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“Becoming Increasingly Clear”: Despite What The Critics Say, Obamacare Is Working

Despite the treasured right-wing talking points, it’s increasingly clear that Obamacare is a success. Moreover, in places where Obamacare is not succeeding, it’s also clear that the right wing is to blame. Well, it’s clear to any who look at the state-by-state numbers of the newly insured. A whole lot of Americans will have to look, however, for the program’s success to redound to Democrats’ advantage.

Charles Gaba, an enterprising Web site designer, has taken it upon himself to track the number of Americans who have gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Tallying those who have signed up on the state and federal exchanges (2.1 million), those who have obtained Medicaid coverage (4.4 million) and those who gained coverage through the law’s requirement that private plans allow parents to cover their children up to age 26 (3.1 million), he cites more than 9 million newly insured through Obamacare.

The meaning of that number is, to be sure, a little fuzzy. To begin, it’s a gross, not a net, increase. Some of the 2.1 million who purchased insurance on exchanges did so after their previous plans were altered or canceled. In some states, the increase in those insured through Medicaid does not distinguish between those not eligible previously and those who are simply renewing coverage.

All that said, whether the total is 9 million or 7 million, it’s a big number and it’s rising rapidly: December sign-ups far exceeded those in November, and the number is expected to continue growing through 2014.

Whether you can access the benefits of the ACA, however, depends on where you live. In states that set up their own exchanges and accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion, the increase in the number of insured vastly exceeds that in states that declined to do either.

Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor of government and sociology, has compared state totals of those who gained insurance through the exchanges and Medicaid with Congressional Budget Office projections of the number of enrollees in each state for the first year the ACA is in effect, as well as with the Kaiser Medicaid Commission’s projections of new Medicaid recipients in that first year.

In the three months since the exchanges opened, she wrote this week, the 14 states that established their own exchanges and accepted Medicaid funding reported increases amounting to 37.2 percent of the projected yearly exchange purchases and 42.9 percent of the projected Medicaid enrollments. In the 23 states that refused to establish insurance exchanges, refused to cooperate in making the federal Web site easily accessible and declined to expand Medicaid, exchange purchases were just 5.6 percent of the projected increase and Medicaid enrollments just 1.5 percent. (The 13 states that partially embraced the programs generally had increases lower than the 14 full implementers but higher than the 23 refusniks.)

Which is to say, the ACA is working as planned, perhaps a little better, in the states where governors and legislatures chose to implement it, such as California and New York. It is barely working in those states where governors and legislators have refused to implement it, such as Texas. Although the number of states declining any participation probably will diminish over time, as the tea party’s grip on the Republican Party wanes or as older white conservative voters die off, the resulting red-blue division between the states probably will be a feature of the nation’s political economy for some time.

Consider the implications: A larger share of Californians will be able to afford regular medical check-ups than Texans. A smaller share of Californians is likely to be bankrupted by the expense of major medical treatment than Texans. When the law’s tax penalties take effect, a smaller share of Californians will be subject to the penalties that come with the individual mandates than will Texans. In the coming years, a smaller share of California hospitals will face financial risk for indigent care than hospitals in Texas, where fewer of the sick and poor will be covered by Medicaid.

The conservative argument that the ACA is a disaster is true only when it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Most of the negative consequences that right-wingers have warned against have occurred only in those places where right-wingers have subverted implementation of the law. What supporters of the ACA must keep in mind, however, is that Americans who live in states where implementation has been stymied may continue to see the act as a failure and continue to blame President Obama and his party.

Only by publicizing the act’s manifest success in states where it has been implemented can supporters begin to change the public’s verdict.


By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 8, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Appealing Fiction For The Press”: How The Media Marketed Chris Christie’s Straight Shooter Charade

“Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical.” — Time’s Mark Halperin appearing on Meet The Press, November 10 2013.

A political bombshell detonated in my home state of New Jersey yesterday when published emails and text messages revealed that Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff conspired with a Christie transportation appointee to create a four-day traffic jam last September, allegedly to punish a local Democratic mayor who refused to endorse the governor’s re-election. The unfolding drama not only raises doubts about Christie’s political future but also about the way the mainstream press has presented him over the years.

The widening dirty tricks scandal features patronage and political retribution wrapped in an unseemly culture of intimidation. In sharp contrast, the national political press has spent the last four years presenting, and even marketing, Christie as an above-the-fray politician who thrives on competence.

He’s been relentlessly and adoringly depicted as some sort of Straight Shooter. He’s an authentic and bipartisan Every Man, a master communicator, and that rare politician who cuts through the stagecraft and delivers hard truths. Christie’s coverage has been a long-running, and rather extreme, case of personality trumping substance.

But now the bridge bombshell casts all of that flattering coverage into question. How could the supposedly astute Beltway press corps spend four years selling Christie as a Straight Shooter when his close aides did things like orchestrate a massive traffic jam apparently to punish the governor’s political foes? When an appointee joked in texts about school buses being trapped in the political traffic backup? How could Christie be a Straight Shooter when he’s been caught peddling lies about the unfolding scandal and now claims he was misled about what people close to him were up to?

The truth is Christie was never the Straight Shooter that political reporters and pundits made him out to be. Not even close, as I’ll detail below. Instead, the Straight Shooter story represented appealing fiction for the press. They tagged him as “authentic” and loved it when he got into yelling matches with voters.

Media Matters recently rounded up some of media’s Christie sweet talk, which is particularly enlightening to review in the wake of the Trenton scandal developments:

In the last month alone, TIME magazine has declared that Christie governed with “kind of bipartisan dealmaking that no one seems to do anymore.” MSNBC’s Morning Joe called the governor “different,” “fresh,” and “sort of a change from public people that you see coming out of Washington.” In a GQ profile, Christie was deemed “that most unlikely of pols: a happy warrior,” while National Journal described him as “the Republican governor with a can-do attitude” who “made it through 2013 largely unscathed. No scandals, no embarrassments or gaffes.” ABC’s Barbara Walters crowned Christie as one of her 10 Most Fascinating People, casting him as a “passionate and compassionate” politician who cannot lie.

Note that when Christie last year easily won re-election against a weak Democratic opponent (via record low voter turnout), the Beltway press treated the win as some sort of national coronation (“Chris Christie is a rock star” announced CNN’s Carol Costello), with endless cable coverage and a round of softball interviews on the Sunday political talk circuit.

Here’s Time from last November’s celebration: “He’s a workhorse with a temper and a tongue, the guy who loves his mother and gets it done.” That, of course, is indistinguishable from a Christie office press release. But it’s been that way for years.

I detailed some of that absurdly fawning coverage in 2010 and 2011, but then I largely stopped writing about the phenomena simply because it became clear that the press was entirely and unapologetically committed to peddling Christie press clippings. They liked the GOP story and it was one they wanted to tell, just like they had been wed to the John-McCain-is-a-Maverick story. So they told it (selectively) over and over and over and over, regardless of the larger context about Christie’s actual behavior and his record as governor. (At one point under Christie in 2012, New Jersey’s unemployment hit a two year high that ranked among the highest in the U.S.)

But again, the dreamt-up Straight Shooter storyline never reflected reality. Here are several examples drawn from just a 10-month stretch during Christie’s first term:

*In August of 2010, the state was shocked to discover it had narrowly missed out on $400 million worth of desperately needed education aid from the federal government because New Jersey’s application for the grant was flawed. Christie initially tried to blame the Obama administration but that claim was shown to be false.

Christie’s own Education Commissioner then publicly blamed Christie for the failure to land the money. He insisted the governor, who famously feuds with the state’s teacher unions, had placed that political battle and his right-wing credentials ahead of securing the federal funds and that Christie had told him the “money was not worth it” to the state if it meant he had to cooperate with teachers.

*In November 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general found that while serving as U.S. attorney, Christie routinely billed taxpayers for luxury hotels on trips and failed to follow federal travel regulations.

*That December, Christie chose to leave New Jersey for a family vacation in Disney World even though forecasters had warned a blizzard was barreling towards the state, and even though Christie’s No. 2 was already out of the state visiting her ailing father. Worse, in the wake of the epic storm, Christie refused to return home early to help the state deal with the historic blizzard that left portions of the state buried under 30 inches of snow and paralyzed for days. (The storm was so severe the Garden State had to appeal to FEMA for $53 million in disaster aid.)

When Christie did return, he held a press conference and blamed state officials who didn’t escape to the Sunshine State for doing such a poor job managing the state’s emergency response. Bottom line: Christie said he wouldn’t have changed a thing because “I had a great five days with my children.”

*In May of 2011, Christie flew in a brand new, $12 million state-owned helicopter to watch his son play a high school baseball game. After landing on a nearby football field, Christie was driven 300 feet in a black car with tinted windows to the baseball diamond. When he was done watching five innings, Christie boarded the helicopter and flew home. The trip cost $2,500 and Christie initially refused to reimburse the state for the expenses.

Keep in mind, these are all Christie tales that reporters and pundits almost pathologically omitted from their glowing profiles in recent years. Why? None of them fit within the narrow confines of the established narrative, so they were simply ignored.

Now with Christie’s political career reeling thanks to a shockingly vindictive and partisan scandal, it’s time for the press to drop the Straight Shooter charade.


By: Eric Boehlert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America; The Huffington Post, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Media | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s Poverty Problem”: Views Of Republicans Toward Poor People Run From Active Hostility At Worst, To Indifference At Best

Poverty is all the rage among conservatives this week, and will be for, oh, another few days at least. My guess is that this is happening largely because Democrats have made clear that income inequality is the issue they’ll be pressing from now until the November midterm elections, and Republicans are concerned that it might work. So they’re going to head it off by showing voters that they care about people who are struggling, too. The question is, how do you do that when you’re fighting against extending unemployment benefits, trying to cut food stamps, preventing poor people from getting health insurance through Medicaid, and arguing against increasing the minimum wage?

The answer, it seems, is to make public statements in which the word “poverty” appears. Marco Rubio and Eric Cantor gave speeches on it, Paul Ryan will be doing interviews on it, and you’ll probably be hearing more from Republicans on the topic. Mixed in will be some advocacy for policies they’ve pushed for a long time like school vouchers, and the occasional grand if counterproductive idea, like turning over all federal antipoverty programs to the states.

In seeing this, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite tidbits from the 2004 presidential campaign, the Bush website’s “Compassion Photo Album,” which consisted entirely of photos of George and/or Laura Bush hanging out with black and Hispanic people. Put aside how condescending it was to present the very fact of talking to a black person as an exercise in “compassion,” as though they were so pathetic that it took a mighty act of generosity for Bush to deign to place himself amongst them. The point is that things like that, and “compassionate conservatism” in general, were never about winning the votes of minorities. It was about showing moderate white voters that Bush was, in the phrase that was so often applied to him by the press when he first ran in 2000, “a different kind of Republican.” When he weighed in on a 1999 Republican budget proposal by saying, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor,” he wasn’t speaking to poor people, he was showing middle class people that he had a heart.

Republicans are doing the same thing now. The fact is that views in the GOP toward poor people run from active hostility at worst to indifference at best. I’m not saying your average Republican wouldn’t be pleased if cutting the capital gains tax did trickle down to the little guy, but even if it doesn’t, they’re still eager to do it because their hearts are with the wealthy. Conservatives see wealth as an expression of virtue; if you have it, it’s because you work hard and deserve it, and if you don’t, that reflects a defect in your character. That’s why so many of their proposals to address poverty are either of the “tough love” variety—have the government stop helping you as a means of encouraging you to get a firm grip on those bootstraps—or things like “enterprise zones” that involve giving tax breaks and exemptions from environmental regulations to wealthy investors and corporations, in the belief that the largesse will trickle down.

The political problem Republicans are trying to address is that, deny it though they might and protest it with cries of “Class warfare!”, economic populism has always been effective for Democrats. That’s partly because it speaks to people’s genuine sentiments about their own struggles and how society should work, and partly because Republicans are the party of the rich. They’d prefer not to be seen that way, of course. But they just are. So when Democrats say “They’re the party of the rich!”, they don’t have to do a lot of persuading, since it’s what voters already believe. A few speeches about poverty aren’t going to change that.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Flawed And Oversimplified Opinions”: Bob Woodward Shows His Anti-Obama Bias

Robert Gates’s memoir is all set to be released and The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward got himself a copy. Unfortunately, Woodward’s account of the book is as flawed and overly simplified as, er, Woodward’s own books about the Obama administration. Here is Woodward:

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”

Read that again. According to Woodward, it is a serious charge against a president to say that he had doubts about the “course he had charted.” Since the same author wrote three increasingly critical books about a certain former president who never expressed the slightest doubts about disastrous policy choices, you would think Woodward might know better. Apparently not.

In contrast, here is how The New York Times‘s Thom Shanker, who also managed to get a copy of the book, writes about the same subject:

In a new memoir, Mr. Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who served for two years under Mr. Obama, praises the president as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions “opposed by his political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats.” But Mr. Gates says that by 2011, Mr. Obama began expressing his own criticism of the way his strategy in Afghanistan was playing out.

This makes the same point, but in a less judgemental way. And here is Gates himself:

“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

I don’t have a copy of Gates book, but as far as I can tell, Gates is not saying whether the president is right or wrong to feel these things, i.e. whether he was motivated by the realities of the situation. But there is a clue—one that Woodward reports lower in the article:

Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”

Huh? This acknowledgment leaves Woodward’s opening paragraphs looking nearly incomprehensible.

Woodward does go on to mention a few areas where Gates really does seem mad: “I felt he had breached faith with me…on the budget numbers,” Gates writes of Obama.

On Afghanistan, though—where there is plenty to criticize in the White House’s approach—the judgement feels more like Woodward’s than Gates’s. It wouldn’t be the first time that Woodward showed a strong dislike for the president, and allowed his opinions to get ahead of the facts.


By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Returning To The Days Of Recalcitrance”: Rubio Demands States’ Right To Ignore The Poor

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”

Do-nothing legislators in states like Mr. Rubio’s Florida feel frustrated precisely because most federal safety-net programs are designed to limit the ability of states to refuse to help their less fortunate residents. As Lyndon Johnson knew from personal experience in 1964, when he began the War on Poverty, states could not be trusted to properly address the poverty in their midst. Or, to put it another way, certain states could be trusted to yell and scream and fight to the end for their right to do as little as possible.

One of the great achievements of the War on Poverty programs was to extend the safety net to the South, where white legislators saw little reason to spend taxpayer dollars on the basic needs of poor citizens, most of whom were black. Southern lawmakers in Congress fought for the right of governors to veto grants made possible by the Economic Opportunity Act, one of the centerpieces of the War on Poverty, and Southern governors exercised those vetoes repeatedly. But Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, overrode those vetoes, bypassing the governors and sending anti-poverty money directly to the local agencies and community groups that could do some good with it.

If you think those days of recalcitrance are over, take a look at the map of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The list of 25 includes every one of the states that seceded from the union, with the exception of Arkansas, which is doing only a partial expansion. (Virginia is likely to accept the expansion after its newly elected Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, takes office later this week.)

But long before “Obamacare” became a curse word among Republicans, most of those same states were already stingy with their spending on Medicaid, which lets states determine who is eligible for the program. The 16 states that restricted Medicaid to those making half or less of the federal poverty line included the usual cast of characters: Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. The most generous states — giving Medicaid benefits to those at the poverty line or higher — were clustered in the Northeast and the upper Midwest, along with California.

That’s undoubtedly fine with Mr. Rubio and other Republicans who see nothing wrong with a country that is a patchwork of generosity and indifference.

“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

That battle, though, was fought and lost by Southerners 50 years ago, just as they lost a far bloodier states’ rights battle a century earlier. The country long ago came to the conclusion that economic rights, just like voting rights and criminal rights, had to be uniform. As much as it might frustrate Mr. Rubio, people should not be made to suffer just because they were born in an uncaring state.


By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Marco Rubio, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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