"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Scourge Of The Wingnut Hole”: Coverage Totals Would Be Far Greater If Not For “Red” States Refusing Medicaid Expansion

We have a reasonably good sense of how many Americans have enrolled in the health care system in recent months, signing up for coverage made available through the Affordable Care Act. For a more ambitious tally, Josh Marshall includes exchanges, Medicaid, young adults staying on their family plans, and those who were able to bypass exchanges to buy ACA-compliant policies directly from insurance carriers, for a grand total of about 10 million.

But every time these numbers are culled, it’s worth remembering that the coverage totals would be far greater were it not for “red” states refusing to accept Medicaid expansion.

The original plan, you’ll recall, was to simply mandate the greater access. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, said states must have a choice as to whether or not to accept the good deal. Most Republican-led states, naturally, rejected the policy, leaving millions behind for no particular reason.

But how many million? The Associated Press published a report this week with a striking figure.

About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America.

They make up a coverage gap in President Barack Obama’s signature health care law created by the domino effects of last year’s Supreme Court ruling and states’ subsequent policy decisions.

This coverage gap clearly needs a name. Ed Kilgore started calling it the “wingnut hole” months ago, and it’s certainly a descriptive phrase. Ryan Cooper added the other day:

It’s worth remembering that the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion through 2016 and 90 percent of the cost afterward. It could very well work out that refusenik states will not even save money because of additional spending on the uninsured in emergency rooms and elsewhere.

But regardless of the pitiful sums involved, make no mistake: This action is utterly gratuitous.

Quite right. In fact, as we’ve discussed many times, Republicans at the state level who refuse Medicaid expansion generally struggle to explain their position in any kind of coherent way.

What’s more, let’s not forget the irony of the larger context: congressional Republicans spent most of their waking hours complaining about a sliver of the population receiving “cancellation notices” through the Affordable Care Act because of changes to the individual market. Indeed, GOP officials routinely claim this will leave 5 million Americans behind with nothing (a total that appears to have been exaggerated by a factor of 500).

And yet, if their concern were genuine, wouldn’t Republicans necessarily be outraged by these 5 million Americans who are suffering because some red-state policymakers are acting out of petty partisan spite?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 3, 2014

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Intellectual Hollowness”: Why Republicans Have No Ideas About Mass Unemployment

Last Saturday, the extension of unemployment benefits originally passed at the outset of the economic crisis expired. The position of Democrats in Washington, backed by a growing mountain of economic research, is that macroeconomic and humanitarian considerations alike both argue for an extension of unemployment benefits.

The position of Republicans in Washington is rather strange — less a moral or economic argument than an expression of indifference. “These have been extraordinary extensions, and the Republican position all along has been ‘we need to go back to normal here at some point,'” argues Representative Tom Cole. “[W]hat we did was never intended to be permanent. It was intended to be a very temporary solution to a very temporary crisis,” echoes Representative Rob Woodall. Of course nobody intended for the crisis of mass unemployment to last five years. Nobody intended for the crisis to happen at all. It is simply weird to argue that, since the problem has gone on longer than intended, the response to the problem must end as well. The fire trucks don’t shut off the hoses simply because the fire should have been put out by now.

Yet the weirdness, far from being random, reveals something deeper at work. The most obvious thing, of course, is a general lack of concern for the fate of the unemployed — or, at least, a casual assumption that the unemployed themselves must be to blame for their plight. But even a more generous reading of the Republican position, taking its most serious defenses at face value, reveals an intellectual hollowness. Half a decade into the economic crisis, the Republican Party has no serious ideas about the Great Recession.

One of the few Republicans to directly defend his party’s refusal to extend unemployment benefits is Rand Paul. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, Paul’s ideas about unemployment insurance are cracked. Paul has repeatedly cited studies that show that employers discriminate against job candidates who have been out of work a long time. Paul simply assumes that people are staying unemployed so they can continue collecting unemployment benefits. But the economics paper Paul cites, according to the economist who wrote it, suggests the opposite of his conclusion.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal editorial page gamely defends the Republican stance:

The Administration claims that every $1 of jobless benefits creates $1.80 in economic growth, based on the notorious “multiplier” in Keynesian economic models. This is the theory that you can increase employment by paying more people not to work, and that you can take money out of the private economy by taxes or borrowing without cost.

The argument here is that there’s a “cost” to “taking money out of the economy” to pay for unemployment benefits. What is that cost? Well, in normal conditions, higher deficit spending will cause interest rates to rise. But these are not normal conditions. Interests rates are as low as they can be. The zero bound is the policy dilemma of the moment. The Journal editorial page has been warning for years that rising interest rates are on their way, or already occurring. The utter failure of these predictions has not even slightly dented its jaunty confidence.

It is true that some research has shown that cutting off unemployment benefits can force the unemployed to search more aggressively (or desperately) for work — say, an out-of-work machinist might take a job for lower wages at the 7-11. But those studies all take place in the context of a normal economic cycle, not the mass unemployment we see today. The conditions of mass unemployment from the Great Recession dictate that cutting off benefits from the unemployed simply immiserates them because there are no jobs.

Republicans in North Carolina proactively demonstrated their party’s stance by cutting off benefits to the unemployed before it was tried elsewhere in the nation. The result was dismal: The state’s labor force is shrinking. Rather than getting jobs, the unemployed have simply stopped looking for them, because they don’t exist.

Sharp conservative ideas about the recession can be found on the margins of the political debate. (See, for instance, Michael Strain in the Weekly Standard.) It’s certainly possible to reconcile conservative doctrine about the size of government with specific plans to address mass unemployment. But Republicans in Congress have not bothered to adopt any of these alternative proposals. Nor have conservatives in general displayed much of an interest in the topic of unemployment benefits. There’s an asymmetry of partisan interest on the subject somewhat akin to Benghazi, which obsesses the right and bores the left. Republican thought on mass unemployment is a restaurant with tiny portions that taste terrible.

This is not to say that the GOP lacks any ideas about economic policy. Both parties have fairly well-defined ideas about the general role of taxes, spending, and regulation. The difference is that the Democratic Party also has a policy agenda that is specifically related to the special conditions of high unemployment and low interest rates. The Republicans are still merely asserting that their normal agenda applies just as well now as ever. The unique, dire conditions of the Great Recession shouldn’t be expected to undo all the party’s program, or to alter its general long-term ideas. (Democrats have not, and should not, given up their preference for universal health insurance, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and so on, nor should Republicans have to abandon their preference for the opposite.) What they lack is any legislative response to the economic crisis. They just want to get back to normal, and since normality has not arrived, they’d just as soon pretend it has.


By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, December 31, 2013

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bad News For The Jobless And America”: How Our Economy Lost $400 Million In One Week Alone

Long-term unemployment benefits expired on December 28, meaning an absence of checks this week for more than 1 million jobless Americans. That’s bad news for them, of course—but also the rest of us. According to a new analysis from the minority staff of the House Ways and Means Committee released Friday, $400 million was drained from state economies this week alone thanks to the lapse.

Unemployment benefits are one of the more effective forms of stimulus because the money is badly needed and thus spent right away. The Congressional Budget Office says 200,000 jobs will be lost this year if the benefits are not restored, and this week the damage began.

Big states were obviously the hardest hit, naturally: nearly $65 million came out of the California economy in one week alone, according to the analysis. And of course, states represented by Republicans who oppose the extension each suffered some economic harm. Senator John Cornyn twice blocked a vote on an unemployment insurance extension before the holiday recess, and his home state of Texas lost $21.8 million this week.

Yet Republicans, so far, have not expressed any desire to extend the benefits. “Every week that Republicans fail to act tens of thousands of additional long-term unemployed Americans lose this vital lifeline as they look to get back on their feet after the worst recession in generations, and the economy in each state is taking a hit,” said Representative Sander Levin, the ranking member on Ways and Means.

Senator Harry Reid has promised a vote early next week on a bill by Senators Jack Reed and Dean Heller to extend the benefits for three months, with no offsetting spending cut, so that a longer-term bill can be worked out. But Heller is the only known Senate GOP sponsor to date, and House Speaker John Boehner has said he doesn’t want any bill without a pay-for attached.

If that bill fails, Democrats have a couple options this month: an extension of benefits could perhaps be folded into either the farm bill, which is in conference negotiations, or into the several omnibus spending bills that need to be finalized soon. In those latter two cases, Republicans would no doubt extract some sort of price from Democrats for extended benefits, but perhaps a solution is still possible.

But, again, Republicans seem to have other plans. House majority leader Eric Cantor announced Thursday his plans for the new year: yet another vote to modify Obamacare, this time adding new security requirements to the health insurance exchanges. The White House has said there is no danger of breaches, and some observers, like Steve Benen, think Cantor’s bill is simply a ploy to scare people away from the exchanges.

In any case, while Cantor fiddles around with his messaging bill on Obamacare (which will never be signed into law), his home state of Virginia lost $2.8 million in economic activity this week, as 9,700 people lost benefits. That’s going to be hard to justify as time goes on, both for Cantor and his colleagues.


By: George Zornick, The Nation, January 3, 2014

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Feeling A Little Left Out”: The Religious Right Won’t Tolerate Being Ignored

The defining debate within the Republican Party over the last several months has pitted Tea Partiers against the GOP’s Corporate wing. The two contingents have already begun gearing up for some notable primary fights in advance of this year’s midterm elections.

But there’s another wing of the party that’s apparently feeling a little left out.

On a recent snowy day in the Washington suburb of Tyson’s Corner, Va., some of the religious right’s wealthiest backers and top operatives gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to plot their entry into the conservative civil war.

Their plan: take a page out of the playbooks of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers by raising millions of dollars, coordinating their political spending and assiduously courting megadonors…. It’s all geared toward elevating the place of social issues like abortion and gay marriage in conservative politics.

To be sure, all of this makes sense. The religious right, as a political movement, wants to remain relevant with its allies, so it stands to reason that leading social conservatives would begin plotting to defend and expand its influence. It may make intra-party tensions a little more complicated in the coming months, but the religious right probably doesn’t much care.

The trouble, though, is in the assumption that social conservatives have been irrelevant of late.

Indeed, the Politico article stated as fact that social issues have “been largely relegated to the sidelines” in Republican politics, and the GOP’s competing wings have both “steered away from social issues they deem too divisive.”

I can appreciate why this might seem true – after all, it’s not as if John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Eric Cantor run around prioritizing the culture war above other GOP goals. But the closer one looks, the more these assumptions start to crumble.

For example ,the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit reproductive health research organization, found that “abortion was at the forefront of the state legislative debate during the past three years – so much so that states added more restrictions to the books from 2011-2013 than during the entire preceding decade.”

This isn’t the result of a party steering away from divisive social issues; this is the opposite.

What’s more, as we discussed a few months ago, let’s not forget that Republican leaders lined up to kiss the religious right movement’s ring at the 2013 Values Voter Summit, and GOP officials incorporated their opposition to contraception into the government-shutdown strategy. While Republican governors spent much of the year trying to limit women’s reproductive choices, it’s not limited to state government – just about the only bills House GOP lawmakers find it easy to pass deal with abortion.

The Republican Party’s commitment to the culture war remains alive and well. The religious right is worried about lost relevance, but the movement already has considerable influence over the GOP’s direction.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 3, 2014

January 5, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cruelty Of Unleashed Capitalism”: Rich Catholic Republicans Threaten Pope Francis, Because He Frightens Them

If anyone wonders whether Pope Francis has irritated wealthy conservatives with his courage and idealism, the latest outburst from Kenneth Langone left little doubt. Sounding both aggressive and whiny, the billionaire investor warned that he and his overprivileged friends might withhold their millions from church and charity unless the pontiff stops preaching against the excesses and cruelty of unleashed capitalism.

According to Langone, such criticism from the Holy See could ultimately hurt the sensitive feelings of the rich so badly that they become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.” He also said rich donors are already losing their enthusiasm for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan – a very specific threat that he mentioned directly to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Langone is not only a leading fundraiser for church projects but a generous donor to hospitals, universities, and cancer charities (often for programs and buildings named after him, in the style of today’s self-promoting philanthropists). Among the super-rich, he has many friends and associates who may share his excitable temperament.

While his ultimatum seems senseless – would a person of true faith stiff the church and the poor? – it may well be sincere. And Langone spends freely to promote his political and economic views, in the company of the Koch brothers and other Republican plutocrats.

Still, a Pope brave enough to face down the Mafia over his financial reform of the murky Vatican Bank shouldn’t be much fazed by the likes of Langone.

Yet Langone has reason to worry that the Holy Father is in fact asking hard questions about people like him. Indeed, he could serve as a living symbol of the gross and growing economic inequality that disfigures the American system and threatens democracy.

As a leader of the New York Stock Exchange, he was largely responsible for the scandalous overpayment of his friend Richard Grasso, the exchange president who received nearly $190 million in deferred compensation when he stepped down. Although New York’s highest court eventually upheld Grasso’s pay package, it was a perfect example of the unaccountable, self-serving greed of Wall Street’s elite.

Anything but repentant following the revelation and repudiation of the Grasso deal by NYSE executives, Langone told Forbes magazine in 2004: “They got the wrong f—ing guy. I’m nuts, I’m rich, and boy, do I love a fight. I’m going to make them sh-t in their pants. When I get through with these f—ing captains of industry, they’re going to wish they were in a Cuisinart—at high speed.”

He embarked on a furious vendetta against Eliot Spitzer, who had fought to recapture Grasso’s millions as New York attorney general. And when Spitzer was forced to resign as governor in the wake of a prostitution scandal, Langone’s public gloating seemed to indicate that he had played a personal role in exposing his enemy’s indiscretions. He particularly hated Spitzer for attempting to punish and curtail the worst misconduct in the financial industry.

While Langone passionately defended the outlandish grasping of the super-rich like his friend Grasso, however, he has displayed far less indulgence toward workers, especially those struggling to support their families on poverty wages. Until just last year, he was a director of Yum! Brands, the global fast-food conglomerate that includes Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken among its holdings – and that spends millions annually to hold down the minimum wage and prevent unionization of its ill-paid employees and farmworkers.

What all this adds up to is hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable compensation for financial cronies, but not a dime more for low-income workers. It is exactly the kind of skewed outcome that the Pope means when he speaks about today’s capitalists, “the powerful feeding upon the powerless,” and the need for renewed state regulation to bring their burgeoning tyranny under control. He is talking about Langone, the Kochs, and an entire gang of right-wing financiers.

“How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor,” Francis said not long after his election to the papacy. That could be what he gets – and that might not be so bad, for the poor and for all of us, Catholic or not, who love justice.


By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, January 3, 2014

January 5, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: