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“What Really Matters”: Don’t Knock Obamacare Until You Try It

There has been a steady drumbeat of news stories about health insurance companies informing customers that their policies will be dropped or that they will face steep rate increases due to requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

This has opened the door to fair criticisms that President Obama wrongly stated that people would be able to keep their current insurance policies if they are happy with them, as this isn’t necessarily the case. However, the real question for individuals facing rate hikes or dropped coverage is whether there are insurance options provided through the exchanges, mandated by the new law, that these people would actual prefer, thanks to some combination of lower prices and more generous benefits. Obamacare might cause some to lose their current policy, but it also might provide them with options they would prefer. That is what really matters.

People should remember that the program provides subsidies for lower income individuals and families. At least in states that have accepted the very generous federal contribution, Obamacare also expands access to Medicaid. For many people who currently lack insurance, a group of people who tend to be poorer, Obamacare insurance policies will be free or relatively cheap.

The initial implementation of Obamacare has not gone smoothly. The key problem is website difficulties faced by people who are attempting to see just how much a plan will cost them, and whose attempts to actually sign up for a policy have been thwarted. We will see if these problems are fixed in a timely fashion, and whether other serious problems crop up.

But the program, as designed, is intended to lower prices for the vast majority of people on the individual insurance market, as well as to open it up to people who previously have been denied affordable coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions. Optimistically, increased competition could even lower prices for employer-based health plans.

Admittedly, such optimistic predictions might not come to pass. Over the next several months we will get a better idea of how many people manage to enroll, whether their coverage is adequate, and whether their overall medical costs, including premiums and out of pocket costs, fall. We might ultimately declare Obamacare a failure, and if that happens we should figure out a better way to expand access to affordable health insurance and care.

Despite the rhetoric from many conservatives, Obamacare isn’t the way most self-described liberals would reform our health care system. It is needlessly complicated, not guaranteed to reduce overall medical costs significantly and its subsidies, while significant, are too stingy. People with lower middle class incomes will still likely find the premiums to be a budgetary strain. At the very least, liberals would have included a government run “public option,” a Medicare-like program that would have competed with the private insurance.

But problems aside, people who are currently navigating the private insurance market –both those without health insurance currently and those who might be receiving scary policy and price change letters from their current insurance companies — should make sure to see just what their Obamacare options are. They might be pleasantly surprised.

 

By: Duncan Black, USA Today, November 5, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“An Obvious Problem”: Chris Christie Needs Republicans To Have A Terrible 2014

I wouldn’t say that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the presumptive frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016—though, like Ross Douthat, I’m not sure who could beat him—but it is true that he is the official candidate of the GOP establishment. And, with a reelection coalition of Republicans, Democrats, young people, Latinos, and African Americans, Christie stands as the only potential presidential nominee that can claim a credible path to victory.

It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that his rivals are already throwing shade in his direction. NBC News has a good round-up of the Republican presidential contenders who have opened fire on the New Jersey governor:

“Clearly [Christie] was able to speak to the hopes and aspirations of people within New Jersey,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN. “That’s important. We want to win everywhere and Gov. Christie has certainly shown he has a way of winning in New Jersey, in states like New Jersey… so I congratulate him on that.” In other words, as TPM put it, Rubio was saying, “Try replicating this outside of New Jersey.”

Here was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): “I think the Republican Party is a big party, and we need moderates like Chris Christie who can win in New Jersey in our party.” Hear that? Christie is a “moderate,” per Paul, who also knocked the Hurricane Sandy TV ads Christie ran in his re-election effort. And here was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): “I think it is terrific that he is brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race,” Cruz told ABC. “But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle. And in particular, Obamacare is not working.”

Even after the disaster of the shutdown and Ken Cuccinelli’s loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race, the operating assumption of right-wing Republicans is that success will come when conservatives take a doctrinaire approach to their ideology. The available evidence makes clear that this isn’t true—Ted Cruz, for instance, won his election, but he underperformed Romney—but this doesn’t matter to either the GOP base or lawmakers like Cruz.

This poses an obvious problem for Christie. Insofar that his message of electability has any chance of resonating with Republican primary voters, it will be because they have given up the quest for purity, and are desperate to win, which means that, for Christie, the best thing that could happen is for Republicans to have a terrible 2014. If the GOP continues down its path of extremism, and loses its shot at capturing the Senate as a result, Christie has perfect ground for making his pitch.

Unfortunately for him, the more likely outcome is that Republicans do pretty well. The combination of a sluggish economy and voter discontent will hurt incumbents, which threatens the Democratic majority in the Senate and precludes the party from making real gains in the House. And a GOP base that does well—or even okay—in next year’s midterms is one that doesn’t have much interest in Christie’s message.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2014

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Election 2014, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Banker Scam”: Can Wall Street Buy Redemption?

Goldman Sachs churns out enormous profits from its high-rolling, casino investment schemes, while also churning out fat paychecks for its top executives. They literally sack up the gold, even as their speculative gambles have wreaked havoc on our real economy.

But, finally recognizing that their public approval rating has sunk lower than mad cow disease, Goldman’s banking barons now want you to know that they feel your pain and are eager to “give back” to the people. So — ta-da! — they’ve transformed themselves into philanthropists, having goosed up the bank’s foundation in order to flash their “charitable side.” Goldman’s chief of staff noted that “people said we weren’t doing enough” to address the gross inequities created by Wall Streeters, so they’ve turned their foundation into the fourth-largest corporate charity in America. In an orchestrated show that the New York Times dubbed “reputation redemption,” the bank’s charitable arm doled out $241 million last year, including grants to women in developing nations and small-business projects here in the U.S.

That sum would be impressive, except for a couple of ugly hickies on it. First, the foundation spends an unseemly amount on slick videos and PR efforts to extol Goldman’s new “generosity,” diverting philanthropic funds from altruism to corporate promotion. One Goldman banker, who’s appalled at the self-congratulatory splashiness, said of the charity: “It’s run as if it’s a Broadway show.”

Second, $241 million sounds like a lot — until you see that the financial empire’s income last year topped $34 billion. Do the math, and it turns out these “bankers with a heart of gold” actually allocated less than one percent of Goldman’s income to its widely ballyhooed beneficence.

How pathetic. Even poor people put these multimillionaires to shame, regularly donating 3.2 percent of their meager incomes to charity. Trying to buy redemption on the cheap is just another banker scam, but why aren’t we surprised that they would even view charity as a self-serving hustle? After all, on Wall Street, it’s assumed that anything can be bought and sold — from fraudulent investment packages to congress critters.

It’s no surprise, then, that the wizards of Goldman Sachs assumed they could purchase an image makeover, convincing us gullible rubes that they’re not just a pack of malicious, money-grubbing narcissists, but at heart, are huggable bankers who want nothing more than to serve humanity. Hence, the Goldman Sachs Foundation spreading a few of its millions hither, thither and yon in a flashy show of charity designed to mask the bank’s voracious ethic of greed.

But whom do the Goldman Sachers think they’re fooling? By putting a pittance of their billions into charity, they’re merely updating the old PR shtick attempted a century ago by the billionaire robber baron, John D. Rockefeller, who went around in public passing out dimes to a few children in the vain hope of buffing up his sour public image. But, worse, Goldman’s sly executives are not even donating their own dimes! It’s the shareholders’ money that these bankers are doling out. Worse yet, it’s also our money. By ours, I mean that Goldman’s so-called “gifts” are deducted from the income taxes the bank owes, thus, shorting America’s public treasury of funds that We The People need for schools, roads, parks, clean water and other essentials to advance our society’s common good.

Also, what is “charitable” about funneling $375,000 into one of Bill Clinton’s show-and-tell PR events? This donation by Goldman’s foundation went to Clinton’s Global Initiative conference in September, allowing the banking giant to plaster its brand on the event, including being the “host” of a panel moderated by Chelsea Clinton. Come on, that’s not charity — it’s advertising.

The more Wall Street bankers try to purchase morality, the less they have. We don’t want their false “charity” — we want honest accountability for their destructive greed, and we want a restructured, decentralized and ethical banking system based on fairness and common decency.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, November 7, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voting For Governor Is One Thing, For President, Another”: The Wrong Election Takeaways From Christie’s Win, Virginia, and More

The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”

Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not. What I’m saying is something different. But let’s start with Joisey.

Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic opponent, volunteered for a suicide mission when she agreed to run against him. Surfing on an ocean of media hagiography, Christie seemed unbeatable just when it was time for Democrats to declare themselves. Buono couldn’t raise money, couldn’t attract much media, couldn’t get anyone to believe she could make it close, let alone win.

In such a circumstance, a lot of voters just mentally write that person off. Most people don’t care passionately about politics. Most people care…some. When they look at a race and see someone who looks as if she’s going to get clobbered, they just decide they’re not voting for her, in the same way they might decide they’re not going to let themselves get too invested in the idea of Rutgers knocking off Florida State in a fantasy matchup.

So Christie got a lot of those votes. He got high percentages from Latinos (around half) and blacks (21 percent). Does it mean he’d get them running for president? No way. Indeed, the exit poll result that showed Hillary Clinton beating him 48-44 demonstrated Christie’s national weakness, at least against her.  Think about it. On the night of his greatest triumph, a smashing 22-point win, exit poll respondents walked right out of the booth and said, “For president? Are you kidding me? Hillary all the way!”

About 2 million votes were cast Tuesday. We should perhaps be careful about reading too much into exit polls, but the results suggest that running for president against Clinton, Christie, who corralled nearly 1.25 million votes Tuesday, would give back about 370,000, or roughly 30 percent of them. That sounds about right to me.

People make different calculations voting statewide and nationally. Massachusetts voters, for example, have often elected Republican governors in recent times, but they would never let a Republican get within 20 points of winning the state in a presidential election. New York had a Republican governor in George Pataki not all that long ago; Connecticut had one just recently; Pennsylvania has one right now, and Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Maine, and New Mexico. Likewise, a few red states where Democrats haven’t been winning many presidential votes lately (Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana) have Democratic governors. News flash: People can distinguish between voting for a governor and voting for a president.

The Clinton exit-poll number, the 61 percent of Jersey voters who backed a minimum-wage hike that Christie had vetoed, and his basically nonexistent coattails suggest to me that he will have a hard time winning his own state in 2016, especially if he does a little pandering to the right between now and then, as he’ll surely have to. I don’t deny that he is a skillful politician. What I do deny is that a blowout gubernatorial win under these circumstances means much of anything about the presidency three years hence.

As for Virginia, I mostly come away from that race shocked that someone as divisive and reactionary as Cuccinelli could get 45.5 percent of the vote. His tally, combined with the Libertarian guy’s 6.6 percent, suggests that Virginia is still fairly red. I was also staggered that Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe among white women by 16 points. Surveys before the voting indicated that McAuliffe was much closer than that among white women.

Of course, a presidential-year electorate will be different. It will be younger, more black and brown, and so forth. I would think Clinton, if she were the nominee, could beat Christie there with a large enough “on-year” turnout. But if 46 percent of Virginia is willing to vote for that little reptile Cuccinelli, a die-hard caucus in that state is going to put up a fight. I don’t see McAuliffe’s win as the “bluing” of Virginia. That’s going to take one more presidential election, and it may well be that only Clinton can do it.

Finally, it’s lots of fun to watch the sparring between Republicans about why Cuccinelli lost. The establishment types say the party should have nominated someone more mainstream, while the Tea Partiers blame the establishment for abandoning Cuccinelli too soon. The truly enjoyable thing about this fight is that both arguments have enough of a grain of truth in them to keep the quarrel going on into next year. So let the Tea people keep launching their cannonade, and let the establishment overrate Christie. That’s about as good an ending as this election could have had.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Group Polarization Intensifies”: Only Hearing Praise Back Home, It’s Too Soon To Write Off The Tea Party

Don’t write the tea party’s obituary just yet. Despite historic victories over tea party extremism in Tuesday’s elections, we haven’t seen the last of tea partiers.

First, the good news. Effectiveness triumphed over extremism on Tuesday. Voters in New Jersey and Virginia elected governors who appeal to the great bipartisan middle by moving beyond partisanship to “get things done” for the people. In Virginia, even Republican leaders endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe because he demonstrated cooperation across the aisle, including helping to secure Democratic votes for a bipartisan state transportation bill. McAuliffe’s success in presenting himself as non-partisan is notable given that he once served as national chair of the Democratic party and recently flaunted his poor rating from the NRA.

Extremism lost out. In contrast to McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli focused on a divisive social agenda that was too extreme for purple state Virginia, where a full third of the voters are independents. He inflamed Latino opposition with comments that compared immigration policy to rodent extermination, and offended women by introducing legislation to make divorce more difficult and to confer “personhood” on fetuses, which experts say would have outlawed common forms of birth control, including the pill.

Cuccinelli also alienated purple state voters by pursuing an extremist social agenda as attorney general (leading the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act, investigating climate scientists, aggressively implementing anti-abortion regulations and pursuing sodomy laws). More than half of Virginia voters called Cuccinelli “too conservative” on most issues, while finding McAuliffe “just about right,” in a Washington Post poll. (Cuccinelli’s social agenda blinders prevent him from recognizing that his opposition to Obamacare didn’t help him narrow the vote gap in the days leading up to the election. His tea party allies are similarly blinded, as evidenced by our election night debate on The Kudlow Report; they remain enamored of their social agenda and don’t recognize it is divisive.)

The final straw may have been when tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came to Virginia to campaign for Cuccinelli. Cruz, the architect of the federal government shutdown, only served to remind Virginians of Cuccinelli’s adoration for the shutdown politics the tea party pursues – particularly damaging given how many Virginians’ livelihoods are tied to the federal government (32 percent of Virginian voters reported that their households were affected by the shutdown). Nevertheless, one cannot chalk up the Virginia results to the shutdown, since McAuliffe’s lead in the polls over Cuccinelli dates back to July, before the shutdown.

Like McAuliffe, New Jersey incumbent Republican Governor Chris Christie credibly made the case to voters that he is an effective, bipartisan leader. Christie won praise from blue state voters for his willingness to collaborate with President Obama on the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy and on an expansion of state Medicaid through Obamacare. Sure, he’s conservative (anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, anti-labor), but Christie appealed to voters as someone willing to set aside partisanship to get results – proving that a Republican can win a blue state if he prioritizes effectiveness across party lines and plays down his social agenda.

A third victory for the middle came in a special primary for an Alabama House seat, where the Republican establishment called in heavy guns and large corporate dollars to ensure mainstream Republican Bradley Byrne beat tea party radical Dean Young – proving that even conservative House districts can reject tea partiers, so long as the Republican establishment fights hard enough.

And in New York City, a populist liberal – Bill de Blasio – was heartily elected over his business-minded Republican opponent, although the real race, in this blue city, occurred during the Democratic primary.

Combine Tuesday’s losses with news of a Republican PAC to combat tea party primary candidates and national polls showing diminishing support for the tea party, and you might well think the tea party is facing a death knell. Especially when you add in the prediction by demographic pollsters that the tea party will eventually die out with the aging of its largely older supporters.

But, before you write that obituary, remember that many House Republicans who championed the government shutdown are hearing only praise back home. Given gerrymandering in 2010, most House Republicans now represent ideologically conservative districts. Only 17 Republicans represent districts that voted for President Obama in 2012. As social scientists have pointed out, group polarization only intensifies as group members reinforce each other’s views and hear fewer alternative views. And if they “live” in a conservative news bubble, then, as conservative journalist Robert Costa put it, “the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire.”

These House conservatives aren’t going anywhere, and they may well launch another shutdown and threaten debt default this winter. Nevertheless, Tuesday reminds us that extremism can be a liability on election day.

 

By: Carrie Wofford, U. S. News and World Report, November 7, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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