Michigan Governor Rick Snyder Says He Will Veto RFRA Legislation

Rick Snyder

Following the uproar over the RFRA legislation in Indiana, the legislature has added LGBT protections, but some are arguing that the protections are not sufficient. At least we should not have to worry about this in Michigan. While the far right does dominate the legislature, Governor Rick Snyder wants to stay far away from anything which will interfere with economic recovery in Michigan. Snyder has announced that he will veto the legislation–and this would not be the first time the Republican governor has gone against the will of the Republican legislature.

Snyder first won the Republican nomination for governor with the help of Democrats who realized he would be far preferable to Tea Party Republicans like Pete Hoekstra going after the nomination in 2010, in a year in which it looked inevitable that a Republican would win. Unlike many other Republicans, Snyder prefers to stay away from conservative social issues. He recently received coverage for the Michigan economic recovery in The Wall Street Journal. Of course, being The Wall Street Journal, the article gives the credit for the economic recovery to Snyder, ignoring the important contributions from the Obama recovery nationally, and Obama’s actions to save the auto industry. While the article is correct that Snyder is no Scott Walker, it also ignores that he has conflicted with labor in capitulating to the legislature in signing right to work legislation.

Despite these flaws, the article is correct in pointing out important distinctions between Snyder and other Republicans, such as refusing to sign Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, and Snyder is currently pushing for a ballot proposal to increase the sales tax. This is to be used to repair roads, with Snyder arguing it is more economical in the long run to maintain good roads. Snyder also pushed for Medicaid expansion in Michigan when many Republican governors opposed it and has vetoed Republican legislation related to concealed weapons and voter ID. On the other hand, besides signing right to work legislation, Snyder has signed legislation placing restrictions on abortion rights. With this mixed record, it is good news to hear that Snyder plans to veto RFRA.

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Indiana Pizza Shop Cites RFRA To Refuse Catering Gay Weddings

Pizza

By the time I had time to start working on a post on the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana earlier this week the national outraged had already reached such a level that there was no longer any point in the original post. The negatives have all be adequately spelled out at many sources. The best defense for conservatives on this was the claim that the law was not intended to promote discrimination and would not do so. We quickly have a case proving them wrong:

A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O’Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza.

She and her family are standing firm in their beliefs.

The O’Connors have owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton for 9 years.

It’s a small-town business, with small-town ideals.

“We are a Christian establishment,” says O’Connor.

The O’Connor family prides themselves in owning a business that reflects their religious beliefs.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

So, when Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, the family was not disappointed.

“We definitely agree with the bill,” says O’Connor.

I certainly have not read everything posted by supporters of the law, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any such examples of people actually being denied religious liberties who would be helped by this law. I mean true religious liberties. Quite often when people on the right speak of freedom of religion they are really advocating the freedom to impose their religious views on others.

And why must a pizza shop be “a Christian establishment?”

At least the backlash against the law in Indiana has also had some positive impact with Governor Asa Hutchinson backing away from signing a similar law. I believe we are at a tipping point where discrimination against gays is no more acceptable than discrimination based upon race. That doesn’t man it will disappear from our society, but even Republican politicians will find it difficult to openly support such legislation.

Update: TMZ reports that the pizza restaurant has been forced to close temporarily following the negative reaction to the owner’s comments.

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Senator Stabenow Takes Legislative Action Against Cotton Letters

debbie-stabenow

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is taking legislative action to prevent a repeat of the type of letter sent by Senator Tom Cotton, attempting to sabotage diplomatic talks regarding nuclear energy in Iran. She introduced an amendment (pdf here) which would defund “the purchase of stationary [sic] or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States.”

The letter signed by 47 Republican Senators was highly irresponsible, and it is understandable why Senator Stabenow would like to defund any future such letters. The letter not only interferes with efforts to attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it undermines the ability of the current and every future president to negotiate on behalf of the United States.

Of course Democrats might also like to keep this issue alive considering how unpopular the letter was with voters. It never hurts to remind the voters of how utterly irresponsible and bat-shit crazy the Republican Party has become.

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PolitiFact Shows Facts On Health Care Reform, Debunking Republican Claims

PolitiFact has looked at the data available so far on the Affordable Care Act. They confirm what I’ve said in many posts on health care reform. ObamaCare is leading to more people being insured, lower costs, and a reduction in the deficit. The various Republican predictions of doom have failed to come about. The one area in which the law failed to meet expectations was the number of people covered due to Republican-controlled states which do not participate in the expanded Medicaid program. Thank-you Republicans for once again showing that you are the anti-life party.

Here is a summary of what PolitiFact has reported:

In 2010 it was projected that by 2019 32 million people would gain insurance, leaving 23 million uninsured (with the uninsured including illegal immigrants who, despite that email from your crazy Republican uncle, are not covered under ObamaCare.) It is now projected that by 2019 27 million will gain insurance, leaving 26 million uninsured. This is largely due to those not receiving access to the expanded Medicaid program in Republican-controlled states.

In 2010 it was predicted that the Affordable Care Act would decrease the deficit by $143 billion between 2010-19. In 2014 the projection was updated to reducing the deficit by $152 billion between 2015-24.

In 2010 the cost was projected to be $710 billion between 2015-19. The updated projection is $571 billion. The lower estimate is due to both reductions in health care costs and decreased spending on the expanded Medicaid program.

PolitiFact debunked that Republican claims that the Affordable Care Act is a jobs-killer.

PolitiFact debunked the Republican predictions of a death spiral in which premiums would become more expensive and younger, healthier people would not purchase insurance: “About 28 percent of customers during the 2014 enrollment period were ages 18 to 34. And there were 70 more insurance companies participating in the 2015 marketplaces than the previous year…”

PolitiFact debunked Republican predictions of increasing premiums, noting a decrease in health care spending. It is not clear to what degree this can be attributed to the Affordable Care Act versus other factors. One aspect that is not measurable is the way in which the culture in health care has changed since Obama began speaking about health care reform, leading health care professionals to utilize resources more economically.

The Affordable Care Act was introduced as incremental legislation which would both increase access to care and reduce costs. It was never expected to lead to universal coverage without further expansion of the plan. PoltiFact looked at those projected to remain uninsured:

Who makes up this group of persistently uninsured? About 30 percent are illegal immigrants, which the law specifically does not apply to. But about 40 to 45 percent are people who will choose not to purchase insurance offered to them either through the marketplaces or through an employer, in many cases because they still can’t afford it. The law exempts people from paying a penalty who have incomes so low they don’t file tax returns.

There is also a coverage gap unintended by those who wrote the law: People who live in states that didn’t accept Medicaid expansion. The law essentially required states to expand eligibility and agreed to pay 100 percent of the expansion for the first three years, declining to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.

One goal for the future is to provide assistance for those denied care due to living in Republican-controlled states. Further review of the law is needed regarding the 40 to 45 percent who are projected to remain uninsured due to choosing not to purchase insurance offered through the exchanges or employers. Some people are not obtaining coverage due to believing false information spread by Republicans and this problem will hopefully decline as more people see the success of the law. Some were unaware of the tax penalties as they will not experience them until paying taxes due this April 15. This might provide further motivation to obtain insurance.

The biggest concern are those who remain unable to purchase insurance due to the cost. As I previously noted, eighty-three percent of enrollees qualified for subsidies in 2013. Those who qualified payed an average of $82 per month in premiums. Those obtaining Silver plans paid an average of $69 per month. Those not obtaining coverage due to the cost are probably people at the upper income range for receiving subsidies and not receiving sufficient subsidies to afford insurance, or those who just miss out on qualifying. This situation might be improved with further reductions in costs but expansion of the subsidies might be needed to get closer to universal coverage.

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Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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AP Poll Shows Majority Supports Marriage Equality

A poll from the AP-NORC Center shows a majority supporting same-sex marriage for the first time in their poll, with support up 8 percentage points since 2012 and 45 points since 1988. There continues to be a partisan divide, but while support among Republicans lags behind Democrats, there is a significant increase in support for marriage equality among Republicans. The key findings:

  • For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) support same-sex couples’ right to marry, up from 48 percent in 2012.
  • Support for same-sex marriage among Republicans increased from 31 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2014. This increase is larger than the increase among Democrats and independents, although Republican support still lags behind those groups.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans ages 18-34 support same-sex marriage, an increase of 10 points since 2012.

Update: Then there are faux libertarians who think that the government should be able to intrude in the private lives of individuals:

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said on Friday affording the distinction to marriage to same-sex couples “offends myself and a lot of other people.”In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, the Kentucky Republican, who described himself as a “libertarian conservative,” made the remarks when asked about his views on gay rights.

“I’m for tradition marriage,” Paul said. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people.”

Paul continued, “I think having competing contracts that would give them equivalency before the law would have solved a lot of these problems, and it may be where we’re still headed.”

Separate but equal.

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Landmark FCC Decision Is A Victory For Freedom Of Expression And Free Enterprise

In what PoltiFact calls ” a significant accomplishment for Obama” and a “Promise Kept,” the FCC has voted for major changes to help guarantee a free and open Internet. Net neutrality is important for freedom of expression, including helping small blogs such as this to continue, important for small business, and important to maintain the lifestyle we are becoming accustomed to, such as streaming video as an alternative to often exorbitant cable rates.

Net neutrality is a tremendous victory for freedom of expression and free enterprise. Not surprisingly, conservatives have been spreading the untrue talking points of the large telecommunications companies which fear seeing their power diminished. Whenever the goals of the powerful conflict with the best interests of the nation, we know which side conservatives will invariably side with.

There are all sorts of false claims being spread by conservatives about net neutrality, such as that it will lead to $15 billion in new taxes and will lead to either Barack Obama or the United Nations (depending upon the source) controlling the Internet. In other words, this sounds like lots of right wing conspiracy theories we have already heard.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler disputed conservative claims that the new regulations are intended to regulate communication on the Internet:

This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression and an absence of gatekeepers telling them what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.

The Fact Checker at The Washington Post called the claims of higher taxes false. Ron Wyden, who wrote the Internet Tax Freedom Act, debunked conservative claims that the FCC’s action would invalidate the law and result in higher taxes. This ban on taxes in will expire in October, but there is nothing stopping Congress from renewing it.

AP’s fact checking included the following:

THE CLAIM: “President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet.” — Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

THE FACTS: It’s a shift for sure, but the FCC hasn’t proposed regulating Internet content or controlling access to websites. The question is how to regulate Internet service so providers don’t block or slow web traffic for financial gain.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the only way to do that is to subject retail Internet service to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That would expand FCC power significantly by allowing regulators to step in if there were allegations of harm to consumers. But it’s a reach to suggest that these new powers equate to a government takeover.

Also worth noting is that the FCC is independent from the administration. While Obama has put pressure on the FCC to enact tougher regulations, and he appointed Wheeler to head the agency, this is not the president’s call.

After debunking additional claims, the article explained why this change is now needed, and not necessarily a break from previous administrations:

THE CLAIM: The FCC plan “represents a stunning reversal of the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations.” It will backtrack on “decades of bipartisan agreement to limit Internet regulation.” — Former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal.

THE FACTS: The question of Internet “fast lanes” is far more pressing for Obama than it ever was for Clinton or Bush. In 2000, only 3 percent of American households had broadband access, compared with 70 percent by 2013, according to the Pew Research Center.

It wasn’t until President George W. Bush’s second term, in 2005, that YouTube became available and video services like Netflix became more popular. By the time the FCC voted in 2008 against Comcast for throttling Web traffic, Bush was nearing the end of his presidency.

For those who might find this all boring, here is a more entertaining explanation of net neutrality from John Oliver:

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Bloomberg News Shows That Obamacare Is Not A Job-Killer As Republicans Claim

I’ve discussed many times, most recently yesterday, how the conservative arguments against the Affordable Care Act don’t hold up. Their predictions of doom have also consistently failed to come about. Bloomberg News looked at the effect of Obamacare on corporate profits, finding only a small effect, debunking the conservative claims that Obamacare is a job killer. It also helps that one of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act has a lower increase in premiums than has been seen in the past:

The biggest entitlement legislation in a generation is causing barely a ripple in corporate America.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — is putting such a small dent in the profits of U.S. companies that many refer to its impact as “not material” or “not significant,” according to a Bloomberg review of conference-call transcripts and interviews with major U.S. employers.

That’s even after a provision went into effect this year requiring companies with 50 or more full-time workers to provide coverage, and after more workers are choosing to enroll in existing company coverage because of another requirement that all Americans get insured.

“It’s just part of doing business,” said Bob Shearer, chief financial officer of VF Corp., which owns the North Face and Vans apparel brands. “Obamacare has added costs, but not so much that we felt we had to talk about it specifically.”

The collective shrug from the nation’s biggest employers undermines the arguments of Republicans, who call the law a job-killer as they seek its repeal.

While U.S. health-care costs continued to rise faster than inflation in the five years since the law was passed, their rate of growth has slowed. Employers spent an average of $11,204 per worker for health benefits in 2014, up 4.6 percent from a year earlier, according to Mercer LLC. That growth rate was 6.1 percent or more each year from 1998 to 2011.

Enrollment in insurance policies purchased on the exchanges has also beaten expectations. The Hill reports, “The administration announced on Tuesday that 11.4 million people had signed up ahead of Sunday’s deadline, a figure that puts the administration on track to beat its goal of 9.1 million enrollees. Republicans have been largely silent on the numbers.”

Taken together, these two reports are further evidence that the Affordable Care Act is helping to both increase the number of people insured and restrain health care costs.

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Measles Outbreak Shows How Republicans Have A Serious Problem With Science And Facts

Statements from many prominent Republicans, including Chris Christie and Rand Paul, on the measles outbreak have served to remind people that Republicans really are the Party of Stupid. This follows recent problems with Republicans ignoring the science to promote hysteria in response to Ebola.  As The New York Times wrote:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers — including Mr. Christie — who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

On climate change, the party has struggled with how to position itself, with some Republicans inviting mockery for questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels.

There are two types of misinformation being spread by conservatives regarding vaccines. The most extreme is to deny the basic science, claiming that vaccines do not work or are harmful. Some limit their arguments to denying the public health dangers resulting when some people refuse to vaccinate their children, often on libertarian grounds. While herd immunity has generally protected Americans from the effects of some refusing vaccines, the current measles outbreak shows what can happen. This also highlights a major problem with libertarianism. Sometimes, as even Fox’s Megyn Kelly has argued, “some things do require some involvement of Big Brother.”

It is also hard for Chris Christie to hide behind any libertarian justification for allowing parents to refuse to vaccinate their children after he involuntarily quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox despite the lack of either legal or medical justification.

It does make it much worse for the Republicans when they show similar problems with science and facts on other issues, not limited to evolution, climate change, vaccines, and Ebola. As I discussed yesterday, Republicans are also basing their attempts to restrict abortion rights on pseudo-science, such as claiming that a fetus can feel pain before it has developed a cerebral cortex, and framing the debate around unscientific claims that there is a definite point when life begins.

While economics is not as exact a science, there is ample data which disputes Republican Voodoo Economics. Tax cuts on the wealthy do not pay for themselves, do not stimulate the economy, and do not lead to wealth trickling down. The multiplier effect of government spending on economic development, along with the benefits of giving tax breaks to the poor and middle class, as opposed to the wealthy, often provide far greater benefit. These are among the reasons that the economy does so much better under Democrats than Republicans.

We are still seeing the disastrous effects of Republicans ignoring the facts in Iraq to go to war.

Facts matter, and Republican denial of the facts do not change this. What does happen is that we all suffer when Republicans decide public policy while denying science and facts.

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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.

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