By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 26, 2012
The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican representative from Washington — and it was remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen.
The closest she came to substance was when she described a constituent, “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly faced a $700-a-month premium hike after her policy was canceled. “This law is not working,” intoned Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And right there we see a perfect illustration of just how Republicans are trying to deceive voters — and are, in the process, deceiving themselves.
I’ll get back to “Bette in Spokane” in a minute, but first, is Obamacare “not working”?
Everyone knows about the disastrous rollout, but that was months ago. Since then, health reform has been steadily making up lost ground. At this point enrollments in the health exchanges are only about a million below Congressional Budget Office projections, and rising faster than projected. So a best guess is that by the time 2014 enrollment closes on March 31, there will be more than six million Americans signed up through the exchanges, versus seven million projected. Sign-ups might even meet the projection.
But isn’t Obamacare in a “death spiral,” in which only the old and sick are signing up, so that premiums will soon soar? Not according to the people who should know — the insurance companies. True, one company, Humana, says that the risk pool is worse than it expected. But others, including WellPoint and Aetna, are optimistic (which isn’t a contradiction: different companies could be having different experiences). And the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has run the numbers, finds that even a bad risk pool would have only a minor effect on premiums.
Now, some, perhaps many, of those signing up on the exchanges aren’t newly insured; they’re replacing their existing policies, either voluntarily or because those policies didn’t meet the law’s standards. But those standards are there for a reason — the same reason health insurance is now mandatory. Health reform won’t work if people go uninsured, then sign up when they get sick. It also can’t work if currently healthy people only buy fig-leaf insurance, which offers hardly any coverage.
And what this means, in turn, is that while we don’t know yet how many people will be newly insured under reform, we do know that even those who already had insurance are, on average, getting much better insurance. Since the goal of health reform was to make Americans more secure — to reduce their risk of being unable to afford needed health care, or of facing financial ruin if they get sick — the law is doing its job.
Which brings me back to Bette in Spokane.
Bette’s tale had policy wonks scratching their heads; it was hard to see, given what we know about premiums and how the health law works, how anyone could face that large a rate increase. Sure enough, when a local newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, contacted Bette Grenier, it discovered that the real story was very different from the image Ms. McMorris Rodgers conveyed. First of all, she was comparing her previous policy with one of the pricier alternatives her insurance company was offering — and she refused to look for cheaper alternatives on the Washington insurance exchange, declaring, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website.”
Even more important, all Ms. Grenier and her husband had before was a minimalist insurance plan, with a $10,000 deductible, offering very little financial protection. So yes, the new law requires that they spend more, but they would get far better coverage in return.
So was this the best story Ms. McMorris Rodgers could come up with? The answer, probably, is yes, since just about every tale of health reform horror the G.O.P. has tried to peddle has similarly fallen apart once the details were revealed. The truth is that the campaign against Obamacare relies on misleading stories at best, and often on outright deceit.
Who pays the price for this deceit? In many cases, American families. Although health care enrollment is actually going pretty well at this point, thousands and maybe millions of Americans have failed to sign up for coverage because they believe the false horror stories they keep hearing.
But conservative politicians aren’t just deceiving their constituents; they’re also deceiving themselves. Right now, Republican political strategy seems to be to stall on every issue, and reap the rewards from Obamacare’s inevitable collapse. Well, Obamacare isn’t collapsing — it’s recovering pretty well from a terrible start. And by the time that reality sinks in on the right, health reform will be irreversible.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 2, 2014
“Bette In Spokane”: Consumers Hear More About The Horror Stories Than The Follow-Up Reports Proving The Horror Stories Wrong
For the last several months, conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act, including congressional Republicans, have encouraged Americans to contact the GOP with “Obamacare horror stories.” The more the right can highlight those adversely affected by the law, the argument goes, the more ACA critics can undermine public support for reform.
To that end, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, used her party’s official response to the State of the Union to highlight a woman in her home state who, she claimed, was better off before the law.
“Not long ago, I got a letter from Bette in Spokane, who had hoped the president’s health care law would save her money, but found out instead her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month…. No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working.”
Almost immediately, red flags went up among those who follow the health care debate closely. And for good reason: over the last several months, Republicans and their allies have put a spotlight on quite a few “Obamacare victims,” but the stories invariably fell apart after modest scrutiny.
With this in mind, it was only natural to wonder about the circumstances surrounding “Bette in Spokane,” who presumably represented the single best piece of anecdotal evidence McMorris Rodgers could find as part of her ACA indictment. Fortunately, we now have a better sense of the relevant details, which, like so many “Obamacare horror stories,” don’t help the Republicans’ case at all.
The local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, tracked down Bette Grenier, who wrote the letter used in McMorris Rodgers’ remarks.
[T]he “nearly $700 per month” increase in her premium that McMorris Rodgers cited in Tuesday night’s GOP response to the State of the Union address was based on one of the pricier options, a $1,200-a-month replacement plan that was pitched by Asuris Northwest to Grenier and her husband, Don.
The carrier also offered a less expensive, $1,052-per-month option in lieu of their soon-to-be-discontinued catastrophic coverage plan. And, Grenier acknowledged the couple probably could have shaved another $100 a month off the replacement policy costs by purchasing them from the state’s online portal, the Health Plan Finder website, but they chose to avoid the government health exchanges.
In a familiar situation, the horror story isn’t as horrible as we’d been led to believe. In this case, “Bette in Spokane” didn’t have a health care plan so much as she had insurance that covered catastrophic coverage – and nothing else – with a $10,000 deductible.
Because the law transitions consumers from these bare-bones plans to actual coverage – plans that offer meaningful health care security – she had to choose real insurance. For reasons that are unclear, “Bette in Spokane” refused to check the exchange marketplace to see if she could find a good deal and instead chose an expensive plan from her existing insurer.
Also note, it’s not too late for “Bette in Spokane” – the state insurance commissioner said his office can help her and her family review the available options.
In the official Republican Party’s SOTU response, all of these relevant details were ignored. Viewers were led to believe the law forced higher premiums on this consumer as part of some kind of inherent flaw in the system, but that’s not at all what happened in reality.
And circling back to the last time we talked about a story like this, it’s worth emphasizing that there are Americans who’ve been adversely affected by health care reform. In a nation of 314 million people, it will be possible to find some who didn’t benefit as much as everyone else. In fact, it’s inevitable.
But in the rush to condemn the law, the public has been confronted repeatedly with anecdotal evidence that’s completely fallen apart. Worse, consumers invariably hear more about the horror stories than the follow-up reports proving the horror stories wrong.
If the Affordable Care Act were really as awful as the right claims, shouldn’t it be easier to find genuine examples of Obamacare’s “losers”?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 31, 2014
Yesterday rocker Ted Nugent announced that he would attend President Obama’s State of the Union speech — and then hold a press conference afterward to comment.
Nugent will attend at the invitation of Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas. But the message he sends is toxic for the Republican Party.
Ted Nugent is a board member of the NRA — and an avid spokesman for the right of every American to buy, carry and use military style weapons. Graciously, he will arrive at the capitol without military style weapons. He told the New York Times he would “go in at least 20 pounds lighter than I normally walk,” … “I will be going in sans the hardware store on my belt. I live a well-armed life, and I’ve got to demilitarize before I go.”
He will be attending the State of the Union speech along with 100 relatives of the victims of gun violence invited mainly by Democratic Members of Congress and sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Among them will be former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was almost killed in a gun attack in Tucson.
The contrast could not be starker. During last year’s Presidential campaign Nugent said:
“If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
In 2007 he said:
“I think that Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail. It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist. Mao Tse Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up,” he said, adding “Obama, he’s a piece of s**t. I told him to suck on my machine gun.”
As for his view of women:
“Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary,” he continued. “You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”
“What’s a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough?”
In a 1994 Rolling Stone interview Nugent said:
“You probably can’t use the term `toxic c**t’ in your magazine, but that’s what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”
On Asians and “foreigners” in general:
“…Yeah they love me (in Japan) — they’re still assholes. These people they don’t know what life is. I don’t have a following, they need me; they don’t like me they need me… Foreigners are a******s; foreigners are scum; I don’t like ‘em; I don’t want ‘em in this country; I don’t want ‘em selling me doughnuts; I don’t want ‘em pumping my gas; I don’t want ‘em downwind of my life-OK? So anyhow, and I’m dead serious…”
And then there are his comments on race:
“My being there (South Africa) isn’t going to affect any political structure. Besides, apartheid isn’t that cut-and-dry. All men are not created equal.”
“I use the word n****r a lot because I hang around with a lot of n****rs, and they use the word n****r, and I tend to use words that communicate,” he said.
Let’s just say that Ted Nugent is not the face of the new Republican Party “brand” that many Republican leaders have been trying so desperately to project since their November election disaster.
Nugent presents the same problem for Republicans as Todd Aiken did when he explained how the female body shut down pregnancies that resulted from “legitimate rape.” Even though many Republicans don’t entirely agree with people like Nugent and Aiken, their comments are toxic for the Republican Party brand. They drive away women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, young people.
And when it comes to the issue of gun violence, who would you rather have as your spokesperson, Gabby Giffords or Ted Nugent? Which of these two do you think would poll more favorably among the vast majority of Americans?
Nugent’s mouth is like a machine gun that riddles his own troops with friendly fire. The problem is that it is very hard for the Republican establishment to stop people like Nugent and Aiken. In fact tonight, we will be treated not only to the traditional Republican response to the State of the Union address — but two additional Republican responses: one by Tea Party Senator Rand Paul and the other by ultra-extremist Ted Nugent.
From Nugent’s point of view, it makes perfect sense to grandstand at the State of the Union and to go around making violent, outrageous statements. It drives his popularity and visibility among the narrow strata of the population that share his point of view — his fan base.
Recently the NRA posted a video that criticized the President for having tougher security for his children than ordinary people have for their kid’s schools. Most people thought the commercial was over the top — that bringing the President’s children into the political debate was out-of-bounds — and was ineffective in moving persuadable voters.
But that wasn’t the point. The video was not intended to persuade. It was intended as red meat for NRA supporters. It was intended to recruit members, raise money and mobilize the NRA’s base.
And that is the Republican problem — with the gun violence issue and so many others.
Tea Party activists have every incentive to stoke the anger of their base, make outrageous statements, and mount primary challenges that drive the Party out of the country’s mainstream — even though those actions simultaneously weaken the attractiveness of Republican Party candidates in general elections. And worse yet for the Republicans, those actions destroy their chances of attracting young people who will determine the Party’s future.
In the near term, people like Ted Nugent are dangerous to a Democratic society. Ted Nugent is a hateful, demagogic figure that builds his own career by belittling and attacking others. In hard times, his scapegoating and racism can find a following.
But every time Nugent opens his mouth he also helps to create lifelong Progressives who would never dream of being associated with the hatred he espouses — or with the political party that countenances him.
The Republican establishment funded and fueled the revival of the Tea Party after Barack Obama was elected. They did everything they could to legitimate otherwise fringe points of view. Now they are paying the price.
What is it they say about riding the tiger? The odds are good that you might be consumed by it. Or in the case of Nugent perhaps the better analogy would be a mountain lion. Nugent was once quoted saying:
“Vegetarians are cool. All I eat are vegetarians — except for the occasional mountain lion steak.”
By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post, February 12, 2013
If you heard a loud “gulp” Tuesday night after President Obama’s State of the Union address, it probably came from Republican political strategists as they realized their party’s odds of capturing the White House this fall are getting longer. Obama may be no Ronald Reagan, but he’s no Jimmy Carter, either.
The obligatory list of accomplishments and initiatives was embellished with bits and pieces of what will likely be Obama’s standard campaign speech. At the heart of his argument for a second term is his assertion that the American dream of upward mobility has been hijacked — that the rich and the powerful have rigged our economic and political systems to favor their interests over those of the average citizen.
Obama sounded this theme several times, perhaps most effectively when he decried policies that allow billionaire Warren Buffett to pay a lower income-tax rate than does his longtime secretary, Debbie Bosanek, who sat with first lady Michelle Obama in her box Tuesday night:
“We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet.
“That’s not right. Americans know that’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.”
There are some Republicans who can’t wait to take the issue of Buffett’s tax rate vs. Bosanek’s head-on. They are eager to argue that one of the world’s richest men deserves to pay a lower rate because his income derives from job-creating investments. These Republicans presumably consider his secretary a mere salaried employee who spends her money on such fripperies as, you know, food, shelter, clothing and transportation.
“The issue I think that’s going to play out this election is that question of Warren Buffett’s secretary,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Wednesday on CNN. “We want her to make more money, we want her to have more hope for the future. . . . [But] this notion that somehow the income that Warren Buffett makes is the same as a wage income for his secretary, we know that’s not the same.”
In other words, it’s not just that the rich are better than the rest of us but also that their money is better than our money.
Is this really an argument the Republican presidential nominee is going to make? Not in so many words, surely. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum seem to understand that taking Cantor’s line would constitute political malpractice.
Mitt Romney may get it, too, but he has little room to maneuver. Romney’s wealth must be very special, indeed, to deserve vacations in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, where he likes to park his money. But I digress.
Perhaps more of a political problem, from the GOP’s point of view, is Obama’s riff on shared responsibility. Republicans seem eager to double down on a “greed is good” ethos that has more resonance when the economy is booming, real estate values are soaring and everybody feels rich. Obama, by contrast, envisions a return to an America where the successful and fortunate lend a helping hand to those down on their luck, rather than coldly leave them behind. This seems much more in tune with the times.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, delivering the Republican response, offered an alternative that many voters might find cogent and unthreatening. He didn’t provide a lot of new ideas — basically, Daniels supports the same laissez-faire policies that got us into this crisis — but at least he didn’t sound like some kind of Ayn Rand acolyte who believes that economic Darwinism must always be allowed to run its course.
Daniels isn’t running for president, though, and the pragmatic conservatism he described — one that imagines a role for government — is out of touch with the radicalism that dominates his party. The Republicans who are running the party laugh at the concepts of fairness and collective responsibility. Soon they may find the joke’s on them.
In Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama called on the Senate to “put an end” to the unprecedented obstruction of his judicial and executive branch nominees, insisting that “neither party has been blameless in these tactics.” He was right to call out the problem, but he was wrong that it’s a bipartisan issue. It’s fine for the president to be magnanimous, but the fact is only one party has systematically held hostage even the most basic tasks of governing in the hopes of making minor political gains. And that party is not the president’s.
The nominations crisis that we face today exists largely because it can easily fly under the radar—and the GOP politicians behind it know that. This Republican Congress’s intransigence has caused harm beyond the very public battles over the debt ceiling and tax cuts for millionaires. Under the unglamorous cover of judicial and executive branch confirmations, the Senate GOP has launched a campaign of strategic obstruction to prevent parts of the federal government from functioning at all.
This became clear in the relatively public battle to confirm Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans admitted they had no problem with Cordray himself. Instead, all but two stated in a letter to the president that they would refuse to confirm him unless the new, congressionally created agency he was nominated to head was first substantially weakened. It was an unprincipled attempt to legislate via the Senate’s power of advice and consent, which the president rightly sidestepped by installing Cordray with a recess appointment.
But the Cordray nomination was just the tip of the iceberg. With far less public attention, the GOP has been decimating the nation’s courts, causing the judicial branch to face a historic vacancy crisis and Americans seeking their day in court to face unconscionable delays. This crisis is largely due to the chronic inaction of the Senate, which has been crippled by the Republican minority’s abuse of the chamber’s rules to block even consensus nominees from getting a yes-or-no vote.
More than 10 percent of all district and circuit court seats in the country are now or will soon be vacant, in what is the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in 35 years. Thirty-two of these open seats have been labeled “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The term isn’t bureaucratic hyperbole. As the number of criminal cases surges—a 70 percent increase in the past decade—civil cases are necessarily put on the back burner, resulting in often years-long delays for Americans seeking justice in consumer fraud, copyright infringement, discrimination, civil rights, and other civil claims. Judges in their 80s and 90s have continued working to keep the system running. One told the Washington Post last year, “I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, ‘You need to reduce your stress.’ I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.”
Outside of the Senate, there’s near-unanimous agreement that the current pattern of obstruction needs to end. Legal groups and prominent judges across the political spectrum—including Chief Justice John Roberts—have urged that partisan politics be set aside for the good of the justice system. But instead, Senate Republicans have dug in their heels. Once being confirmed by the Judiciary Committee—usually without opposition—President Obama’s circuit court nominees have waited a staggering average of 136 days for a vote from the full Senate, compared to just 30 days for President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his presidency. For district court nominees, historically confirmed quickly and easily except under the most extraordinary of circumstances, the average wait after committee approval has been 90 days under Obama, in contrast to 22 days under Bush. Even among the nominees who were fortunate enough to be confirmed last year, more than a quarter were holdovers from 2010, denied votes from the full Senate until the year after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile the dry numbers of the vacancy crisis obscure its devastating impacts. Cases that require urgent resolution face grueling delays and occasionally put on indefinite hold. In Utah, Dave Calder’s two-year-old daughter died in 2005, when a gas can exploded inside his trailer, leaving him with severe burns over a third of his body. After he sued the maker of the faulty can in 2007, he had to wait two and a half years for a jury verdict. In Merced, California, 2,000 citizens who filed suit over toxic chemical contamination stemming from a 2006 flood are still awaiting resolution, and only one civil trial has been held in the matter.
Republicans in this Congress have again and again put the politics of obstruction over the good of the American people. President Obama was right to call out the problem, but he should have put a name to it. Americans deserve a Senate that, at the very least, does the basic job it was hired to do. When it comes to confirming nominees, it is clear which party has been shirking its duties.
By: Marge Baker, U. S. News and World Report, January 27, 2012