Republicans Seek To Block Marijuana Law In Washington D.C.

Republicans, members of the party which claims to support small government, individual freedom, and states’ rights, once again shows that it doesn’t mean a word of this.  The Hill reports on one action planned by Republicans:

House Republicans next year will try to block Washington, D.C.’s, newly enacted law legalizing recreational marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris said he “absolutely” intends to launch a push to dismantle the new law when Congress returns with an empowered GOP majority in the 114th Congress.

While technically not a states’ rights issue, the same principle should apply to respecting a law to legalize recreational marijuana which a majority in Washington, D.C. voted for.

Presumably other top matters on the Republican agenda will include attempts to restrict access to abortion and contraception, and prevent same-sex marriage.

Of course this is as expected. When Republicans speak of supporting small government, it is of a government “small” enough to intervene in the private lives of the individual. When they speak of freedom, they will defend the freedom of businessmen to evade necessary regulations. Otherwise to Republicans, freedom means the freedom for conservatives to impose their views upon others. Republican support for states’ rights is limited to states which wish to enact laws to discriminate against minorities or restrict marriage equality.

Please Share

Republicans Beat Something With Nothing Other Than Negativity And Fear

Ronald Reagan couldn’t save the Senate for the Republicans in his 6th year. While the closeness of the polls left hope until the end, realistically the Democrats were not in a situation to defy history. There were two tends which the Democrats could not overcome. When people are unhappy, they look at the president regardless of who is actually to blame. Running a campaign based upon negativity was a winning formula for Republicans. Democrats were further hampered by the older and whiter electorate in midterm elections as once again large portions of the Democratic base stayed home for a midterm.

Republicans won by avoiding discussion of what they would do in power, beating something (Obama) with nothing. Americans who vote for Republicans to retake control of the Senate out of concern about current problems are as delusional as Russians who want the return of Stalinsim. It makes no sense to trust the party which created the economic downturn with fixing it, and Americans certainly do not want the Republican social or militarist agenda. The party which opposes most government action (other than imposing the agenda of the religious right, foolish military action, or rigging the system to transfer wealth to the ultra-wealthy) is hardly likely to propose real solutions to problems.  Polling on issues generally shows a majority favoring Democratic views but that does not help in elections where Republicans concentrate on distorting the views of their opponents and  hiding their own views.

That said, I am disappointed (as usual) in the Democrats as a political party. Yes, all the fundamentals were against them. So they took the cowardly way out, running away from not only Obama but from principles. If they ran a campaign based upon their accomplishments and the problems with GOP principles they very well still might have lost in this atmosphere, but at least their campaign would have meant something. Plus, considering how close the polls were, just maybe they could have won some more seats.

Of course that isn’t something that can be done in the last few months of a campaign. It requires a change in attitude and behavior of the party every year, acting as if it was a perpetual battle of ideas–as Republicans do even though they run on bad ideas. When Democrats run from their own record and fail to speak out on the issues, they leave themselves wide open to being defined by their opponents.

The Republicans were successful in hiding their most extreme views. They did receive some help from a friendly media in this regard as many of the most extreme statements from Republicans such as  Joni Ernst received too little attention. When Mitch McConnell tried to make his desire to repeal Obamacare more popular by claiming the people of Kentucky would still have their popular exchange, the media concentrated far more on the less important refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say whether she voted for Obama. When liberals spoke out on this, the media did begin to pay more attention to McConnell’s gaffe, showing there is benefit to serious discussion of the issues by liberals. If only Democratic candidates had the courage to do this too.

External events helped the Republicans. Widespread opposition to Congressional Republicans over the threat of a government shutdown of October 2013 was forgotten after the initial failed roll out of the exchanges, even if this was quickly fixed. Republicans gained further by promoting exaggerated fears of ISIS and Ebola.

The Republicans avoided saying what they would do while running, but now will be under closer scrutiny. Republicans decided upon a strategy of opposing everything Obama does, including if he promoted policies previously favored by Republicans, from before he took office. Now that they control Congress, this might no longer be their best strategy. Many Republicans will mistakenly see this election result as a mandate and try to move even further to the right. Some must be intelligent enough to realize that Republican victories with the midterm electorate will not translate into victories with the younger and minority voters who turn out in greater numbers for general elections. While it is hard to see the two parties work together on many of the big issues such as climate change, there might be some pragmatic legislation which both McConnell and Obama could agree on, considering Obama’s long-standing willingness to compromise with Republicans.

McConnell is attempting to portray a more moderate image, but even if this is his personal desire he still has to deal with the far right wing of his own party. He might even find that he cannot pass legislation without Democratic cross over support. It remains to be seen whether McConnell will pass legislation which doesn’t beg for a Democratic filibuster or presidential veto, especially if Tea Party Republicans push through amendments to legislation to attempt to repeal Obamacare or restrict access to contraception. The Tea Party wing is least likely to realize that this election does not signify agreement by American voters with their goals. An example of this was seen with the failure of Personhood measures even in red states. Republicans won midterm elections but their policies remain opposed by a majority of Americans.

Please Share

Is The Culture War Really Over?

Bill Scher has an article at Politico on How Republicans Lost The Culture War. While it might be premature to say they lost and the war is over, a subject I’ll get into later, he does have some good points as to what went wrong for the Republicans.

Scher makes three main points. First, Republicans stopped being savvy on abortion. Rather than taking the purist position which they actually favor, legislatively the Republicans had concentrated on more narrow victories. Although late term abortions are rare, they made a lot of noise about “partial-birth abortions.”

While Scher sees this as no longer being savvy, I think that the change in Republican tactics was inevitable. They were never satisfied with stopping the rare late term abortions and were bound to ultimately push for what they really want–a complete ban on abortions.

They might have been more open in pursuing this partially due to a misreading of the polls which show Americans to be more ambivalent on Row v. Wade. The problems is that many people in this country don’t really know what Roe v. Wade means, but that doesn’t stop them from saying yes or no to a pollster. However, when the real question is posed, Americans do not want to make abortion illegal, and a majority agrees that women should  have the right to first trimester abortions.  Americans do not want to ban abortions, and imprison either women or the doctors involved.

Misreading the polls might have been a problem for Republicans, and this was compounded by moderate Republicans being forced from the party. The far right wing ideologues who now dominate the GOP would push for their position regardless of how unpopular, just as they push for restrictions on birth control, the second item on Scher’s list–Republicans got weird about birth control. If Americans would not go for Republican opposition to legalized first trimester pregnancies, they certainly did not accept their opposition to forms of birth control which prevent implantation, along with wider attempts to reduce access to contraception.

Hysterical Republican cries of “baby killers” are even more absurd when applied to a fertilized egg which lacks a central nervous system and consciousness. The Republican position here makes no more sense scientifically than Republican attitudes which deny science regarding evolution and climate change.  This also helps debunk the false Republican frame of making the pertinent question be when life begins. Certainly a fertilized egg is alive, but it also is not deserving of rights which trump the rights of a woman to control her own body. The Republican attitude on contraception only acted to expose their fallacious views regarding abortion, not to mention destroy any false claims they might make for being the supporters of limited government and greater freedom. This seems especially absurd to thinking people as providing easier access to contraception is one obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

His final point is that Republicans bet wrong on gay marriage. Attitudes in this country certainly have changed rapidly. As James Joyner put it, “As we’ve become more educated, appeal to tradition and cries of “We’ve always done it this way!” are simply less persuasive. Ultimately, the arguments for excluding people from marrying others of the same sex were revealed to be provincial at best and simple bigotry at worst.”

However, while liberal Democratic voters might have supported legalization of same-sex marriage, many Democratic leaders were also behind the country on this one. Still, it is Republicans who made a major issue of trying to again intervene in the private lives of individuals, while Democratic leaders were at least ready to get out of the way as the country changed. While Republican have lost on this issue, Democrats also lost the opportunity to win respect by clearly standing for liberal principles before becoming politically safe.

While the country has been becoming more liberal on social issues, and I see this as a gradual process, not a sudden victory, this does not necessarily mean the culture wars are over. This country still consists of those of us who live in the modern world, and a sizable number who continue to reject science and reason and follow conservative ideas.

Fortunately such ideas are diminishing as fewer young support such conservative attitudes, but they are not disappearing entirely. Young people are far more likely to be influenced by the fake news of Jon Stewart than the fake news coming from Fox. Republicans now will have a hard time winning a presidential election if they do not change their views, but with a two party system we cannot exclude the possibility of another conservative Republican president. Democrats have a significant edge in the electoral college, but not a lock.

The presidency is only one branch of government. The Republicans still have the Supreme Court, although they have decided it best to stay out of the marriage issue now that conservatives are clearly on the wrong side of history. Republicans will continue to have an influence in Congress due to structural issues which keep it from being a truly representative democratic institution. Republicans have a tremendous edge in the Senate as the small states receive the same two Senators as the much more populous blue states. The framers of the Constitution never envisioned such a vast difference in population between the large and small states.

Part of the Republican edge in the House comes from gerrymandering, but even without gerrymandering the Republicans benefit from the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, unless districts are made to account for this. Republicans also benefit from a higher turn out by their voters in midterm elections, and they attempt to increase this edge with laws directed towards making it more difficult for minorities and young college students to vote. The right to vote itself might be the next big division between the parties as Republicans continue to pursue voter suppression as a tactic.

Republicans also dominate in a significant portion of the country, primarily but not limited to the deep south. The culture war is bound to continue there, with Republican candidates also seeking to promote their views elsewhere. As Eleanor Clift wrote, the Republican War on Women continues, just more quietly. We might not be hearing comments such as Tod Akin on women’s bodies shutting down in case of legitimate rape, but  have heard plenty of other outrageous statements this year.  Republicans might be trying to be more quiet on social issues, but they are failing, and this certainly isn’t coinciding with a change in their views.  It is also hard to say that the culture war is entirely over when Republicans have been successful in multiple state legislatures to make abortion more difficult, even if the most draconian Republican proposals have failed.

Please Share

Republicans Losing The Culture War, Helping Democratic Candidates

In past elections, Republicans have turned to social issues to get their supporters out to vote. This year some Democratic candidates are doing the reverse–using social issues in the hopes of getting more women to turn out to vote. The New York Times discussed this in an editorial:

The decision to go on the offensive is in part designed to incite the anger of women and draw support in the November elections, particularly that of single women, who tend to vote in small numbers in midterms. But it is also a reflection of the growing obsolescence of traditional Republican wedge issues in state after state. For a younger generation of voters, the old right-wing nostrums about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage” have lost their power, revealed as intrusions on human freedom. Democrats “did win the culture war,” Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, admitted to The New York Times recently.

That’s not necessarily true in the most conservative states. In Louisiana and Arkansas this year, two endangered Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, have not been as outspoken in attacking their opponents’ anti-abortion positions. But even there, Republicans have not campaigned against same-sex marriage.

One of the most telling signs of the cultural change is the number of Republicans who are bucking conservative activists and trying to soft-pedal or even retreat from their ideology. Mr. Gardner now says he opposes a similar bill on the ballot this year in Colorado. It apparently came as a surprise to him that the bill would effectively ban certain kinds of birth control, which he says is the reason for his switch. Several other Republican candidates are trumpeting their support for over-the-counter birth control pills, though they remain opposed to the insurance coverage of contraception required by the Affordable Care Act.

Of course it must be kept in mind that the Republicans who support making birth control pills available over-the-counter might not be doing this out of an increased sense of tolerance. As I recently discussed, making them over-the-counter could mean that they wouldn’t be covered by insurance, and wind up reducing access.

The editorial concludes, “The shift in public opinion might not be enough for Democrats to keep the Senate this year. But over time, it may help spell an end to the politics of cultural division.”

Yes, due to fundamentals involving this year’s election, the Republicans should do better than the Democrats. Polling does show that the Republicans have an excellent chance for taking control of the Senate this year unless Democrats manage to win in some of the races which are currently leaning Republican, but it could be a dead cat bounce for the Republicans. Voters are now far more likely to oppose Republican attempts to increase government intrusion in the private lives of individuals, and less likely to fall for phoney Republican claims of supporting smaller government and greater freedom. This should result in either the Republicans making major changes in their agenda or, more likely, significant Republican loses in 2016 when the fundamentals will again favor the Democrats.

In addition, as more voters support liberal attitudes on social issues, they are more likely to have a favorable view of other liberal ideas. If they already realize that the Republicans are selling a false line about limited government when it comes to social issues, they are more likely to be open to facts about how Republicans, rather than supporting economic freedom as they claim, are actually pursuing an agenda of using government to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. Once voters figure this out, there might be little support left for the authoritarian right.

Please Share

Response To Republican Support For Making Birth Control Pills Available Over The Counter

While Republicans have generally been trying to restrict access to contraception, recently some Republicans have been promoting making oral contraceptives available over the counter without prescription. Many people quickly saw through this. It gives the Republicans a way to claim they are removing a barrier to receiving contraception and avoid situations like the Lobby Hobby case. It also does something else–make contraception less accessible for many women. While the Affordable Car Act requires that contraception be covered without out-of-pocket expense to the woman, many insurance plans do not cover over the counter medications. This is also an incomplete response to the issue as there are many other types of birth control, including forms which many Republicans are attempting to restrict.

The Guttmacher Institute issues a statement regarding this topic (via Talking Points Memo):

Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over the Counter, But That’s No Substitute for Contraceptive Coverage

September 11, 2014

By Adam Sonfield and Sneha Barot, Guttmacher Institute

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC)—though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives—let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

The Policy Behind Over-The Counter Contraception
Making birth control pills available OTC has merit, and the Guttmacher Institute is part of a coalition that has been working toward this goal for years. Leading medical groups have also endorsed such a move, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By removing the need to obtain a prescription, OTC status would eliminate this potential barrier to contraceptive use and thereby increase access.

This is especially true for uninsured women and those who don’t have time for a doctor’s visit or otherwise can’t readily reach a health care provider. However, if the goal is to truly expand access to contraceptive care—and not just provide cover for undercutting insurance coverage for contraceptives—the case to move birth control pills to OTC status should proceed alongside several other important policies and goals:

Protect contraceptive coverage and full method choice: The ACA requires most private health plans to cover the full range of women’s contraceptive methods and services, without out-of-pocket costs for the patient. This policy eliminates cost as a barrier to women’s ability to choose the method that is best for them at any given point in their lives, an approach that has been proven to make a substantial difference in facilitating access to and use of contraceptive services.

Contrary to what some policymakers and commenters have claimed, giving the pill OTC status would not be an effective substitute for the ACA policy. First, it would do nothing to help women access any contraceptive method other than the pill. This matters, since most women use four or more different contraceptive methods over their lifetime to meet their changing needs. If only the pill were available OTC and contraceptives were no longer covered by insurance, women would face significant new barriers in choosing the method that best suited their needs. Cost is a particularly steep barrier for highly effective methods like the IUD or implant that not only have high upfront expenses, but also require a trained provider for insertion and therefore are not candidates for OTC status.

Even for the pill itself, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that moving it to OTC status would substantially lower out-of-pocket costs to patients, let alone come close to the $0 out-of-pocket cost guaranteed under the ACA policy. Rather, making the pill available OTC, if done at the expense of insurance coverage, would replace one barrier (ease of access) with another (cost). Likewise, greater reliance on Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, as some opponents of insurance coverage have proposed, would also merely replace full insurance coverage with patient out-of-pocket costs—leaving most privately insured women, particularly low-income women, worse off. Uninsured women on average pay $370 for a full year’s supply of the pill, the equivalent of 51 hours of work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Millions of women already benefit from the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee and these hard-won gains must be protected. Rather than substituting for contraceptive coverage of all methods and related services, OTC status for birth control pills should complement and enhance such coverage.

Strengthen coverage for over-the-counter methods: While the ACA’s preventive care provision specifically requires private health plans to cover certain products with over-the-counter status (including the emergency contraceptive Plan B, folic acid, aspirin to prevent heart disease and tobacco use cessation products), a prescription is needed for these items to be covered—essentially negating the benefits of OTC status. This prescription requirement should be eliminated for any current and future over-the counter contraceptives. Coverage of over-the-counter products without a prescription is already the norm in some state Medicaid programs and in the U.S. military’s Tricare insurance program. Further, ensuring full coverage for over-the-counter contraceptives would prevent “free-riding” by insurance companies that benefit from not having to cover pregnancies that were averted through patient out-of-pocket expenditures.

Ensure equal access for young women: Adolescents and young women, who face greater risk of unintended pregnancy and more barriers to accessing contraception than older women, have among the most to gain from a switch to OTC status. However, recent calls to give birth control pills OTC status as a substitute for contraceptive coverage have specifically excluded minors. That would require women 17 and younger to obtain a prescription, without providing any medical evidence to justify such restrictions. This approach would be harmful to adolescent women and would be counterproductive to helping them avoid unplanned pregnancies and the negative health, social and economic consequences that often follow.

In addition, excluding minors would likely not result in a true over-the-counter status, but instead could put contraceptive pills behind the counter, much as happened when the emergency contraceptive Plan B was first approved for OTC sales. To comply with an age restriction, stores would have to require proof of age via a valid picture ID from any woman who looks young enough to potentially be barred from purchasing birth control pills without a prescription. This would be an added hurdle for millions of women, and it ignores the reality that many young women do not have government-issued forms of photo ID.

Keep politics out of FDA decision making: To switch any drug to OTC status, the typical process involves the drug’s manufacturer submitting an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which—based on several criteria, including the safety and efficacy profile of the medication—decides whether to grant the request. The evidence is quite strong that providing birth control pills OTC would be safe and effective, including for minors. The FDA process should be driven by the evidence and free from political interference by the administration, Congress and others.

It is troubling but not at all surprising that Senator Ayotte and others who purport to be interested in contraceptive access would preempt the FDA with unfounded calls to bar minors from benefiting from any future OTC status for birth control pills. This echoes the longtime political and legal wrangling over minors’ access to OTC emergency contraceptive pills, despite clear evidence that minors could safely use these products without a prescription.

It is also noteworthy that there are dozens of brands and formulations of birth control pills, most of which would likely have to undergo the lengthy and expensive FDA process to gain OTC status separately. Because formulations of the pill are not medically interchangeable, with some women tolerating specific pills better than others, making one or several versions of the birth control pill available OTC would not benefit all current pill users.

Not A One-Size-Fits-All Policy Solution
Just as birth control methods are not “one size fits all” at any point in a woman’s life, let alone for all of her reproductive years, neither is there a one-size-fits-all policy solution to enhance access to the full range of methods, information and services for women of all ages and income levels, regardless of where they obtain their care. A wide range of approaches is necessary to meaningfully respond to women’s family planning needs in a comprehensive way.

One such approach includes making birth control pills available over-the-counter, if done so without additional costs or barriers to women. Doing so can complement and enhance current efforts to help more women become effective contraceptive users, including the ACA’s significant gains for comprehensive private and public insurance coverage for contraceptive counseling, services and supplies.

If anything, contraceptive coverage should be broadened to cover more women and strengthened to eliminate the prescription requirement for OTC methods that are covered. Other urgent priorities include expanded access to Medicaid, public support for safety-net family planning centers and the Title X national family planning program, comprehensive sex education and the development of new contraceptive technologies.

Truly increasing access to contraceptive care requires a multifaceted approach to meet the needs of all women throughout their reproductive lives. Political talking points will not do it.

This article was originally published on Health Affairs Blog at this link.

Click here for a recent statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supporting over-the-counter access to birth control pills as part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s health care as opposed to a political tool.

Please Share

Three Reasons Democrats Might Retain Control Of The Senate

Republicans have an excellent chance to gain control of the Senate this year due to a combination of Republican voters traditionally turning out in higher percentages in midterm elections and the need for Democrats to defend several seats in red states. Current projections from most sources give the Republicans a slight edge but there are a few reasons to believe that the Democrats might hold on to one or two more seats than projected, and retain control of the Senate:

1) The power of incumbency:

Democrats must hold onto seats in red states, but they are states that Democrats have won once before, even if in a presidential election year which was more favorable to Democrats. While they don’t have this advantage in 2014, having candidates running as incumbents might increase the chance of winning. Since 2000 Democratic Senate candidates have usually won reelection in the south, despite their states going heavily to the Republicans in presidential elections. Polls are showing that incumbent southern Democrats remain competitive.

2) Women voters:

Republican hostility towards reproductive rights and attempts to restrict access to contraception as well as abortion has many women voters angry, hopefully enough to turn out to vote. The Hobby Lobby decision might also motivate women.

With their Senate majority at stake in November, Democrats and allied groups are now stepping up an aggressive push to woo single women — young and old, highly educated and working class, never married, and divorced or widowed. This week they seized on the ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to buttress their arguments that Democrats better represent women’s interests.

But the challenge for Democrats is that many single women do not vote, especially in nonpresidential election years like this one. While voting declines across all groups in midterm contests for Congress and lower offices, the drop-off is steepest for minorities and unmarried women. The result is a turnout that is older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years…

Single women, Democrats say, will determine whether they keep Senate seats in states including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina — and with them, their Senate majority — and seize governorships in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among other states.

The party is using advanced data-gathering techniques to identify unmarried women, especially those who have voted in presidential elections but skipped midterms. By mail, online, phone and personal contact, Democrats and their allies are spreading the word about Republicans’ opposition in Washington — and state capitals like Raleigh — to pay equity, minimum wage and college-affordability legislation; abortion and contraception rights; Planned Parenthood; and education spending.

3) Black Southern Voters:

Black southern voters have long voted Democratic, but now might turn out in high enough numbers to influence the results. Republican efforts to prevent them from voting might backfire, motivating more blacks to turn out:

Southern black voters don’t usually play a decisive role in national elections. They were systematically disenfranchised for 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Since the days of Jim Crow, a fairly unified white Southern vote has often determined the outcome of elections.

This November could be different. Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so.

This year’s closest contests include North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states…

Democrats lamented low black turnout for decades, but Southern black turnout today rivals or occasionally exceeds that of white voters. That’s in part because black voters, for the first time, have largely been eligible to vote since they turned 18. They have therefore had as many opportunities as their white counterparts to be targeted by campaigns, mobilized by interest groups or motivated by political causes.

Mr. Obama is part of the reason for higher black turnout, which surpassed white turnout nationally in the 2012 presidential election, according to the census. But black turnout had been increasing steadily, even before Mr. Obama sought the presidency. In 1998, unexpectedly high black turnout allowed Democrats to win a handful of contests in the Deep South; in 2002, Ms. Landrieu won a Senate runoff with a surge in black turnout.

The Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act unleashed a wave of new laws with a disparate impact on black voters, including cuts in early voting and photo-identification requirements.

Please Share

The Secret To Success In The Senate

warren paul

Congress has a record low approval rating, which perhaps is why the most successful Senators appear to be those who haven’t spent much time there. Barack Obama sure didn’t waste much time in the Senate before successfully running for president. Hillary Clinton is a special case as her time in the Senate is only a small part of her resume, but she didn’t spend very much time there either. The most popular Senator from each party today very well might be a freshman. Both have ignored the old tradition for new Senators to be fairly quiet.

On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren has received the most enthusiastic support. There is even a Ready For Warren web site, despite her statements that she has no plans to run for president. She has spoken out the most on economic issues, but is now wading into social issues as well with her comments on the Hobby Lobby case:

I’ll be honest – I cannot believe that we are even having a debate about whether employers can deny women access to birth control. Guys, this is 2014, not 1914 . Most Americans thought this was settled long, long ago. But for some reason, Republicans keep dragging us back here – over and over and over again.

On the Republican side, Rand Paul has generated the most excitement. As his foreign policy views are out of step with those of his party, there are real questions as to whether he has a chance to win a Republican presidential nomination. Gallup found that he falls just slightly behind Mike Huckabee among potential Republican candidates at this time. Aaron Blake looked at other polls to show that Paul is in a strong position to possibly win in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which certainly would give him strong momentum towards winning the nomination. Should Paul manage to win the nomination, a Quinnipiac poll shows that Paul is the strongest Republican candidate against Clinton in Iowa. Of course that might not hold nation wide.

A Huckabee versus Paul race for the Republican nomination would certainly offer a choice of different views. A presidential race between Paul and Warren would do the same, and most likley excite many on both the left and right far more than, say, another campaign between a Bush and a Clinton. Of course a race between Clinton, as opposed to Warren, and Paul is far more likley considering the state of the Democratic race. As I discussed previously, this would lead to a reversal in partisan foreign policy perspective, with the Democrats having the hawk as a candidate. As Peter Beinart pointed out, she sounded more like George Bush than a Democrat on foreign policy on her recent appearance on The Daily Show.

Updates: Digby also questions Clinton’s statement. Politico reports that Warren rallies the base. John Dickerson thinks a Warren run would be a good thing–but primarily to provide a worthy conversation and to “force Clinton to draw clear lines about what she believes, why she’s running, and why her message is something more than ‘It’s my turn.'” I would be more interested in a challenge to Clinton from the left which could actually beat her for the nomination, but that doesn’t look likely.

Please Share

Hobby Lobby Case Shows That To Conservatives Freedom Means “Freedom” To Impose Their Religious Views Upon Others

Conservatives applauding the Supreme Court decision in the Lobby Hobby case are showing, once again, that to them freedom means the “freedom” to impose their religious views upon others. When conservatives oppose the requirement that a business provide insurance to their employees in any condition they might have a consistent libertarian argument, ignoring the fact that many Republicans supported such mandates, along with the individual mandate, until quite shortly before the Affordable Care Act was passed. When they fight for a specific exclusion based upon some people’s religious views about contraception then we have an entirely different matter. As I noted yesterday, this is hardly any type of victory for religious freedom.

It might be a different matter if all the employees shared the views of their employers, but the reality is that the employers of Hobby Lobby are forcing their views upon their employees. As The New York Times points out:

Nothing in the contraceptive coverage rule prevented the companies’ owners from worshiping as they choose or advocating against coverage and use of the contraceptives they don’t like.

Nothing compels women to use their insurance on contraceptives. A woman’s choice to use or not to use them is a personal one that does not implicate her employer. Such decisions “will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults,” as Justice Ginsburg noted. There also is no requirement that employers offer employee health plans. They could instead pay a tax likely to be less than the cost of providing insurance to help cover government subsidies available to those using an insurance exchange.

Including contraception coverage in health insurance also isn’t likely to increase the cost to employers as preventing unwanted pregnancies is less expensive than covering the medical expenses of such pregnancies. Nor can denial of coverage of contraception be justified based upon religious opposition to abortion as making contraception more readily available is an effective means of reducing the number of abortions. This is purely a matter of forcing the religious opposition to contraception held by the religious right upon others.

Please Share

Conservative Activist Court Rules That Employers Can Impose Their Religious Views On Employees In Hobby Lobby Case

Republicans have long claimed that Roe v. Wade was an act of an activist court to impose liberal views upon them, energizing many religious conservatives to turn out to vote for them. Today’s Supreme Court decision allowing come companies to avoid the requirements in the Affordable Care Act to include contraception on religious grounds might do the opposite. This decision will undoubtedly anger many women who will see this as meaning that their access to contraception coverage is dependent upon their employer, while the Affordable Care Act was intended to free them of this limitation and provide access to affordable contraception. It also highlights what has been clear for years that the agenda of the religious right is to block not only abortion but contraception.

Mother Jones has gathered eight of the best lines in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in the Hobby Lobby case:

  • Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, “in a decision of startling breadth,” would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage”
  • “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”
  • “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.”
  • “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”
  • “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
  • “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
  • “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Think Progress pointed out how this is not a victory for religious freedom and hurts people of faith:

But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith. In fact, a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey conducted in early June found that a substantial majority of almost every major U.S. Christian group support the idea that publicly-held corporations and privately-owned corporations should be required to provide employees with healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. This is likely why so many progressive Christian leaders have vocally opposed Hobby Lobby in the press, why Americans United for the Separation of Church and State submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Hobby Lobby on behalf of nearly 30 religious organizations, and why both the Jewish Social Policy Action Network and the American Jewish Committee submitted their own amicus briefs decrying the corporation’s position.

And while white evangelicals were an outlier in the PRRI poll — only 40 percent of evangelical respondents supported the ACA’s contraception mandate for privately-owned corporations — a sizable cadre of conservative Christians have publicly articulated nuanced, faith-based opposition to the case in recent months, drawing attention to the fact that Hobby Lobby only speaks for a small minority of people of faith in America. David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.“

In addition to fearing the social implications of a pro-Hobby Lobby ruling, other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding their case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions. They write:

Although the owners of these for-profit corporations oppose the contraceptive requirement because of their pro-life religious beliefs, the requirement they oppose will dramatically reduce abortions. … Imagine a million fewer unintended pregnancies. Imagine healthier babies, moms and families. Imagine up to 800,000 fewer abortions. No matter your faith or political beliefs, our hunch is that we can all agree that fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions would be a blessing.

Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical Christian writer and blogger for the Religion News Service, went even further in his theological challenge to the case, arguing that conservative evangelicals shouldn’t call businesses “Christian” in the first place.

“The New Testament never—not one time—applies the ‘Christian’ label to a business or even a government,” he writes. “The tag is applied only to individuals. If the Bible is your ultimate guide, the only organization one might rightly term ‘Christian’ is a church. And this is only because a church in the New Testament is not a building or a business, but a collection of Christian individuals who have repented, believed on Christ, and are pursuing a life of holiness.”

These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.

Please Share

Ohio Bill Prohibits Insurance Coverage Of Both Abortion And Forms of Contraception

Republicans have become increasingly successful in restricting insurance coverage of abortion in many of the states where they control the state government, and a bill in Ohio could extend this to restricting access to contraception:

Ohio might make it illegal for insurance to cover abortions, even in cases of rape, incest and when pregnancy threatens a mother’s life.

The first hearing for House Bill 351 was held yesterday.

The only exception allowed in the bill, which would affect all insurance policies that cover Ohioans, is in cases of ectopic, or tubal, pregnancies.

The bill also would ban insurance coverage for public employees as well as those on Medicaid for birth control that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as intrauterine devices, known as IUDs.

During testimony, Rep. John Becker, a suburban Cincinnati Republican who sponsored the bill, acknowledged that the wording can be interpreted to include birth-control pills, which he said wasn’t his intention. An amendment could be introduced to clarify that point, he said.

When it came to IUDs, which are plastic devices implanted into a woman, Becker said they should be included in the ban because they prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, meaning they can be considered an abortion.

Unlike a similar law passed by Michigan Republicans last December, the bill in Ohio would not only ban insurance coverage of abortion in standard insurance policies but also prohibit the purchase a separate insurance rider for abortion coverage. The requirement forcing Michigan women to purchase an extra rider if they desire coverage for abortions has been derided as a requirement to pay extra for “rape insurance.” The rider to cover abortions in Michigan must be purchased prior to pregnancy and women are not able to buy the rider after getting pregnant even by rape or incest

According to the National Women’s Law Center, restrictions on abortion coverage are becoming increasingly common:

Twenty-five states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) have laws prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion in state exchanges.  Ten of those states – Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Utah  – go even further and reach all plans in the state, banning insurance coverage of abortion in plans outside the exchange as well.

Think Progress had this information regarding the ramifications of this Ohio bill:

The unintended pregnancy rate for women living below the poverty level is more than five times as high than the rate for the women in the highest income level, largely because they struggle to access affordable birth control. Since long-lasting forms of birth control like the IUD remain effective for years without the need to take a daily pill or a monthly shot, public health experts recommend them for women who struggle with avoiding pregnancy. But IUDs are expensive, and can cost as much as $1,000 upfront. A large 2012 study focusing on low-income women in St. Louis found that when cost barriers to IUDs are removed, more women choose them and fewer women end up needing abortions.

Social conservatives’ crusade against abortion, which often hinges on redefining some forms of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs,” has ensured that IUDs are continually caught in the crossfires. This is the same type of birth control that Hobby Lobby, the crafts company that sued the Obama administration over the health law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, doesn’t want to offer to its employees.

Of course, aside from the implications for birth control access, HB 351 would also impose a significant financial burden on the women who need abortion services. The bill does not include any exceptions for women who became pregnant from rape or who are faced with a pregnancy that threatens their life, which means even the Ohioans who find themselves in those desperate circumstances would be forced to pay for the entire cost of the procedure out of pocket. An in-clinic abortion during the first trimester can cost anywhere from $300 and $950. Later procedures, which are typically necessary when women discover serious health issues with their pregnancies or their fetuses, can be thousands of dollars.

This comes from the part which claims to be the party of small government.

Please Share