What’s The Matter With Thomas Frank?

Obama Green Lantern

Thomas Frank has fallen for the Green Lantern view of the presidency, thinking that the president has the power to do anything he wishes. His criticism of Obama:

Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them—their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls—they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

But bipartisanship as an ideal must also be kept sacred, of course. And so, after visitors to the Obama Library have passed through the Gallery of Drones and the Big Data Command Center, they will be ushered into a maze-like exhibit designed to represent the president’s long, lonely, and ultimately fruitless search for consensus. The Labyrinth of the Grand Bargain, it might be called, and it will teach how the president bravely put the fundamental achievements of his party—Social Security and Medicare—on the bargaining table in exchange for higher taxes and a smaller deficit. This will be described not as a sellout of liberal principle but as a sacred quest for the Holy Grail of Washington: a bipartisan coming-together on “entitlement reform,” which every responsible D.C. professional knows to be the correct way forward.

Frank both ignores the real obstacles which Obama faced and is not very accurate in describing Obama’s record. He forgets that the there was a very good reason that Obama never had a chance to reason with the Republicans–they decided right off the bat that they would oppose anything Obama supported for political reasons. Frank might check out the work of  centrists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann on how Republicans are responsible for the current gridlock along with  this Frontline documentary:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

There were clear institutional limits on Obama in a system where forty Senators could block the majority on anything. The Democrats had sixty votes for a very brief time due to the delays in swearing in Al Franken and later Ted Kennedy’s death.  Even when Obama technically had sixty Senators voting with the Democrats, this included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who would never go for the type of leftist agenda Frank favored.

Obama chose to use his limited political political capital to concentrate on health care reform, passing a comprehensive health reform package after previous presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton were unsuccessful. Ted Kennedy once expressed regret at working with Richard Nixon and instead insisting upon a single-payer system at the time. Similarly Hillary Clinton convinced Bill to threaten to veto anything other than her plan, rejecting a Republican proposal which was very similar to the Affordable Care Act. It would be far better to accept what can be passed and then work to improve it over time.

Sure the Affordable Care Act is a confusing jumble, but that is because it built upon our current system. It would have been better if the system was even more complex and perhaps confusing, including either the public option or Medicare buy-in. Neither could pass because both Lieberman and Nelson opposed them. Obama certainly could have never received sixty votes for a single-payer plan, breaking up the banks, or a bigger stimulus.

Beyond Congress, Obama was limited by conservative media bias on economic matters. Obviously Fox was out there spreading lies and attacking anything Obama wanted to do, but the problems weren’t limited to Fox and its viewers. Most of the media is owned by the wealthy, and much of the news, especially on television, is reported by wealthy television stars. They might not share the Republican views on social issues or their opposition to science and reason (leading to the conservative view of  a liberal media) but many of them are quite conservative on economic issues. They were biased towards tax cuts and cutting spending. Media reports on the economy typically stressed the size of the deficit and included the assumption that a reduction in government spending was necessary. Few pointed out the degree to which Republican spending and tax cuts in the Bush years contributed far more to the deficit than Obama’s stimulus spending. The atmosphere was hardly conducive to pushing an even bigger stimulus, regardless of how much more this would have helped the economy recover. He also ignores the degree to which Obama’s stimulus did help bring about economic recovery.

Just as Frank ignores the benefits of Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus, he exaggerates what Obama did not do. No, Obama did not destroy Social Security and Medicare. It is the other party which has been seeking to do that. Offering  Chained CPI in exchange for a grand bargain on the deficit might never have been a good idea, but we can’t blame Obama for making a bad deal when such a deal was never made and we don’t know what he would have held out for before making such an agreement.

Obama’s record has much in it to displease the far left. It is doubtful that any other president would have achieved more than he actually did.

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Boehner Throws Small Business Owners Under The Bus In Order To Find Suit To File Against Obama

The weakness of Republican efforts to paint Barack Obama as a dictator who has been abusing his presidential powers have been shown to be a sham with John Boehner’s attempt to find grounds for a law suit against Obama. Boehner, in a desperate attempt to ward off the Tea Party fanatics who are pushing for impeachment, decided on filing a frivolous law suit against Obama instead. For years Republicans have made all sort of claims of executive overreach under Obama, after ignoring real cases of abuse of executive power under Bush and Cheney. With all their screaming of a dictatorial president out of control, all Boehner could come up with was a complaint that Obama postponed enforcing the penalties in the employer mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act by two years.

The biggest irony here is that Republicans opposed the Affordable Care Act and the employer mandate (despite previous Republican support for mandates before Obama called for them). Republicans are suing Obama for failing to enforce a law which they opposed. Obama granted the two year extension in order to make it easier for small business to comply with the Affordable Care Act. With this suit, Boehner and the House Republicans are taking a stand in opposition to the interests of small business owners.

Of course Republicans had no objection when George Bush made a similar delay durinig implementation of the Medicare D program. Clearly if there was any validity to any of the other Republican complaints against Obama’s use of power they would use a different case for the lawsuit. As Brian Buetler posted, John Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Obama Proves the President Isn’t Lawless.

Obama is correct in calling this a political stunt and had these comments on the do-nothing Congress:

As long as Congress will not increase wages for workers, I will go and talk to every business in America if I have to. There’s no denying a simple truth: America deserves a raise, and if you work full-time in this country, you shouldn’t live in poverty. That’s something that we all believe.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. There are a number of Republicans, including a number in the Texas delegation, who are mad at me for taking these actions. They actually plan to sue me. Now, I don’t know which things they find most offensive — me helping to create jobs, or me raising wages, or me easing the student loan burdens, or me making sure women can find out whether they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. I don’t know which of these actions really bug them.

The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did. Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. You hear some of them — ‘sue him,’ ‘impeach him.’ Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay.

I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job — while you don’t do your job.

There’s a great movie called ‘The Departed’ — a little violent for kids. But there’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — they’re on a stakeout and somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg is all upset and yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, ‘Well, who are you?’ And Wahlberg says, ‘I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.’ Sometimes, I feel like saying to these guys, ‘I’m the guy doing my job, you must be the other guy.’

So rather than wage another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money, I’ve got a better idea: Do something. If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, let’s team up. Let’s pass some bills. Let’s help America together.

It is not clear what will become of this suit. The first question is whether the House has legal standing to file the suit. If it does proceed it is certainly possible that both Bush and Obama technically broke the law in extending deadlines independent of Congress. Even should there ever be a  ruling against Obama, it will not make much of a difference. By the time it works through the courts the issue will no longer matter as the temporary extension will be coming towards an end, if not already ended. It is over a pretty minor issue in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and will have no bearing on the overall law. It is a pretty empty gesture by Boehner, but he has no real grounds to support right wing rhetoric that Obama has abused executive power.

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David Brat’s Views On Economics And Religion

brat_cantor

The surprising defeat of Eric Cantor last night appears to be largely due to the personal faults on Cantor’s part along with possible preference for the more extremist views of David Brat, despite Cantor’s dishonest ads calling him a liberal college professor. It does not appear that cross over Democratic voters had a meaningful impact on the results. Cantor’s problems appear more cultural than strict ideology as pointed out at The New York Times.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

The New York Times does go overboard in calling Cantor’s loss a bad omen for moderates. While Brat is more extreme in opposing immigration reform and raising the debt ceiling to meet our financial obligations, Cantor is hardly a moderate. As Steve Benen pointed out, “He has a 95% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, for goodness’ sake.”

Brat has been called a follower of Ayn Rand, and his victory could be seen as a loss for crony capitalism. Whenever I hear that a Republican is a follower of Ayn Rand I wonder if they are aware of or acknowledge Rand’s atheism and strong hostility towards religion. Brat’s economic writings have shown a view of religion which Ayn Rand would never accept. The Wall Street Journal writes:

In the paper, titled “Is Growth Exogenous? Taking Bernanke Seriously (But How Can a Fed Guy Forget the Institutions)”, Mr. Brat waded into a debate among economists over the determinants of long-term growth with this conclusion: Mr. Bernanke’s work on economic growth overlooked the role that religious institutions–particularly Protestant ones–play in driving a country’s growth rates.

In his argument against Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Brat draws on previous research titled “Economic Growth and Institutions: The Rise and Fall of the Protestant Ethic?” a 2004 paper in which he wrote that Protestantism “provides an efficient set of property rights and encourages a modern set of economic incentives” so “one might anticipate positive economic performance.”

“Give me a country in 1600 that had a Protestant led contest for religious and political power and I will show you a country that is rich today,” he wrote.

On the other hand, another article in The Wall Street Journal suggests he does not accept the agenda of the religious right:

Can Christians force others to follow their ethical teachings on social issues? Note that consistency is lacking on all sides of this issue. The political Right likes to champion individual rights and individual liberty, but it has also worked to enforce morality in relation to abortion, gambling, and homosexuality. The Left likes to think of itself as the bulwark of progressive liberal individualism, and yet it seeks to progressively coerce others to fund every social program under the sun via majority rule. Houston, we have a problem. Coercion is on the rise. What is the root word for liberalism? (Answer: Liberty)

It is of course a straw man argument to claim that the left seeks to fund every social program under the sun. Unless he means the cost of established and highly successful programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the spending advocated by most liberals on social programs is far less than Republicans have coerced others to pay, such as on the Iraq War. Bush’s policies, including both his spending and tax cuts for the wealthy have had far more impact on the deficit that liberal social programs. Despite his acceptance of these rather naive right wing talking points, it is encouraging that Brat has opposed the Republican use of government to enforce the social views of the religious right. It remains to be seen if he will buck the Republicans on such issues when voting in Congress.

Update: Mother Jones takes a look at Brat’s libertarian views, including slashing spending on Medicare,  Social Security, and education. What happens when you cut funding on education? A lack of understanding of science, leading to people falling for denial of climate change.

Update II: There has been considerable speculation that Brat won due to Cantor’s views on immigration. It is not clear that this was the reason for Brat’s victory. A survey from Public Policy Polling showed that there was not widespread opposition to Cantor’s views on immigration in his district but it is possible that those turning out in a Republican primary held stronger anti-immigration views than the general population. Both blogs on the left (such as Mother Jones) and right (such as Hot Air) have questioned if immigration was the reason Cantor lost.

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Doctors No Longer Strong Republicans

JAMA Internal Medicine has some data which I would have predicted–doctors are less likely to support Republicans now than in the past. The data is based upon campaign contributions and therefore has no data regarding reasons for the change. This data would not include contributions under $200 and it is not known if those making smaller donations differ from the larger, reportable contributions.

The study found that since 1996 contributions to Republicans by physicians have decreased, dropping to under 50 percent leading up to the 2008 election. Many of the results suggest that doctors are contributing based upon factors comparable to the general population. This includes a significant gender gap with 57 percent of men and 31 percent of women contributing to Republicans over the entire study period. Leading up to the 2012 election, 52.3 percent of male physicians contributed to Republicans and 23.6 percent of female physicians contributed to Republicans.

I am apparently an exception to the trend that male physicians and physicians in solo or small practices are more likely to contribute to Republicans. Another trend mirrors the general population with those earning more being more likely to contribute to Republicans.

Overall the trend against support for Republicans is similar to the overall trend for more highly educated people to be less likely to support Republicans. The education in science might make many physicians more likely to reject Republicans in recent years as scientists have tended to oppose Republicans. Many people trained in science would have a difficult time supporting a party in which many believe in creationism, and most reject the view of 97 percent of climate scientists on global warming.

The study is unable to determine whether medically related issues have any bearing on the results. Democrats have been far more supportive of health care in recent years, but I also find that many of my colleagues get their news from Fox and have the same misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act and other issues as Republicans in general have. On the other hand, many physicians, along with many physician organizations, have been highly supportive of Obamacare after having seen the serious problems in health care delivery in this country. Republican policies would also be terrible for the future of Medicare, but I’m not sure how widespread this realization is among physicians.

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Mitch McConnell Backs Kentucky State Exchange While Calling For Obamacare Repeal

McConnell

Now that people are experiencing the advantages of the Affordable Care Act it is becoming harder for Republicans to call for repeal. While people might tell pollsters they dislike Obamacare, they also oppose the consequences of repeal. In Kentucky, people might say they dislike Obamacare, but they certainly do like Kynect, their highly successful insurance exchange. This is resulting in problems for Mitch McConnell who has been calling for the repeal of Obamacare and is now up for reelection.

McConnell has been trying to express support for Kynect while continuing to oppose Obamacare. It is necessary for one to be either dishonest or quite ignorant about the Affordable Care Act to make claims such as the ones McConnell is making:

“If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told WFPL.

“But Kentuckians shouldn’t have been forced to lose the plans they had and liked, shouldn’t have seen their premiums skyrocket, shouldn’t have had their Medicare cut, and shouldn’t have had their taxes raised because of President Obama and his friends in Washington forced it down their throats.”​

McConnell is being dishonest with his claims that premiums are skyrocking and Medicare is being cut. One reason people in Kentucky support Kynect is that it is allowing them to obtain health insurance at a lower cost. Republicans are resorting to scare tactics with claims of Medicare cuts.

The Kentucky Herald-Leader had this editorial criticizing McConnell for attempting this deception:

Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible.

Repeal the federal law, which McConnell calls “Obamacare,” and the state exchange would collapse.

Kynect could not survive without the ACA’s insurance reforms, including no longer allowing insurance companies to cancel policies when people get sick or deny them coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as well as the provision ending lifetime limits on benefit payments. (Kentucky tried to enact such reforms in the 1990s and found out we were too small a market to do it alone.)

Kentucky’s exchange also could not survive without the federal funding and tax credits that are helping 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians gain access to regular preventive medicine, including colonoscopies, mammograms and birth control without co-pays.

As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.

Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services.

Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare — even if Kentuckians are confused about which is which.

The Louisville Eccentric Observer also responded to McConnell:

Just for the record, McConnell saying that Kynect can survive the repeal of Obamacare is like saying that the Oklahoma City Thunder can trade Kevin Durant, but keep his jump shot.

The Kynect website and call center was paid for with federal money from the ACA, specifically $252 million in federal grants. Without the ACA, Kentucky foots the bill for a website that is worthless.

Over 300,000 Kentuckians gained Medicaid coverage because the ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and Kentucky did not opt out, and that coverage is 100 percent paid for by federal money under the ACA, until it becomes 90 percent after a few years. Without the ACA they are no longer eligible, unless Kentucky changes their state law and pays through nose to cover these new people (that is not happening).

Most of the 82,795 Kentuckians who bought private insurance through Kynect were able to do so with the help of federal subsidies only made possible by the ACA. Without the ACA, those plans that have strong consumer protections on preexisting conditions, not being dropped from coverage for getting sick, and spending caps are no longer mandatory, so they’re gone. Gone as well is the requirement that children must be covered under their parents plans through the age of 25. Without the ACA many of these people won’t find someone to insure them, and many are forced to go back to junk plans that are worthless when you have a medical emergency or plans that are unaffordable without federal ACA subsidies.

Without the ACA, Kynect is nothing but a worthless website that would soon go dark, and roughly 400,000 Kentuckians will lose their coverage and the consumer protections it provides, and will therefore be thrown back into the old healthcare system that had failed them beforehand.

What McConnell is hoping to do with this strategy is deceive Kentucky voters who like what Kynect is doing but have a negative perception of the Affordable Care Act, and hope that the media here will do lazy “He said, She said” reporting that does not explicitly point out that what McConnell is saying is flatly false. He might turn out to be successful on that front, but this might also be a good opportunity for Alison Lundergan Grimes to get off of the sidelines and actually talk about health care with the media and voters so they know exactly what McConnell is trying to do, and have an honest conversation about what she would do. Or, she can continue staying out of this fight, and just hope for the best. Your call, Alison.

This should make it easier for McConnell’s opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to defend Obamacare. Instead it looks like she is trying to play it safe. Greg Sargent discussed how Grimes is talking about the Affordable Care Act:

Now the Grimes campaign is finally hitting McConnell over his gyrations on the issue, accusing him of “voting to destroy Kynect.” From Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst:

Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians.

This seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to “fix” the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” remains under water.

Lake suggests this to Grimes:  “She could say, `In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.”

The idea would be to focus people on something they like — the state exchange — separating it from the hated Obummercare, localizing the contrast between the two candidates’ positions. Her statement today does not mention Obamacare, signaling again that Kynect is far more popular in the state, and that it’s now somewhat safe to make an issue at least out of the state exchange. Indeed, elsewhere Grimes has said: “I am not and will not be for taking away insurance that 400,000 Kentuckians just recently got access to.”

Still, given the tentativeness of Grimes’ statement, clearly she is still not prepared to cross over into seriously making an issue out of that contrast, and it just won’t be a central point she makes. As noted here before, I understand all the reasons for Grimes’ reluctance.

While it is understandable that Democrats would show some reluctance to being associated with Obamacare, failure to speak out probably guarantees their defeat. Democrats need to go on the offensive and take credit for the benefits of the law their party passed. Trying to distance themselves will not work. Everyone knows that this is a policy passed by the Democrats. Acting scared only reinforces the negative views and makes Democrats look weak. As long as Democrats remain afraid to forcibly speak out about the benefits of Obamacare and explain its benefits, voters will fall for the type of deception Mitch McConnell is practicing. Voters do want the benefits of Obamacare, and the popularity of Kynect gives Grimes the perfect opportunity to speak out in its defense.

Update: Glenn Kessler reviewed the facts regarding the above issue.

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Liberals Were Wrong About The VA, But Conservatives Remain Wrong About Health Care Coverage

James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal, today demonstrating what they say about a broken watch, is right on one point. His column carries the subheading of “Not long ago, the left raved about the VA.”  While this is widely true about the left, there was at least one exception (myself). A few years back, many on the left were exclaiming about the quality of the VA system based upon quality evaluations. Evaluations of quality in health care currently has many limitations, and was downright primitive a few years back.  I pointed out several times, such as here, that the indications being looked at were not a valid means of determining quality health care.

Now we are learning that there is an even more serious problem beyond the fallacy of accepting computerized data as truly indicating quality health care. If the allegations we are now hearing are true, there is also the danger that information entered into computer systems might not even be accurate.

Suddenly, with the recent revelations about the VA, the line from the left has changed to (more accurately) saying that The Veterans Affairs Scandal Was Decades in the Making.

Of course this doesn’t mean that that the right is correct in their interpretation of this scandal. Many are using this to attack the idea behind the Affordable Care Act. We are comparing two entirely different ideas here. The VA is a rare case of government actually providing health care while the ACA involves using private insurance (or in some cases Medicaid) to pay for private medical care. The ACA became necessary in order to provide necessary regulations to curb the abuses of the insurance industry, along with providing support for those who could not afford health care coverage.

If government has problems in providing health care, as with the VA system, the problems in the private insurance industry have been far worse. In the past most areas had one or a very small number of insurance plans dominating a market. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are having more insurance companies planning to enter many markets, which should lower prices. In the past, private insurance companies found it to be more profitable to deny coverage to many people with medical problems, including finding ways to terminate coverage should a policy holder develop a serious (and expensive) medical problem. Here is a report of just one example of an insurance company targeting women with breast cancer for recission of policies.

Obamacare provides needed reforms to encourage more market competition and eliminate this type of abuse from the insurance industry. It is an example of where government action is necessary and beneficial. We also have an example in providing coverage for medical care where government does a better job than the market. People on Medicare have a choice of the government program, which pays private physicians to provide medical care, or Medicare Advantage plans in which private companies handle the payment instead of the government. It costs from 13 to 19 percent less to over the same Medicare population under the government plan than with private insurance plans. The added money going to the private Medicare Advantage plans primarily goes towards increased profits for the insurance companies. Medicare might also be a better, and more cost effective, model to care for Veterans as opposed to the government attempting to maintain a parallel health system.

The lesson of the VA might be to question having the government actually provide health care, although Republicans certainly share the blame here considering their long history of opposing funding which Democrats have backed for the VA. Regardless of whether this is true, this has no bearing as to the benefits of the Affordable Care Act along with government programs such as Medicare which handle health care payments as opposed to directly providing health care.

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Rand Paul Could Shake Up An Election Against Hillary Clinton

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

While Ron Paul had a small devoted group of supporters, everyone knew he had no real chance of seriously competing for the Republican nomination. There’s something about being a new face, and being from the Senate instead of the House. People are looking far more seriously at the possibility of Rand Paul becoming the Republican nominee.

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016…

At the moment it doesn’t really look likely that Rand Paul could win, but they said the same about Ronald Reagan.

Many of Paul’s views remain at odds with the Republican mainstream, but he now seems less of a pariah among Republicans than Mitt Romney was in many circles. It is possible Paul could win a primary battle with the vote divided between more conventional Republican candidates. He would also benefit from the first contests being a caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. He could conceivable wind up in first place in both and quickly turn into the front runner.

If Paul does win the nomination, Democrats might need to rethink handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. What happens when the Republican candidate starts attacking Hillary Clinton over her support for the Iraq war, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, and the drug war? Paul might also turn Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street into a serious liability. Many potential Democratic voters might find that they agree with Paul and disagree with Clinton on several issues.

Of course Rand Paul is also on the wrong side of many issues, but can we count on Clinton to take advantage of this? Republicans already have managed to put Democrats on the defensive on issues such as Medicare and health care–two issues where they have facts and principle firmly on their side.

Paul would face many obstacles. His opposition to abortion rights could limit his ability to win over female voters from the Democrats, perpetuating the gender gap between the parties. His anti-war views would be a negative in many red states, possibly even leading to upsets in some red states by a hawkish Democrat such as Clinton.

Looking at the electoral college, I don’t think Paul could win, a race between Clinton and Paul would shake up many of the current party-line divisions. I could see Paul taking some states such as New Hampshire from the Democrats, but not many with large amounts of electoral votes, with the possible exception of California. Still, with their current disadvantages in the electoral college this might be the best chance for Republicans, and a potential threat for Democrats, especially if looking at shaking up the current Democratic advantage among younger voters. I could see many young males being far more interested in Paul on the issues where he is more libertarian, while not being as concerned about issues such as preserving Medicare. This could destroy what now appears to be a long-term Democratic advantage, considering that people tend to stick with the party they chose when young. Democrats might still win the 2016 battle by running Clinton against Paul, but could suffer long term from such a match up.

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More Good News On Health Care Reform

With Republicans constantly putting out false ads and other misinformation regarding the effects of the Affordable Care Act, it is worthwhile to periodically look at the real news. As Politico points out, millions more people now have health care coverage:

A panel of health insurers agreed Tuesday that the number of insured people in the country has climbed by millions, despite arguments by some Republicans that the insured population has declined because of canceled plans.

“I don’t doubt that,” said Jay Gellert, president and CEO of the California-based Health Net, when asked whether there’s any real question that the nation’s insured population has grown.

Gellert spoke at a POLITICO Pro Health Care Breakfast Briefing with Karen Ignagni, CEO of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, and James Roosevelt, president and CEO of the Massachusetts-based Tufts Health Plan.

Ignagni said that the rush of sign-ups late in the Affordable Care Act’s first enrollment period – which ended March 31 – were significantly younger than the earliest enrollees.

Some of those who initially opposed Obamacare are now benefiting from it:

Dean Angstadt fells trees for a living.

He’s a self-employed, self-sufficient logger who has cleared his own path for most of his 57 years, never expecting help from anyone. And even though he’d been uninsured since 2009, he especially wanted nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t read what the Democrats have to say about it because I think they’re full of it,” he told his friend Bob Leinhauser, who suggested he sign up.

That refrain changed this year when a faulty aortic valve almost felled Angstadt. Suddenly, he was facing a choice: Buy a health plan, through a law he despised, that would pay the lion’s share of the cost of the life-saving surgery – or die. He chose the former.

“A lot of people I talk to are so misinformed about the ACA,” Angstadt said. “I was, before Bob went through all this for me. I would recommend it to anybody and, in fact, have encouraged friends, including the one guy who hauls my logs.”

Later in the report:

Angstadt faces a long recovery, but his conversion to ACA supporter is done. The political storm around the ACA, he said, is the political parties “fighting each other over things that can benefit people.”

“For me, this isn’t about politics,” he added. “I’m trying to help other people who are like me, stubborn and bullheaded, who refused to even look. From my own experience, the ACA is everything it’s supposed to be and, in fact, better than it’s made out to be.”

This example is of a person who had been uninsured because of being self-employed. One benefit of the Affordable Care Act, often distorted by conservatives, has been to get people out of the “insurance trap” where they had to work for large companies in order to obtain coverage. This means more people can start their own businesses or retire early:

Until recently, Mike Smith, 64, worked 11 hours a day, Monday through Friday and then half a day on Saturday, as a district manager for a national auto parts chain — a schedule he’s kept for nearly 40 years.  Early retirement, while certainly appealing, wasn’t a viable option for him because both he and his already-retired wife, Laura, also 64, relied heavily on his job-provided health insurance.

“At our age, with some preexisting medical conditions, it would have been very costly to buy insurance on the open market – about $3,000 a month,” he says.

But the Affordable Care Act changed that. The federal health law bars insurance companies from charging higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions, so the Smiths have been able to find a plan they can afford. The couple pays $200 a month for a subsidized health insurance policy they bought through California’s state-run marketplace, Covered California.

And that’s brought a big change to Smith’s household:  He’s joined Laura in early retirement. That means more time for him to help Laura care for his elderly in-laws as well as more down time to pursue some budding passions, namely playing his guitar and cooking new recipes.

But early retirees aren’t the only people benefitting from the federal health law.

A recent study by Georgetown University and the Urban Institute predicts the ACA will enable up to 1.5 million Americans to leave unfulfilling jobs and become self-employed or start new businesses. It’s a finding that runs counter to forecasts by ACA critics, who contend the federal health law will cost the nation jobs and cripple America’s small business economy.

It will take years to know for certain how the health law will change the work landscape broadly, but already the law has changed life for Rebecca Murray.

Last year, the Chicago resident says, her husband — a freelance IT worker — was diagnosed with chronic spinal arthritis. He needed good health insurance, which he received through Murray’s job as a social worker for a dialysis corporation. But Murray didn’t like her job.

Murray and her husband are both 31, with a 20-month-old daughter and a second child on the way. Before the Affordable Care Act, they couldn’t get insurance on the individual market market because of his preexisting condition.

But under the federal health law, they now qualify for a subsidized policy that will cost $535 a month for the whole family. Not inexpensive by any means, she says, but it does allow her to quit her job and launch an online business to help young women, like her, take care of sick loved ones.

“It’s thrilling. It’s exciting. It’s kind of like taking a leap into the unknown, and I know it’s a big risk,” she says of her new venture. “But this really is allowing me to finally step into what I feel is truly satisfying for the soul,” she says, adding that just a year ago, “I was convinced I would be a renal social worker for the next 30-something years and just raise my kids and hope they could live out their dreams instead.”

As more good news gets out about the successes of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans might find it increasingly difficult to continue with their false attacks, as Rick Scott has learned:

Gov. Rick Scott visited a senior center Tuesday to warn about cuts he said Obamacare is forcing in a popular version of the Medicare health program and to collect their horror stories.

What he found was a satisfied group with few complaints.

The 20 seniors assembled for a roundtable with Scott at the Volen Center were largely content with their Medicare coverage and didn’t have negative stories to recount.

And some praised Obamacare – a program that Scott frequently criticizes.

“I’m completely satisfied,” Harvey Eisen, 92, a West Boca resident, told Scott.

Eisen told the governor he wasn’t sure “if, as you say,” there are Obamacare-inspired cuts to Medicare. But even if there are, that would be OK. “I can’t expect that me as a senior citizen are going to get preferential treatment when other programs are also being cut.”

Ruthlyn Rubin, 66, of Boca Raton, told the governor that people who are too young for Medicare need the health coverage they get from Obamacare. If young people don’t have insurance, she said, everyone else ends up paying for their care when they get sick or injured and end up in the hospital.

Eventually, Rubin said, Obamacare will become more popular. “People were appalled at Social Security.  They were appalled at Medicare when it came out. I think these major changes take some people aback. But I think we have to be careful not to just rely on the fact that we’re seniors and have an entitlement to certain things,” she said.

Republican scare stories about Medicare should become less effective as seniors find that the Republican claims are false and that in reality Obama has increased, and not reduced, benefits for Medicare recipients.

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Republicans Will Soon Regret Being The Party Of Repealing Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act has exceeded expectations where ever we have measurements, such as in people signing up, despite the Congressional Budget Office reducing their prediction after the computer problems in October. The Republican horror stories have been debunked whenever the facts have been examined. There are no death panels, and the Republican predictions of doctors refusing to see Obamacare patients or long waits have turned out to be false. Health insurance companies desire to increase participation in the exchanges, and premium increases are projected to be far less than Republicans have predicted. However, despite the success, the debate over Obamacare is unlikely to end soon. Far too many Republicans suffer from Obamacare Derangement Syndrome.

This includes a degree of short term memory loss. The individual mandate, selling insurance through exchanges, and high deductible plans to discourage spending are all conservative ideas which most Republicans supported up until the Affordable Care Act was nearing passage in Congress. This year Republicans will continue the attacks on Obamacare because of the intensity of opposition among Republican voters. Elections, especially off-year elections, have become far more about motivating the base to get out to vote as opposed to convincing undecided people to vote for your party. Repeating the same lies about the Affordable Care Act will motivate their voters to get out to vote. If Democrats, who at times are almost as inept at campaigning as Republicans are at governing (and predicting the effects of Obamacare), continue to cower in fear over their own accomplishments, there will be little to motivate as many Democrats to get out and vote.

However the realities will change over time, as First Read explained:

It’s easy to explain why the GOP doesn’t want to move on. Health care is the issue that fires up the base; it unites a party that’s divided on other issues; and the law remains mostly unpopular in most public-opinion polls. Obama even recognized this when he talked about possible bipartisan fixes to the health-care law during his news conference yesterday. “My suspicion is that probably will not happen until after November, because it seems as if this is the primary agenda item in the Republican political platform.”

That’s a short-term winner but a long-term problem

That political platform looks like a short-term winner in the upcoming midterm elections, with the GOP having an excellent opportunity of winning back the Senate. But it raises other long-term challenges. What do you do with the eight million Americans who now have insurance on the exchanges, and with the 24 million Americans who are projected to be on the exchanges by 2017 (the next time there’s the possibility of a GOP president)? What about the millions more who have insurance via expanded Medicaid or via their parents’ insurance? And how do you advocate repeal and replace when you don’t have a detailed legislative alternative (that’s scored by the Congressional Budget Office)? Come 2015 and 2016, Republican presidential candidates could very well find themselves in an unsustainable position — having to campaign on a repeal message in the primaries (because that’s what GOP voters want), but then having to face a general electorate that’s more hostile to the idea (because repeal doesn’t poll well outside the GOP).

Americans will not want to repeal Obamacare when they consider what this means. We cannot take away health insurance from millions, and place many more at risk of losing coverage should they become sick. In the near future, to argue to repeal Obamacare will sound as absurd as arguing to repeal Medicare. Of course those who think that Republicans have really moved beyond wanting to repeal Medicare haven’t paid enough attention to the Ryan budget which Republicans have repeatedly voted to support.

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Fact Checking Valuable, But Not Always Right

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The Moderate Voice has a post yesterday on the increase in fact-checking in journalism. Fact-checking is preferable to the standard media practice of quoting both sides as if they are equally valid, generally with an implied assumption that the truth is somewhere in the middle. This leads to erroneous reporting when one side is intentionally using misinformation and lying far more than the other. However labeling something fact checking doesn’t necessarily mean it is immune from journalistic problems. Paul Krugman pointed out one problem:

“The people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other,” Krugman wrote in 2011.

“So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.”

As Krugman pointed out, there are fact checkers which label an equal number of statements from Democrats and Republicans as being wrong in order to give the appearance of being impartial. That typically means that outrageous lies from Republicans are called lies but to provide a sense of balance,  statements from Democrats which are generally true but in which there is an exception are also called lies.

The entire idea of calling something true or a lie is often a poor way to handle complex issues which are stated by politicians in brief statements. Sometimes politicians are trying to be truthful, but boiling down a complex issue into a brief statement, or commercial, will result in exceptions where the statement is false. Often it is preferable to look at what is true in what is being said and where it isn’t entirely true and explain the issue rather than just calling it truth or a lie.

While Republicans have been hit far more with big lies on health care, Democrats have been harmed by the problems in how some fact checkers declare something either true or a lie (being a lie if not 100% true in every case). There have been two big examples of this. The first is Democrats saying that the Medicare proposals in the Ryan budget would destroy Medicare. Technically this is untrue as Ryan would replace Medicare with something named Medicare. On the other hand, it is true because the Republican proposals would change Medicare into something fundamentally different with far less protection for seniors. Rather than just calling it a lie, fact checkers would have done more good by explaining why Democrats consider these changes to be destroying Medicare.

The other is the greatly exaggerated “lie of the year” when Obama said people could keep their own doctor under the Affordable Care Act. This was an absurd statement on one level because every year insurance companies and doctors make decisions which can affect this which the government has no  power over. On the other hand, Obama was right in the context where he was speaking, even if worded poorly. Republicans were lying when they claimed that Obamacare would make people join some sort of government run program which would tell them which doctors they can see. The Affordable Care Act actually makes it more likely that people could have insurance which would allow them to keep their doctor than had been the case in the past and does nothing to force people to lose their doctor. People have a better chance of keeping their doctor when protected from losing their insurance. Frequently people are forced to change doctors because of employers changing insurance plans. Employees have a better chance of keeping their own doctor when provided more choice in plans, as under the Affordable Care Act.  Where Obama got it wrong was that the same forces already present which lead to people having to change doctors, while diminished, would still exist. It would be far better to explain this complex issue, where Obama was mostly right, than to just declare it a lie because it is not true one hundred percent of the time.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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