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“Willful Stupidity In The Obamacare Debate”: Fat Chance, Republicans Are Not Looking For Enlightenment

One of the best arguments for health-insurance reform is that our traditional employer-based system often locked people into jobs they wanted to leave but couldn’t because they feared they wouldn’t be able to get affordable coverage elsewhere.

This worry was pronounced for people with preexisting conditions, but it was not limited to them. Consider families with young children in which one parent would like to get out of the formal labor market for a while to take care of the kids. In the old system, the choices of such couples were constrained if only one of the two received employer-provided family coverage.

Or ponder the fate of a 64-year-old with a condition that leaves her in great pain. She has the savings to retire but can’t exercise this option until she is eligible for Medicare. Is it a good thing to force her to stay in her job? Is it bad to open her job to someone else?

By broadening access to health insurance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ends the tyranny of “job lock,” which is what the much-misrepresented Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of the law released Tuesday shows. The new law increases both personal autonomy and market rationality by ending the distortions in behavior the old arrangements were creating.

But that’s not how the study has been interpreted, particularly by enemies of the law. Typical was a tweet from the National Republican Congressional Committee, declaring that “#ObamaCare is hurting the economy, will cost 2.5 millions [sic] jobs.”

Glenn Kessler, The Post’s intrepid fact checker, replied firmly: “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs.” What the report said, as the Wall Street Journal accurately summarized it, is that the law “will reduce the total number of hours Americans work by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time jobs.”

Oh my God, say opponents of the ACA, here is the government encouraging sloth! That’s true only if you wish to take away the choices the law gives that 64-year-old or to those parents looking for more time to care for their children. Many on the right love family values until they are taken seriously enough to involve giving parents/workers more control over their lives.

And it’s sometimes an economic benefit when some share of the labor force reduces hours or stops working altogether. At a time of elevated unemployment, others will take their place. The CBO was careful to underscore — the CBO is always careful — that “if some people seek to work less, other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions and the overall effect on employment will be muted.”

The CBO did point to an inevitable problem in how the ACA’s subsidies for buying health insurance operate. As your income rises, your subsidy goes down and eventually disappears. This is, as the CBO notes, a kind of “tax.” The report says that if the “subsidies are phased out with rising income in order to limit their total costs, the phaseout effectively raises people’s marginal tax rates (the tax rates applying to their last dollar of income), thus discouraging work.”

But the answer to this is either to make the law’s subsidies more generous — which the ACA’s detractors would oppose because, as the CBO suggests, doing so would cost more than the current law — or to guarantee everyone health insurance, single-payer style, so there would be no “phaseout” and no “marginal tax rates.” I could go with this, but I doubt many of the ACA’s critics would.

The rest of the CBO report contained much good news for Obamacare: Insurance premiums under the law are 15 percent lower than originally forecast, “the slowdown in Medicare cost growth” is “broad and persistent” and enrollments will catch up over time to where they would have been absent Obamacare’s troubled rollout.

The reaction to the CBO study is an example of how willfully stupid — there’s no other word — the debate over Obamacare has become. Opponents don’t look to a painstaking analysis for enlightenment. They twist its findings and turn them into dishonest slogans. Too often, the media go along by highlighting the study’s political impact rather than focusing on what it actually says. My bet is that citizens are smarter than this. They will ignore the noise and judge Obamacare by how it works.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 5, 2014

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On Leadership”: Does President Obama’s Actions Only Count As Leadership If He’s Taking Steps Republicans Like?

By all appearances, President Obama would welcome the chance to work with lawmakers on a solution to combat the climate crisis. But in 2010, a cap-and-trade bill couldn’t overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and the legislative prospects effectively collapsed after the GOP claimed a House majority in 2011.

There are, however, some steps the president can take on his own, and it appears Obama is increasingly prepared to do just that.

On the heels of the Senate’s passage of a long-awaited farm bill, the Obama administration is to announce on Wednesday the creation of seven regional “climate hubs” aimed at helping farmers and rural communities respond to the risks of climate change, including drought, invasive pests, fires and floods.

White House officials describe the move as one of several executive actions that President Obama will take on climate change without action from Congress.

In substance, the creation of the climate hubs is a limited step, but it is part of a broader campaign by the administration to advance climate policy wherever possible with executive authority. The action is also part of a push to build political support for the administration’s more divisive moves on climate change – in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on coal-fired power plants.

This move follows a more expansive climate policy Obama unveiled last June, relying almost exclusively on executive authority already acknowledged by the Supreme Court.

To be sure, these “climate hubs” are a fairly modest policy, intended to help a limited number of farmers adapt to changing conditions. But in the bigger picture, it’s also evidence of a sixth-year president eager to do something fairly specific with his power: lead.

And the more I think about it, the more common this seems to be.

There are a notable group of pundits who have spent much of Obama’s presidency demanding that he “lead more.” It’s never been entirely clear what, specifically, these pundits expect the president to do, especially in the face of unyielding and reflexive opposition from Congress, but the complaints seemed rooted in misplaced expectations and confusion over institutional limits.

As the argument goes, if only the president were willing to lead – louder, harder, and bigger – he could somehow advance his agenda through sheer force of will, institutional constraints be damned. And if Congress resists, it’s necessarily evidence that Obama is leading poorly – after all, if only he were a more leading leader, Congress would, you know, follow his lead. The line of criticism became so tiresome and so common that Greg Sargent began mocking it with a convenient label: the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power.

What’s I’m curious about now, however, is whether those same pundits are willing to concede that in the West Wing, there’s been all kinds of leading going on lately.

When Republicans threatened to hold the debt ceiling hostage last fall, promising to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats met their demands, Obama drew a line in the sand – there would be no negotiations over the full faith and credit of the United States – and the GOP backed down. In the process, a new precedent was set, thanks to the president’s willingness to lead.

When a bill to impose new Iranian sanctions threatened to sabotage international nuclear diplomacy, Obama stepped up, applied pressure, worked the phones, arranged meetings, and convinced senators to hold off and give the ongoing talks a chance. The president’s leadership turned a bill that appeared ready to pass and stopped it in its tracks.

When congressional Republicans balked at a minimum-wage increase, Obama used the powers available to him to give thousands of government contractors a raise. The GOP remains outraged, but the president showed leadership and ignored the complaints. Obama now appears ready to take similar executive action on addressing climate change.

So here’s the question for the “lead more” pundits: doesn’t this count as presidential leadership, too? Or do Obama’s actions only count as leadership if he’s taking steps Republicans like?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 5, 2014

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Executive Orders | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie And The 7 Dwarves”: On The B-List Now, Not Remotely The Candidate He Was Two Months Ago

Is Chris Christie out of the running? This is the question everyone is asking. But it’s not the most important question. The most important question is a different and more subtle one: How, specifically and exactly, is Bridgegate hurting his presidential ambitions right now?

The way to answer this question is to begin by imagining a Christie to whom Bridgegate didn’t happen. He was overwhelmingly reelected. Half the Latino vote. Approval ratings near 70 percent. Media swooning. Speeches all over the country as head of the Republican Governors’ Association, with audiences treating him like the rock star he was instead of the potential felon he is.

You’ve thought of all that. But here’s what you may not have thought of. That Chris Christie could have spent the next six months meeting with every single big-money Republican in the country; every head of every important super PAC; every state chairman; and so on. He could have shown all of these people what the polling suggested—that he could beat Hillary Clinton. They all wouldn’t have backed him, of course. But a lot of them would have. Barring some strange development, he could have effectively ended the nomination fight before it even started.

Enter that stranger development, and poof! All gone. The Bridgegate Christie can’t do any of that stuff. He can still try. But with a federal investigation hanging over him, he’s not going to be able to lock money people down. Super PACs and state chairs aren’t going to touch him. He still might have to resign, or be impeached. There’s an off chance he could be…indicted!

So the race is on hold. And Christie, even if he is completely exonerated however many months from now, will still be hurt by it and have lost months of momentum.

So who, in the interim, gains momentum? That’s hard to say. Everyone seems to think Jeb Bush. But I don’t know. Bush has the liabilities everyone knows—his last name, mostly, and that fire-in-the-belly business. But he has some other ones as well. It’s been a while now since he was in office—eight years. That’s a pretty long time. Especially when, in that time, conservatism and the Republican Party have undergone the radical transformations they have. He did some things as governor that conservatives like, particularly on school choice and other education questions, and they must have seemed pioneering to people on the right at the time; but now, after everything’s shifted so far rightward? Plus, there’s just something about having been out of the game for that long that makes you less interesting.

Scott Walker may gain some speed. For one thing, he has to run for reelection this fall, which means he has to spend the next few months talking like a governor, not like a presidential candidate. He leads his potential Democratic opponents, but only by margins in the 47-42 range.  That means, in a blue state, he can’t go around saying the crazy stuff that Republicans jockeying for presidential advantage are given to say. “He gets the big advantage, more than Bush, because he needs the race to start later,” says Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. So if Walker wins reelection, and Christie can’t string up commitments, then Walker may be looking strong by the end of the year.

Who else? Of the Tea Party Troika here inside the Beltway—Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul—it’s starting to look clearer and clearer as if Paul is the most serious one. He has his dad’s national network, and while that didn’t exactly win Pops a ton of votes, it’s an infrastructure to build on. Rubio blew it with immigration, and as for Cruz, I think even most Republicans see that that would be a kamikaze mission.

There are other governors besides Walker. Mike Pence of Indiana, Sam Brownback of Kansas. And don’t forget Rick Perry! And Mike Huckabee, too.

But honestly, who are these people, in national terms? Pence and Brownback are really right wing, and the charisma isn’t exactly shooting out of them. Maybe Perry will speak something more closely to resembling English now that he’s off the pain pills, but he’s way out there ideologically, too. Walker a little less so. But he’s dull. They couldn’t recall him that time because most apolitical people decided a man that boring couldn’t have done something so controversial.

Their problem, which I report to you with no sadness whatsoever, is that as the Republican Party has become more Southern and prairie and more and more right wing, it’s just quit producing plausible presidential candidates. Right-wing Texas may want someone like Rick Perry. Moderate America doesn’t. It’s telling in this regard what’s gone on in Jeb’s own Florida, a state that’s gone from Bush, who could conceivably win a national election under the right circumstances, to hard-right Rick Scott, who couldn’t win 200 Electoral Votes.

They were so lucky to have Christie. He was an anomaly in so many ways. He represents the GOP of about 25 years ago, when it was clearly the dominant electoral party, back when the Reagan Democrats were reliably voting Republican (a lot of them have switched back) and Reagan and G.H.W. Bush were winning states like New Jersey. He’s from the Northeast. He’s got that Reagan Democrat aura. Appeal outside of the usual GOP area codes. Ability to talk to moderates and sound persuasive and common-sensical. Most of all, he’s got the ability to go toe-to-toe with Hillary C.

The angels may come down and declare him innocent. But it doesn’t seem likely, and even if it does happen, he still won’t remotely be the candidate he was two months ago. He’s on the B-list now.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 5, 2014

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holding A Blank Ransom Note”: GOP Had A Plan On the Debt Ceiling, But Now Have Absolutely No Idea What To Do Next

Last spring, House Republican efforts to hold the debt ceiling hostage quickly became a fiasco – Democrats refused to play along and Congress passed a clean increase. Last October, House GOP efforts to hold the debt ceiling hostage were arguably even worse – the debacle coincided with a humiliating shutdown, and ended with another clean increase.

Despite this recent history, Republican lawmakers once again said they expected some kind of major policy concession or they would once again push the nation towards a default. Say hello to Debacle #3.

House Republican leaders are at a loss on how to move a debt limit increase.

A GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that after an informal canvas of the House Republican Conference through member meetings and phone calls over the past week, leaders concluded that the top two sweeteners could not attract enough Republican support to pass a debt ceiling hike.

Going into this week, House Republicans had narrowed their scope: they would refuse to pay the nation’s bills unless Democrats gave them either (a) the Keystone XL pipeline and its 50 permanent jobs; or (b) the elimination of risk corridors in the Affordable Care Act, which would add $8 billion to the deficit and risk higher premiums on consumers.

In reality, it was highly unlikely the GOP would get either concession – Democrats don’t see the need to pay a ransom if the hostage takers are bluffing – but Republicans seemed certain they’d seek one concession or the other.

That is, until today, when House GOP leaders suddenly realized that rank-and-file House Republicans aren’t on board with either idea. And since these measures apparently don’t have 218 GOP votes, Republicans would need Democratic support to pull off their own hostage crisis, which isn’t going to happen.

So where does this leave the House of Representatives three weeks before Congress needs to act on the debt limit? Lost and directionless.

A leadership aide told Roll Call, “We are mulling other options and trying to figure out the best way forward on this.”

Or put another way, “We had a plan, but now have absolutely no idea what to do next.”

It’s not too tough to predict how this will play out.

That left Republican leaders with no clear alternative to addressing the debt limit, which the Treasury Department has said needs to be raised by the end of February.

Instead, it now appears that a combination of Republicans and Democrats will be needed to get a debt-limit boost through the House.

And that means a clean debt-ceiling increase, which was the inevitable outcome in the first place.

The lingering question isn’t why GOP leaders are struggling in this fight; it’s why GOP leaders agreed to launch this fight knowing in advance they’d lose.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 5, 2014

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare Is Not A Job Killer”: How Critics Are Misreading A New Government Report

The Congressional Budget Office today released the latest update of its projections for the economy and the budget, including Obamacare. And a fair reading would be that not a ton has changed since last time. CBO now expects the law will lead to 25 million people getting health insurance, while some 31 million people will remain uninsured. It will require a lot of new government spending but, because of offsetting revenue and cuts to other programs, it will actually reduce the deficit.

But CBO revised one finding and, all day long, critics have been seizing on the revision as proof that the law is a boondoggle.

The real story, as usual, is a lot more complicated.

The projection is about how the Affordable Care Act will affect labor output—that is, the number of hours Americans work every year. From the get-go, CBO assumed that Obamacare would slightly reduce labor output, relative to what it might have been without the law in place. Why? The CBO gave a bunch of different reasons.

For one thing, CBO reasoned, the financial assistance Obamacare provides depends on income. The more money you make, the less assistance you get. CBO argued that this would discourage some workers from putting in more hours, since the reward for working harder would be more income but less assistance on health insurance. In addition, CBO noted, historically some people have taken or held on to jobs exclusively to get health insurance. Obamacare makes it possible to get coverage without a job. As a result, CBO predicted, some of these people would stop working—or, at least, work fewer hours.

These weren’t the only ways that Obamacare will affect jobs, according to the CBO. And sometimes Obamacare will lead to people working more hours—for example, by giving people with chronic medical problems more freedom to switch jobs or start their own firms.

Overall, the CBO had said previously, Obamacare’s net effect would be a reduction in total labor compensation of about 0.5 percent. Now, citing new research on the effects of taxes, CBO is predicting that the net effect will eventually be twice as large—a full 1 percent reduction in compensation, or the rough equivalent of what we’d expect if two million fewer people were in full-time jobs.

That sounds like a big deal—and Obamacare critics certainly treated it like one. Here’s the conservative publication Newsmax: “Simply put, the new analysis from the nonpartisan agency suggests the 2010 Affordable Care Act is driving businesses and people to choose government-sponsored benefits rather than work.” Here’s Republican Congressman Tom Price: “This independent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office confirms that Obamacare will destroy economic opportunity and with it financial security for many American families.” And here’s a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee: “There is no way to spin this. Because of #ObamaCare, there will be 2.5 million less jobs in our economy.” (If you want more quotes, Glenn Kessler and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post have nice roundups—and some good analysis of their own.)

But CBO didn’t actually say Obamacare would lead to 2 million fewer jobs. It said that Obamacare would lead to the “equivalent” of 2 million fewer jobs. In reality, CBO expects a much larger group of people to reduce their hours by a much smaller amount. Only a relative few will stop working altogether.

More important, CBO says, most of the people working fewer hours will be choosing to do so. And that’s a very different story from the one Obamacare critics are telling. Some of the people cutting back hours will be working parents who decide they can afford to put in a little less time with their co-workers and a little more time with their kids. Some will be early sixty-somethings who will retire before they reach 65, rather than clinging to low-paying jobs just to get health benefits. “This is what we want in a fair society,” says Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and Obamacare architect. “We don’t want to enslave the old and sick to their jobs out of some sense of meanness. If they are dying to quit/retire, then let them. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Of course, some able-bodied Americans will cut back on hours for reasons that conservatives, in particular, might not like. To put it crudely, they’ll work fewer hours simply simply because they don’t feel like working so hard. But whether or not that’s so problematic, it’s also the inevitable by-product of any program that makes assistance conditional on income. The Earned Income Tax Credit works that way. So do food stamps and Medicaid.

And so, by the way, would the new health care proposal from three Republican senators, which makes subsidies available to people with incomes at 299 percent of the poverty line but not those with incomes at 300 percent. The only question with programs like these is how big the disincentive to work is—and whom, exactly, it affects. The only alternatives are to give help to everybody (which requires much more government spending) or to give help to nobody (which leaves many more people struggling).

Ironically, the CBO report included two other findings that should, if anything, make most people more optimistic about Obamacare’s future. First, the CBO found that the law will reduce the deficit by a little more than initial projections suggested. Second, it found that the now-infamous “risk corridor” program, in which government and insurers share gains and losses, will result in net payments from insurers to the government, rather than the other way. (Jonathan Chait has the details on that drama.)

The change in projected deficits isn’t very large and the risk corridor prediction comes with more uncertainty than usual, so you wouldn’t want to bet a lot of money on either prediction coming true. But both findings call into more serious doubt two of the Republicans’ favorite talking points—that Obamacare will drive up the deficit and that, because of the risk corridor program, it’s a “taxpayer bailout” of insurers. As of today, those claims look even weaker than they did before.

Will Republicans stop making these arguments? Or will they at least acknowledge some uncertainty about them? Nope. And that’s a prediction in which you can feel very confident.


By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, February 4, 2014

February 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Jobs | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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