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“What Nonsense”: Blaming President Obama For Passing A “Partisan” Health-Care Bill?

Here’s one thing I absolutely cannot stand hearing: that President Obama is getting what he deserves now because he passed such a “partisan” health-care bill. The suggestion is truly beyond belief and, quite literally, totalitarian in spirit, in the way it flips the truth so perversely on its head, turning the perpetrated-upon into the perpetrator and the aggressor into the victim. As Obamacare flails, one hears the “partisan” line frequently these days on television and radio. More maddeningly still, the alleged liberals and fact-based reporters on various panels often permit it to go unchallenged. Let’s set the record straight.

Obama came into office trying to reach out to Republicans and their voters. Remember Pastor Rick Warren at the inaugural? Remember how the president met with pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights groups early on? (You may not, but he did.) He also tried to horse-trade with them on the stimulus. True, he would not compromise on a tax credit for low-wage workers that Republicans opposed. (Interesting to read this article in retrospect; Obama was trying to help here the later-famous 47 percent.) But he did offer movement on tax cuts, and the Senate did pass a Charles Grassley amendment about the alternative minimum tax. And, at the White House’s request, certain expenditures the White House thought would repel Republicans were stripped out in the hopes of winning GOP support. But that, of course, did not happen in any meaningful way.

In the late spring of 2009, Obama started talking health care. He sat down with Republicans over the summer. He invited a group of Republicans into his office and told them he’d put tort reform in the bill if it would get him Republican votes. They stared at him. Other administration officials met with Republicans a number of times to see if anything could be put in the bill to appease them. The answer was always no. Remember here that the Affordable Care Act is basically a Republican plan to begin with, as the individual mandate idea came from the Heritage Foundation. So you might have thought that some Republicans would be OK with that.

Outside the administration, Democrats in the Senate negotiated with Republicans for months. Those Democrats finally did decide, on August 17, that it was time to throw up their hands, and they reluctantly proceeded without Republicans. “Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul…” is how the Times opened its article on the matter. But it wasn’t for want of trying. Democrats tried, for ages.

Why did they stop trying? Maybe because of things like then-Sen. Jim DeMint’s vow July 9 to make health care Obama’s “Waterloo.” Or maybe Democrats took the hint July 16, when they heard Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say, “We’re doing everything we can to defeat it.” Or maybe it was July 22, when Orrin Hatch, once a reasonable conservative, walked out of the Senate negotiations and announced he would not back any bill. That was, of course, the summer of the Tea Party town hall madness.

It was obvious by then—really before, but certainly by the time of Hatch’s departure—that Republicans would never agree to anything about health-care reform. They would say Obama wouldn’t accept their ideas, and there would be about a half an iota of a smidgeon of truth in that protestation, but of course the reason Obama didn’t accept their ideas is that their ideas were far worse than what ended up in the bill. They put out a four-page set of broad principles in June 2009. Then they filled in some details, and the Congressional Budget Office went over it. Unsurprisingly, it was a joke. The CBO found that it would have increased the number of uninsured and raised premiums for millions. Oh, and get this: Under their plan, insurance companies could still have denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Ending that is the main point of reform, and ending that is why reform is so hard.

So Republicans gave no support at all, by design, essentially from the beginning. And then they blame Obama for passing a “partisan” bill? It’s beyond Kafkaesque. It really is like an old communist secret-police trick: We will seize most of your farmland and then jail you for failing to live up to the production quotas.

And then they vote 40 times to repeal it. And then Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, goes on MSNBC on Thursday, and Chuck Todd asks him if the Republicans want the Affordable Care Act to fail, and he says: “Never.” Never! Can you imagine? Voting to repeal something 40 times is kind of an odd way for a group of people to express their desire to see it succeed.

At a moment when Obamacare is on the ropes, and in a country of people with memories shorter than Michele Bachmann’s future in public life, Republicans know that they can repeat such a dishonest talking point and get a fair percentage of Americans to believe Obama behaved like some raging partisan. The associated corollary point is that this was about his ego or some such nonsense.

Uh, no. Progressive-minded people have been wanting to pass universal health care in the United States for a century. Usually they were Democrats, although back in the day some were Republicans, including Teddy Roosevelt. It has been the major unmet policy goal of American liberalism for decades—not because Democrats want to overpower Republicans politically, but because Democrats want people to have access to health care. Republicans don’t. Since the policy goal makes utterly no sense to them, they assume everything is about politics. Obama wasn’t being “partisan.” He was fulfilling a long-held policy goal—and a central campaign promise, by the way. I thought we were supposed to like it when politicians keep their promises. But now that’s partisan, too, at least to people who see everything through partisan glasses.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Process At The Breaking Point”: Republicans Are Hijacking The Judicial Nominating Process Without Cause

In June, President Obama nominated three qualified jurists to serve as judges on the D.C. Circuit, generally considered the nation’s second-most important federal bench. Each one of the nominees has excellent credentials, each one of the nominees sailed through the Judiciary Committee without incident, and each one of the nominees enjoys the support of a majority of the U.S. Senate.

And last night, each one of the nominees has been blocked by a Republican filibuster.

Senate Republicans on Monday denied President Obama his third nominee in recent weeks to the nation’s most powerful and prestigious appeals court and insisted they would not back down, inflaming a bitter debate over a president’s right to shape the judiciary.

By a vote of 53 to 38, the Senate failed to break a filibuster of a federal judge, Robert L. Wilkins, who was nominated to fill one of three vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

Wilkins technically finished with 53 votes, but he had 54 supporters – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to vote “no” for procedural reasons.

As was the case with last week’s filibuster, it’s important to recognize that the Republican obstructionism had nothing to do with Wilkins, his ideology, his temperament, or his background. On the contrary, just the opposite is true – senators in both parties agreed that Wilkins is a fine nominee.

The problem, rather, is that a minority of the Senate has decided to block every nominee for the D.C. Circuit, regardless of his or her qualifications, because Americans had the audacity to re-elect a Democratic president. Once there’s a Republican in the White House, Republican senators will presumably agree to lift the blockade.

This is important because it has simply never happened before in American history. Senators in both parties have, in a variety of instances, blocked judicial nominees they considered offensive or extreme for one reason or another, but there is nothing in the American tradition that says a minority of the Senate can maintain vacancies on an important federal bench – indefinitely – because they feel like it.

Indeed, perhaps the single most bizarre example of obstructionism run amok is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said just a few months ago that each of Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees deserve a vote in the Senate. McCain then proceeded to join the filibuster of the nominees he said shouldn’t be filibustered.

After yesterday’s obstructionism, Senate Democratic leaders began “taking the temperature of their caucus on whether to finally go ‘nuclear’ and change the Senate rules,” and by any fair measure, Republicans haven’t left the majority party with much of a choice.

Let’s make this plain: if Senate Democrats don’t force a confrontation over this, they will, for the first time in the institution’s history, have allowed a minority of the Senate to hijack the judicial nominating process without cause.

The status quo is, for lack of a better phrase, a simmering constitutional crisis of sorts. Either Democrats act or a precedent will be set.

What’s unclear is whether Dems will, or even can, proceed with the so-called “nuclear option.” Does the party have the votes to execute the plan? Do they have the intestinal fortitude to accept the blowback from Senate Republicans relying on obstructionist tactics that have never before been tried in the United States?

Last week, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Pro Tem and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, “I think we’re at a point where there will have to be a rules change.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added soon after, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There comes a tipping point, and I’m afraid we’ve reached that tipping point.”

If they were waiting to see what happened with Wilkins, now they know. Yesterday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a leading proponent of Senate reforms, asked, “When will we say enough is enough?”

In the short term, it’s up to Democrats themselves to answer this question. Republicans, whose support is not needed for the nuclear option, have effectively dared the majority party to end the blockade and return the Senate to its earlier traditions. In fact, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose antics have been more offensive than most in this debate, dared Democrats just a week ago to restore the original Senate process for judicial nominees.

Senate Republicans, for all intents and purposes, have broken the judicial confirmation process. They know they’re engaged in tactics with no precedent in the American tradition; they know it’s obstructionism on an unsustainable scale; they know it’s wholly at odds with every commitment they made during the Bush/Cheney era; and they just don’t give a darn.

Whether the Democratic majority is prepared to simply tolerate this crisis and allow the process to be hijacked for the indefinite future is unclear.

* Postscript: If you listened to the debate at all, you may have noticed GOP senators justifying their blockade by saying the D.C. Circuit handles fewer cases than the other circuits, and therefore can better tolerate indefinite vacancies. In case anyone was wondering whether the argument has merit, it doesn’t – this nonsense was debunked in September.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Presidential Nominations, Senate | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tax-Exempt Hatred”: The IRS Should Strictly Police Hate Groups Seeking Non-Profit Tax-Exempt Status

A few weeks ago, Forbes magazine published an intriguing column by Peter J. Reilly that asked an important question: If the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Family Research Council a hate group, should the IRS take action?

In the column, Reilly criticizes a paper by University of Georgia Professor Alex Reed. Reed argues that the IRS must do a better job enforcing its procedure 86-43, which is the standard it uses to determine if a tax exempt organization is advocating an educational point of view or one that produces materials that are factually unsupported, distorted or make substantial use of inflammatory and denigrating language. If it organization does the latter, the procedure indicates that it does not qualify for tax-exempt status.

Reed writes that the IRS’ poor oversight of 86-43 has allowed many out-of-compliance organizations to keep their preferential tax benefits, particularly hate groups. Hate groups advocate hostility toward certain groups of people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. He references The Family Research Council, which has a long history of publishing offensive propaganda about the LGBT community.

Other tax-exempt organizations not mentioned by Reed, but with similar reputations include: the anti-LGBT Family Watch International,  whose research archive contains numerous offensive, junk science studies on gays and lesbians, and the xenophobic Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has volumes of distortions broadly denigrating immigrants.

Reilly argues that strict enforcement of 86-43 wouldn’t work because “if somebody expresses a view that you find threatening to your world view, you are likely to conclude that they hate you.” In other words, it would be impossible for any IRS employees to enforce 86-43, because any threat to their beliefs would trump their professional obligations. He ignores the possibility that the IRS could punish employees for targeting organizations based on their personal or political beliefs, an obvious, much needed reform given the IRS’s political targeting of tea party organizations earlier this year.

Both Reilly and Reed would do better not framing their arguments around what organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center deems hate groups. In fact, the hate group term doesn’t even need to be involved. Any organization whose educational materials don’t conform to the procedure should be scrutinized. The IRS must ground its enforcement on its rules, not the Southern Poverty Law Center’s position.

Enforcement has nothing to do with limiting an organization’s free speech. The Family Research Council, Family Watch International, Federation for Immigration Reform or any other group masquerading as educational institutions don’t need tax-exempt status to exercise their civil liberties. One is not necessary to the other.

Enforcement has to do with the fair application of rules designed to maintain the integrity of the tax-exempt system. Preferential tax treatment is, for all intents and purposes, a government subsidy administered through the tax system. If a tax-exempt organization is flouting the standards by which its status is awarded, it shouldn’t expect the government to continue to assist it in the coordination of its financial activities. The government is not obligated to make it easier for these organizations to threaten people’s basic rights and freedoms. In fact, the government has a moral, legal and ethical obligation to do the opposite.

By: Jamie Chandler, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | IRS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blaming Obamacare Is A Smokescreen”: Sorting Out The Real Reasons Why Insurers Cancel Health Insurance Policies

Now that President Obama has said it’s OK with him if insurance companies keep their policyholders in health plans that don’t meet the standards established by the Affordable Care Act, at least for another year, the big question is whether insurers will take him up on the offer.

The answer: it depends.

Some insurance executives will view the offer as one they can’t turn down. Even though Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s big PR and lobbying group, had nothing good to say about Obama’s proposal, keep in mind that she doesn’t run an insurance company.  While industry executives look to her to comment on what politicians do, they make their own decisions when it comes to their companies’ bottom lines.

Here’s what Ignagni was quoted as saying in a FOX News story Friday:

“The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA (Affordable Care Act) requires all polices to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today.”

Not so fast. There are other reasons some folks are being told they’ll have to change health plans next year. Many of them are having to switch plans not because of Obamacare but because their insurance companies want to move them into policies with higher profit margins.

Insurance companies have been sending similar notices to their customers for years. My son Alex — and thousands of other customers of a Blue Cross plan in Pennsylvania — got such a notice four years ago, months before Congress passed the health reform law.

Why? The insurer wanted to move those policyholders out of a plan with a reasonable $500 annual deductible and into one with a deductible ten times that amount. To accomplish that, Blue Cross notified its policyholders that their health plan would not be available in 2010. Their options were to switch to the high-deductible policy, which would still cost them a couple of dollars more each month, or to another plan with that reasonable $500 deductible. If they chose the latter, their monthly premiums would increase 65 percent.

Notices like the one Alex got have provided a mechanism for insurers to implement a years-long industry strategy of shifting more and more of the cost of medical care to their policyholders. And that strategy will continue until every last one of us is in a high-deductible plan.

Some of you are likely old enough to remember the days before managed care when almost all Americans with private health insurance were in indemnity plans. In an old-fashioned indemnity plan, the insurer didn’t constrain us in a limited network of doctors and hospitals and didn’t call the shots about whether a knee replacement or liver transplant your doctor recommended was really necessary.

Those days are long gone. Everybody eventually got notices that those plans were being discontinued. They were replaced by HMOs and PPOs with limited provider networks and armies of utilization review nurses and medical directors who decided if you would get coverage for your new knee or new liver.

In most cases, it was our employers who killed off the indemnity plans in favor of managed care. But eventually, HMOs and PPOs also fell out of favor. The managed care backlash of the late 1990s forced insurers to abandon some of their utilization review practices and to add more doctors and hospitals to their skinny networks. That led to shrinking profit margins — and to the latest silver bullet from the insurance industry: high-deductible plans.

Before Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies already were making rapid progress in implementing their business plans of “migrating” their customers from traditional managed care plans to so-called “consumer-directed” plans, the industry euphemism for high-deductible policies. At the same time they’ve been requiring us to pay more out of our own pockets for care, they’ve also been implementing a strategy of reducing benefits.  Investors and Wall Street financial analysts refer to these common industry practices as “benefit buydowns.” That’s another euphemism, by the way.

I myself — and thousands of my fellow Cigna employees — were notified several years ago, long before I left my job, that our HMOs and PPOs were being discontinued. Yep, we got notices in the mail. If we wanted to stay in a Cigna-subsidized health plan, we would have to switch to a high-deductible plan. The same thing has happened to tens of millions of other Americans in recent years.

Yet if you relied on the Washington media for your news and information about health care, you’d think that insurance companies would never have considered sending policy discontinuation notices to their policyholders until forced to do so by Obamacare.

The truth: they have always done this when profits were at stake.

Which is why some insurers will be happy as clams to be able to keep their policyholders in plans that don’t meet the ACA’s standards. Many of those plans — especially the junk insurance plans many folks are in — are exceedingly profitable.

For people who are in those plans who have complained about their discontinuation notices, I hope they will shop around. Chances are, they’ll be able to get much better coverage at a better price. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

 

By: Wendell Potter, The Center for Public Integrity, November 18, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance Companies | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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