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“The Obamacare Referendum”: Paul Ryan Is Using Shorthand Again In Selling Changes To Medicare

Did you know that on November 6, 2012, in conjunction with the national election, the United States also had a referendum on Obamacare that Republicans won? No, I didn’t, either, until Paul Ryan informed me of this, via this Think Progress report:

On Sunday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) stopped by Fox News Sunday to preview his new budget, which will be released in full on Tuesday. As it had the past two years, this year’s version will call for massive cuts to social service programs, including food stamps, job training, Medicaid, and Medicare. Host Chris Wallace challenged Ryan on the viability of his plan, pointing out that he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, and, “that’s not going to happen.”

Still, Ryan insisted that he and then-running mate Mitt Romney won the election on this issue because they “won the senior vote.”

Now I think we all understand that Ryan is using some shorthand here: many Democrats hoped, and Republicans feared, that Ryan’s budget, by proposing to change Medicare from an entitlement to publicly-provided health insurance into a premium-support system, would make his party vulnerable to losses it could not manage in its old-white-folks electoral base. Instead, by a variety of means (including over two years of insanely mendacious “death-panel” demagoguery about the impact of Obamacare on Medicare, and the systematic “grandfathering” of seniors from Ryan’s proposed Medicare changes), the GOP ticket managed to promote a health care message that nicely meshed with its overall pitch to old white folks that those people along with their atheist hippie allies were threatening to take away everything good virtuous retirees had worked so hard to secure for themselves, including Medicare (which they tend to regard as an earned benefit as opposed to Obamacare’s “welfare”).

I suppose it’s understandable that Ryan would view any success in selling big changes in Medicare to old folks would represent a political ten-strike, even if he’s now having to incorporate into his budget the same Medicare savings he implicitly attacked during the campaign as a token of Obamacare’s ultimate goal of sending seniors off to euthanasia camps. But it’s still bizarre that he’s touting an incumbent president’s re-election victory as a repudiation of his most important legislative accomplishment. It’s enough to give Dick Morris hope he can come back from ridicule and disgrace and claim he was right all along in predicting a big Romney-Ryan win.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 11, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Medicare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Direct Correlation”: Stricter Gun Laws Mean Fewer Fatalities

A study released last week by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association): Internal Medicine shows a direct correlation between gun laws and gun-related fatalities. While the study is mainly based on the number of gun laws, not the type (it doesn’t, for example, specify which particular laws are the most effective), it confirms that generally speaking, stricter gun laws result in fewer deaths.

The report, entitled “Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States,” developed a method for rating states depending on the degree of the gun laws in place. How far state laws go to control gun trafficking, effectiveness of a background-check system, focus on child safety, restriction on military-style assault weapons, and whether state laws allow individuals to carry guns in public places were all considered when ranking each state.

The states that come in at the top of the list for strong gun laws are Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. Aside from California, which is closer to the median, these states also have the lowest average of firearms deaths per year. The states on the other end of the list—those with the most lenient gun laws—include Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Utah, all of which have among the highest percentage of deaths per year.

The authors conclude from their data that just owning a gun puts individuals at risk, and the federal government should focus on limiting gun ownership entirely. “One way that firearm legislation may act to reduce firearm fatalities is through reducing firearm prevalence. Studies have shown a strong connection between gun ownership and firearm suicide and firearm homicide,” says the report. “A cross-sectional study of all 50 states from 2001 to 2003 found that higher rates of household firearm ownership were associated with significantly higher rates of homicide.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has stood adamantly against the implementation of new federal gun laws, citing these measures as an all-out attack on responsible gun owners with a view to taking away their guns, and a complete waste of time since the government fails to enforce laws already in place. LaPierre has completely ignored and opposed proposals that include universal background checks, banning military-style weapons, and outlawing high-capacity magazines. During an interview, the NRA CEO tried to shift blame for growing gun violence when he said, “Look, a gun is a tool. The problem is the criminal.”

At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), LaPierre said, “Across the board, violent crime in jurisdictions that recognize the right to carry is lower than in areas that prevent it.” During a January Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) repeated this statement nearly verbatim. The problem with this logic is that there are far too many exceptions when piecing together a direct connection between any one lax gun law and a decrease in gun-related violence—other factors in society can trigger an increase or decrease.

The JAMA study focuses on gun-related fatalities, as opposed to gun-related violence. It also doesn’t delve into the specificity of each law, but instead measures the efficacy of all gun laws in each respective state by assigning one point for every law passed, all while taking into consideration the magnitude of the laws and the state’s demographic data.

Read the results of the study here.

A 2004 study by The National Academies Press called “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review” shows that since the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (which expired in 2004) was passed, total murder rates and handgun murder rates have declined considerably.

In the 1990s, Congress voted to reduce funding for the Centers for Disease Control, a leading research source on gun control. Before the funding was cut, the CDC found that having a gun in the home put families at a far higher risk for suicide and homicide. President Obama signed an executive order that provides funding to the CDC for this type of research, which is telling of the president’s commitment to passing effective, sensible legislation.

LaPierre, Sen. Cruz, and other opponents of stricter gun laws can make claims that more lenient gun laws lead to a decrease in gun violence, but the data to support those claims is plainly non-existent. The JAMA study reiterates what a recent Quinnipiac University poll points out: A majority of Americans support stricter gun laws despite opposition from the NRA and NRA-funded Republicans—and it’s in the people’s best interests to do so.

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, March 10, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Meltdown: Paul Ryan Doubles Down On His Losing Southern Strategy

After years of drifting apart, the jobs report and the stock market aligned this week, at least momentarily, as unemployment fell to the lowest level in over four years while the Dow and the S&P 500 continued to climb. We’re hardly out of the woods— the workforce participation rate remains stuck in neutral, overall growth remains sluggish, and worker income is still lagging behind the stock market gains—but there are signs of hope.

Yet some things don’t change. As the sputtering economy tries to get into gear, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan keeps talking about depriving hard working-taxpaying Americans of their retirement benefits, while offering nothing in return. This is the strategy that failed Mitt Romney and Ryan in November, and that alienates not just senior citizens, but voters over 45 — one of the few groups that’s so far remained reliably right-leaning as Asians, Hispanics, upscale Episcopalians, graduate degree holders and others have abandoned the shrinking GOP tent.

If the President’s electoral playbook called for uniting the rich and poor and treating the middle class as an afterthought, the Congressman has a more direct, if less palatable, approach: he simply attacks the middle class, by trying to gut their earned entitlement programs.

Harping on social issues and bashing the 47 percent, along with Mitt Romney’s antipathy on the auto bailout, is why Republicans got their clocks cleaned in the industrial Midwest last November, eking out just a 5-point plurality among non-college grad white voters in the Great Lakes (a group they won by 19 points nationally).

Apparently, the failed vice presidential candidate has not internalized these lessons. Instead, Ryan & Co. seems to be doubling down on 2012’s failed bet, and treating working Americans as little more than moochers. A year ago, Candidate Ryan called for voucher care instead of Medicare for Americans who were then 55 and under. Now, he is pressing the idea of setting the cut-off at 56 in an effort to force more Americans off of Medicare.

Polling data consistently show that voters disapprove of vouchers for seniors, and Ryan’s gambit may have even cost the Republicans Florida.

It’s no surprise, then, that the few standing members of the ever-dwindling cohort of centrist House Republicans are furious with Ryan’s latest suggestion.

Tenaciously, Ryan continues to press ahead. As an unidentified member told The Hill, the “big problem was that a lot of people have been telling people that it’s 55 and that’s the number . . . And if you change it, it’s going to make us look like [liars].”

The sole source of income for most Americans now turning 65 is their monthly Social Security check, which averages a little more than $1,200 and that is before paying $100 a month for Medicare Plan B.

The origins of Ryanism trace back to John C. Calhoun’s South and Herbert Hoover’s America—and that is a losing coalition. Indeed, for a southern-based party like the current iteration of the Republican Party to regain traction, it must reach out to and make inroads with the Northern working class. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes demonstrated that this task was doable. And yet, the current crop of Republicans just does not seem to get it. When the party of the South decides to go it alone, it fails.

Single women now rival white evangelicals as a voting bloc, and the former – which preferred Obama to Romney by a staggering two-to-one margin—is just not cottoning to the Republicans’ message on personal autonomy or anything else. With childrearing and marriage increasingly distinct and recent studies showing that the life expectancies of subgroups of women are declining regionally, even as life expectancy on the whole is rising, a call to replace a long-established safety net with faux personal responsibility is not a winning message.

Religion also has lost traction at the lower end of the income spectrum, particularly outside of the South. Rather, regular worship is now the province of married upper-income Americans, be they Republicans or Democrats. SMU families and their Scarsdale counterparts have more in common than either may realize.

If the Republicans stay on their present course, the fate of the old Democratic Party awaits them.
Between 1860 and 1932, the Democrats were a Southern-based party that managed to elect only two presidents in 18 elections.

And in fact, Ryan the Midwesterner does seem to look to the South. He supported relief for the victims of Katrina, but opposed aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At least on disaster funding, the Congressman can whistle Dixie.
The question for the Republican Party is whether it has the will to change. After losing five straight elections to FDR’s New Deal Coalition, the Republicans got their act together. Will history repeat itself?

One thing is for sure: Alienating your base when you need every vote that you can get is not smart politics.


By: Lloyd Green, The Daily Beast, March 10, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Medicare, Seniors | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dwelling In Sequesterland”: Once The Sequester Is Solved, Rand Paul Will Go Back To Being An Oddball

This is a weird moment in American politics. The sequester has just chopped $43 billion out of this year’s defense budget and Republicans are pretending not to care. Now Senator Rand Paul is winning kudos for conducting an old-fashioned talking filibuster against drone warfare from Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (“I think it was completely awesome”). (Click here in the unlikely event you want to watch all 13 hours of Paul’s filibuster, and here for a video abridgement from the Washington Post.) With Politico‘s Lois Romano gushing that the filibuster has abruptly “vaulted [Rand] into the top tier of Republican power players,” Paul now says he’s “seriously” pondering a 2016 run for president. “I think our party needs something new, fresh and different,” Paul told Romano.

We have to figure out how to appeal to the West Coast, New England [and] around the Great Lakes area. We need to figure out how to appeal to the blue-collar voters that voted—that were Democrats that voted for Reagan and I think are drifting back because they see us as the party of the wealthy. … I do want to be part of making the Republican Party again more of a national party, less than a regional party, which I think we’re in danger of becoming.

Paul’s specific objection to drones is that they might be used to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. His apparent preference for civil liberties over civil rights is one problem he’ll likely have running for president. (Paul recently voted against the Violence Against Women Act largely on states-rights grounds, and as recently as last year he argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a cruel imposition on property rights.) Paul inhabits approximately the same niche as Haley Barbour, another seemingly strong candidate with a civil rights problem who ultimately decided not to run in 2012. But that isn’t the biggest obstacle to a plausible Paul candidacy. The larger problem is Paul’s opposition to the U.S. national-security establishment.

In ordinary times, it would be unwise for a Republican seeking the presidential nomination to deny this establishment the right to kill an enemy combatant on U.S. soil—even if that combatant were a U.S. citizen. But these aren’t ordinary times. We dwell in Sequesterland, a Brigadoon-like place where the GOP feels free not to define itself though toughness on defense. Even here in Sequesterland, Paul didn’t escape condemnation from the Wall Street Journal editorial page (“If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms”) and from Sens. John McCain (“totally unfounded”) and Lindsay Graham (“To my party, I’m a bit disappointed that you no longer apparently think we’re at war”). But since this is Sequesterland, most other Republicans gave Paul a pass lest they give the public occasion to wonder why, if they’re so darned desperate to defend national security, they’re bleeding the Pentagon.

They are bleeding the Pentagon, incidentally. As Fred Kaplan has argued forcefully in Slate, the mere likelihood that $43 billion could be sliced out of the Pentagon budget without compromising national defense does not mean that this $43 billion cut is a breeze. As with the civilian cuts, the sequester cuts are across the board and don’t really give managers any leeway to prioritize this at the expense of that. Here’s Kaplan:

What about the $179 million allotted for modifications to the AH-64 Apache helicopter? How do the Army’s managers parse that? And how does anyone, whether in Congress or the Pentagon’s comptroller office, perform oversight of that feat, this year and in the near future? Not only is the exercise disruptive and in some cases absurd, it also creates excuses for contractors to bilk the Pentagon after the budget crisis is over, claiming that they suffered cost overruns as a result of inefficiencies brought on by sequestration.

Because this can’t possibly last, it won’t. One way or another, the GOP will be transported out of Sequesterland, and when that happens Paul will lose his get-out-of-jail-free card.

Remember Chuck Hagel? Former Republican senator from Nebraska? Just before the sequester hit Hagel was confirmed as defense secretary, but his margin was historically narrow because nearly every Senate Republican opposed him. (Paul was one of only four GOP yeas.) The president named a Republican to be secretary of defense, and Senate Republicans (including, for very foggy reasons, Paul) actually gave serious thought to filibustering the nomination. Much of the Republican resistance to Hagel was based, childishly, on the mere fact that Obama wanted him. But much of it was based on Hagel’s having taken positions on national security issues that his fellow Republicans judged unacceptably dovish—and Hagel isn’t nearly as dovish as Paul is. If Hagel proved unacceptable to the GOP, it’s inconceivable that Paul—who less than one month before the 2012 election published an op-ed condemning Mitt Romney for being too hawkish in the Middle East and too willing to increase Pentagon spending—will ever pass muster. And by “the GOP” I don’t just mean GOP politicians. I mean voters, too. Those Reagan Democrats whom Paul thinks he can woo in California, New England, and the Great Lakes? They’re pretty hawkish. They won’t vote for a candidate who’s weaker on defense than Barack Obama is.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes that Paul’s libertarianism on national security issues “will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP remains out of the White House.” I disagree. I think it will remain cool with his party only as long as the GOP dwells in Sequesterland. Once that little matter gets resolved, Paul will go back to being an oddball. I’m not saying he won’t try to get elected president—after all, it runs in the family—but he will never inhabit the “top tier of Republican players.” That it looks like he might right now is just a quirk of circumstance.


By: Timothy Noah, The New Republic, March 10, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Remaining In Denial”: The GOP Must Come To Terms With George W. Bush’s Disastrous Presidency

It’s still freezing in much of country, but it’s springtime for Republican intellectuals.

With the Romney debacle behind them, a number of analysts have gone public with accounts of the party’s failures and ambitious proposals for its reform. Over the last few weeks, Ross Douthat, Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Pethothoukis, David Frum, and Tod Lindberg have all weighed in on where the GOP should go.

The proposals include promising ideas, such as emphasizing tax and regulatory simplification over income tax cuts, or moving away from hard-line positions on abortion and gay marriage. Nevertheless, these plans are a misleading point of departure for GOP renewal. That’s because their authors remain in denial about the cause of Republicans’ unpopularity: the catastrophic failure of the Bush presidency.

Start with foreign policy. From the 1960s until the 21st century, Republicans reliably enjoyed the trust of the public to manage America’s foreign affairs and protect its national security. The attacks of September 11 gave George W. Bush the opportunity to build on that reputation. Instead, he squandered it by mismanaging the war in Afghanistan and plunging the nation into a disaster in Iraq.

Not every setback was Bush’s fault. Nevertheless, the president bears more personal responsibility for foreign policy than any other issue. In most Americans’ minds, then, Afghanistan and Iraq were Bush’s wars. By the conventional logic of politics, that means that they are Republican wars, too.

Yet Republican reformers are reluctant to admit the obstacle that Bush’s legacy poses to public confidence on foreign affairs. Although they acknowledge that the wars have been unpopular and expensive, they present these facts in the passive voice, as if the deaths of nearly 7,000 Americans were the result of weather or other uncontrollable forces. Here is how Gerson and Wehner describe the loss of the GOP’s foreign policy advantage: “Nor has the decidedly mixed legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade worked to bolster the Republicans’ electoral advantage in the conduct of foreign policy; if anything, the opposite is the case.” Who do they think they’re fooling?

Then there’s the economy. The reformers write eloquently, and correctly, of the need for Republican responses to long-term problems of unemployment, wage stagnation, and rising health-care and education costs. As with foreign policy, however, they are reluctant to acknowledge that the Bush administration did little to reverse these trends, and in some ways exacerbated them. In an otherwise compelling critique of Republicans’ fixation on marginal income tax rates, Ponnuru manages not to mention that the Bush administration regarded tax cuts as a signature achievement. Ordinary citizens have longer memories.

I emphasize foreign policy and the economy because these are areas of Bush’s most dramatic failures. But Bush’s record as an administrative centralizer and critic of Social Security also overshadows Republican efforts in education and entitlement reform. It’s not good enough for Republicans to pledge that things will be different next time. To convince Americans that they’re serious, reformers need to name names about the cause of the public’s justifiable mistrust.

To be fair, the reformers are in a difficult position. They won’t attract converts within the party if they mount a frontal assault on its idols. And they know that Bush and his policies remain popular both with Republicans in office and with many base voters.

What’s more, several of the reformers have professional ties with the Bush administration. Frum, Gerson, and Wehner all worked as speechwriters in the White House. For them, rejection of the Bush legacy amounts to rejection of their own work. That’s not easy for even the most rigorous thinker.

But the reformers’ connections to the Bush administration reflect the GOP’s larger problem: an institutional and intellectual elite dominated by alumni or associates of the Bush administration. As Robert Draper reported in The New York Times Magazine, the RNC committee established late last year to investigate the party’s failings was staffed with the likes of Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary. Such a team is not very likely to ask tough questions — or to recognize unflattering answers. In addition to new policies, Republicans desperately need new personnel.

It takes a long time for political parties to recover from defeat. Since winning suggests that they’re doing something right, it takes even longer to recover from victory. Because it reassured Republicans that aggressive war, fiscal policies that favor the rich, and the ideologically-inspired transformation of beloved domestic programs were fundamentally popular, the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 was like a drug that relieves symptoms without treating the underlying disease. Conservative intellectuals must help the GOP break its dependence on these dangerous nostrums — and its continuing allegiance to the doctor who prescribed them.


By: Samuel Goldman, Blogger for The American Conservative; Published in The Week, March 5, 2013

March 11, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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