House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Republicans will seek to delay a requirement of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that all Americans obtain health insurance or face a tax penalty. “With so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn’t make any sense to impose this one percent mandate tax on the American people,” Cantor said last week.
While Republicans plot new ways to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, it’s easy to forget that for years they’ve been arguing that any comprehensive health insurance system be designed exactly like the one that officially began October 1st, glitches and all.
For as many years Democrats tried to graft healthcare onto Social Security and Medicare and pay for it through the payroll tax. But Republicans countered that any system must be based on private insurance and paid for with a combination of subsidies for low-income purchasers and a requirement that the younger and healthier sign up.
Not surprisingly, private health insurers cheered on the Republicans while doing whatever they could to block Democrats from creating a public insurance system.
In February 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon proposed, in essence, today’s Affordable Care Act. Under Nixon’s plan all but the smallest employers would provide insurance to their workers or pay a penalty, an expanded Medicaid-type program would insure the poor and subsidies would be provided to low-income individuals and small employers. Sound familiar?
Private insurers were delighted with the Nixon plan but Democrats preferred a system based on Social Security and Medicare and the two sides failed to agree.
Thirty years later a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, made Nixon’s plan the law in Massachusetts. Private insurers couldn’t have been happier although many Democrats in the state had hoped for a public system.
When today’s Republicans rage against the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, it’s useful to recall this was their idea as well.
In 1989, Stuart M. Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation came up with a plan that would “mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance.”
Insurance companies loved Butler’s plan so much it found its way into several bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in 1993. Among the supporters were Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). Both now oppose the mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House in 1995, was also a big proponent.
Romney’s heathcare plan in Massachusetts included the same mandate to purchase private insurance. “We got the idea of an individual mandate from [Newt Gingrich] and [Newt] got it from the Heritage Foundation,” said Romney, who thought the mandate “essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need.”
Now that the essential Republican plan for healthcare is being implemented nationally, health insurance companies are jubilant.
Last week, after the giant insurer Wellpoint raised its earnings estimates, CEO Joseph Swedish pointed to “the long-term membership growth opportunity through exchanges.” Other major health plans are equally bullish. “The emergence of public exchanges, private exchanges, Medicaid expansions … have the potential to create new opportunities for us to grow and serve in new ways,” UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Hemsley effused.
So why are today’s Republicans so upset with an Act they designed and their patrons adore? Because it’s the signature achievement of the Obama administration.
There’s a deep irony to all this. Had Democrats stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler and more widely accepted by the public. And Republicans would be hollering anyway.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, October 29, 2013
“Obamacare Horror Stories Aren’t So Horrible”: Republicans Struggling To Find Real-World Victims Of The Health Care Law
There are real and substantial problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website, serious enough to warrant remarks this morning from President Obama and “tech surge” at HHS. But for the law’s critics, there’s still an underlying problem: websites can be fixed. The merits of “Obamacare” are unaffected by online snafus, however meaningful they may be.
And with this in mind, the right realizes it can’t just jump up and down about a website that will get better; conservatives still need to go after the health care system itself.
That’s proving to be difficult. We talked last week about a recent Fox News segment, hosted by Sean Hannity, featuring three real-world couples who presented themselves as victims of the Affordable Care Act. As Eric Stern reported in Salon, the problem with the segment was that none of the claims made by the couples stood up to any scrutiny. One of the horror stories was apparently entirely fictitious.
As it happens, this larger public-relations scheme is quickly shaping up to be an unsettling pattern. Robin Abcarian reported on a similar problem in the L.A. Times.
Maybe you’ve heard about the beloved local ice cream company that’s been forced to close its doors because of Obamacare?
Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich shared the dreadful news with Sean Hannity on Hannity’s radio show. It’s awful, just awful, the two men agreed, that small businesses are being driven under by the “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.
It didn’t take me long to identify the company: Bonnie Doon Ice Cream Corp., an Indiana ice cream maker that also operated a chain of drive-in diners in Mishawaka, South Bend and Elkhart. Or to figure out that the Affordable Care Act probably has nothing to do with the business’s failure.
Now, it is true that Bonnie Doon Ice Cream Corp. is permanently closing its doors. The problem is, Republicans want to blame this on the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, the local Indiana congresswoman representing the business’s headquarters specifically connected the law and the business’ demise on her Facebook page.
Reality, I’m afraid, is pointing in a different direction. For one thing, Bonnie Doon only had around 30 employees, so the law’s mandates didn’t affect it anyway. The employee total increased after it was bought by BD Acquisition, but even then health care mandates wouldn’t kick in until 2015 at the earliest.
“It seems highly, highly implausible that someone would be closing a business now in anticipation of projections around health costs 15 months from now,” Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, told Abcarian. “Any business that says it’s shutting down because of Obamacare is likely going out of business anyway.”
The point isn’t just to poke holes in poor anecdotal arguments. Rather, the key takeaway from stories like these is that Republicans are struggling mightily to find any real-world victims of the health care law.
For the right, these victims should be **everywhere**, eager to tell their stories, because that darned “Obamacare” is such a public menace. If so, why do these stories keep falling apart, replaced with nothing?
There’s long been an expression that’s common in theater: if there’s a gun on the stage, it has to go off. It’s a loose translation of something called “Chekov’s Gun,” and I’ve long believed it’s a helpful metaphor for the debt-ceiling law.
The debt ceiling is a gun that’s been on the stage for nearly a century, and from time to time, we’ve seen lawmakers pick it up, play with it, wave it around, and even make threats with it, though thankfully it’s never gone off. But if we want to make sure no one ever pulls the trigger, there’s really only one logical course: it’s time this gun leaves the stage once and for all.
Now that Congress has approved a “clean” debt-ceiling extension, Democrats hope they’ve re-established a governing norm: extortion schemes using the full faith and credit of the United States will no longer be tolerated. When President Obama said last night, “One of the things that I said throughout this process is we’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” I took this as a subtle reminder to GOP lawmakers: this particular gambit is over.
Whether Republicans intend to hold the debt ceiling hostage again remains an open question. Last night, Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) conceded, “I’m going to commit candor here: I think we’ll have less leverage on the next CR & the next debt limit.” Around the same time, however, a Senate Republican leadership aide told a Washington Examiner reporter that the party has “no intention of allowing the next debt limit hike to be ‘clean.’”
Let’s consider that sentence, pause for a moment, and collectively bang our heads against our desks.
Policymakers can end the extortion, the economic uncertainty, and the threat of economic calamity by taking this gun off the stage – or at least unloading it. Josh Green recently talked up one of the more sensible solutions.
Back in 1979, the Democratic House Speaker, Tip O’Neill, handed the unhappy job of lining up votes for a debt-ceiling raise to Representative Richard Gephardt, then a young Democratic congressman from Missouri. Gephardt hated this, and, realizing he’d probably get stuck with it again, consulted the parliamentarian about whether the two votes could be combined. The parliamentarian said they could. Thereafter, whenever the House passed a budget resolution, the debt ceiling was “deemed” raised.
The “Gephardt Rule,” as it became known, lasted until 1995, when the new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, fresh from the Republican triumph of the 1994 midterms, recognized the same thing that Tea Party Republicans recognize today: The threat of default could be used to extort Democratic concessions. Gingrich abolished the Gephardt Rule, and within the year the government had shut down.
Long story short, under the Gephardt Rule, Congress maintains its power of the purse and approves federal spending. If expenditures are greater than receipts, as they nearly always are, it’s simply automatic that the Treasury will have the borrowing authority to pay the nation’s bills. Gingrich ended the practice, but there’s no reason contemporary policymakers can’t bring it back.
If Congress doesn’t like the Gephardt Rule, there are other alternative solutions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, floated a related idea in 2011 in which the debt ceiling would remain in place, but the legislative burden would shift – the White House would have the authority to extend Treasury’s borrowing, and instead of going to Congress for permission, Congress would only have the power to proactively block Treasury. In other words, instead of needing a “yes” from Congress, lawmakers would only have the ability to say “no.”
There’s also the possibility of a constitutional challenge – there’s a credible argument to be made that the debt-ceiling statute itself violates several provisions of the Constitution, including the 14th Amendment, so it should be struck down in the courts. If not, University of Chicago Law School professor Eric Posner recommends a constitutional amendment to prevent disaster in the future.
There are options. The point, though, is simple: the status quo shouldn’t be left in place.
It doesn’t even have to be seen as a partisan issue – Dean Clancy, who works on policy for the far-right FreedomWorks group, recently endorsed scrapping the debt ceiling, too. Everyone from Tim Geithner to Warren Buffett to Alan Greenspan has reached the same conclusion.
Most modern, industrialized countries don’t have a statutory debt limit for exactly this reason – it’s simply too dangerous. It’s time for the United States to catch up and eliminate this weapon before someone – which is to say, us – gets hurt.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 17, 2013
So we probably now have a short-term continuing resolution set to expire in January. Does that mean another shutdown in January, after the two sides can’t reach an agreement? After all, that’s what happened in 1995 and 1996: a relatively brief shutdown in the fall was followed by a five-week deadlock in the winter. Is that what we’re going to get?
What the shutdown that appears to be ending today and the 1995-1996 episodes had in common was important: in both cases, one side really wanted the shutdown. In 1995, Newt Gingrich and many Republicans sincerely believed that Bill Clinton was personally weak and would fold if pressed hard enough. That turned out to be wrong; whether it was a foolish idea to test it in the way Gingrich did remains, I suppose, an open question.
This time around, the logic of the showdown gang was clearly foolish; no objective observers believed their stated plan would work; it would have required a massive surge of anger at the Democrats for allowing the government to be shut down over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but most Democrats like the ACA, and polling indicated that practically no one outside of tea party circles favored a shutdown over it.
There have been a lot of very contentious budget arguments over the last few decades, but none of the others ended with a prolonged shutdown; the next-longest one after those was only three days.
What causes an extended shutdown, then, isn’t missing a deadline. In fact, deadlines are probably needed to get deals done. As long as neither side actively seeks a shutdown, one of three things will happen: they’ll make a deal by the deadline; they’ll miss the deadline but going over the deadline will be enough to get it done; or, they’ll agree to move the deadline.
The question as we approach the next finish line, then, isn’t whether we’ll go close to the edge. Of course we will, but that’s a feature, not a bug (on a shutdown; flirting with the brink on debt limit is a far riskier thing to do). Real negotiations are hard; it takes time to sort out what the real asks are and what’s just bluff. The question is whether a significant faction of the Republican Party wants to do this again, and, if so, whether the rest of the party will accommodate them again.
My guess, as of now, is that this one was devastating enough that we won’t see a repeat. That doesn’t mean that Republicans will back off their demands; it just means that they won’t see any additional utility in fighting through a shutdown.
My biggest worry? This wasn’t 1995-1996, when the GOP was generally united behind the belief that a shutdown would work for them. Instead, the dynamic this time was that a relatively small group wanted it, and a much larger ‘fraidy cat group was terrified of allowing any visible difference between themselves and the radicals. That could repeat itself next time — and the radicals, especially those in outside groups, may actually be pleased with the fundraising results of this fight, even if it hurt the party overall.
However, it’s reasonable to hope that mainstream conservatives learned their lesson from this one and won’t do it again; there’s also the hope that those radicals who are actually driven by policy goals may also have learned something.
Overall? One way or another, budget deadlines are absolutely necessary. And we won’t get a shutdown unless one side wants it.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, October 16, 2013
“Our Democracy Is At Stake”: It’s Not Just Obamacare, President Obama Is Defending The Health Of Our Democracy
This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.
What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.
This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown. Noting a shameful statement by Speaker John Boehner, Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking,’ which Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.’ ”
“Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here? First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal on March 16, noted that the 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.
“Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent,” wrote Cook. “But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.”
According to Cook, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183. “When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other,” said Cook, “the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.” In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision allowed a single donor, Sheldon Adelson, to create his own alternative universe. He was able to contribute so much money to support Newt Gingrich’s candidacy that Gingrich was able to stay in the Republican presidential primary race longer than he would have under sane campaign finance rules. As a result, Gingrich was able to pull the G.O.P.’s leading candidate, Mitt Romney, farther to the right longer, making it harder for him to garner centrist votes. Last month, for the first time ever in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some $400,000 from the National Rifle Association. You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.
Finally, the rise of a separate G.O.P. (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to Web sites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behavior, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard-line and great coverage to those who are most extreme. When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Rush Limbaugh told them so.
These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.
President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.
By: Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Columnist, the New York Times, October 2, 2013