Biggest Lies About Obamacare Debunked Once Again

Michael Tomasky described how, despite all the predictions and lies from opponents, the Affordable Care Act is working and the dire predictions are all failing to come true. He suggested why all the predictions of doom have failed to come true:

…maybe it’s not just dumb luck that the law seems to be working, especially in the states that took the Medicaid money and set up well-run exchanges. Maybe it’s working because bureaucrats (!) anticipated all the potential problems and planned for them in the writing of the law. Nancy-Ann DeParle, one of the administration’s chief architects of Obamacare, put it this way: “When President Obama took office, there were 42 million uninsured Americans, premiums that were unaffordable for families and businesses, a delivery system with the wrong incentives, and unsustainable cost growth. The Affordable Care Act was the product of nearly two decades of bipartisan analysis and discussions among health policy experts and economists to address these problems, and most–indeed, virtually all–of the policies in the law had widespread agreement from these experts.” In other words, writing this law wasn’t guesswork.

He then listed what he considered to be the five biggest lies about Obamacare and why they are not true:

1. Healthy People Won’t Sign Up

Or call this “Death Spiral Part I.” The idea here, spread lustily by many conservatives since 2010 but especially during last fall’s disastrous roll out, was that healthy people simply wouldn’t buy insurance. Senator Orrin Hatch said last November that “at this pace, the Obama administration will never be able to meet their enrollment goals.” Speaker John Boehner at the time groused that “the idea that the federal government should come in and create a one size fits all for the entire country never was going to work.”

Their hope was that only really sick people would sign up, which would lead rates to spike—the much-feared death spiral (more on that later). But lo and behold it turned out that millions of healthy people did want health insurance. As noted above, the precise numbers are hard to come by. But Gallup’s estimate is that the country has roughly 10 million newly insured citizens under Obamacare. And insurance companies report that around 80 to 85 percent of them are paying their premiums (this was another canard spread on the right, that people would sign up but never pay).

In sum, the law’s advocates were right, and its critics wrong, that health insurance was something normal Americans did in fact want. “There never was any realistic prospect of a death spiral,” says Jon Gruber of MIT, one of the country’s top health-care economists.

2. You Won’t Be Able to Choose/Keep Your Doctor/Plan

It’s true that this happened in a limited number of cases—maybe six or seven million people who bought policies on the individual market got cancellation letters from insurers telling them that their plans didn’t meet the minimum requirements under the new law, as NBC News explosively reported last fall.

It harmed the administration’s credibility, and rightly so. But it didn’t represent much of a change from the past — the “churn-rate” in the individual market has always been high. More importantly, no one seems to have followed up with this population to try to figure out what percentage did, in fact, lose coverage and/or have to pay considerably more for a new plan, so we don’t actually know how many of those six or seven million walked away satisfied or dissatisfied.

But more broadly, in a country where some 260 million people have health insurance, no one has adduced any proof that the ACA has resulted in anything remotely like the cataclysm opponents predicted. In fact, last fall, Factcheck.org rated such claims as outright falsehoods. And Gruber noted to me that if some people are “losing” their doctors, it’s often by their own choice, because now that they have so many different coverage options, many are choosing less expensive or so-called “limited network” plans. “No one is making people buy these plans,” Gruber says. “They’re cheaper alternatives. This is capitalism at its finest. For the right to criticize that is just ludicrous.”

3. Obamacare Will Explode the Federal Deficit

You heard this one a jillion times back when the law was being debated. Still today, Republicans and conservatives are deft at cherry-picking numbers out of official reports that can convey the misleading impression that fiscal watchdogs think the law will be a disaster.

The truth is that the Congressional Budget Office said in 2010 and reaffirmed this summer that the Affordable Care Act’s budget impact would be positive. The 2010 estimate was that the ACA would cut deficits by $124 billion over its first decade. And in June, CBO head Douglas Elmendorf reported that his experts “have no reason to think that their initial assessment that the ACA would reduce budget deficits was incorrect.”

Now, he throws in a number of caveats, as any bureaucrat should, having to do with the fact that many provisions of the act will kick in later. But Elmendorf sees no hard evidence to suggest that initial estimates were wrong. In fact, says Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “The CBO has estimated that the law will especially reduce the deficit in its second decade, and there’s every reason to believe that those estimates are on course.”

4. Okay, Then, It Will Bust States’ Budgets

Texas’ Rick Perry, Florida’s Rick Scott, and numerous other Republican governors have said that Obamacare will bust their budgets. They’re basing that on the fact that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid expansion through 2016, but a little less than that thereafter (although never less than 90 percent). So states are going to have to start shelling out (that is, states that take the money in the first place, which Texas and Florida did not).

That’s true as far as it goes. But here’s the part Perry and Scott leave out. All states have, of course, an existing relationship with the Medicaid program in which states pay for some portion of the program’s implementation. And a number of studies estimate that in that pool of funds, states will save significant amounts of money that will offset most of the new expenses incurred under Obamacare. For example, Massachusetts found that after implementation of Romneycare, its costs for “uncompensated care”—charity work, basically—decreased considerably. And one study released in June found that uncompensated care costs are already dropping dramatically under the ACA—but only in the states that have taken the Medicaid money.

Thus, Perry, Scott, et alia are perhaps agents of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Yes, the ACA might bust the budgets of their states—the states trying to kill off Obamacare. But in the states trying to make it work, the budgetary impact, say most nonpartisan experts, will be a little bit negative, but pretty small.

5. Premium Rates Will Shoot Through the Roof

This is the big enchilada, and the culmination of the alleged death spiral. The charge here is that the lack of healthy enrollees will force insurers to jack rates up to the heavens, because they’ll have all these sick and dying people on their hands. Premium hikes for this year were all over the map, because they were based on guesswork by the insurance companies about who was enrolled. But now, the companies have hard data. So just watch, critics say, as the rates go boom.

To be sure, you can go to your Google machine and enter “insurance premium increases 2015” and find a lot of scary headlines from earlier this year. But you can ignore them all, because no one really knows yet.

Here’s how it works. By roughly this past Memorial Day, insurance companies submitted their 2015 rate requests to the states. These could range from tiny to huge—but they’re just requests. State insurance commissioners are now reviewing the requests. Final, approved rates will be made public in November (before November 15, when Obamacare’s second enrollment period begins). By the way, the ACA, for the first time ever, rationalized this “rate season,” so that everything happens in almost every state at the same time and in more or less the same way. Before, there was no national logic to the process at all.

Again, to echo back to what DeParle said: The people writing the law knew all this was coming, and understood very well that rate shock would be a risk. As a result there are numerous provisions in the law designed to guard against it. The most notable one carries an obvious name: “rate review.” Under rate review, any request for an increase of 10 percent or more has to be approved by a board, to which the insurer has to offer copious documentation proving that such a hike is necessary. Prior to the ACA, there was no such review.

Before we go any further, let’s step back. What’s a typical, pre-ACA rate increase? Good question. In 2008 it was 9.9 percent; 2009, 10.8 percent; 2010, 11.7 percent. Within those broad averages, numbers were all over the map: In 2010, rates went up in Kentucky by just 5.5 percent, but in Nebraska by 21.8 percent.

The numbers released in November will similarly be all over the map. There are just too many variables to say otherwise—how much competition there is among insurers in any given state (in general, it’s increased); what the risk pool looks like in a state (how old, how sick); and other factors. So undoubtedly, there will be some isolated hair-raising increases.

We don’t know, but we do have some early indications and studies, and they are pretty hopeful. The Health Research Institute at PricewaterhouseCoopers looked at rate requests from insurers that have been filed across 29 states and the District of Columbia and found that the average increase is 8.2 percent, which is impressively low and definitely not “sticker shock.” And remember, these are mostly just requests (in Rhode Island and Oregon, the rates are final), which aggressive state insurance commissioners might seek to make still lower.  “So far, the filings suggest modest increases for 2015, well below the double digit hikes many feared,” says Ceci Connolly, the managing director of the institute.

All the above is about the individual market—people buying insurance on their own, either through state exchanges or the federal marketplace. For a host of reasons, that’s the best barometer by which to measure the law’s success. But there are other markets, too, notably the small-business market, where employers with fewer than 50 employees buy for their workers. There has been some grumbling among conservatives that this “small-group” market will take an especially hard hit, but that seems not to be the case either.

Again, there will be great variance in the small-group market, according to Jon Kingsdale, of the Wakely Consulting Group in Boston. He says the biggest impact will be that, because of some technical changes made by the law, employers with older employees and larger families will likely see rates increase, while employers with younger workers and smaller families may see rates decrease.  But overall, says Kingsdale, “I do not believe there will be a significant jump in rate in the small-group market, because the underlying body of people being insured is not so different from the prior year.”

One last point on rates: This is another area where Republican saboteurs of the law can, if they choose to, make it not work. That is, Republican state insurance commissioners can approve big premium hikes just to make the law look bad. Says Sally McCarty, the former Indiana state insurance commissioner, now at the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reforms: “States that are in earnest about implementing the law will likely see lower increases, and states not so concerned about seeing the law succeed will see higher increases.”

 

 

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Why The Economy Does Better Under Democratic Than Under Republican Presidents

Economy Democrats v Republicans

We’ve known for a long time that if you want to live like a Republican you should vote  Democratic. The economy has consistently been stronger under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. Even under Obama, despite all the Republican efforts to block recovery, we have seen record increases in corporate profits and the stock market, which should make Republican love him if they ever turn off Fox and look at the real world. While Republicans talk about Democrats supporting big government (despite the biggest increases in the size of government in recent years coming under Republicans), private sector employment also grows more under Democratic presidents.

Jared Bernstein looked at a “new paper by the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson that rigorously examines how the economy has performed under presidents since the 1940s.” The answer was clear that the economy grows faster under Democratic presidents than Republicans:

The American economy has grown faster — and scored higher on many other macroeconomic metrics — when the president of the United States is a Democrat rather than a Republican.

The two looked at key macroeconomic variables averaged over 64 years (16 four-year terms), from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Mr. Blinder and Mr. Watson focus mostly on the 1.8 percent annual difference in real G.D.P. growth. That is, over the full study, real G.D.P. growth averaged 3.33 percent per year. But under Democratic presidents the economy grew 4.35 percent and under Republicans 2.54 percent.

Under Democratic presidents, the economy also spent fewer quarters in recession; added more jobs and more hours worked; and posted larger declines in unemployment and higher corporate profits than under their Republican counterparts. Stock market returns were a lot higher under Democrats as well, but because equity markets are so volatile, that difference is not statistically significant. (By the way, since March 2009, the S.&P. stock index is up 160 percent).

They considered possible reasons.  The difference could not be explained by Democrats inheriting better economies or by deficit spending:

Democrat presidents don’t inherit better economies — to the contrary, they inherit worse ones, at least by the measure of G.D.P. growth. Control of Congress or the Federal Reserve fails to explain the gap. Same for budget and tax policy. That is, it’s not that Democrats juice the economy with deficit spending; the cyclically adjusted budget deficit is actually smaller under the Democrats.

Some of the differences may be due to factors which cannot be explained, possibly even better luck. However Bernstein did point out a couple factors which do contribute to these differences:

The fact that bad fiscal policy — sharp deficit reduction when the economy was still weak — has hurt the current recovery is knowable and important. Though here, too, there’s ambiguity: The recent austerity is mostly the work of Republicans, but the president has also at times bought into it.

Finally it is glaringly obvious that complex, advanced economies need well-functioning federal governments that can accurately diagnose and prescribe; they need governments that can absorb factual information and respond to threats and opportunities. These requirements hold regardless of the president’s party, and the fact that we do not currently have such a federal government is without doubt what’s most important and most scary.

There is another aspect of Republican economic policy which is also harming the economy long term, but the effects don’t vary with the party in office as shorter term indicators do–the increased concentration of wealth by the top one percent. Monica Potts refers to trickle-down economics as The Big, Long, 30-Year Conservative Lie. She has support in this argument from sources which are hardly left wing:

Conservatives have dominated discussions of poverty for a generation with arguments like this one. It’s completely wrong. It’s more than that—it’s just a lie, concocted as cover for policies that overwhelmingly favored the rich. But it took the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression for many economists, liberal or not, to finally say publicly what many had long argued: Inequality is bad for the economy.

The latest to say so is the rating agency Standard and Poor’s, not exactly a bastion of lefty propaganda. An S&P report released August 5 says that rising inequality—gaps in both income and wealth—between the very rich and the rest of us is hurting economic growth. The agency downgraded its forecast for the economy in the coming years because of the record level of inequality and the lack of policy changes to correct for it. The report’s authors argue against the notion that caring about equality necessarily involves a trade-off with “efficiency”—that is, a well-functioning economy.

To be sure, they’re not making a case for a massive government intervention to help low-income Americans. They discuss the benefits of current policy proposals—like raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour—with the caveats that such changes could have potential negative consequences—like dampening job growth. (Most economists agree that such a small hike wouldn’t have that impact.)

At its core, though, the S&P report does argue that pulling people out of poverty and closing the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent will increase economic growth. The authors argue for some redistributive policies, like increased financial aid for post-secondary education. “The challenge now is to find a path toward more sustainable growth, an essential part of which, in our view, is pulling more Americans out of poverty and bolstering the purchasing power of the middle class,” the authors write. “A rising tide lifts all boats…but a lifeboat carrying a few, surrounded by many treading water, risks capsizing.”

Despite their rhetoric, Republicans are no more the party of a strong market economy than they are the party of small government or individual liberty.

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SciFi Weekend: Arrow; Agent Carter; Under The Dome; True Blood (vs. Sarah Palin); Utopia; Sleepy Hollow; Doctor Who (and flirting); Big Bang Theory;Allison Williams as Peter Pan

Arrow Selfie

This picture of the cast of Arrow might very well be the best selfie to come out of Comic-Con last weekend. The latest news on Arrow is that Charlotte Ross  has been cast as Felicity’s mother. Last week Collider asked Stephen Amel about topics including the Justice League and Oliver’s true love at Comic-Con:

Are you happy you don’t have to answer any more Justice League questions?

Stephen Amell: Yes — and by the way, there’s a The Flash show, we have Firestorm, we have Canary, we have The Atom… The actual Justice League film — I don’t know when that’s coming out. You can watch The Justice League on television now. But the reason I’m happy to not have to answer the question anymore is because I think it undersold what we did on TV. I would put our degree of difficulty – having to produce twenty-two episodes of television every year, spinning off the show, giving people the confidence to green-light other DC properties — up there with producing a two hundred million dollar film. They’re very different things. I never want to feel as though our existence is only going to be justified by being part of the cinematic universe. That has nothing to do with anything. We are stamping out our own spot.

[What is the romantic situation like for Oliver this season?]

Stephen Amell: There’s one lady in Oliver’s life.

Just one?

Stephen Amell: Just one. There’s one woman in Oliver’s life this year.

Is that his sister?

Stephen Amell: No — it’s Felicity.

It just seems he’s got Sarah out there and Laurel…

Stephen Amell: The ship has sailed on those romances. I don’t think we’ll ever see Oliver & Sarah or Oliver & Laurel together again. I mean – they’ll be together but just not ‘together-together’. They’ll be teammates. We discover in the premiere the way that Oliver feels about Felicity. Because of that — if we just introduced random love interests, it would undersell what we do in the premiere.

How aware are you of the direction of the character throughout this season and for future seasons as well?

Stephen Amell: I really do think we are moving to a spot where we will refer to my character as ‘The Green Arrow’. We are moving to a spot where we will continue to embrace the fundamental classic elements of the character. Because we have that license now. We’re 46 episodes in. People like it. They buy into it. But unless this character is evolving — The Hood to Arrow to The Green Arrow — then people are going to lose interest. So I always want there to be a journey for him. And this year’s journey is really interesting.

Does that evolution involve the goatee?

Stephen Amell: No.

There’s more information on Agent Carter in the above interview with Hayley Atwell. The show is being described as being like Fargo or True Detective in being like an eight hour movie, and it sounds like it takes place before the formation of SHIELD. It might also contain one major Marvel villain who is unnamed. Also above is the full Agent Carter panel from Comic-Con.

Under the Locker

After True Blood, Under the Dome has to be the worst show I watch. Among its many faults, anything can happen with no apparent rules. In one recent episode there was reason to have a character get a message from outside to propel the plot so for an unknown reason email briefly went through, and then stopped again. Last week they checked out the locker at the site of the death of a character and found that there was a tunnel coming out of the locker. Does it go deep enough underground to get under the dome?

I’ve also wondered since the start of the show why there is not major activity going on outside the dome to try to both figure out what it is and how to get through it, including an effort to tunnel underneath from outside.

Despite all the implausible things which happen, the show somehow remains interesting to watch. On the other hand, I primarily stick with True Blood because I’ve gone on this long and want to see the ending. I had hoped that with this being the final season they would come up with a better storyline to end the series, but so far they have not done this. I can’t even blame Sarah Palin for her snub of the show in response to attacks such as calling her type of people (even if more monstrous than many of the characters on True Blood) Republic*nts.

Utopia has been the best summer genre show on, but as it has not aired in the United States I will avoid any spoilers. I was concerned by the end of the first season whether they could keep up the quality of the show once they began to reveal the secrets behind the conspiracy. They are pulling this off well in the second season. The first episode was a flash back which fills in may of the details about the conspiracy and how the major characters are interconnected. From there, instead of being a mystery about what is going on, the series has done an excellent job of moving on with the story now that we understand the full setup.

New trailer for season two of Sleepy Hollow above. More videos here.

Doctor Who Entertainment Weekly Capaldi

Back in July, 2012 Doctor Who made news by being the first British television show to make the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The show has returned several more times as it has become a bigger hit in the United States, including this week as we head towards the introduction of a new Doctor.

On August 23, Peter Capaldi will begin his first season starring in Doctor Who when the long-running British science-fiction show returns to BBC America. But it wasn’t so long ago that the Scottish actor and lifelong Who fan was certain he would never get his hands on the controls of the Time Lord’s TARDIS. “I wouldn’t have thought I would be the guy,” Capaldi says. “I wouldn’t have thought it would be me.” Why not? “Because of my age. I would have thought they were automatically heading younger.”

It was a reasonable assumption to make. At 56, Capaldi is roughly the same age as William Hartnell when he originated the role of the two-hearted, monster-battling alien way back in 1963. But since the BBC relaunched Doctor Who in 2005 after a lengthy hiatus, the actors playing the lead role have all been younger than Capaldi—and have gotten younger over time. The first of the new Doctors, Christopher Eccleston, was 41 when he first appeared on the show, while his successor David Tennant was 34. Capaldi’s immediate predecessor Matt Smith was just 26 when he was cast in the role.

But what Capaldi saw as a barrier to him playing the Doctor was actually an asset as far as Doctor Who executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat was concerned. “I did say, ‘No, we probably won’t end up with another quirky young man,’” says Moffat. “I didn’t think there was any space around Matt to have another Doctor of that kind, because he sort of sums up what you could do with that. I very very quickly, very quickly just thought about Peter. There is no right age to be the Doctor.”

Capaldi agrees. “I’m technically too young for the part,” chuckles the actor. “Because he’s over 2,000 years old.”

In contrast to Matt Smith and David Tennant, Peter Capaldi will not be flirting with his companion:

Incoming Doctor Who Peter Capaldi has revealed there will be no flirting with co-star Jenna Coleman in the new series.

The previous Doctor was engaged in a close relationship with his sidekick Clara that even led to a passionate kiss.

But Capaldi, 56, insisted his Time Lord would not be following in Matt Smith’s footsteps by getting intimate with 28-year-old Coleman’s character.

“There’ll be no flirting, that’s for sure,” he told the Sunday Times Magazine. “It’s not what this Doctor’s concerned with. It’s quite a fun relationship, but no, I did call and say, ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments’. I think there was a bit of tension with that at first, but I was absolutely adamant.”

The Papa-Nicole comment relates to a series of 1990s Renault Clio car adverts which hinted at a romance between an older man and a younger woman, before they were revealed to be father and daughter.

Capaldi also had good news for those Doctor Who purists who believe the show’s storylines have become over the top.

“It’s going to be a bit different from what we’ve seen over recent years. A bit more gravity,” he said. “Some situations are more sombre and I think there are more rooted dramatic scenes. Over the past two or three years, which I’ve loved, there has often been a breathless vigour; we still have that attack, but we have another level of drama, another tone. And the scenes are longer.”

Big Bang Theory Cast

There’s optimistic news that the contracts will be settled with the cast of The Big Bang Theory. While filming has been postponed due to the lack of a contract, I don’t think anyone doubts that it is has just been a matter of haggling over exact dollar amounts and this will ultimately be settled, whether or not the stars get the full one million dollars per episode they are demanding. Both sides have have good reason to eventually come to an agreement.

Allison Williams

NBC is following up their live broadcast of The Sound of Music with Peter Pan. Allison Williams of Girls has been cast in the title role. She says she has wanted to play Peter Pan since she was three years old. While she very well might have obtained the role without any help, it might not have hurt to have some major connections with NBC. While excited about the role, Williams wonders, “what could go wrong in a live televised production with simultaneous flying, sword fighting and singing?”

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Another Frivolous Suit Against Obamacare Thrown Out Of Court

There have  been a lot of frivolous suits filed by various Republicans lately, ranging from suits to try to block the Affordable Care Act to the House Republicans’ own suit. While we had contradictory rulings in the case making the absurd argument that the ACA did not intend to allow subsidies to those who obtained coverage on the federal as opposed to a state exchange, another ridiculous argument was thrown out of court this week.

The argument was that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because of the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House, and the ACA does include mechanisms to raise revenue to pay for the law. The argument never made much sense but it has attracted increased attention among conservatives since George Will had a column on how the Supreme Court doomed the ACA in its ruling that the government had the power to charge a penalty for noncompliance with the mandate based upon the power to tax.

There are two major errors in this argument. First is that there is precedent for the Senate to take a House bill and then pass it with major changes, and still have this considered to have originated in the House. As the House also passed their own version of health care reform, this was sufficient to meet this criteria. Secondly, the courts have long differentiated between a bill with a primary purpose of levying taxes versus a bill which incidentlaly raises revenue. The Appeals court argued that, “The Supreme Court has held from the early days of this nation that revenue bills are those that levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes which may incidentally create revenue.”

Consider the irony in two of the Republican arguments against the bill. In this case the Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act because it contains provisions to pay for itself. While Democrats have adopted a pay as you go attitude towards new government programs, Republicans prefer to purchase their programs on credit, such as with the Iraq War and George Bush’s Medicare D Program. When it is Republicans spending the money, deficits don’t matter.

In the case of the House law suit, Republicans are suing Obama for delaying implementation of a portion of the law (the mandate on small business) which they have claimed would be harmful and want repealed. Republicans also had no objection to a similar delay by George Bush in enforcing requirements of the Medicare D program.

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Obama Runs Against The Haters In The Do-Nothing Congress

Republicans have the edge going into the midterm elections considering the traditional disadvantages of a president’s party in the sixth year, but considering the negatives faced by the Republicans there is still a question of whether campaigning against them will improve the outcome for Democrats. Obama spoke out against them today (video above). He criticized Congressional Republicans for their inaction in solving current problems, pointing out the economic gains despite their obstructionism:

“They have not been that helpful,” Obama told a crowd in a local theater. “They have not been as constructive as I would have hoped and these actions come with a cost.”

The House is set to vote later on Wednesday on legislation authorizing a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions, particularly to delay ObamaCare’s employer health insurance mandate.

Obama highlighted the administration’s successes in boosting the economy, saying that his administration caused the bounce-back reflected in statistics released Wednesday that showed 4 percent growth in the second quarter.

He noted that the 6.1 percent unemployment rate is the lowest since September of 2008. But he blamed Republicans for preventing him for doing more for every day Americans.

“We could do so much more if Congress would come on and help out a little bit,” he added. “Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop just hating all the time. C’mon … I know they’re not happy that I’m president but that’s okay. I got a couple of years left. C’mon … then you can be mad at the next president.”

The president slapped the GOP for the lawsuit. “Instead of suing me for doing my job, I want Congress to do its job.”

Obama criticized the Republican lawsuit as a stunt and did not mention impeachment. John Boehner has been using the lawsuit as a means to appease many Republicans who have called for impeachment, with impeachment talk backfiring against Republicans and helping Democratic fund raising

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the party had raised $7.6 million online since Boehner announced the suit in June, including $1 million collected Monday alone after incoming House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), during a network television interview, repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of impeachment.

I heard that interview with Steve Scalise on Fox News Sunday and found him to be very evasive on what should have been home turf for him. Republicans like Scalise like to have it both ways. They claim that the impeachment talk is coming from Democrats for fund raising purposes but many refuse to rule out the possibility in order to keep the Republican base happy. One Republican was honest enough to say that the lawsuit was just for show, but then went on to show what many Republicans really have in mind

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told The Hill that the lawsuit, spearheaded by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), is “theater, is a show.”

Jones, who will vote no on the legislation that is scheduled to hit the House floor on Thursday, said he prefers impeaching Obama.“Why not impeach instead of wasting $1 million to $2 million of the taxpayers’ money? … If you’re serious about this, use what the founders of the Constitution gave us,” Jones said.

Democrats have been raising campaign donations on the prospects of impeachment. GOP leaders have stressed repeatedly they are not going to impeach Obama.

Boehner on Tuesday said that the notion that Republicans would impeach Obama is a “scam” drummed up by Democrats to boost their campaign coffers.

Other Republicans who have expressed support for impeachment include Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Steve Stockman (Texas) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

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No Signs Of A Wave Election So Far

Nate Cohn looked at the small amount of generic Congressional polling there is available and concluded, consistent with other indicators, that there is no sign of a wave election this year. The polls he looked at showed an average 1.9 percent advantage for the Democrats over Republicans. Cohn wrote:

These findings bear no resemblance to the one-sided results at this point in 2010, when Republicans held a clear 4.7-point advantage, or in 2006, when Democrats were ahead by 10.1 points. The current slight Democratic edge is fairly similar to what generic ballot surveys showed in the days ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

It’s important to emphasize that these polls are of registered voters, not likely voters. Previous years’ surveys were also of registered voters. The Republicans probably have a slight advantage among the older and whiter electorate that’s likely to participate this November. But that’s a separate matter from national political conditions.

While some have predicted a Republican wave based upon Obama’s unpopularity in the polls, the fact that both Congress and the Republican Party have even worse favorability ratings must count for something. The actual result seems to be a decreased turn out at the polls in primary elections so far this year, possibly indicating that voters are fed up with everybody. There is still quite a while until the election, and an unforeseen event still might tilt things towards either party.

The lack of a Republican wave, assuming things stay as they are, should limit the expected loses by Democrats which we would normally see in the sixth year of a presidency. Unfortunately the Republicans are in a good position to take control of the Senate without a wave as the Democrats are forced to defend several Senate seats in red states which they picked up in 2008.

As it now stands, the Republicans have a very slight edge to take the Senate, but there are a number of reasons that Democratic incumbents might still hold onto enough seats to narrowly maintain control. The Hobby Lobby might get more single women to turn out to vote for the Democrats.  Republicans still could find ways to lose elections which are now close, such as with a call for nullification of federal laws by the states by the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa:

Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, appears to believe states can nullify federal laws. In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a form held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

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Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

While, as should be obvious from the previous post, I am not thrilled by the prospect of Hillary Clinton being president, any Republican alternative would be far worse. With all her faults, Clinton isn’t bat-shit crazy. Norm Ornstein has written again about how extreme the Republican have become. He described the extremists who have become more common in the Republican Party, providing multiple quotations (not even resorting to quoting Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann):

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

“Sex that doesn’t produce people is deviate.” —Montana state Rep. Dave Hagstrom.

“It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education.” —Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Reynolds.

“I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” —Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert, at a tea-party rally.

President Obama has “become a dictator” and needs to face the consequences of his executive actions, “whether that’s removal from office, whether that’s impeachment.” —Iowa state Sen. (and U.S. Senate candidate) Jodi Ernst, one of a slew of elected officials calling for impeachment or at least putting it front and center.

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change. But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.” —Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (fact-check: the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees).

“Although Islam had a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protections.” —Georgia congressional candidate Jody Hice.

“Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done, but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it’s pretty immoral.” —U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big-bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” —U.S. Rep. (and M.D.) Paul Broun of Georgia.

“Now I don’t assert where he [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.” —U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

He pointed out some of the less extreme forces in the Republican Party and concluded:

I am not suggesting that the lunatics or extremists have won. Most Republicans in the Senate are not, to use John McCain’s term, “wacko birds,” and most Republicans in office would at least privately cringe at some of the wild ideas and extreme views. At the same time, the “establishment” is fighting back, pouring resources into primaries to protect their preferred candidates, and we are seeing the rise of a new and encouraging movement among conservative intellectuals—dubbed “Reformicons” by E.J. Dionne—to come up with a new set of ideas and policy prescriptions to redefine the ideology and the party in a positive way.

But there is a darker reality. Many of the “preferred” candidates—including Ernst as well as James Lankford in Oklahoma and Jack Kingston in Georgia—are anything but pragmatic.

A few years ago, they would have been labeled hard-liners. (Kingston, a favorite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was beaten in the Senate primary Tuesday by businessman David Perdue, who has said he would not vote for Mitch McConnell as party leader in the Senate.) It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set. Of course, there are still courageous mainstream figures like Jeb Bush who are willing to deviate from the new orthodoxy, and it is possible that he can run and get the Republican presidential nomination, win the White House, and begin the process of recalibration.

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Even if the lunatics have not entirely won, they are the ones influencing the views of the rest of  the party. The establishment Republicans have beaten some primary challenges based upon disagreements on tactics, such as no longer wanting to shut down the government, but they have also adopted the ideology of the Tea Party.

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Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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Activist Conservative Judges Attempt To Destroy Obamacare, Causing Potential Problems For Republicans

We had two different federal appeals court panels give conflicting rulings on Tuesday regarding the legality of subsidies in the Affordable Care Act. This came about due to some ambiguities in the writing of the law–primarily a proof reading error at one point which suggests that only insurance purchased in state exchanges can allow subsidies. The bulk of the law makes it clear that people purchasing coverage can qualify for subsidies regardless of whether purchased on a federal or state exchange.

It is impossible to predict with certainty, but legal experts are generally predicting that the Supreme Court would follow precedent and go with the overall intent of the law as opposed to allowing the conservative activist judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn the law.

In the event that the Supreme Court should support this idea we could then have a rather chaotic situation. About 4.5 million people would lose their subsidies, making many people very angry at any Republican politicians who refused to work towards a fix.  There would be two potential solutions. One would be for each state to build their own exchange. Presumably they would now have the benefit of the experience of those working on the federal exchange, so this might not be as difficult as it sounds. However, a far simpler solution would be for Congress to pass legislation to clear up the ambiguous wording in the Affordable Care Act which led to this situation.

We could have rather interesting political battles if Republicans would continue to call for repeal and refuse to act to make the fix. This would anger many voters who in effect are receiving a significant tax increase by losing their subsidies, and ultimately might lose their medical care. Would Republicans stick to demanding repeal or be forced to give into demand to allow people to receive the subsidies and continue their insurance coverage? If I was a Republican politician, I think I might hope that the Supreme Court rules in favor of the current subsidies and avoids this political problem.

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Liberal Democrats and Libertarian Republicans Working On Common Goals

Republicans have always had a libertarian wing but their influence and willingness to fight for true freedom has varied over time. Far too often Republican talk of freedom turns into the freedom of businesses to ignore necessary regulations or the freedom to impose their social and religious values upon others. Limited government also far too often turns out to mean reducing the authority of the federal government in order to allow state governments to infringe upon the rights of minorities. With true defense of freedom being rare among Republicans in recent years, it was good to see a report from The New York Times that Liberals and Libertarians Find Common Ground in House.

The article lists several areas where some Republicans have crossed the aisle to work with liberal Democrats:

From abortion to electronic privacy to background checks for gun purchases, a strange thing has been happening on the floor of the House as it debates its spending bills for the coming fiscal year: the stirrings of liberalism.

The House on Thursday voted 221 to 200 to approve an amendment by one of its most vocal liberal members, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, to ban federal contracts for companies that set up sham headquarters in offshore tax havens like Bermuda. Thirty-four Republicans bucked their party to push it to passage.

That was only the most recent stirring of life on the House’s left flank. Democrats have long hoped they could find common cause on at least some issues with the Republican conference’s libertarian wing. That is starting to happen, fueled by rising distrust of government on the right, a willingness of Democrats to defy the Obama administration in some instances and a freewheeling amendment process on appropriations bills.

The article cites examples of liberals and libertarians working together on legislation to increase individual liberty, from medical marijuana to privacy protections:

The tally of left-libertarian legislation is growing, with the House at least on record voting to limit federal law enforcement actions, intelligence efforts and social policy reach. On May 30, 49 Republicans crossed the aisle to approve language barring the federal government from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Some people are suffering, and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering, it is immoral for this government to get in the way,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, once one of the chamber’s most ardent conservatives, now a co-sponsor of the marijuana measure.

The day before, 76 Republicans joined Democrats to add $19.5 million to the federal instant background check system for gun purchases. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to allow Peace Corps volunteers who become pregnant by rape to have a federally funded abortion and another measure limiting the federal government’s access to private email communications.

“By passing this amendment, the Appropriations Committee is taking a critical step towards ensuring all Americans are protected by the Fourth Amendment — their mail, documents on their desks at home, and now their private emails,” said Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas and one of the measure’s authors.

On June 19, the House voted 293 to 123 to prohibit the National Security Agency and C.I.A. from placing “backdoor” surveillance technologies on commercial technology products and to end warrantless collection of Americans’ online activities. That amendment, passed over the White House’s objections with a veto-proof margin, was written by Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky and one of the House’s most outspoken libertarians, with the Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren, who represents Silicon Valley, and Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, a physicist.

An amendment by Representative Dave Reichert, Republican of Washington, reversed cuts to a Bill Clinton-era program that funds local police forces, a program long on the Republican target list. The liberal Democrat that Republicans love to hate, Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, convinced just enough Republicans to pass an amendment blocking the Justice Department from compelling journalists to divulge confidential sources. Another Democratic amendment clears a legal path for states to cultivate industrial hemp.

To be sure, Republicans note, plenty of amendments have driven spending bills to the right. Just last week, the House voted to block the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change on multiple fronts, including one amendment that prohibits any funding for any aspect of the administration’s “climate change agenda.”

Amendments also have passed to end the deferring of deportations of immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, to fund a Justice Department investigation of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of illegal immigrants and to block high-speed rail in California.

But, Mr. Massie said, the libertarian-liberal alliance is real and growing. He said he has been working with Ms. Lofgren on legislation that would repeal a federal law that makes it a felony to unlock a cellphone tied to a particular carrier, even after a contract is expired. Libertarians are also teaming with Democrats to change laws on federal mandatory minimum sentencing.

It would be helpful if left-libertarian goals were a higher priority from the executive branch. Obama had initially raised hopes that he would have governed as more of a left-libertarian, and Obama did receive some libertarian support when initially running for president. While he has been far preferable to George Bush on civil liberties, he has disappointed civil libertarians in areas ranging from continuing many of the Bush surveillance plans (even if seeking reform in some areas) to failing to keep his campaign promises regarding ending federal raids related to medical marijuana. While nothing is a certainty in politics, it looks most likely that Hillary Clinton, who has been to the right of Obama, is likely to win the 2016 nomination. This could leave it up to such a liberal and libertarian coalition in Congress to pursue liberal goals. There is hope for greater emphasis by the Democrats (and possibly some Republicans) on matters of personal freedom in the future as polls show that younger voters are more “determined to protect personal liberties from conservative moral constraint.”

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