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“What Obamacare Death Spiral?”: So Sorry Republicans, The Rumors Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act have been terrified for months now that a combination of a botched online enrollment system, terrible press, and Republican sabotage could send the individual market part of the new system into the much-discussed “death spiral” where a disproportionately large population of older and sicker enrollees would produce very high premiums, which would in turn repel younger and healthier eligibles even more, creating a self-perpetuating disaster.

At Wonkblog today Sarah Kliff reports some research from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicating that fears of a “death spiral” are significantly overblown:

The rumors of an Obamacare death spiral have been greatly exaggerated. So say Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton and Anthony Damico, experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation who have put together a new brief analyzing what would happen if young adults snubbed the Affordable Care Act. Even if young people sign up at half the rate the administration hopes for, it would nudge premiums up only by a few percentage points, their report says.

“When you do the math, it matters, but not nearly as much as the conventional wisdom suggests,” Levitt says….

If young adults (those under 35) were 25 percent less likely than the rest of the population to sign up for Obamacare, they would represent 33 percent of exchange enrollees — rather than 40 percent. This means there would be fewer young people to subsidize older insurance subscribers. To make up that difference, the experts estimated, insurers would need to increase premiums by a terrifying … 1 percent. Yes, exactly 1 percent.

Levitt, Claxton and Damico also tested a scenario where young adults are half as likely as older shoppers to enroll. In that case, the younger enrollees would make up only a quarter of the exchange market. Premiums would fall 2.5 percent short of covering subscribers.

Wow. If these numbers are accurate, the widespread assumption (particularly among happy Republicans) that there’s nothing ahead for exchange enrollees beyond “sticker shock” forever could give way to the expectation that Obamacare will eventually be self-stabilizing, at least for most enrollees. That in turn would upset GOP calculations that they can perpetually benefit from Obamacare’s problems without coming up with their own credible “replacement” proposal (the ones we’ve seen so far, which rely on destructive gimmicks like interstate insurance sales and state-run high-risk pools, while vastly disrupting employer-based coverage, just aren’t credible once you get beyond the slogans).

A whole lot of GOP strategery for 2014 and 2016 depends on an Obamacare crash. They might want to start seriously considering a Plan B that isn’t even worse than the pre-Obamacare status quo ante.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 18, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Santa’s Race Matters”: A Devastating Message, There Are Roles For White People And Roles For Other Races

I was always a pretty skeptical kid, as most journalists probably were. So I never really bought the whole Santa Claus thing. I always felt like I was sort of humoring my parents by pretending to believe that elves were making my Easy-Bake Oven and Santa was delivering it to me (along with gifts to children all over the world! In a single night!). And undoubtedly, my parents thought they were humoring me.

So one day, I figured it was time for all of us to give up the charade. I went to my mother and asked her, point-blank: “mom, is there really a Santa Claus?” My mother, clearly having anticipated this question for some time, had the Good Housekeeping magazine answer all ready: “There is if you believe.”

This is not something that ought to matter at all to adults, except that the race of the fictional character has come into question of late. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly started the faux controversy by saying on air that Santa is white. The network’s Bill O’Reilly backed her up Monday, saying, “Ms. Kelly is correct. Santa is a white person.” To his absurdly small credit,  O’Reilly did add, “Does it matter? No.”

Well, no, it doesn’t matter if you’re grown and Santa is just a childhood memory. But what if you’re a black kid in Albuquerque, and your teacher says you can come to school dressed as Santa, an elf or a reindeer? What happened to ninth-grader Christopher Rougier is this: He came to school in a Santa-esque beard and hat, and his teacher said, “don’t you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?”

Presumably, the cover story wasn’t blown for the boy, who presumably does not believe in Santa Claus. However, he may have believed that being African-American does not prevent him from being all kinds of things – president, even – because the path had been cleared for him by others. Whether the child really thought he could grow up to be Santa someday is irrelevant. The lesson he got from his teacher is much more devastating – that there are roles for white people and roles for other races. These are strong messages to send children. Barbie, for example, used to limit herself to trying on new fashions and going to the beach at Malibu. Now, Barbie does it all – she’s an astronaut, a “pet doctor,” even a presidential candidate, smartly done up in a suit and pearls. Girls with Barbies might indeed still get a distorted body image for women, but at least they aren’t being indoctrinated with the idea that their futures are limited to “women’s” jobs.

It shouldn’t matter if Santa is pictured as a white man, given that we’re talking about a fantasy, but the reality is that it does. The mere message of the big, benign white guy being the one to distribute presents to children (if they’re good!) is bad enough (don’t people of other races express generosity?). Telling a kid he can never be in the image of one of the most beloved characters of childhood is cruel.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Fight Has Just Begun”: The Showdown Between The Crisscrossing Divisions Of The Conservative Power Centers

The Republican civil war, like all civil wars, is even messier than it looks. It’s a battle between two different conservative establishments complicated by philosophical struggles across many other fronts. Its resolution will determine whether we are a governable country.

Because the GOP fight is so important, it’s a mistake to dismiss the passage of a real, honest-to-goodness budget through both houses of Congress as a minor event. The deal negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan may be small, but it represents a major recalibration of forces inside the Republican Party.

From the time the Republicans took over the House in 2010, it became a matter of doctrine that conservatives should never reach compromises with Democrats — and especially with President Obama. Compromise came to be seen as a violation of conservative ideals.

Poll after poll has shown that attitudes toward the quest for common ground have become one of the new dividing lines between the parties. Typical was a Pew Research Center survey taken in January, as the new Congress opened. Given a choice pitting elected officials who “make compromises with people they disagree with” against those who “stick with their principles,” 59 percent of Democrats but only 36 percent of Republicans preferred compromise-seekers.

In arriving at a relatively down-the-middle deal with Murray and the Democrats to avoid a government shutdown and further gridlock, Ryan was thus defying what has been the prevailing view among his party’s rank and file. In doing so, the ambitious Wisconsin Republican offered a hint as to where he sees his party moving over the long run.

The Tea Party certainly still wields power in GOP primaries, one reason why only one of the seven Republican Senators facing Tea Party challengers, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, supported allowing a vote on the deal. But Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner calculated, correctly, that the wreckage from October’s shutdown strategy allowed them to breach the Tea Party’s barrier against deal-making.

Ryan partially hedged his bets. He declined on Meet the Press last Sunday to join Boehner’s robust assault on outside conservative groups and insisted that the GOP would still make demands when an extension of the debt ceiling comes up for a vote early next year.

Nonetheless, when Ryan declared that he had to make a deal because “elections have consequences,” he was making a fundamental concession to the view Obama has been advancing: that with the Democrats still holding the White House and the Senate, compromise is unavoidable if governing is to happen.

Let’s be clear about what this GOP brawl is not. It is not a clash between “conservatives” and “moderates.” Most genuine Republican moderates either lost primaries or were defeated by Democrats. Liberal Republicans, once a hearty breed, disappeared long ago. The Republican Party is unequivocally in conservative hands. What makes the Tea Party rebellion peculiar is that its champions have lifted strategy and tactics to the level of principle.

Nor is this a fight in which “the Republican establishment” is being challenged by its “grassroots” enemies. Boehner denounced conservative fundraising behemoths (they include FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity) because he understands that they now constitute an alternative Republican establishment. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), was even more explicit, arguing that “many of the outside groups do what they do solely to raise money.” The new establishment is bolstered by conservative talk show hosts who communicate regularly with Republican loyalists and have challenged the party’s elected leaders for control over its message.

The showdown involving the two conservative power centers is not the only dispute that matters. There are crisscrossing divisions between foreign policy hawks and non-interventionists; between those who care passionately about social issues such as abortion and gay marriage and those who would play them down; between purist libertarians and pro-business pragmatists; and between supporters and opponents of a more open policy on immigration.

These arguments, however, are secondary to the issue of how a conservative opposition should comport itself. The governing wing won this round. But Ryan’s comments on the debt ceiling, coupled with similar remarks from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, suggest that Republicans will face yet another internal struggle over how much to demand in exchange for expanding the government’s borrowing authority.
If Boehner cedes that decision to the party’s confrontational wing, the gains of this week will evaporate. And given the hostility among conservatives to Obama, the habit of seeing compromise as a form of capitulation could prove very hard to break.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 19, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clothed In Righteousness”: Who Is Really Waging War On Christmas? Look In The Mirror, Right-Wing Scrooges

Spreading holiday cheer, a Western tradition for hundreds of years, no longer engages our so-called conservatives as the end of the year approaches. In fact, the innocent phrase “Happy Holidays” only serves to infuriate them.  The new Yuletide ritual that excites the right is the “War on Christmas” – an annual opportunity to spread religious discord and community conflict, brought to us by those wonderful folks at Fox News.

Once started, wars tend to escalate and intensify — and the War on Christmas is no exception. The same right-wing Christian ideologues enraged by any multicultural or ecumenical celebration of the season — the people trying to transform “Merry Christmas” from a kind greeting into a mantra of hate — are now merrily inflicting additional misery on the nation’s downtrodden.

Just in time for the birthday of baby Jesus, they are cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits. It’s all for the benefit of the poor.

Just ask John Tamny, the Forbes magazine columnist and Fox News personality. During a Dec. 17 appearance on The Daily Show, Tamny endorsed the congressional decision to cut $5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by declaring, “If I were in control, I would abolish SNAP altogether. I think food stamps are cruel.” Looking very well fed himself, he explained that if people were “literally starving,” they would be saved by a ”massive outpouring of charity.” That will happen, said Tamny, when “people have literally distended bellies where they’re getting almost nothing.”

He sounded oddly let down when he added, “We don’t hear about the poor in this country starving on the streets.” That probably won’t happen immediately, even with the scheduled cuts, but maybe we can look forward to such Dickensian scenes by next Christmas if Tamny and the Republicans get their wish.

As for the unemployed, food stamps are not the only source of succor that will soon be snatched from them and their Tiny Tims. The Republicans have insisted on a budget that discontinues emergency unemployment benefits beyond 73 weeks, which means that millions of families will soon stop receiving the minuscule payments – usually a few hundred dollars a month – that kept them from destitution.

According to Republican theory, as articulated by Senator Rand Paul, helping jobless workers and their families for longer than the 26 weeks ordinarily provided by most states is just as “cruel” as giving them food stamps. “If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” the Kentucky Republican said recently. “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

Actually, the absence of work is what causes long-term unemployment – not the presence of unemployment benefits. But in North Carolina, the right-wing state government has applied Paul’s theory by cutting benefits drastically. The result, as Bloomberg’s Evan Soltas has shown, has been to drive more people out of the state’s labor force, which has shrunk sharply, rather than somehow forcing people to find nonexistent jobs. To receive benefits, after all, it is necessary to prove that you’re seeking a job.

Facts are not about to deter statesmen like Paul or philosophers like Tamny. The spirit of this holiday is supposed to stimulate charitable concern for everyone, including the very least among us. What we are seeing instead is a real war on Christmas – not a silly struggle over greeting slogans or public displays, but an aggressive drive to deprive those who have almost nothing of the little we provide as a society.

The true enemies of Christmas – and of Christian hope, as articulated in this season by Pope Francis – are those who pretend to befriend the poor by taking bread from their children’s mouths. Both the mean old Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge were saved from villainy before their stories ended. Our modern political misers, clothed in self-righteousness, have no such prospect of redemption.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, December 19, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Christmas, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rolling Back A Century”: What Sort Of “Conservative Populist” Besides Ted Cruz Would Want To Do That

I was looking around Google today to see if Ted Cruz had ever come forth with the Obamacare Replacement proposal that was supposed to be imminent back in November, when I saw some other News of the Cruz I had missed:

Sen. Ted Cruz, elected 13 months ago by actual voters, said Thursday he’d prefer to see state legislators pick U.S. senators – as they were until a century ago, when the 17th Amendment came along.

Direct election of senators has eroded states’ rights, Cruz argued, speaking to a ballroom filled with conservative state lawmakers from around the country.

“If you have the ability to hire and fire me,” he said, “I’m a lot less likely to break into your house and steal your television. So there’s no doubt that was a major step toward the explosion of federal power and the undermining of the authority of the states at the local level.”

Most of the limited coverage of Cruz’ December 5 ALEC appearance focused on his choice of the words “Stand your ground!” in defending the lobbyist-driven source of right-wing cookie-cutter state legislative proposals from recent criticism, some of it derived from the organization’s heavy responsibility for the spread of “Stand Your Ground” laws of the sort that made George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin much more likely.

But repealing the 17th Amendment, ratified 100 years ago? Taking voters out of the process of selecting senators? What sort of “conservative populist” would want to do that?

Technically, Cruz didn’t endorse any particular repeal proposal, and technically, ALEC’s own idea is to create a “soft repeal” of the amendment, whereby state legislatures would be allowed to sponsor Senate candidates on general election ballots.

It so ain’t happening, of course, but it says a lot about Cruz’s notion of his “base” that he felt compelled to talk about rolling back a 100-year voting rights precedent.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 18, 2013

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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