Mitt Romney was in Michigan this week trying to make it competitive in the presidential election. It’s a steep climb for the native Michigander because President Barack Obama’s auto bailout, which Romney opposed, has helped bring the state’s unemployment rate down by 5.7 points since 2009.
But Romney has a strong ally there: legislation being pushed this month by his fellow Republicans aimed at preventing the nonpartisan League of Women Voters from undertaking the voter-registration drives it has sponsored for nearly a century.
Across the country, the Republicans’ carefully orchestrated plan to make voting harder — let’s call it the Voter Suppression Project — may keep just enough young people and minorities from the polls that Republicans will soon be in charge of all three branches of the federal government.
Yes, both sides try to change voting laws to favor their team. The 1993 “motor voter” law that made voting more convenient by extending registration to the Department of Motor Vehicles helped mostly Democrats. That was at least in the long American tradition of expanding the franchise.
The Republican effort to restrict voting isn’t just anti- Democrat, it’s anti-democratic. No fair-minded person believes the tall tales of voters pretending they were someone else, which have been debunked by the Brennan Center for Justice and others. What fool would risk prison or deportation to cast a single vote?
This isn’t about stopping vote-stealing and other corruption, for which there are already plenty of laws on the books. It’s about rigging the system to keep power.
First we saw the efforts during the George W. Bush administration by Karl Rove and Justice Department officials to get rid of U.S. attorneys who refused to pursue bogus voter- fraud cases. When Republican prosecutors complained, Rove and company ran for cover.
Then came Crawford v. Marion County, the 2008 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory photo-identification laws were constitutional on the basis of ballot protection. The evidence presented included not a single case of in-person impersonation fraud — the only fraud that photo ID laws can prevent. And the millions of Americans — mostly less-affluent seniors — without driver’s licenses? Good luck.
The big Republican victory in the 2010 election was essential to the Voter Suppression Project. With the help of ALEC — a conservative lobbying outfit that spreads cookie- cutter bills to state legislatures — Republicans moved with lightning speed to implement their scheme. Since 2011, 18 states have enacted voter-suppression bills, with similar ones pending in 12 more.
In the presidential race, it’s hand-to-hand legal combat, with almost every battleground state embroiled in a struggle over voter eligibility.
Michigan’s bills attack the League of Women Voters by requiring some volunteers to attend state-approved training sessions before they can register voters. The catch is that the bill makes no provisions for such sessions. Ha! It does threaten them with penalties for registration offenses that aren’t specified.
The bill is modeled on Florida’s, parts of which a federal judge invalidated May 31 because he said they had “no purpose other than to discourage” constitutionally protected activity.
In Ohio, the Obama campaign helped collect enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot repealing restrictions on absentee voting. Preferring not to face the voters directly on voter suppression, the Republican-controlled legislature repealed its own law, although it left intact a related measure that prohibits early voting on the three days before an election. That’s designed to discourage the tradition in black communities of busing worshippers from church to the polling place.
Several battleground states have new photo-ID requirements. Pennsylvania’s law allows valid student ID, but with a number of restrictions. Same in Wisconsin, which attached a series of bring-me-the-witch’s-broomstick demands for students looking to use a school ID. Fortunately, a state judge ruled against the Wisconsin law, although it’s being appealed.
Virginia’s legislation allows multiple forms of photo ID but restricts registering for an absentee ballot in person. A New Hampshire bill that required those without photo ID to fill out an onerous affidavit was thankfully just vetoed by Governor John Lynch.
The Obama campaign is obviously concerned about these ballot-access issues for political reasons. But even those with no dog in this fight should recognize that a great democracy doesn’t sully itself by suppressing the precious right to vote.
By: Jonathan Alter, The National Memo, June 22, 2012
Mitt Romney would prefer for you to recall just one number regarding his record at Bain Capital. That would be 100,000 — the number of jobs that the Republican candidate claims he created during 15 years at the private equity firm.
But now there is a more interesting, plausible and relevant number: $20,000. That’s how much money Romney is estimated to have made from each worker laid off during Bain’s many corporate takeovers.
In fairness, Romney’s goal at Bain was never to create jobs but to reap the biggest returns for their valued investors. Judging by that metric, he did exceedingly well, as even Bill Clinton accidentally admitted when discussing Romney’s “sterling” business career. And of course, Romney’s fortune, estimated somewhere between $190 million and 250 million, attests to that assessment.
But over the course of the Romney’s years at Bain Capital, at least five of the companies he took over eventually went bankrupt, while still rewarding Bain investors handsomely:
• American Pad & Paper: Bain invested $5 million in the Ohio paper company in 1992, and reportedly collected $100 million in dividends on that investment. But AMPAD went bankrupt in 2000, resulting in 385 employees losing their jobs.
• Dade Behring: Bain invested $415 million in a leveraged buyout in 1994, borrowed an additional $421 million, and ultimately walked away with $1.78 billion. Dade filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and laid off 2,000 employees.
• DDI Corporation: Bain reportedly invested $46.3 million in the electronic parts manufacturer 1997, earning $85.5 million in profits plus $10 million more in management fees. When the company went bankrupt several years later, 2,100 workers were laid off.
• GS Industries: In 1993, Bain invested $60 million in the Kansas City steel maker, borrowed a lot of money, and then took $65 million in dividends. But GS eventually went bankrupt in 2002, and 750 workers lost their jobs and pensions.
• Stage Stores: Bain invested $5 million to purchase the Houston-based retailer and took it public in the mid-’90s, reaping $100 million from stock offerings. In 200o, following Romney’s departure from Bain, Stage filed for bankruptcy and 5,795 workers were reportedly dismissed.
While it is true that some of those companies went under after Romney had left Bain, the job growth for which he now seeks credit also occurred after his departure in 1999. But the bankruptcies — and the bust-out scenario that helped Bain to profit anyway — are not news. What AOL’s Daily Finance has contributed to the Bain debate is a simple calculation: Bain Capital booked $1.995 billion in profits from the layoffs of 11,030 workers at various firms. And by that scoring, Romney earned roughly $20,000 himself for each of those fired employees. Nice work if you can get it (or take it away from someone else).
By: Axel Tonconogy, The National Memo, June 15, 2012
Congratulations to Mitt Romney! His signature contribution to American life, devising a health plan that became a model for the only major Western democracy without medical care for nearly all of its citizens, has been upheld. If Romney accomplishes nothing else in life, he will go down in history as the man who first proved, in the laboratory of Massachusetts, where he once governed, that an individual mandate could work.
Jeers to Mitt Romney! As the presumptive Republican nominee for president, he stood in front of the Capitol just after the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday and promised to fight in the coming campaign against one big idea — his own.
Now Romney has no choice but to run against himself. It was Rick Santorum who put it in blunt political terms during the Republican primary. Romney, he said, “is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama” because he is the intellectual godfather of the most consequential act of the Obama presidency.
If Romney was honest, and his party less locked in the grip of its far-right base, he could point with pride to the progress that Massachusetts has made. In the Bay State, compliance with the law is high, and nearly two-thirds of the people support it. The cost of insurance fell significantly in the first year after the law took effect. And fewer than 1 percent of the people chose to pay the penalty — or tax, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. helpfully clarified for Obamacare — rather than sign up for health insurance.
But the days of Romney praising his plan, which he did as recently as 2009, are long gone. Remember, it was in a moment of debate candor that Romney turned to Newt Gingrich and acknowledged the free-market, Republican origins of the mandate.
“We got the idea from Newt,” said Romney. “And Newt got it from the Heritage Foundation.” And the idea is a simple one: freeloaders cost the system billions and indirectly raise insurance for those who do the right thing.
To please a Republican Party that waves its gnarled fists at progress, Romney promises, crosses his heart and swears on his mother’s grave that he will repeal Obamacare on Day 1 of his presidency.
Except that, hedge, hedge, he wants the law’s most popular features — preventing insurance companies from dumping people who get sick or denying care to those with pre-existing conditions — to remain on the books.
All of this just reinforces Romney’s worst character flaw — the weasel factor. Every time he opens his mouth to denounce the individual mandate, he contradicts one of the most successful things he ever did as governor.
Plus, the Republican majority in the House has no intention of passing any measure that would keep the most popular parts of the health care act intact. Instead, the House will most likely vote next month to repeal the whole law, and from there it will sit in the Senate and await the election outcome in November.
The mandate is unpopular, without doubt. But big pieces of the law are supported by large majorities. People love the fact that insurance companies no longer have lifetime caps on coverage — an especially crucial element for those with long-term, chronic illness. Older Americans like closing the so-called doughnut hole in prescription drug coverage. Families like the part that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. And the medical community likes the law’s emphasis on preventive care.
We can expect a great deal of histrionic stewing and stomping from the Tea Party. Some of its followers have already called for Justice Roberts to be impeached or step down. Too bad Romney’s campaign Web site says he will nominate judges “in the mold of” John Roberts. We’ll see if that statement remains by next week.
The Tea Party, even with the flares that will light up after the court ruling, is a spent force, and most Americans have turned against it.
But Romney still has to carry the Tea Party’s anger at a time when independents — the key to the election — are sick of hyper-partisan scraps and want real solutions to national problems.
The health care law, if tweaked to help small businesses and properly implemented, can join Medicare and Social Security — which are, after all, mandates through taxes — as popular programs that elevate American life and help average people.
President Obama now gets a chance to resell his biggest legislative achievement. He did just that on Thursday, in a brief (for him) and very effective summary of the principles of the health care law: “People who can afford to buy health insurance should take the responsibility to do so.”
Sound familiar? It’s very close to what Romney said in 2009: “Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages free riders to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass on their medical costs to others.”
Wait till the presidential debates, when Obama can use the words of Mitt Romney, health care pioneer, against Mitt Romney, health care obstructionist.
By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times Opinionator, June 28, 2012
As the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act worked their way up to the Supreme Court, I always found the challenge to the expansion of Medicaid to be the strangest part. Quick context: the program provides insurance for poor people, splitting the cost between the federal government and the states. But the current rules say that each state gets to set its own eligibility standards, which meant that if you live in a state run by Democrats and you’re poor, you can get Medicaid, but if you live in a state run by Republicans, you have to be desperately poor to get Medicaid. For instance, in Mississippi, a family of four has to have a yearly gross income below a princely $9,828 to qualify. Because if a family is living high on the hog with their $10,000 a year, they aren’t really poor, right?
Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act fixed this, by changing Medicaid so that everyone with up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,657 for a family of four) would qualify. And to make things easier on the states, the bill provided that the federal government would pick up almost all of the tab. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of paying for the new enrollees through 2016, 95 percent in 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019, and 90 percent from then on. In other words, the federal government is saying to states, “Here’s a bunch of free money to insure a whole lot of your citizens, which will make them healthier and more productive.” And almost every state run by Republicans replied, “How dare you do such a thing to us! It’s unconstitutional! We’re suing!”
And unfortunately, the Supreme Court gave them the right to turn down the money, so each state gets to decide whether it wants to accept the expansion. The irony is that this change in Medicaid is much, much more valuable to the states that have been the stingiest with Medicaid up until now. Massachusetts, for instance, already sets Medicaid eligibility at 133 percent of the poverty level, so they get no new money. It’s the Republican states with Scroogian eligibility who will get the most benefit, insuring millions of their citizens at little cost. But they’re the ones who don’t want it.
It’s pretty obvious that many Republicans wish there was no such thing as Medicaid at all. But if they have to tolerate poor people getting health care, they want to make sure as few of those poor people get it as possible. Because after all, if you can take your kids to the doctor whenever they get sick, how are you going to learn that being poor proves how sinful you are?
When this all comes down in 2014, the Republican governors and legislators who choose to opt out of the Medicaid expansion shouldn’t be allowed to claim that it’s a budgetary issue, because it isn’t—it’s free money, as far as their state budgets are concerned. They’re already trying. Here’s Phil Bryant, the governor of Mississippi, saying that the state doesn’t have the money to cover the estimated 330,000 people in the state who would get insurance paid for by the federal government. Here are Republican officials in Florida, where around a million people could get coverage under the Medicaid expansion, pleased as punch that the Court gave them the opportunity to say “No coverage for you!” to those poor Floridians.
So these Republican officials will be saying to their own citizens, “The federal government is offering to give you free health insurance, but we won’t let you have it. Your health is less important than us making a statement about how much we hate the welfare state and how much we hate Barack Obama and everything he touches.” They believe that it’s better for a person to have no insurance at all than to get insurance from the government. That position is morally vile enough in the abstract, but when they’re actually confronted with a choice to make about whether to allow their citizens to have health insurance, some of them are going to say no. I struggle to find words to describe how despicable and cruel that is.
Now, it’s possible that once that money is actually being offered, the states will all say yes. That’s what Nancy Pelosi argued yesterday. But that depends on the Republican leadership of those states actually giving a crap about their poor citizens. Let’s just say we should believe it when we see it.
By; Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 29, 2012
So the Supreme Court — defying many expectations — upheld the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare. There will, no doubt, be many headlines declaring this a big victory for President Obama, which it is. But the real winners are ordinary Americans — people like you.
How many people are we talking about? You might say 30 million, the number of additional people the Congressional Budget Office says will have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. But that vastly understates the true number of winners because millions of other Americans — including many who oppose the act — would have been at risk of being one of those 30 million.
So add in every American who currently works for a company that offers good health insurance but is at risk of losing that job (and who isn’t in this world of outsourcing and private equity buyouts?); every American who would have found health insurance unaffordable but will now receive crucial financial help; every American with a pre-existing condition who would have been flatly denied coverage in many states.
In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.
But what about the cost? Put it this way: the budget office’s estimate of the cost over the next decade of Obamacare’s “coverage provisions” — basically, the subsidies needed to make insurance affordable for all — is about only a third of the cost of the tax cuts, overwhelmingly favoring the wealthy, that Mitt Romney is proposing over the same period. True, Mr. Romney says that he would offset that cost, but he has failed to provide any plausible explanation of how he’d do that. The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, is fully paid for, with an explicit combination of tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere.
So the law that the Supreme Court upheld is an act of human decency that is also fiscally responsible. It’s not perfect, by a long shot — it is, after all, originally a Republican plan, devised long ago as a way to forestall the obvious alternative of extending Medicare to cover everyone. As a result, it’s an awkward hybrid of public and private insurance that isn’t the way anyone would have designed a system from scratch. And there will be a long struggle to make it better, just as there was for Social Security. (Bring back the public option!) But it’s still a big step toward a better — and by that I mean morally better — society.
Which brings us to the nature of the people who tried to kill health reform — and who will, of course, continue their efforts despite this unexpected defeat.
At one level, the most striking thing about the campaign against reform was its dishonesty. Remember “death panels”? Remember how reform’s opponents would, in the same breath, accuse Mr. Obama of promoting big government and denounce him for cutting Medicare? Politics ain’t beanbag, but, even in these partisan times, the unscrupulous nature of the campaign against reform was exceptional. And, rest assured, all the old lies and probably a bunch of new ones will be rolled out again in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Let’s hope the Democrats are ready.
But what was and is really striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford expensive individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences. We should all be thankful that, for the moment at least, that effort has failed.
Let me add a final word on the Supreme Court.
Before the arguments began, the overwhelming consensus among legal experts who aren’t hard-core conservatives — and even among some who are — was that Obamacare was clearly constitutional. And, in the end, thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., the court upheld that view. But four justices dissented, and did so in extreme terms, proclaiming not just the much-disputed individual mandate but the whole act unconstitutional. Given prevailing legal opinion, it’s hard to see that position as anything but naked partisanship.
The point is that this isn’t over — not on health care, not on the broader shape of American society. The cruelty and ruthlessness that made this court decision such a nail-biter aren’t going away.
But, for now, let’s celebrate. This was a big day, a victory for due process, decency and the American people.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 28, 2012