“His Instincts Fail Him Again”: John Boehner Is Weak In The Face Of Pressure From Right-Wing Ideologues
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), two months ago:
Republicans’ efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s health care reform law appear to have come to an end, as House Speaker John Boehner described it Thursday as the “law of the land.”
In an interview with ABC News, the nation’s top elected Republican seemed to indicate that Congress wouldn’t engage in the type of repeated repeal votes the way it had in the past two years.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), three days ago:
“This week, the House passed Republicans’ balanced budget that fully repeals and defunds ObamaCare to protect families, workers and seniors from its devastating consequences. The House will continue working to scrap the law in its entirety….”
Note the amount of time that’s elapsed: we’re not talking about Boehner changing his mind over the course of three years; we’re talking about taking wildly different positions over two months. In January, the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land,” and Congress has better things to do than to waste time trying to repeal a law that isn’t going anywhere. And in March, Boehner reversed course entirely — congressional Republicans have already voted several dozen times to repeal the reform law, and the Speaker sees no reason to become more constructive now.
I don’t know Boehner personally, but I suspect what he said in January was sincere — the guy probably doesn’t want to be known as the Speaker who pointlessly spun his wheels, voting repeatedly on health care for no particular reason, so as the new Congress got underway, he envisioned a more productive session for governing. And then the Speaker was reminded what party he’s in and how little his caucus cares about constructive legislating.
But the larger point gets back to something we talked about on Thursday: I suspect Boehner’s instincts aren’t as ridiculous as his caucus’.
Pressed for an answer, before he has time to do the full political calculation, Boehner reflexively takes a sensible line on everything from taxes to energy to immigration. Even in 2011, during the debt-ceiling crisis he didn’t want to instigate — his instincts told him this was a bad idea — Boehner’s gut told him to take President Obama’s offer for a “Grand Bargain.” He had to reverse course when his allies balked.
When the Speaker’s followers tell him to change his mind, he puts his head down, and does what he’s told to do.
The problem isn’t necessarily that the House Speaker is a right-wing ideologue, but rather, that he’s weak in the face of pressure from right-wing ideologues. It might help explain why Boehner struggles in his post — he’s not allowed to follow his own instincts, which would otherwise serve him well, because of the radicalization of his caucus.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013
President Barack Hussein Obama’s second inauguration was every bit as historic as his first — not because it said so much about the nation’s long, bitter, unfinished struggle with issues of race, as was the case four years ago, but because it said so little about the subject.
Reflect for a moment: A black man stood on the Capitol steps and took the oath of office as president of the United States. For the second time. Meaning that not only did voters elect him once — which could be a fluke, a blip, an aberration, a cosmic accident — but then turned around and did it again.
Leading up to Monday’s pageant of democracy — perhaps the one occasion when the phrase “pageant of democracy” can be used without irony — commentary focused on prospects for Obama’s second term.
Would there be more gridlock and paralysis? Would Obama adopt a more conciliatory tone toward the Republican leadership in the House, or would he press the advantage he won at the polls in November? Would he make good on his promise of an all-out effort to pass new gun-control laws, even at the risk of making some fellow Democrats politically vulnerable? How would he approach immigration, entitlements, economic growth, the long-term debt?
“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together,” Obama thundered, in a speech built on themes of collective action and responsibility.
Reaction to the address took remarkably little notice of the fact that Obama is an African American. That seems to be old news.
Not for me, though. Not for a black man who grew up in the segregated South, who attended a rally (my mother tells me) at which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, who lived through the defeat of Jim Crow and the triumph of the civil rights movement.
For my two sons, this is history — unfinished history, to be sure, but distant enough that they learned it from books. Their children, in turn, will grow up in a world in which one of the central tenets of American exceptionalism — that anyone can be president — is demonstrably true. Or, at least, not demonstrably false.
On Monday morning, before the inauguration, Obama took his family to worship at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House. Television images of the president, his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, entering and then leaving the church, were charming but unexceptional — and almost made me cry.
I have always believed that those quotidian pictures of family life are one of the most important legacies of the Obama presidency. For most people, visual information is uniquely powerful. What we see has more impact than what we hear. Pictures of an African American family enveloped by Secret Service protection, ferried down Pennsylvania Avenue in armored limousines, returning at night to sleep in the grand residence of the nation’s head of state — these images show us something new about what is possible, something new about ourselves.
I was always taught that the first black person to fill any job or role previously reserved for whites should expect to be held to a higher standard. Surely Obama has noticed this, too.
You’d think that steering the economy away from the abyss, passing landmark health-care reform, guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work, ending our nation’s shameful experiment with torture and ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — for starters — would add up to a pretty impressive first-term résumé.
Voters clearly thought so, but a lot of my fellow pundits seem not to have noticed. Instead, they demand to know why Obama has not somehow charmed Republicans — who announced, you will recall, that their principal aim was making him a one-term president — into meek submission, I suppose through some combination of glad-handing and perhaps hypnosis.
The truth is that it will take many years to fully assess the Obama presidency. The verdict will depend on what he accomplishes in his second term — and how his initiatives pan out in the coming decades. On health care and the long-term debt, in particular, my hunch is that Obama is taking a much longer view than his critics realize.
But here we are, talking about legacy, not race. Which is simply amazing.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 21, 2013
George Shultz once offered advice to Cabinet secretaries seeking to make a difference, advice that applies equally well to presidents. It’s easy to be consumed by your in box in these big jobs, Shultz explained. The flow of “incoming” could keep anyone fully occupied from the moment they were sworn in to the day they left office. The key to leaving your mark is to be sure you work on priorities you select and put into other people’s in-boxes. Don’t just work off your own.
This sound counsel captures why Barack Obama’s devotion to major health reform was so important — and why the risks he took to pursue that course must make his vindication Tuesday night especially sweet.
Obama didn’t “have” to do health reform. It wasn’t in his in box. A historic economic collapse was. He could have devoted himself exclusively to economic crisis management. (Though even if he’d done that, it’s not clear the recovery would be further along. After all, the Republicans blocked the sensible infrastructure investments in his Jobs Act a year ago that would have left 1 million more Americans working today — and unemployment at 7.2 percent, not 7.9 percent).
But Obama took the longer view. He knew U.S. health care was a scandal, with outsize costs and 50 million people uninsured. Now, thanks to the president’s reelection and the certainty that the law will be phased in by 2014, everything will change.
For the first time, Americans will have guaranteed access to coverage at group rates outside the employment setting. This fact got zero discussion in the campaign, but it’s impossible to overstate its significance. We’re the only wealthy nation where such access isn’t the case today. It’s been bad for people and disastrous for entrepreneurship (because budding entrepreneurs routinely stay in jobs they dislike in order to keep health coverage if there’s illness in their family).
The status quo has been bad for business, which carries the cost of health care on its payrolls. It’s also been bad for workers, because the cash devoured by employer-paid health premiums would otherwise be available for higher wages.
With Obama’s reelection, the great hope now is that in the years ahead, as politicians and business leaders in both parties realize that the new insurance exchanges are a safe and sensible way for folks to get coverage, more Americans will be allowed to migrate to the exchanges, with sliding-scale subsidies for those who need help to buy decent policies.
Everyone needs to realize that this development would be terrific — good for people, good for business, good for the economy. Republicans have talked inanely about people at risk of being “dumped” into the new exchanges, when in fact private plans will be offered exactly like those employers have offered, except that people will have many more choices.
Smart employers see this trend coming and know it makes sense. When I spoke to an audience of human-resource executives not long after Obamacare passed, I polled the audience on what it expected. Today about 20 million people get coverage outside the job setting (not counting folks on Medicare and Medicaid). What would that number be in a decade, I asked. 20 million? 40 million? Or 100 million? Most said 100 million — which would obviously represent a dramatic shift in so short a time. It may be a threat to the benefits empires these folks run for their companies, but it represents huge progress for the country.
This progress will have been possible only because President Obama took a bigger view and then persisted. He wasn’t going to make his entire presidency about his in box — which meant cleaning up George W. Bush’s mess. Instead, he fought for major changes that mattered for the long term. He paid a big price for this choice. Not only did he face the GOP’s fury but, because his team didn’t design health reform to phase in fully until 2014, voters had to go through this election without any sense of the security Obamacare will bring.
Republicans who grasped the stakes opposed it so fiercely because they knew that if Obamacare wasn’t killed in its cradle, it would eventually be popular and deepen the public’s attachment to the party that authored it (this same sentiment accounted for the violent opposition to Clintoncare in the 1990s).
Well, these GOP fears were well-founded. By 2016, Obamacare will be immensely popular. Mark my words.
There are surely 100 reasons why reelection must be satisfying to the president. But one of the biggest has to be the vindication of his choice to go big on health care. Long after the damage of the burst financial and real estate bubbles is healed, Obamacare will be his legacy. It will have improved our society and laid the groundwork for greater economic security in an era in which Americans will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces beyond their control.
The law is hardly perfect. Twenty million to 30 million Americans will still lack coverage even after it is implemented. Some of its regulations amount to micromanagement (such as rules requiring insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on health care). The decision to finance the bill partly with fees on employers who don’t offer coverage created needless business opposition and may lead some to cut workers’ hours to stay below the threshold that triggers such fees.
But these things can easily be fixed. The big point remains: By instinctively heeding Shultz’s advice and keeping his eye on America’s unfinished agenda even as economic storms raged around him, Obama is now certain to leave America a more decent society in ways that business will come to recognize are good for the economy as well. (The fact that Mitt Romney’s health reform inspired its design gives the achievement a kind of tacit bipartisan poetry as well.)
Not bad for a night’s work. All we need now is filibuster reform, and we might really be on to something.
By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012
There are a lot of reasons why the United States is the only advanced democracy that does not guarantee basic medical services to all its citizens. One reason is that the convoluted construction of the U.S. health-care system has made it hard to fix the dysfunctional elements without threatening to change existing arrangements for people who profit from the status quo, or at least fear change. (That’s why both Presidents Obama and Clinton have tried so hard to convince Americans with health insurance they could keep what they have.)
Another reason is that people without health insurance are politically weak. They lack political organization, and many, reports Alec MacGillis, lack even the awareness that there was this big health-care law that gives them help:
As Robin Layman, a mother of two who has major health troubles but no insurance, arrived at a free clinic here, she had a big personal stake in the Supreme Court’s imminent decision on the new national health care law.
Not that she realized that. “What new law?” she said. “I’ve not heard anything about that.”
The circumstances of MacGillis’s story itself tell you something else about the weakness of the uninsured: Their cause is slightly disreputable. MacGillis straightforwardly and without advocacy examines up-close the conditions of the uninsured and their level of awareness, or lack thereof, of the Affordable Care Act. MacGillis reported the story for Kaiser Health News, and offered it to the Washington Post, which planned to run it on its front page but decided against it.
It is certainly true that a story examining the plight of the uninsured, and one that notes that they would stand to gain from a law subsidizing their health insurance, would tend to make readers think more favorably of such a law. But that is not the sort of objection a newspaper normally considers fatal. It all depends on whose plight we’re talking about. The complaints of business leaders who want more favorable regulatory and fiscal policies have received blanket coverage. Even when such complaints have a strong partisan tilt, beliefs like “we need less regulation” or “we must focus on reducing the deficit” carry a presumption of public-spiritedness.
The uninsured are in such bad political shape that even describing their physical suffering in a political context is considered dangerously partisan. That’s about as screwed as you can get.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, June 18, 2012
If someone asked you to come up with a good reason that Mitt Romney—the boring one-term governor of a state he left with high debt, poor job-creation and low approval ratings—became a credible national candidate, you might have a hard time doing so. The fact that he is wealthy and could self-finance his way into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders helped, as did the fact that he had won in the bluest of states, Massachusetts.
But the main reason, ironically, is that he was associated with a policy achievement—healthcare reform—that he has completely come to oppose. Back in 2007, Republicans still pretended to care about the crisis of 45 million uninsured Americans and costs that keep spiraling upwards. And so they looked to the one Republican who had tackled that problem at the state level and had done so with a program that harnessed the private sector rather than creating a massive new entitlement program. Conservative organs such as National Review, which would later inveigh against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cited Romney’s experience with reforming the health insurance system as one of his most valuable credentials.
Throughout this campaign Romney has walked a tiny tightrope on healthcare: he attempts to make amends for passing the state level template for the ACA by issuing over the top denunciations of socialist, unconstitutional “Obamacare.” Meanwhile he has studiously avoided saying anything of substance about how he would address the massive market failure that defined the pre-reform American healthcare system.
On Tuesday in Orlando Romney gave a speech intended to create the false impression that he intends to replace the ACA with something that would provide the same benefits through other means. Here is how the Washington Post summarized the speech: “Romney fleshed out a plan he proposed earlier that would apply free-enterprise principles to the nation’s health-care system rather than operate it like a ‘government-managed utility,’ letting competition drive down prices and increase quality.” The “earlier” they refer to is Romney’s big healthcare speech last May that was meant to make it clear how different he is from Obama on the subject.
That was the main thrust again on Tuesday. Romney repeated the usual right-wing shibboleths: that the ACA has hamstrung the economic recovery by placing “unaffordable” cost burdens and new taxes on families and businesses. He has been at this for a while, using misleading anecdotes, such as his blatant misrepresentation of a passage from Noam Scheiber’s book that he claims shows the White House knew healthcare reform would damage the recovery, when it only shows that it knew more stimulus might have been more valuable to the short-term recovery. Of course, had Obama proposed more stimulus spending instead of healthcare reform in the fall of 2009, Romney and other Republicans would have opposed it.
In fact, the Romney campaign appears to disagree with the Post that Romney offered much more substance than he did last May. When I asked for details of what he is proposing, the campaign said he laid it out last year and the program is available on the campaign website.
The healthcare page on Romney’s site does not, in fact, tell you much about what Romney would do. Instead it mostly offers vague, inoffensive sounding principles such as “Ensure flexibility to help the uninsured, including public-private partnerships, exchanges, and subsidies” and “Offer innovation grants to explore non-litigation alternatives to dispute resolution.”
Some of the principles are more blatantly ideological and potentially quite troubling, such as “Limit federal standards and requirements on both private insurance and Medicaid coverage.” Those federal standards and requirements are in place to protect citizens from rapacious companies and miserly state governments that would deprive recipients of necessary treatments. Any given federal requirement might be too costly or unnecessary. But Romney doesn’t specify which federal requirements he would eliminate so as to avoid inviting scrutiny of what his policy would do to the vulnerable.
The few specifics Romney offers could reduce, rather than expand, medical coverage. Romney would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program. That way, if poverty increases the federal government would not be on the hook for covering more Medicaid recipients. It would be the state’s problem. And what would the states do? Reduce the quality of coverage, or tighten eligibility rules to reduce the number of people covered.
The only other major change to the health insurance delivery system Romney offers is this: “End tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.” That’s a euphemism for creating an expensive new tax deduction. That’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone who promises to cut tax rates and somehow magically make up for the lost revenue by eliminating tax expenditures.
Currently employer-provided health insurance is not taxed as income. Consequently, we overspend on health insurance by favoring that compensation over money employers pay to workers and the workers spend on anything else. This is actually not a very good policy for anyone. Employers are stuck with escalating healthcare costs, employees see their wage increases get diverted to healthcare, and the individual insurance market offers inferior, expensive coverage that unfairly disadvantages the self-employed and thus discourages risk taking.
These are all good reasons to get rid of our current system and switch to a universal, single-payer approach, such as making everyone eligible for Medicare. The alternative way to eliminate the current market distortion would be to end the tax deductibility of employer-based health insurance. That’s the program John McCain ran on in 2008. Back then, conservatives made sensible arguments in favor of doing so. For example, the Family Research Council complained in 2007 that employer-sponsored health insurance enjoys the single largest subsidy in our tax code.
But Mitt Romney is not John McCain. He is a coward, who lacks an iota of McCain’s political bravery. Consequently, Romney fears the backlash that would ensue if he took the principled position in favor of removing this inefficiency. So instead he proposes to equalize the treatment by making it also tax-deductible for individuals to buy their own insurance. That’s good for them, but it does nothing for the market. (The advantage to the market of McCain’s proposal was that it would move millions of health working-age Americans into the individual insurance market, much as the individual mandate would.) The ACA creates a flat tax credit for buying insurance. Romney would repeal that and offer a tax credit based on how much you spend on health insurance, so it would disproportionately benefit richer people who can afford more expensive tax plans.
In a similar act of falsely telling voters they can have their cake and eat it too, Romney promises to keep the most popular provision of the ACA, the rule preventing insurers from excluding prior conditions, without explaining how he would prevent the insurance market from a death spiral of cost increases. (The current mechanism for preventing that, the individual mandate, is the core of what Romney promises to repeal if the Supreme Court doesn’t do so first.)
As a freelancer who pays for his own insurance, I stand to benefit. But as American citizens, we all stand to lose.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, June 12, 2012