Opposition Continues To Republican Health Care Plan

Little has changed on health care legislation. The Republican plan for replacing Obamacare continues to provide inadequate coverage. This includes reducing coverage for Medicaid and destabilizing the individual market, now with a provision written by Ted Cruz. As Ezra Klein wrote, The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick. This is especially true for those who do not receive coverage through an employer, or ever get sick enough that they cannot continue working to keep that coverage.

Fortunately the Republicans remain in a difficult position with regards to passing their plan. They can only afford to lose three Republican votes, and at this point two Republicans, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, say they will not vote for it. Several other Republicans are undecided. Mitch McConnell plans on holding a procedural vote on Tuesday to consider the measure, and there very well might not be enough votes to proceed.

There continues to be wide spread public opposition to the Republican plan, with multiple medical groups working to oppose the bill. This includes  the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Putting further pressure on Republican Senators, the Cook Political Report also notes that 94 percent of ads have been opposed to the bill.

There has been some talk that the Republicans would work with the Democrats on a bill to shore up the exchanges should the Republican measure fail. It is doubtful that the Republicans would agree to the types of measures which would be best to cover those obtaining coverage on the individual market such as a public option or Medicare buy in. It is even more unlikely that the Republicans, or even enough Democrats, would back the most sensible solution–a single payer plan.

Republicans Have Neither Tapes Of Trump/Comey Meetings Or A Viable Health Care Plan

Today we found that Donald Trump does not have any secretly recorded tapes of James Comey and the previously secret Senate Republican health care plan has been released. Neither was a surprise. If Trump had any tapes proving he was telling the truth, he would have already released them, and if there happened to be tapes which showed he was lying, he would never admit to having them. Also, as expected, the Senate plan includes deep cuts to Medicaid, decreases subside for lower income individuals, and increases costs for those who are older.

Barack Obama described the plan:

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

It is far from certain that the Republicans can even pass this plan, despite using reconciliation so that they only need fifty votes. They can only afford to lose two votes, but four conservatives have already expressed reservations. From NPR:

Senate Republicans’ health care bill may already be on life support, with four key lawmakers announcing their opposition just hours after the GOP’s latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was released.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

They cannot easily move further to the right to appease the conservatives as some more moderate Republicans already have their own objections:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces a competitive re-election race in 2018, says he has “serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid.”

“As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not — I won’t,” Heller said.

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the centrist has some misgivings about the bills as well.

Whether or not it passes, Republicans will now be able to tell their constituents that they have attempted to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. If their plan fails, the blame could be placed on Democrats and whichever Republicans vote against it, as opposed to the party as a whole. If that doesn’t work, McConnell could always take something from the Clinton playbook and blame Russia.

Republican Health Plan Might Be Even Meaner Than House Plan

Mitch McConnell is aiming for a vote on the Senate health care plan before July 4. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Failure to take a vote before either the July 4 recess or the longer break later in the summer also could open Republican lawmakers up to pressure from constituents either concerned about losing their health coverage or expecting Republicans to follow through on pledges to repeal the law known as Obamacare. Some town-hall meetings during the spring, when the House was considering its legislation, saw lawmakers greeted by boisterous crowds.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill passed in May would leave 23 million fewer Americans with health coverage in 2026 versus current law.

GOP aides and others familiar with the negotiations said they anticipate the Senate bill’s text will be released later this week. The CBO is expected to release its estimate of the Senate bill’s impact on the federal budget and insurance coverage early next week, and a vote could potentially be held next Thursday, before lawmakers scatter.

As “mean” as the House plan was (to quote the inconsistent Donald Trump), reportedly the Senate plan might cut Medicaid spending even more. The Wall Street Journal notes that this “is likely to draw opposition from Republicans in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.”

Democrats, lacking the votes to stop the bill, are planning on using stalling tactics to attempt to slow down Senate business, but this is not likely to be sufficient to stop passage if the Republicans have the votes.

Polling has shown that voters are concerned about the cuts in health care benefits and the manner in which the bill is being drafted in secrecy, with voters preferring Obamacare to the Republican plan. Hopefully this will result in pressure on  more vulnerable Republican Senators to vote against the bill.

Wednesday is also the deadline for insurance companies to decide upon whether they will participate in the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act and decide upon their rates. The uncertainty caused by the Republicans working in secrecy to change the law could scare more companies off and destabilize the plan regardless of whether Republicans succeed in repealing it.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

Republicans Plan To Impose Huge Tax Increase On Middle Class In Opposing Obamacare Fix

Republicans are increasingly seeing King v. Burwell as a way to do what they couldn’t accomplish in over fifty votes–repeal the Affordable Care Act. While it defies logic, the Supreme Court could conceivably rule that the Affordable Care Act only provides subsidies for plans purchased on state exchanges but not on the federal exchange.

A majority of people want Congress to pass a simple legislative fix should this occur, guaranteeing a continuation of the subsidies for those who purchase plans over the federal exchange. The health care and insurance industries also support such a fix.

This does not mean that the Republican Party will take the rational path. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Congressional Republicans say they won’t move to preserve consumers’ health insurance tax credits if the Supreme Court strikes them down, raising the stakes in the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act…

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.

“No, no, no, no,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana). “Even Democrats have acknowledged that this needs fixing.”

That position would force lawmakers to confront people in as many as 37 states where the federal government is currently running some or all of the exchange where consumers buy plans and tap the tax credits. There are 6.1 million people in those states who have the credits for 2015, according to federal data released this week. The average tax credit this year is $4,330, the Congressional Budget Office said this week.

Eleven of the states where the federal government has a hand in running the insurance exchange – including seven with Republican governors – signed onto a brief submitted late Wednesday asking the Supreme Court to uphold their tax credits. The brief said the loss of the credits “would deprive millions of low-and moderate-income Americans of billions of dollars in federal premium assistance essential to buy health insurance, thereby disrupting state insurance markets throughout the United States.”

The brief was filed by a group of mostly Democratic attorneys general. The lone Republican, North Dakota’s Wayne Stenehjem, declined to comment…

Nobody in the Senate Republican caucus has said the party should tweak the law so it can continue as it is, particularly since such a move would preserve the unpopular requirement for people to buy coverage or pay a fine, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans are also increasingly preparing to use the budget procedural tactic known as reconciliation to repeal large parts of the law and potentially enact alternative provisions after the court ruling, whatever the outcome. The reconciliation process allows party leaders to pass changes with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills need to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate.

A loss of the subsidies would amount to a tax increase on the middle class. Republicans tend to concentrate on lowering taxes for the wealthy, at the expense of the middle class, and therefore see no problem in this. They mistakenly believe this will not affect their more affluent supporters, who do not qualify for the subsidies. What they fail to realize is that reducing the number of people in the risk pool will result in higher premiums for everyone.

Republicans are again talking about proposing their own plan, but they have repeatedly failed at doing so. The last time the Republicans did propose a plan it was remarkably similar to Obamacare, except then it was proposed as the conservative alternative to Hillarycare.

Any Republican plan which avoids harming millions of people will not only have to provide a mechanism for assisting those who cannot afford insurance coverage. Any plan must also ensure that insurance companies could not return to denying coverage to those who have medical problems. Republicans will find that this is not so simple, and will require the type of compromises seen in the Affordable Care Act.

Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

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.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.

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.

Republicans Have Slight, But Not Insurmountable, Lead Prior To Midterms

The final weekend before the midterm elections the race to control the Senate remains close enough that either party can still win. The Republicans have an edge, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Looking at the most recent polls. electoral-vote.com has the Republicans with 51 seats. This means that the Democrats would only have to win in one state where they are behind provided that they hold onto the seats where they have a slight lead and that Greg Orman caucuses with the Democrats if he wins.

There is far less quality polling in Senate races in a midterm election than in presidential elections, and a slight lead in the polls is far less predictive than a slight lead in a presidential election. If either party out-performs the latest polls by just a couple points the final result could be much more favorable than these predictions, for either party. Sam Wang pointed out the significance of so many races being close:

As I wrote last week, everyone’s calculations are, to an extent, built on sand. Historically, in any given year midterm polls have been off in the same direction by a median of 2 or 3 percentage points. Depending on the year, either Democrats or Republicans end up outperforming polls. In current poll medians, six races are within less than 2 percentage points: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina. Therefore all six of these races could be won by Republicans…or all six could be won by Democrats.

The other races total 48 Republicans and 46 Democrats/Independents. Republicans are slightly favored to take control, since an even split of the six close races would give them the 51 seats they need*. However, the likely possibilities range anywhere from a Republican majority of 54-46 to a Democratic majority of 52-48. As of today, cranking through the math and the uncertainties gives a probability of 55% for a Republican takeover.

Nate Silver sees the Republicans as having a significantly higher chance at taking control of the Senate at 68.5  percent.

Among the reasons that the Republicans now have the edge is narrow leads in two states where the Democrats should be competitive, Iowa and Colorado. It is especially disturbing that a candidate as extreme as Joni Ernst can have the momentum in her favor in Iowa, moving to a seven point lead. There remains hope that the Democrats could still win one or both of these states, with early voters possibly favoring Democrats in Iowa. Campaigning by both Clintons and Elizabeth Warren might also help.

The Democrats still have a reasonable shot of maintaining control of the Senate due to unexpectedly competitive races in Kansas, Georgia, and Kentucky. The race in Kentucky is heating up with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes filing a suit to attempt to prevent Mitch McConnell  distributing a mailer that it says amounts to illegal voter intimidation tactics.

One reason that the polls could be off by a few points is that the polls are weighted by who the pollster predicts will actually turn out to vote. Democrats hope that their ground game will tilt this in their favor, and are especially counting on their edge among women voters.

Media Lets Republicans Get Away With Absurd Statements On Obamacare & Other Issues

Republicans have been successful at “playing the refs” with false claims of liberal bias, helping them get away with spreading their misinformation. Liberal blogs and magazines, have commented a lot on Mitch McConnell’s absurd statement in support of the popular and successful Kynect exchange site while attacking Obamacare, which makes Kynect possible. Fact checkers have debunked this claim months ago. However the mainstream media is paying little attention to this–considerably less than the far less significant refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say who she voted for.

Brian Buetler thinks that the media is largely giving McConnell a pass on this due to failing to understand this, and not really liking to discuss policy. He explained, as so many have in the past, why McConnell is both wrong and dishonest:

During the debate, McConnell said he’d be “fine” with it if Kentucky decided to hold on to Kynect if and when Republicans repeal Obamacare. The subtext of Holmes’s tweet is that Kynect would simply become a hub for the kinds of plans that existed in Kentucky before Obamacare. After all, it’s true there was an insurance market (a non-group market) before there was Obamacare. It could follow that McConnell’s proposition is perfectly reasonable.

But there were also websites before there was Kynect. One of those websites is a Kynect-like exchange called ehealthinsurance.com. Yet somehow, before Obamacare and Kynect came along, it wasn’t processing half a million Kentuckyians a year. The uninsurance rate in Kentucky was extremely high and showed no signs of falling on its own.

That’s because prior to Obamacare, the non-group market was dysfunctional. It excluded and priced out the sick and poor. It offered decent plans to young people who posed minimal health risks, but also sold junk policies that left people who believed they were doing the responsible thing exposed to medical bankruptcy.

It took Obamacare (and, thus, Kynect) to transform that market into something that proved inviting to half of Kentucky’s uninsured population almost overnight. Take away Obamacare, and Kynect might still exist as a website. But it’d be about as useful to Kentuckians as ehealthinsurance was prior to last year. Not totally useless, perhaps, but dramatically diminished and completely superfluous.

You need to know all this if, as a political reporter, you’re going to dismiss the McConnell camp’s spin and call him out as clearly as you (presumably) called out Grimes. Likewise, when McConnell implies that Kentucky could simply replicate the ACA’s private insurance expansion and its Medicaid expansion, you need to know that Kentucky probably couldn’tand certainly wouldn’tever do it on its own. McConnell is suggesting that Kentuckians replace a valuable, paid-for federal benefit with one that would impose steep new burdens on the people of the state alone, knowing it’ll never happen.

Once you grasp it all, then it becomes obvious why McConnell’s contradiction is theoretically so dangerous. He isn’t just painting a shiny gloss on a controversial position. He’s exploiting the public’s confusion over it, playing voters for fools by peddling absurdities. Something that can come to define a campaign just as easily as Grimes’ political cowardice might ultimately come to define hers.

This isn’t the only dishonest statement to come from Republicans in recent debates. Tom Cotton, Republican Senate candidate in Arkansas, made an absurd claim that people with pre-existing conditions were better off before the Affordable Care Act. I happened to listen to the debate in Virginia on C-Span, hearing Ed Gillespie make multiple false claims, such as repeating the Republican lie that Medicare is being cut to pay for Obamacare.

Part of the problem is that many in the media sees their job as “objectively” reporting what each side says, regardless of whether one side is saying far more absurd things. The conventional wisdom this year is that Republicans are doing better because there have not been statements such as Todd Akin talking about “legitimate rape,” but in reality Republicans continue to say many totally off the wall things which are being ignored by the media. Paul Waldman discussed absurd statements which Republicans are getting away with this election cycle and concluded:

…in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. Sure, there are exceptions: For instance, Republicans Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell both saw their candidacies derailed by their crazy or outsized statements. But their utterances were truly, deeply bizarre or comical, so they broke through.

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.