While GOP senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged to fight the Obama’s administration’s modified regulation requiring health insurers and busnisses to offer contraception coverage without additional cost sharing, the revised rule “appears to have won over” two of the five Republican women senators.
Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME) — both of whom have sponsored legislation requiring insurers to offer contraception benefits in all health plans — are in favor of the new compromise, which would allow religiously affiliated colleges, universities, and hospitals to avoid providing birth control. Their employees will still receive contraception coverage at no additional cost sharing directly from the insurer:
“It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,” Snowe said in a statement. “According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.
“While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,” Collins said in a statement. “The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom. It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.”
Republicans in the senate seem determined to oppose the compromise and have introduced legislation that would allow employers or individuals to opt out of any benefit that undermines their moral beliefs. “They don’t have the authority under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to tell someone in this country or some organization in this country what their religious beliefs are,” McConnell told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down,” he said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who led the GOP’s opposition to the original rule, has yet to issue a statement on the measure and did not respond to ThinkProgress’ query about her position. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also did not respond. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) co-sponsored a 1999 bill requiring contraception equity in insurance coverage and has not yet to weigh in on the current debate.
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 13, 2012
Mitt Romney doubled down on his new-found objection to contraception coverage during a town hall in Maine on Friday. Romney — who remained mum as Massachusetts implemented a measure requiring insurance companies to cover contraception in 2003, signed into law a health care reform bill that has greatly expanded access to state-funded birth control, and required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims — told a rowdy crown in Portland, Maine that President Obama’s modified contraception rule does not go far enough:
At the event, Romney also waded into the political fray over the decision by the Obama administration today to require insurers, rather than private employers, to pay for coverage of contraception. The move reversed an earlier decision that would have required religious-affiliated organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, to provide the coverage, prompting an outcry from across the political spectrum.
“Today he did the classic Obama retreat all right, and what I mean by that is, it wasn’t a retreat at all. It’s another deception,” Romney said, arguing that that religious organizations still will have to pay for contraception after insurance companies pass the costs along to employers.
“Companies consist of people, and someone has to pay — the owners, the employees or the customers, and they pass those costs on to the customers,”
But it’s Romney who is being devious here. Actuaries and real world experiences in covering contraception in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) have found that contraception coverage is at the very least cost neutral within the context of the benefits of the health care plan. And in announcing its compromise on Friday, the administration pledged to work with insurers to issue future regulations that would specifically stipulate that if a religiously affiliated nonprofit chooses to avoid offering contraception in its health care plan, “there be no charge for the contraceptive coverage” for the employer or the employee.
As a senior administration official explained to the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff, “Our policy is saying that the Catholic hospital doesn’t want to cover contraceptives, and they don’t include that in their policy. It also says that Aetna needs to provide contraceptive services for free to workers in the plan. Aetna sets the premium, but it cannot be higher than it would have been without birth control. The premium does not include contraception.” “There is a sort of bank account,” says the official. So, in this particular hypothetical, “Aetna is sucking it up.”
In other words, providing contraception without additional cost sharing will become “a legitimate cost of doing business” for health insurers who work with religious nonprofits, and while they may not be all too thrilled at the prospect, administration officials expect them to agree “that this is going to be a cost-neutral benefit.”
By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 13, 2012
It’s budget time, and that means that we can expect to hear the Washington elite wailing about the budget deficit for the next several weeks. When hearing the cries about out-of-control deficits, people would be best advised to turn off their television sets, put down their newspaper, and smash their computers. (Okay, don’t smash your computer.)
The economy has one major problem right now and that is a serious lack of jobs. We still have more than 25 million people unemployed, underemployed, or who have given up looking for work altogether because there are no jobs. This should be the issue that everyone in Washington is talking about.
Instead, many politicians and pundits want to distract people’s attention from unemployment by complaining about the deficit. They have deceived many people into thinking that the economy would somehow be stronger and there would be more jobs if the deficit was reduced, either due to spending cuts or increased taxes.
This view makes no sense. There are no businesses that are going to hire additional workers because the government laid off school teachers or firefighters and we cut back spending on food stamps. Businesses hire more workers when they see more demand for their product. All of these actions that reduce the deficit, either on the spending or tax side, translate into less demand and therefore less employment. In short, those who want to cut the deficit now are lobbying for fewer jobs and higher unemployment.
This is only part of the story that they got wrong. The other part is the cause of the deficit. There are thousands of people running around Washington blaming the deficit on out-of-control spending or irresponsible tax cuts. Both sides are way off the mark.
It is easy show from the data that the huge deficits of the last three years are the direct result of the economic plunge caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The budget deficit was actually quite modest in 2007, and it was projected to remain low in 2008-2010, even before the Bush era tax cuts expired.
However, the deficits came in much higher than projected because the collapse of the economy sent unemployment soaring and tax revenues plummeting. There is an irony in this situation. Back in the years 2002-2007 some of us were warning about the housing bubble, but our voices were largely drowned out by the big deficit hawks.
Of course now that the bubble has collapsed and the deficit has exploded we are still hearing the same complaints from the deficit hawks. If the country had paid less attention to the deficit hawks back in the bubble years, and more attention to the bubble, then we would not have had such a horrible recession and the deficit hawks would not have a large budget deficit to complain about today.
By: Dean Baker, U. S.ews and World Report, February 10, 2012
While GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is doing all he can in this election cycle to gin up a debate about US foreign policy and a measure of the costs and benefits, the debate about Iran, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel’s security has been taking place in a gravityless environment.
Mitt Romney’s opening foreign policy opus at the Citadel criticized Obama for defense cuts with promises to boost America’s defense commitments abroad, to boost military spending on hardware and ships in the Pacific — to do everything we have been doing but more.
Where are the dollars going to come from?
I am one who thinks that war with Iran is far off and in the near term unlikely — unless Israel makes a tremendous mistake by triggering and forcing a geostrategic move by the United States, a choice that could very well ultimately dismantle the close US-Israel relationship, or alternatively if forces inside Iran that would benefit from war actually cause an escalation of events that produce a potential nightmare in the Persian Gulf and region.
That said, fewer and fewer people agree with me — and various of the presidential candidates seem to be competing with each other to tell US citizens how quickly they would deploy US military and intelligence assets to undermine Iran’s Supreme Leader and his government.
That’s OK — in the Summer of 2007, both analysts and agitators in the political left believed Bush and Cheney would bomb Iran before year’s end. Neoconservatives and pugnacious nationalists like John Bolton also believed this. I did a survey of folks on the inside and argued in September 2007 in a widely read Salon article that they would not bomb Iran. They didn’t.
In the summer of 2010, some folks on the left were absolutely convinced that the US would bomb Iran before August. Again, that was not how things turned out — and was not the analysis I had from talking to people in the defense and intel establishments.
Today, things are fuzzier — but at the highest levels of the national security decision-making tree — there is palpable doubt that bombing Iran achieves any fundamental strategic objectives while at the same time ultimately undermining US, Israel, and regional security, undermining the global economy. One senior official I heard when asked about bombing Iran then said, “OK, and then what? Then what?! Seriously, then what???”
I’ll write more soon about what a much more level-headed and serious strategy with Iran would look like — particularly since so many are hyperventilating today and in some cases pounding the drums for a collision, one that they think can be done on the cheap.
It is ridiculous to think that a strike by Israel against Iran, that would in real terms tie the US to the conflict, would not be staggeringly expensive and consequential.
So, it would be interesting to hear from those who want to reside in the White House — and even the Obama administration which has some ‘kinetic action’ advocates on the inside — on what a more sensible financial management strategy for these proliferating conflicts, including an Iran War, would be.
George H.W. Bush got the Japanese citizens to write a check for $13.5 billion to the US to pay for the first Gulf War. He was perhaps the last fiscally responsible war time US President.
Wars cost lots and lots of money — and if a substantial chunk of the GOP crowd wants these wars and feels that it is in our national interest to have them, then by all means they should start lining up some of the wealthiest in the country who are helping to agitate for these conflicts to pay more in taxes for them.
By: Steve Clemons, The Atlantic, February 12, 2012
How a political party, movement — or nation — thinks is more important than WHAT it thinks. This is the larger lesson to be learned in the dispute between President Obama and the Catholic bishops over birth control.
With the President’s reasonable compromise announced on Friday the controversy with the Catholic leadership has been resolved in ways that I think strengthens the President’s hand and exposes the Republican Party, yet again, as the faction of reactionary anti-women extremists.
Some have mocked the President for stumbling into a dispute with a powerful religious constituency, which conventional wisdom says is the last thing a president up for contract renewal wants to do in an election year. I am not so sure and think critics of the President — both liberal and conservative — reveal their own bias in favor of the Catholic hierarchy at the expense of the Catholic faithful when critics speak so confidently about what “the Church” believes about anything in this controversy.
Nevertheless, the deeper and more important issue in the present controversy between Obama and the bishops is what are we to make of the claim by an absolutist institution, the Catholic Church, that a republic’s guarantee of freedom of religion gives to that church absolute sovereignty over all those areas of society where the Church’s interests intersect?
Fundamentalism is not a religion. It is a mindset. A liberal society can accommodate the demands of radical freedom expressed by the Catholic Church just so long as liberalism itself remains the dominant governing mentality. But a society in which the radical freedom of religious fundamentalists prevails would be a society that sooner or later descends into either anarchy or tyranny.
And this is an autonomy the Church says exists not only over the Church proper where actual religious worship takes place. It also extends everywhere the Church has business and economic interests, such as its schools, hospitals, universities — even it’s pizza parlors and taco stands if the Church decided to diversify into the fast food business as well.
The reason this issue matters is that we are talking about the governing mentality of our republic — HOW our republic will think as it tries to solve the problems we face, not only WHAT we eventually do think about the possible solutions to embrace. And it matters a great deal whether that overriding mentality is a liberal one or is one authoritarian, fundamentalist, or absolutist in nature.
The Founding Fathers were not anti-religious. But the wall of separation they built between church and state recognized that the absolutism so necessary in giving church followers the comforting sense of certainty they require was death to democratic republics where secular authorities had to accommodate and reconcile many such faith-claims. As James Madison said when talking about the system of federalism within the Constitution and of the mediating and political qualities thus necessary in democratic office-holders: When you “extend the sphere you enlarge the views.”
When they are working to attain power, and before they do attain it, “the fascist and communist parties invoke all the guarantees of the bill of rights, all the prerogatives of popular parties, of elections, of representation of the assemblies, of tenure in the civil service. But when they attain power, they destroy the liberal democratic institutions, as on a broad staircase, they climbed to power.”
That was written by the great American journalist Walter Lippmann in his 1955 classic, Essays in the Public Philosophy, and it applies equally to all illiberal political parties that seek to impose a faith or political ideology on an unwilling audience.
It was a book Lippmann started when Hitler’s rise in Germany threatened Western civilization and concluded during the height of the Cold War. Lippmann’s aim was to better understand the inner dynamics and pathologies by which liberal democracies were nearly made extinct in the 20th century — and often with the connivance of those democracies’ own citizens.
Democracy, Lippmann concluded, is for those who are for it. Democracy is for those willing to do more than simply claim a democracy’s freedoms for their own but to protect those freedoms for others. And this requires, first of all, recognizing the danger which non-negotiable and absolutist faith-claims by anyone pose to the fabric that supports the democratic way of life.
And the “borderline between sedition and reform,” writes Lippmann — the borderline between legitimate and illegitimate politics — is the boundary between a mindset that says there can be only one “Truth” and another that accepts the “sovereign principle” that in a democracy “we live in a rational order in which, by sincere inquiry and rational debate, we can distinguish the true and the false, the right and the wrong.”
Indeed, using a religious metaphor, Lippmann says that “rational procedure is the ark of the covenant of the public philosophy” of democratic republics. There are no election laws or constitutional guarantees which cannot be changed, says Lippmann. But what must always be unchangeable if a democracy is to survive “is the commitment to rational determination.”
The counter-revolutionists, says Lippmann, will in the end try to “suppress freedom in order to propagate their official doctrine.” They will, he says, “reject the procedure by which in the free society official policy is determined.”
And among these counter-revolutionaries I would include the present right wing, politically aggressive Catholic Church hierarchy that is now demanding the entire society give to the Church the same deference in the political realm which the Church demands of the faithful in the religious one, by accepting and accommodating the Church’s non-negotiable and absolutist faith-demands on birth control wherever the writ of the Catholic Church runs — whether in the sphere of religious worship or wherever the Church has business interests of any kind — as it uses its resources to carve out little Vatican Cities within our republic where the Church claims ultimate sovereignty and might as well start appointing ambassadors.
It is not possible to reject this faith in the efficacy of reason over absolutist faith, says Lippmann, “and at the same time believe that communities of men enjoying freedom could govern themselves successfully.”
It it not possible, in other words, to give the Catholic Church the power it seeks to shape a political agenda based on its own internal dogmas alone and at the same time still believe we have a democratic republic, not really.
Conservatives have tried to change the subject in order to deflect criticisms of them that they are ideologues who seek to impose reactionary beliefs on an unwilling American public. They have done this by trying to redefine liberalism — or “secularism” — to be somehow a competing “religion” itself so as to assert that liberals are equally dogmatic in trying to “impose” their “religious beliefs” of religious tolerance, open-mindedness and official state neutrality regarding all forms of religious worship on an unwilling traditionalist or fundamentalist audience that thinks Judeo-Christian orthodoxy ought to be the law of the land.
Like all religious fundamentalists and absolutists who seek political power, the Catholic Church is showing us again that the undermining of the freedoms of others begins with the demands for absolute freedoms for themselves.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, February 12, 2012