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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
While you can never be certain as to what the Supreme Court would do, I’ve always felt that it is most likely that they would ultimately find that King v. Burwell is a frivolous case. (In other words, the most conservative justices might accept it, but John Roberts will cast the deciding vote against it if needed). This case is the latest Republican attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the courts because of some language in the law, contradicting other portions, which could be taken to mean that subsidies are only available to those who obtain coverage through state exchanges, and not the federal exchange.
As I’ve pointed out in the past, it would politically be bad for Republicans if the court ruled against the Obama administration in this case. If the Supreme Court does accept the absurd argument that subsidies should only be available under the law for policies purchased on state exchanges, the simplest solution would be for Congress to revise a few words in the law to fix the problem. It is rather common for Congress to pass laws after major legislation to fix minor problems, except in this case Republicans in Congress are more interested in repeated, futile efforts to repeal ObamaCare as opposed to making such fixes–with yet another repeal vote now planned.
The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for January finds that relatively few people are now aware of King v. Burwell, but most people do think that Congress should fix the problem. Among total voters, passing a law to fix this is supported 64 percent to 27 percent. There is similar support among independents, greater support among Democrats, and even a substantial number of Republicans (40 percent) would support such a fix:
If this is not fixed by Congress passing such a law, the second solution would be for states to start their own exchanges. A majority would also support this in affected states. Even Republicans support this, although at lower levels than Democrats and independents:
I suspect that Republican leaders would much prefer to see the Supreme Court not put them in a position to have to take such action, either in Congress or at a state level. Failure to take such action would make displease the majority of voters, while taking such action would displease their base, who might take revenge in primaries where they dominate.
The Congressional Budget Office on Monday significantly lowered its estimate of the cost of providing health insurance coverage to millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act.
Douglas W. Elmendorf, the director of the budget office, said the changes resulted from many factors, including a general “slowdown in the growth of health care costs” and lower projections of insurance premiums that are subsidized by the federal government.
In March 2010, when President Obama signed the health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the expansion of coverage would cost the federal government $710 billion in the fiscal years 2015 through 2019, Mr. Elmendorf said.
“The newest projections indicate that those provisions will cost $571 billion over that same period, a reduction of 20 percent,” he said. The Affordable Care Act not only subsidized the purchase of private insurance, but also authorized a major expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people.
As usual, conservatives are cherry picking and distorting the numbers to portray this as a negative. Among other distortions of the facts, they fail to take into account the fact that having a substantial portion of the country be uninsured results in higher costs for both government programs, as well as costs which are passed on to those who do pay for insurance. The bottom line is that, even before these more favorable numbers, the CBO found that the Affordable Care Act results in a reduction in the deficit. Strange that conservatives who place such a high priority on reducing the deficit (which was run up by Republicans during the Bush years) oppose a program which will help reduce the deficit.
Of course if conservatives are unhappy with the cost of the Affordable Care Act, they should keep in mind the fact that costs are much higher due than they otherwise might be due to providing coverage through private insurance companies rather than through a single-payer system modeled on Medicare. Somehow I doubt many conservatives would go for the far more cost effective single-payer model.
Conservatives are also attacking the law because, while reducing the number of uninsured by 27 million people, there will still be 31 million uninsured in 2025. However, when looking at who will remain uninsured, I wonder which group conservatives are complaining about. Of this 31 million, 30 percent are illegal aliens and conservatives would sure protest if health care coverage were extended to them. Another 1o percent are ineligible for coverage because of living in states which did not expand Medicaid–a decision which conservatives support. The remainder are people who will qualify for coverage but choose not to purchase it.