Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation’s uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts “Obamacare” critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that’s working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who’s struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP’s point person on health care, gave it his best shot. “Millions of people have lost coverage they liked,” the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is “hardly worth celebrating.”
He didn’t say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.
But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journal piece.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn’t include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.
“It’s premature to say it’s ACA-related,” Mr. Haislmaier said.
The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.
The economic argument is itself politically tricky for ACA detractors, because it leaves Republicans in a position of arguing, “Let’s not credit Obama’s health care policies for the good news; let’s instead credit Obama’s economic policies.”
But it’s the Heritage Foundation’s other argument that’s truly amazing. The Affordable Care Act was created in large part to expand Americans’ access to affordable medical care. Once the law was implemented, its provisions worked like a charm and uninsured rate dropped. If the Wall Street Journal quoted Edmund Haislmaier fairly, the Heritage argument seems to be that the success might just be a coincidence – the ACA set out to reduce the uninsured rate, the law was implemented, and the uninsured rate fell at its fastest rate in four decades, but it’s “premature” to say the progress and the law are related.
Jon Chait joked:
Right, I mean, who can really say? Yes, there has been a sudden and extremely sharp plunge in the uninsured rates among the populations eligible for coverage under Obamacare that begins at the exact time Obamacare took effect:
But that could be anything. Survey error. People being excited about Republicans winning the midterm. Sunspots. You never know. Probably not the sudden availability of a major new federal health-care law enrolling millions of people.
Perish the thought.
For context, it’s worth noting that the Heritage Foundation used to be one of the leading conservative think tanks in the nation, even sketching out a health-care-reform blueprint several years ago that resembles the “Obamacare” model now. In recent years, however, Heritage’s focus has shifted away from scholarship and towards political activism.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2015
“Came Off Like A Confused Former Governor”: Jeb Bungles Facts, Pronunciation In His Big National Security Speech
Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security Wednesday, full of errors and confusion.
Seeking to differentiate himself from his father and brother, both former presidents, the former governor of Florida asserted, “I am my own man.”
But the man who emerged on stage at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs did not sound well-versed in foreign policy.
Bush’s clunky, rushed delivery paled in comparison to the hazy facts in the speech and vague answers he gave during a Q&A session following his remarks.
Speaking of the extremist group based in Nigeria that has killed thousands of civilians, Bush referred to Boko Haram as “Beau-coup Haram.” Bush also referred to Iraq when he meant to refer to Iran.
Further, Bush misrepresented the strength of ISIS, saying it has some 200,000 men, which is far greater than the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates. Last week National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen pegged the fighting strength of ISIS at between 20,000 and 31,500.
“Governor Bush misspoke,” Bush aide Kristy Campbell told The Daily Beast after the speech. “He meant 20,000.”
Referring to the leader of the so-called Islamic State, Bush referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the guy that’s the supreme leader or whatever his new title is—head of the caliphate.”
Bush was also short on describing how he might combat the threat of ISIS. “Taking them out” in partnership with regional allies was about as specific as he got.
“We have to develop a strategy, that’s global, that takes them out,” Bush said. “First, the strategy, you know, needs to be restrain them, tighten the noose, and then taking them out is the strategy.”
Unlike senators who have more opportunities to delve into international affairs, governors tend to have a steeper learning curve on foreign policy ahead of a presidential run.
And for all his bluster about being different from his brother and father, Bush didn’t really espouse a particularly unique worldview.
The similarities in doctrine shouldn’t come as a surprise. A list of his advisers in The Washington Post reads like a who’s who of hawks from the George W. Bush and Reagan administrations.
Bush did coin a new term—“liberty diplomacy”—and spoke of the need for the United States to be engaged around the world. He also endorsed the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of Americans, which began under his brother following 9/11, as “hugely important.”
At times Bush veered into talk about trade and the economy—two topics he was obviously more comfortable speaking about than issues of national security. As Bloomberg noted Wednesday, Bush has exposure to foreign markets as an adviser to Barclays PLC, he lived in Venezuela, and led trade missions to dozens of countries as governor.
The best-received lines from Bush were the gauziest.
“We shouldn’t be as pessimistic as we are. We’re on the verge of the greatest time to be alive,” Bush said. “We’re in our ascendancy as a nation, we just have to start acting like it again.”
By: Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich, The Daily Beast, February 18, 2015
“Most Glaring Drawback Is He’s A Bush”: Jeb Bush Cannot Escape His Brother’s Undeniably Disastrous Presidency
Earlier this year, Mitt Romney had a Galadriel moment. He appeared to be briefly seized by a vision of himself as an all-powerful, world-striding President Romney, before turning away from temptation and settling for the plain old Mitt Romney he has always been. It was political theater at its most bizarre, a flack-driven frenzy that doubled as a flashback to the self-delusion that blinded the Romney 2012 campaign in its final days.
With Romney now out of the way, Jeb Bush has consolidated the support of the GOP’s moneyed class with surprising alacrity. As Politico noted last week, the contest for the Republican nomination was previously seen as a “free-for-all among a half-dozen or so viable candidates” but has since shifted to a game of catch-up, with a clear leader way out front who has a “bull’s-eye on his back.” He may soon be out of sight: The Washington Post reported that Bush is amassing so much money so quickly that his potential rivals “do not even claim they can compete at his level.”
The Republican primary process is a fearsome thing for any establishment candidate, but history shows that he (and it is always a he) will win in the end. None of this is good news for Bush’s would-be competitors, whether they be on the fringe (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz), slow starting out of the gates (Chris Christie), or Pawlenty-esque (Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal).
The problem for the GOP is that a Bush running in 2016 is almost as eye-rubbingly bizarre as another Romney campaign.
I’m not talking about Jeb Bush’s policies or his abilities as a campaigner (though for the most part he has been deft in avoiding the usual pitfalls and has handled the media well). I’m talking about his most glaring drawback: the fact that he’s a Bush. It seems too obvious to mention, but as Republican elites rally around his flag, it appears they need a reminder. Just a few years ago, the idea of another Bush running for president would have been laughable. Today, the party is so desperate for a winner that it is willing to entirely overlook eight disastrous years in the White House.
In early February, Jeb Bush said his brother was a “great president.” Maybe that’s just what a younger brother has to say to avoid seeming like a heartless backstabber. Then again: Really?
George W. Bush’s Iraq War was a horrible blunder — the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. There was a brief moment at the dawn of the Arab Spring when conservatives were crediting Bush’s pro-democracy agenda for a wave of anti-authoritarian protests across the region, but you don’t hear them saying that anymore. Iraq was a really, really bad idea, and nothing has changed that.
Then there’s the economy. There are not many modern presidents who enjoy the dubious honor of overseeing a recession so bad that it compares only to the Great Depression. In fact, there is only one: George W. Bush. While it would be unfair to lay the entire economic collapse at his feet, it’s clear that the financial crisis stemmed from a stew of GOP policies, from deregulation to crony capitalism to overly prizing homeownership. Again, not great. Not even good.
Next up: the budget. Bush entered office with a budget surplus, then gave a huge chunk of it away to the rich. That’s not good. That’s very, very bad.
Then there’s all the rest of it: Katrina, Scooter Libby, torture, wiretapping, Dick Cheney, and on and on and on.
George W. Bush’s approval rating has improved since its 2008 nadir, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it will plummet once the Bush years are relitigated in the context of a hypercompetitive presidential race in which another Bush is on the ballot.
To win a general election, Jeb Bush would have to come up with a way to disown his brother’s legacy — and so far he has only embraced it. That means that, should Hillary Clinton be the Democratic nominee, the 2016 election could very well come down to a contest between the 1990s and the 2000s.
Americans have fond memories of the 1990s. The 2000s? Not so much.
By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, February 17, 2015
“Back To The Future In 2016″: Nothing Would Make Policy Debates More Obvious Than Bill Clinton’s Wife And George W. Bush’s Brother
It’s never long in a presidential race before one candidate or another says, “This election isn’t about the past—it’s about the future.” But the 2016 election is probably going to be even more about the past than most, particularly given that there will be no incumbent running.
I thought of that late last week when I heard that Rick Perry—who promises to once again provide more than his share of unintentional comic relief over the next year or so until he drops out—told attendees at an event in New Hampshire that Abraham Lincoln was a great advocate of states’ rights. “Abraham Lincoln read the Constitution, and he also read the Bill of Rights, and he got down to the Tenth Amendment, and he liked it,” Perry said. “That Tenth Amendment that talks about these states, these laboratories of democracy.”
That’s certainly a novel perspective, to characterize Lincoln as a Tenth-Amendment fetishist like today’s tea partiers. But I suppose one can forgive the impulse, given how far the GOP has traveled from what it was in the time of the first Republican president. Pop quiz: If they had been alive in the 1860s, how many of today’s Republicans would have been on the side of the North? Not too many. Rick Perry sure as hell wouldn’t have.
But the history we’re going to argue much more about in 2016 isn’t so distant, and its protagonists—and their family members—are still around. Last week, a prominent Republican economist came up with what may be the most biting message any Democrat could hope for:
“When Hillary Clinton runs, she’s going to say, ‘The Republicans gave us a crappy economy twice, and we fixed it twice. Why would you ever trust them again?’ ” said Kevin Hassett, a former economic adviser to GOP nominees Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. “The objective for the people in the Republican Party who want to defeat her is to come up with a story about what’s not great” in this recovery, especially wage growth, he said.
Now imagine that Jeb Bush is the Republican nominee, and replace “The Republicans gave us a crappy economy twice” with “The Bushes gave us a crappy economy twice.” It hits even harder.
Is that unfair? In the sense that Jeb Bush can’t be held directly responsible for what his father and brother did in office, sure. Or at least, he’s no more responsible for it than any other Republican. It isn’t as though there’s a distinct Bushian strand of economic policy within the GOP, one that differs in some meaningful way from what other Republicans advocate. Although nobody has released detailed campaign policy papers yet, it’s all but guaranteed that the things Jeb Bush would do as president don’t differ too much from what the other candidates would do. They’d all like to cut taxes, particularly on investments; they’d reduce regulations on corporations; and they’d do what they could to roll back the policies of the Obama years in areas like labor and environmental enforcement. It’s possible that one candidate or another has some spectacularly creative new idea that will completely transform the American economy in ways no one has imagined. But probably not.
If the debate around the economy truly has changed, from a focus on what will produce growth to a focus on how to make the economy’s fruits more widely and equitably distributed, then it’s even less clear what Republicans will have to offer. Hillary Clinton can say that the years of her husband’s administration were the only period in recent decades that saw real (if not overwhelming) growth in wages for people in the middle and the bottom. If Jeb Bush were her opponent, it would offer an opportunity to have a historically grounded discussion about everything that has happened since his father was president.
Because I’ve yet to hear Republicans explain that history. If they tried to, they’d have to confront the fact that at every key point, their predictions about what effect policy changes would have turned out completely wrong. When Bill Clinton passed his 1993 budget with an increase in the top income tax rate, they all said that a “job-killing recession” was sure to result (I assume the phrase came from Newt Gingrich, because its use was so ubiquitous during that time). What actually ensued was not a recession but a rather remarkable boom; there were nearly 23 million more Americans working when Clinton handed off the White House to George W. Bush than when Clinton took office eight years before. Bush then committed himself to cutting taxes, particularly those affecting the wealthy—not just income taxes but taxes on investments and large inheritances as well. Republicans predicted that these policy changes would produce an economy practically bursting with wonderful new jobs for all.
That, of course, didn’t happen. Total job growth during the Bush years was a meager 1.3 million. Even if we’re unusually kind to Bush and go back to the high point of jobs in his administration (the end of 2007, before the Great Recession), he would only score a 5.6 million increase, or around one quarter of what Clinton managed.
Then Barack Obama allowed some of those top-tier tax cuts to expire, despite Republicans’ protestation that doing so would create a ball and chain dragging the economy down. Once again, disaster did not ensue; 2014 was the best year for job growth since 1999.
Like a number of liberals before me, I’ll take pains to note that this history doesn’t demonstrate that increasing taxes on the wealthy produces job growth. What it does show is that relatively small changes in the wealthy’s taxes have little effect on the economy one way or the other. Yet the idea that altering the tax burden on the wealthy produces enormous economy-wide effects is still central to conservative economic thinking. And it’s about as fanciful as the idea that Abraham Lincoln was a states’ rights advocate.
Unlike some of the policy debates we engage in, this history of the last couple of decades is pretty easy for voters to understand, since most of them lived through it. And nothing would make it more obvious than a general election between Bill Clinton’s wife and George W. Bush’s brother.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 15, 2015
Monetary policy probably won’t be a major issue in the 2016 campaign, but it should be. It is, after all, extremely important, and the Republican base and many leading politicians have strong views about the Federal Reserve and its conduct. And the eventual presidential nominee will surely have to endorse the party line.
So it matters that the emerging G.O.P. consensus on money is crazy — full-on conspiracy-theory crazy.
Right now, the most obvious manifestation of money madness is Senator Rand Paul’s “Audit the Fed” campaign. Mr. Paul likes to warn that the Fed’s efforts to bolster the economy may lead to hyperinflation; he loves talking about the wheelbarrows of cash that people carted around in Weimar Germany. But he’s been saying that since 2009, and it keeps not happening. So now he has a new line: The Fed is an overleveraged bank, just as Lehman Brothers was, and could experience a disastrous collapse of confidence any day now.
This story is wrong on so many levels that reporters are having a hard time keeping up, but let’s simply note that the Fed’s “liabilities” consist of cash, and those who hold that cash have the option of converting it into, well, cash. No, the Fed can’t fall victim to a bank run. But is Mr. Paul being ostracized for his views? Not at all.
Moreover, while Mr. Paul may currently be the poster child for off-the-wall monetary views, he’s far from alone. A lot has been written about the 2010 open letter from leading Republicans to Ben Bernanke, then the Fed chairman, demanding that he cease efforts to support the economy, warning that such efforts would lead to inflation and “currency debasement.” Less has been written about the simultaneous turn of seemingly respectable figures to conspiracy theories.
There was, for example, the 2010 op-ed article by Representative Paul Ryan, who remains the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader, and John Taylor, the party’s favorite monetary economist. Fed policy, they declared, “looks an awful lot like an attempt to bail out fiscal policy, and such attempts call the Fed’s independence into question.” That statement looks an awful lot like a claim that Mr. Bernanke and colleagues were betraying their trust in order to help out the Obama administration — a claim for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
Oh, and suppose you believe that the Fed’s actions did help avert what would otherwise have been a fiscal crisis. This is supposed to be a bad thing?
You may think that at least some of the current presidential aspirants are staying well clear of the fever swamps, but don’t be so sure. Jeb Bush appears to be getting his economic agenda, such as it is, from the George W. Bush Institute’s 4% Growth Project. And the head of that project, Amity Shlaes, is a prominent “inflation truther,” someone who claims that the government is greatly understating the true rate of inflation.
So monetary crazy is pervasive in today’s G.O.P. But why? Class interests no doubt play a role — the wealthy tend to be lenders rather than borrowers, and they benefit at least in relative terms from deflationary policies. But I also suspect that conservatives have a deep psychological problem with modern monetary systems.
You see, in the conservative worldview, markets aren’t just a useful way to organize the economy; they’re a moral structure: People get paid what they deserve, and what goods cost is what they are truly worth to society. You could say that to the free-market true believer, to know the price of everything is also to know the value of everything.
Modern money — consisting of pieces of paper or their digital equivalent that are issued by the Fed, not created by the heroic efforts of entrepreneurs — is an affront to that worldview. Mr. Ryan is on record declaring that his views on monetary policy come from a speech given by one of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. And what the speaker declares is that money is “the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. … Paper is a check drawn by legal looters.”
Once you understand that this is how many conservatives really think, it all falls into place. Of course they predict disaster from monetary expansion, no matter the circumstances. Of course they are undaunted in their views no matter how wrong their predictions have been in the past. Of course they are quick to accuse the Fed of vile motives. From their point of view, monetary policy isn’t really a technical issue, a question of what works; it’s a matter of theology: Printing money is evil.
So as I said, monetary policy should be an issue in 2016. Because there’s a pretty good chance that someone who either gets his monetary economics from Ayn Rand, or at any rate feels the need to defer to such views, will get to appoint the next head of the Federal Reserve.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 13, 2015