“Obamacare Opponents Still Await The Apocalypse”: Opponents Are As Wrong About Obamacare As Reagan Was About Medicare
A while back, progressive activists and politicians pushed for legislation to provide health insurance for a cohort of Americans who could not easily pay for their doctors’ visits and medications. Predictably, that effort was met with fierce resistance from conservatives, who didn’t seem concerned about those less-fortunate citizens who couldn’t afford medical care.
Conservatives denounced the plan as “socialized medicine” or a “communist takeover” of the American health care system. One notable conservative was especially alarmist, declaring that if the proposal passed Congress, “… you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
No, that hysterical tirade didn’t come in response to the Affordable Care Act. Those words were spoken in 1961 by Ronald Reagan, who was crisscrossing the country to campaign against the adoption of Medicare. Yes, Medicare, which Congress passed in 1965 and is widely considered a resounding success.
Fast-forward a few decades. The same alarms were sounded more recently, as progressive activists and politicians pushed for legislation to provide inexpensive health insurance for those who couldn’t afford it. Actually, the denunciations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, usually called “Obamacare,” may have been even more hysterical.
As the law neared passage, I watched angry crowds gather near the White House — many holding vicious, racially charged signs lambasting the president — to chant about “socialism” and “communism.” Strangely, the most vehement criticisms came from Americans 65 and older, the very cohort that benefits from Medicare.
President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, so it has been the law of the land for five years. Given that, it’s possible to make a reasoned assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.
First off, let’s note that there has been no “socialist takeover” of American medicine. Obamacare uses private health insurance providers; the law merely sets requirements for health insurance plans and issues subsidies to patients who cannot afford to purchase policies.
As you might expect, the number of Americans with health insurance — and, therefore, with access to preventive medical care — has increased in the last five years. Before the law went into effect, there were 48 million uninsured Americans. Now, with 16 million people having signed up for Obamacare, that number has been cut by a third.
Furthermore, health insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage to patients who are already sick or to set a “lifetime cap” on the amount of money a company will pay for medical care. Adult children, who might be in college or working at low-paying jobs without benefits, can stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26.
The Affordable Care Act may also have decreased the rate at which health care costs were escalating. Five years ago, medical care costs were skyrocketing, well beyond the rate of general inflation. Now, those costs are still going up — but at the lowest rate in 50 years. While economists aren’t certain that Obamacare’s cost-containment measures are responsible, many of them give the law credit.
To be sure, the Affordable Care Act has been no panacea. There are still 32 million Americans without health insurance. And, despite the president’s early pledge that people already insured could retain their policies, a tiny but vocal group lost their insurance because Obamacare deemed those policies inadequate. Many in that group ended up paying more for insurance, hardly a happy outcome.
But the worst failings of the Affordable Care Act are beyond its supporters’ control. Because of persistent, irrational Republican opposition, more than 20 states have refused to expand Medicaid — even though the feds would pay the lion’s share of costs. That means that millions of working-class Americans are not getting the health care they need. Furthermore, Obamacare’s unrelenting antagonists have mounted yet another challenge to the law before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s hard to fathom. The Affordable Care Act has failed to produce the apocalypse (remember “death panels”?) its fiercest critics predicted; instead, it has given millions of people access to decent health care. Its opponents are as wrong about Obamacare as Ronald Reagan was about Medicare.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 28, 2015
Sen. Ted Cruz launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination this week by promising to “finally, finally, finally secure the borders” and put an end to unauthorized immigration. This will warm the hearts of restrictionists, no doubt. But it should scare Americans who love their pocketbooks and liberties more than they hate undocumented Latino immigrants.
Restrictionists accuse many of these immigrants of being welfare queens who come to America illegally and live off taxpayers. Cruz has contributed to the hysteria by proposing bills barring undocumented workers from ever receiving any means-tested benefits, presumably even after they become legal.
Accusations that undocumented Latinos strain the welfare system are a red herring. If anything, immigrants, legal and illegal, constitute something of a welfare windfall. How? By coming to this country during their peak working years, after another society has borne the cost of raising and educating them, they save our system a ton of money. Studies generally don’t take this windfall effect into account, and still find that the economic contributions of low-skilled Latinos far outpace their welfare use. For example, a Texas comptroller study found that although unauthorized workers consumed about $504 million more in public services than they paid in taxes, without them, the Texas economy would shrink by 2.1 percent, or $17.7 billion. A full accounting of these folks would likely show them to be an even bigger economic boon (especially since the employment participation rate of Latino men is higher than the native born, and their overall welfare use is lower).
Meanwhile, as Cruz and his ilk whine about the (exaggerated) welfare costs of immigrants, they act as if their own plans to erect the Great Wall of China on the Rio Grande would be costless. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cruz wants to establish “100 percent operational control” of America’s southern border by completing a double-layer fence on the entire 2,000 miles, tripling the size of the border patrol, and quadrupling the number of helicopters and cameras.
This is beyond ill conceived. First of all, 45 percent of all illegal immigrants are visa over-stayers. So Cruz’s efforts are totally irrelevant for nearly half of America’s illegal immigrants. What’s more, even the Berlin Wall, the most fortified border in modern history, was successfully breached 1,000 times every year. That rate will be a gazillion times greater on America’s southern border, which is not a barren, open expanse of land. In fact, it has a varied and rugged terrain with mountains and valleys and national parks (one the size of Rhode Island) and rivers that the wall will have to hop, skip, and jump around.
The Rio Grande has myriad tributaries that feed millions of people on both sides of the border. If Cruz’s wall is anything like the current 18-foot-high structure with rust-red hollow posts sunk six inches apart in a concrete base, it will have to stop several miles short on each side to avoid damming the watershed, leaving major openings for people to walk through.
And what would a double-wall cost taxpayers?
It is very difficult to get a full grip, but the construction cost alone of a single-layer fence on the 1,300 or so unfenced miles would likely be upwards of $6 billion (assuming, as per a CBO study, pedestrian fencing costs of $6.5 million per mile and vehicle fencing costs of $1.7 million per mile). Annual maintenance costs would be hundreds of millions more.
Tripling the number of boots on the ground wouldn’t be cheap either. President Obama has already deployed 20,000 border patrol agents, over twice more than he inherited. Tripling this number would cost a whopping $7 billion or so more a year since, according to the CBO, the annual cost of an agent is about $171,400.
And the bill in dollars pales in comparison to the price Americans will have to pay in lost liberties.
Conservatives are outraged when the government confiscates private property for environmental or other ends. Indeed, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a vile man with retrograde views on race, became an instant conservative hero when he stood up to Uncle Sam and let his cattle graze on land that the federal government had, in his view, illicitly obtained. Yet Cruz and his ilk have no qualms about authorizing Uncle Sam to perpetrate an even bigger property grab in the name of their Swiss-cheese wall.
Over half of the recently constructed 700 miles of fence was on private property that Uncle Sam deployed blatant strong-arm tactics to obtain. It confiscated ancestral land that had been in families for over 200 years and offered virtually peanuts to Texas landowners who couldn’t afford to hire expensive lawyers to duke it out with Uncle Sam in court. Oscar Ceballos, a part-owner of a small trucking business, recounts how a government lawyer went so far as to figure out how much his assets were worth to dissuade a free legal clinic from representing him in his fight against the government’s ridiculously low-ball initial offer. Cruz’s even grander wall ambitions will only compound such abuse.
Nor would Americans on the border be the only ones affected. The vast majority of undocumented workers are here because there are Americans, especially employers, who benefit from their presence. Hence, Cruz and his fellow anti-immigration fighters want to force all American employers to verify the work eligibility of potential hires — American or foreign, legal or illegal — against a federal database through E-verify. Should this program become mandatory, all Americans will be effectively required to obtain a government permission slip to work.
What’s ironic about Cruz’s crusade to build a wall between two free — and friendly — people, divert billions of taxpayer dollars to militarize the border, and abrogate the civil rights of Americans is that he is doing so while vowing to “stand for liberty.”
If this is his idea of liberty, what would tyranny look like under President Cruz? (Don’t answer that — I hope to never find out!)
By: Shikha Dalmia, The Week, March 27, 2015
“A Rare Victory For Black Voting Rights In The South”: SCOTUS, Individual Majority-Minority Districts Were Racially Gerrymandered
In 2010, Republicans gained control of the Alabama legislature for the first time in 136 years. The redistricting maps drawn by Republicans following the 2010 election preserved the thirty-five majority-minority districts in the Alabama legislature—represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats—and in some cases actually increased the number of minority voters in those districts.
For example, State Senator Quinton Ross, a black Democrat elected in 2002, represented a district in Montgomery that was 72 percent African-American before the redistricting process. His district was under-populated by 16,000 people, so the Alabama legislature moved 14,806 African-Americans and thirty-six whites into his seat. The new district was now over 75 percent black and excluded white neighborhoods that were previously in Ross’s district.
Republicans claimed they were merely complying with the Voting Rights Act. Black Democrats challenged the redistricting maps as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and took the case to the Supreme Court. Today the Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Breyer, sided with the black plaintiffs and ordered a district court in Alabama to reexamine whether specific districts, like Ross’s, were improperly drawn with race as the predominant factor. The decision was released, interestingly enough, on the same day as the fiftieth anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
“The record indicates that plaintiffs’ evidence and arguments embody the claim that individual majority-minority districts were racially gerrymandered, and those are the districts that the District Court must reconsider,” Breyer wrote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, in another case from Alabama) did not compel the legislature to preserve the exact number of minority voters in a given district or inflate those numbers. “Section 5 does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice,” Breyer said. The court’s majority—joined by Justice Kennedy—sympathized with the plaintiffs’ claim that Alabama’s interpretation of the VRA may “harm the very minority voters that Acts such as the Voting Rights Act sought to help.”
Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented. “We have somehow arrived at a place where the parties agree that Alabama’s legislative districts should be fine-tuned to achieve some ‘optimal’ result with respect to black voting power; the only disagreement is about what percentage of blacks should be placed in those optimized districts. This is nothing more than a fight over the ‘best’ racial quota,” wrote Thomas.
The ruling could have important ramifications, since the strategy followed by Alabama Republicans—packing minority voters into heavily Democratic seats in order to weaken white Democrats—was replicated throughout the South after the 2010 elections. I wrote about this trend in a 2012 feature for The Nation, “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South”:
In virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans—to protect and expand their gains in 2010—have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats. “What’s uniform across the South is that Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage,” says Anita Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The bigger picture is to ultimately make the Democratic Party in the South be represented only by people of color.”
White Democrats have become the biggest casualty of the GOP’s new Southern strategy. As Jason Zengerle wrote in The New Republic, “Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had sixty Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four.” After the 2014 election, there are now only seven white Democrats in the Alabama legislature—one in the Senate and six in the House.
There are no longer any white Democrats from the Deep South in Congress, following the defeat of Georgia Congressman John Barrow in 2014. Georgia Republicans moved 41,000 black Democrats out of his Savannah-based district to make him more vulnerable to a Republican challenge.
The elimination of white Democrats has also crippled the political aspirations of black Democrats. For years, black Democrats served in the majority with white Democrats in state legislatures across the South. Today Republicans control every legislative body in the South except for the Kentucky House. Before the 1994 elections, 99.5 percent of black Democrats served in the majority in Southern state legislatures. After the 2010 election, that number dropped to 4.8 percent, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the civil rights era,” the report found.
In the 1990s, some black Democrats formed an “unholy alliance” with white Republicans to create new majority-minority districts in the South. Republicans supported these districts for black Democrats in select urban and rural areas in exchange for an increased GOP presence elsewhere, especially in fast-growing metropolitan suburbs. With Democrats grouped in fewer areas, Republicans found it easier to target white Democrats for extinction.
But that unholy alliance ended after 2010, when black Democrats across the South, like Georgia Senate minority leader Stacey Abrams, denounced the GOP’s redistricting strategy. They found it especially ironic that Republicans were using the VRA as a rationale for marginalizing black voters while at the same time pushing the Supreme Court to gut the most important part of the VRA—the requirement that states with the worst history of voting discrimination, like Alabama, clear their voting changes with the federal government.
Even though Southern states like Alabama no longer have to have their redistricting maps approved by the federal government, the Court’s decision today could open the door for additional challenges to GOP-drawn racial gerrymanders in states like Virginia and North Carolina. “Today’s Alabama decision gives these challengers a new tool, making it harder for states to use compliance with the Voting Rights Act as a pretext to secure partisan advantage,” writes Rick Hasen.
It’s a modest victory, but perhaps the best that can be expected from the current Supreme Court.
By: Ari Berman, The Nation, March 26, 2015
Anyone who’s followed the brief career of disgraced congressman Aaron Schock is well aware of the countless, almost eerie similarities between he and fellow Illinoisian Abraham Lincoln. It came as no surprise, therefore, when Schock, who may soon face criminal charges, compared himself to our 16th president during his farewell speech this week. Far from a pathetic attempt at saving face by a profoundly delusional narcissist, Schock’s speech was a soaring, 21st-century version of the Gettysburg Address, but with more grammatical errors.
“Abraham Lincoln held this seat in Congress for one term,” Schock said in remarks that will be transcribed and filed in the Library of Congress where they’ll remain for the life of our republic. “But few faced as many defeats in his personal and public life as he did [nor will we ever know if he, too, would have had his offices decorated like the hit PBS program Downton Abbey because, sadly, his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet before television could be invented].”
It is not hard to imagine the sound of his colleagues’ audible gasps echoing through that mostly empty chamber like so many newly freed slaves, audibly gasping in a mostly empty chamber.
Yes, Schock and the Great Emancipator are nearly indistinguishable, so I’ve put together this handy chart to help tell these two great Americans apart.
Schock: First name starts with “A”
Lincoln: First name starts with “A”
Schock: First member of Congress born in the 1980s
Schock: Started a garage-organization business called Garage Tek
Lincoln: Abolished slavery
Schock: Ran a successful write-in campaign for a seat on his local school board
Lincoln: Lost the 1858 Illinois senate race after some debates with Stephen Douglas
Schock: Spent more than $100,000 in public funds on office decorations
Lincoln: Helped establish a national currency
Schock: Criticized for lavish lifestyle
Lincoln: Abolished slavery
Schock: Appeared shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health in 2011
Lincoln: Appeared gaunt and wizened while successfully executing the American Civil War
Schock: Notable quote: “Haters gonna hate.”
Lincoln: Notable quote: “That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” though, in fairness, he also could have said “haters gonna hate” at some point. Who knows? It’s not impossible.
Schock: Overcharged the government for mileage reimbursements
Lincoln: Suspended habeas corpus, expanded executive powers, and once signed the execution orders for 39 Sioux insurgents
Schock: Publicly supported waterboarding and other torture techniques
Lincoln: Did not do that
Schock: Voted against expanding hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability
Lincoln: Abolished slavery
Lincoln: Top hat
I hope this comparison chart has been helpful. If you’re still confused, remember this rule of thumb: Lincoln was probably the greatest president in American history, while Schock looks like a high school girls’ basketball coach who’s always trying to give the players back massages.
By: Joe Randazzo, The Daily Beast, March 28, 2015
“A High-Falutin’ Elitist”: Jeb Bush To Continue Family Tradition Of Pretending To Be A Reg’lar Fella
It’s presidential campaign time, which means that I will have ample opportunity to fulminate against my many pet peeves of political rhetoric in the months to come. There are few higher on that list than the repeated claim politicians make that they aren’t really politicians—they don’t really think or know much about politics, and they’re both repulsed by and unfamiliar with this strange and sinister place called “Washington, D.C.” that they just happen to be so desperate to move to. Obi-Wan Kenobi may have said of Mos Eisley, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” but he didn’t follow that up with, “But I don’t really know anything about the place, which is why I’m the best person to guide you through it.” Because that would have been ridiculous. Not so our politicians, however. And here’s the latest:
Jeb Bush isn’t a New York Times reader.
The former Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate appeared on Fox News Radio on Thursday and, when asked to respond to a quote in the paper, said he doesn’t read it.
“I don’t read The New York Times, to be honest with you,” Bush told Fox’s Brian Kilmeade.
The quote in question came from Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, who was quoted in the Times saying that the Christian right should begin discussing which candidate to back as an alternative to Bush, because he didn’t represent their views….
Kilmeade later asked, “Would [Perkins] be somebody you’d approach. Would you say, Tony, you’re misunderstanding me. We need to talk. I read that column today in The New York Times?”
“Maybe I’ll give him a call today, I don’t know,” Bush said. “I don’t read The New York Times. But if you’re going to force me to do so….”
You’ll notice that Bush points out that he doesn’t read The New York Times not once, but twice. Can I say for sure that this is a lie, and Jeb Bush does in fact read The New York Times? Of course not. But the point is that instead of just saying, “I didn’t see that article,” he has to make a point of letting people know he doesn’t read the Times, as some high-falutin’ elitist would.
Nobody has to read The New York Times in particular. It does remain the most important news outlet in America, not because its audience is the largest but because it has more influence than any other. When a story appears in the Times, it can set the agenda for the entire news media (media scholars have actually documented this effect). Unless you’re Sarah Palin, if you’re a politician it’s part of your job to keep abreast of what’s going on, which means you’ll at least glance at the Times, The Washington Post, and probably The Wall Street Journal. I’m sure that one of Jeb Bush’s staffers assembles for him a collection of clips that he can look at every day so he knows what’s happening in the world.
But Bush feels the need to display his own (alleged) ignorance and disinterest, lest anyone believe that this guy—whose grandfather was a senator, whose father and brother were both president, who was a governor, and whose entire life has been wrapped up in American politics—might actually be so crass and cynical as to keep up with the news.
In this, Bush is following a family tradition of pretending to be “jus’ folks.” George H.W. did it in typically hamhanded fashion, by letting everyone know he loved pork rinds. George W. was far more adept at it; in 1999, in advance of his run for the White House, he bought a “ranch” to which he would go for vigorous brush-clearing sessions, conducted in the appropriate cowboy costume (boots, hat, belt-buckle). I believe that the sole agricultural product the ranch produced was brush, which Bush would “clear,” i.e., move from one place to another, so that he could be photographed in action.
There are reasons one might vote for Jeb Bush, and reasons one might vote against him. But nobody is going to be convinced that he’s an outsider who will come to Washington, shake up the system, and bring his real-world common sense to bear on all those politicians and bureaucrats. So let’s drop the Unfrozen Caveman Politician bit, shall we?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 27, 2015