning that California voters have approved about $18 billion in increased tax initiatives under Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. Subtract that amount from the national total, and the tax increases under Democratic Governors still total $40 billion.

The Obama Recovery: U.S. Economy May Have Shrunk In First Quarter Of 2014

It will be May 29 before the U.S. Department of Commerce updates its estimate of how the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) performed during the first fiscal quarter of 2014, but it’s looking more and more likely that the worth of what the U.S. is producing has declined for the first time since the middle of 2009.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that fresh data from the Commerce Department on retail sales and business inventories, the latter of which grew slugglishly in March. That information, combined with an earlier Commerce GDP report of anemic 1st-quarter growth, set off a series of negative estimates from five major fund management firms, all of which anticipate an imminent announcement that the economy has, in fact, contracted.

“A couple weeks ago, the Commerce Department said U.S. economic output expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.1% in the first three months of the year. A near-stall for the economy, for sure, but at least it wasn’t worse,” WSJ observed, before offering this:

Based on more up-to-date figures, including the March trade data released last week, private forecasters now expect gross domestic product contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years.

The latest evidence came Tuesday, when the Commerce Department released reports on retail sales and business inventories. Retail sales in February and March were revised up, but business inventories grew less in March than the agency had assumed in its GDP calculations.

Incorporating the new data, J.P. Morgan Chase on Tuesday estimated GDP contracted at a 0.8% rate in the first quarter. Macroeconomic Advisers put the contraction at 0.7%. Barclays Capital predicted a 0.6% decline. Pierpont Securities estimated output fell at a 0.4% rate. Action Economics estimated a 0.2% decline.

Any of those estimates, if correct, will mark the first time the U.S. economy has contracted since President Obama’s first year in office.

The GDP shrank by 2.8 percent in 2009, and has “recovered” marginally since, with annual growth margins of 2.5 percent (2010), 1.8 percent (2011), 2.8 percent (2012) and 1.9 percent (2013). Under President Clinton in the 1990s, the GDP routinely saw annual gains in excess of four percent, followed by a roller coaster ride for eight years under President Bush, whose best year came in 2004, when the GDP grew by 3.8 percent.

Minnesota Ends Law Enforcement’s Civil Forfeiture Money Grab

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a member of the State’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, signed into law last week a bill that ends the police practice of civil forfeiture — a private property confiscation ruse used by law enforcement that, although it denies citizens their due process, nonetheless remains legal in many States.

Under established civil forfeiture laws, a person can lose his money and/or his property — most often a vehicle or real estate — if he can’t prove in civil court that his belongings have not been used in the commission of a drug crime or that custody of his belongings has not, at some time in the past, passed through the hands of a person accused of a drug crime. Under the former civil forfeiture law, a person does not have to be accused of a crime in order for the State to claim his property. Worse, a person can be acquitted of a drug crime in criminal court — yet still lose his belongings to the State under civil forfeiture provisions.

The new law changes all that in Minnesota, removing the burden of proof from citizens accused, but not convicted, of a crime and instead placing it back on the State. The law also affirms the right to due process of the accused, by requiring either a criminal conviction or a guilty plea before the State can enrich itself by divesting a citizen of his belongings.

“Previously,” Forbes’ Nick Sibilla explained last week, “if owners wanted to get their property back, they had to prove their property was not the instrument or proceeds of the charged drug crime. In other words, owners had to prove a negative in civil court. Being acquitted of the drug charge in criminal court did not matter to the forfeiture case in civil court.”

In Minnesota, as elsewhere, an accused person’s resistance to having his property seized by the police is predictably low, thanks to a perverse conflation of civil and criminal law, as well as simple demographics.

“Most of the victims of asset forfeiture are poor and politically weak, and cannot easily fight a prolonged legal battle to get back their possessions,” The Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog noted Saturday. “In many cases, state law gives owners have [sic] so little effective opportunity to challenge the confiscation of their property that the seizures end up violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from taking away property rights without ‘due process of law.’”

Although the new Minnesota law provides a much-needed check on law enforcement’s self-enriching confiscation routine and relieves citizen bystanders caught in the crossfire of the politically charged drug war, the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin — a George Mason law professor who’s done his share of civil liberties litigation — questions the very existence of asset forfeiture in law enforcement:

The Minnesota reform is a good step in the right direction that other states should copy. But it might be even better to simply ban asset forfeiture completely. Even if a defendant has been convicted of a crime, the appropriate remedy is to punish him for it and — if possible — force him to pay compensation to the victims. But there is no reason to allow the state to enrich itself by seizing property that happened to be somehow used in the commission of the offense, even if it was not illegally obtained and is not needed for victim compensation. If a thief uses his legitimately acquired car to flee the scene of a crime, we should certainly punish him for the theft and force him to compensate the victim for their loss. But that’s no reason to let the police seize the car and sell it for their own profit.

Most Obamacare Enrollees Already Had Coverage

Even as some Democrats and their apologists declare victory in the war of words over Obamacare, reports continue to emerge that reveal the law’s shortcomings.

A new survey by the McKinsey consulting company has found that only 26 percent of people who enrolled in a healthcare plan under the Affordable Care Act were without some form of insurance prior to their enrollment — a finding that lends perspective to the White House’s glowing self-assessment of the impact the President’s healthcare law.

McKinsey’s April survey, one in a series of periodic surveys assessing the progress of Obamacare, reflects a more-of-the-same pattern for Obamacare enrollees, with the vast majority of those who bought insurance through an online exchange reporting that they had healthcare coverage prior to last year:

  • Enrollment continued to grow — at the time of our April survey, 90 percent of the respondents who indicated that they had previously had coverage, and 13 percent of those who were previously uninsured,2 reported that they had enrolled in a plan. Of all respondents who reported having selected a new ACA plan at the time of the April survey (either on or off the exchanges), 26 percent reported being previously uninsured. This percentage is similar to the one we found in our February survey (27 percent).
  • Eighty-seven percent of all respondents who reported having selected a new 2014 ACA indicated that they had already paid their first premium. Reported payment rates were higher among those previously insured and those aged 30 or older. A slightly lower percentage of respondents (80 percent) reported that they definitely intend to pay future 2014 premiums; that intention was lower among those previously uninsured than among those previously insured (71 percent vs. 83 percent).
  • A higher percentage of those previously uninsured reported having shopped for a plan in our April survey than in our February survey (61 percent vs. 44 percent); however, the conversion rate — the percentage who said they had purchased a plan after shopping for one — remained much lower among the previously uninsured than among the previously insured (for example, 21 percent vs. 84 percent in April, and 23 percent vs. 71 percent in February).
  • As in earlier surveys, perceived affordability was the reason most often given for not enrolling by both previously insured and previously uninsured respondents. About 90 percent of all those citing perceived affordability challenges were subsidy-eligible, and among these subsidy-eligible respondents, awareness of the subsidies has remained low.

The Administration of President Barack Obama has recently celebrated the relatively high percentage of enrollees who actually appear to have followed through by paying their first premium. Yet it ignores most of the asterisks that shape the real meaning of that lone statistic.

The McKinsey report does not, noting that most people who aren’t signing up cite the unaffordability of the policies available and pointing out the redundancy of the Administration’s boast that Obamacare has extended health coverage to a wide swath of Americans who were previously uninsured. It turns out that 74 percent of those “new” enrollees are new only to Obamacare — but not to being covered under a health insurance plan.

And, as ever, government’s enticement of free stuff has played a crucial role in persuading those without any kind of insurance to buy in to Obamacare: “Among previously uninsured, subsidy-eligible respondents, those who indicated that they were aware of the subsidies were almost three times as likely to have reported enrolling as those who were unaware,” McKinsey observes.

The political takeaway is that Democrats know Obamacare will hurt them in the midterms and that the most efficacious way to handle the albatross around their necks is to declare victory — citing Republicans’ relative quiet on the law, of late, as evidence.

A more pragmatic view of the situation would be for Democrats to recognize that Obamacare is such a massive liability for their candidates in 2014 that their Republican opponents can take it for granted as a virtual voter-referendum issue. Many GOP candidates are intensely focused on their own party primaries, where consensus on Obamacare is a given. At the same time, those who can afford to look past the primary season have begun opening new fronts to attack their Democratic opponents on other issues.

As November approaches, though, expect more than a few Republicans to take Obamacare out of their back pocket — where it’s been safely kept ever since the law thudded out the gate in October of last year.