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“Just Die Already!”: GOP Would Bar Poor From Health Care Altogether

During a Republican primary debate in the last presidential election cycle, there was a dispiriting moment in which Tea Party audience members cheered at the idea that a comatose uninsured American — unable to afford health insurance — would be left to die. That infamous outburst, among others, has prompted GOP bigwigs to try to cut back on primary season debates, hoping to limit appearances that might expose the party’s baser impulses.

But that mean-spirited and contemptuous attitude toward the sick is alive and well in the Grand Old Party, as its maniacal (and futile) resistance to Obamacare has made clear. Now, one Republican politician is pushing that callousness to new lows: He wants to bar the uninsured from hospital emergency rooms.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal criticized a decades-old federal law that requires all hospitals that receive Medicare funds and have emergency facilities — and that’s most — to treat any patient who walks in needing care, regardless of his ability to pay. “It came as a result of bad facts,” Deal said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And we have a saying that bad facts make bad law.”

Deal says that many people use emergency rooms unnecessarily, and those patients inflate health care costs. He is factually correct. But there are other facts that undercut his arguments and reveal his hypocrisy.

First off, Deal is among those red-state Republicans who have vociferously opposed the Affordable Care Act, which makes health insurance available to hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. If more people had health insurance policies that paid for doctors’ visits, fewer would use emergency rooms for routine complaints.

Second, Deal, like many Republican governors, has refused the Medicaid expansion made possible by Obamacare, even though the federal government would pick up 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and 90 percent until the year 2022. That expansion is the best chance many Georgians without means have for getting health insurance.

So, to sum up, Deal hates Obamacare and refuses its Medicaid expansion, which would keep the working poor out of emergency rooms. In addition, he wants to deny them access to emergency rooms unless they can pay. Really, governor? Don’t you insist that your values are “pro-life”?

It’s no wonder that GOP strategists shuddered when audience members responded so cruelly during the CNN/Tea Party Express debate in September 2011. It portrays the party as pitiless — a reputation unlikely to attract a majority of voters.

Quiet as it’s kept, most Americans support keeping Obamacare, despite the relentless pounding it has taken from Republicans. (And despite a website rollout that was infuriatingly incompetent.) A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of Americans favor keeping it in place, while just 31 percent want to repeal it. (Twelve percent want to replace it with a GOP plan.)

That’s likely because most voters, no matter their reservations about Obamacare, know that the Republican Party has no good solution for the millions of Americans who work every day but still don’t earn enough money to buy a health care plan. Americans have struggled with the nation’s dysfunctional health care “system,” and they know it’s overdue for an overhaul.

Meanwhile, as the midterm elections draw closer, the GOP struggles to come up with a plan that pretends to overhaul the health care system. Looking to avoid being painted as mere obstructions, House Republican honchos are working to draw their caucus together behind a bill that would replace Obamacare with a workable alternative.

But the most sincere plan so far — one offered by Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — would probably offer policies too skimpy to do any good once a policyholder gets sick.

Besides, even that replacement idea seems unlikely to draw broad support among the far-right Tea Partiers, who believe that allowing the uninsured poor to die is the appropriate government response to the health care crisis.

That’s a hulking bit of hypocrisy for a party that advertises itself as “pro-life.” Deal’s latest proposal is one more reminder of how little that label means.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, March 1, 2014

March 4, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Health Insurance | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Vote Head-Faking”: How John Boehner Is Playing Washington

There were no fireworks when John Boehner stood before Republican members at their retreat in rural Maryland and unveiled the House GOP’s “principles” for immigration reform. Even as the speaker outlined policies intolerable to hawkish conservatives, such as providing citizenship to undocumented children, there was, amazingly, no ugly dissent inside the Hyatt conference center.

There’s a simple reason why: Most members realized that Boehner was presenting broad ideas to be discussed, not specific proposals to be voted on.

“I thought the principles were vague enough that most people could agree with them,” Rep. Raul Labrador said after the retreat.

That was the idea.

At the beginning of the year, interviews with dozens of lawmakers and aides revealed a strategic dichotomy forming within the House GOP. Many conservatives craved a “bold” voting schedule in 2014 that would draw sharp policy contrasts on a host of issues. Republican leaders, on the other hand, saw such aggression as counterproductive in an election year and preferred to play it safe by pounding the issues of Obamacare, government oversight, the economy, and opportunity for middle-class Americans.

What has emerged is something of a safe middle ground. Boehner said Thursday that Republicans “will not shy away from” advancing major legislation this year. But the pace of that advance will be slow. Indeed, as GOP leadership carefully navigates an election year that appears promising for the party, Boehner is allowing conservative policy solutions to emerge from the conference—but they are meant to elicit positive headlines and score political points, not to expedite votes.

Take immigration. In the abstract, plenty of Republicans support legal status for undocumented immigrants (albeit only after several triggers, such as border security and employment verification, are in place.) Still, they say 2014 isn’t ripe for such an overhaul, citing election-year politics and a belief that President Obama is unwilling to enforce immigration laws. Boehner, knowing the reticence of his members yet understanding the necessity of appearing proactive on immigration, felt he had to act.

So the speaker released a nebulous outline of principles. Republicans rolled their eyes, sensing that significant legislative action was unlikely, but the media went crazy, splashing front-page headlines heralding the House GOP’s embrace of legalization for the undocumented. And one week later, after lawmakers lodged obligatory concerns and reporters wrote glowing reviews, Boehner dutifully acknowledged that immigration reform probably won’t happen this year.

“This is an important issue in our country,” Boehner said on Feb. 6. “It’s been kicked around forever, and it needs to be dealt with.”

The speaker was discussing immigration, but he could have been referencing any number of policies his GOP members want to bring to a vote—tax reform, health care, privacy, and welfare reform among them. Republicans want action, but it’s becoming clear that most of these will share immigration’s fate: Principles will be shared and a discussion will be had, but a vote will not.

Tax reform is the latest example. Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, made a splash last week by introducing a long-awaited overhaul of the tax code. Many conservatives have eagerly anticipated Camp’s proposal for three years, and are now agitating for a vote. “If this is a really powerful document that can rally a bunch of support in the party, then what’s to stop us from having a vote in the House?” Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said of Camp’s tax plan.

Boehner’s response when asked about Camp’s plan on Wednesday: “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Leadership sees the details of this proposal, such as eliminating popular deductions, as politically perilous. But they also know how enthusiastic some members are about tax reform. So rather than rankle conservatives by suffocating the plan altogether, or irritate the business community by bringing a risky proposal to the House floor, Boehner’s team is content to have Camp to unveil his plan—allowing for a broad messaging campaign but not a specific vote.

This head-faking has provided GOP leadership with a blueprint for 2014. Now, with immigration and tax reform essentially taken off the table, and fewer than 75 legislative days left before midterm elections, Boehner’s team will have to grapple with but a few more potentially troublesome policy pushes.

Privacy legislation, if it’s a libertarian-backed bill with teeth, is unlikely to reach the floor.

Same goes for welfare reform. A group of conservatives, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have worked with the Heritage Foundation on a proposal to roll back welfare spending to pre-recession levels and add work requirements to the food-stamp program. But a vote on this plan is unlikely. Tinkering with the social safety net is always hazardous, and, as with other bold proposals, leadership won’t risk an election-year backlash by voting on something that stands no chance of clearing the Senate.

The one major issue that Boehner’s strategy won’t apply to is Obamacare. Conservatives have demanded action—and were promised votes—on an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Majority Leader Eric Cantor earned applause in Cambridge when he guaranteed an Obamacare replacement plan, and is beginning to meet with colleagues to piece something together. Cantor is widely expected to deliver.

Still, as National Journal reported in January, the House Republican health care plan is likely to be a medley of poll-tested proposals slapped together— not one of the comprehensive alternative plans that conservatives have been boosting.

For conservatives who demanded an aggressive, wide-ranging legislative agenda in 2014, winding up with one vote on a watered-down health care bill might not suffice. “Instead of talking, we could actually act—and we could have a real impact,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a frequent critic of leadership. “It’s easy to blame Harry Reid and the president for everything, but we’re missing a lot of opportunities. Standing back and waiting is not going to win elections.”

Still, after initially decrying a play-it-safe strategy, other conservatives now sound comfortable with the approach. “When you put a bill out there,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, “it has a lot of details that can detract from the overall concept.”


By: Tim Alberta, The National Journal, March 2, 2014

March 4, 2014 Posted by | GOP, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scott Walker’s Little-Known Scandal”: When He Treated Welfare Recipients Like Dogs

Among the racist jokes and emails found in recently released documents connected to the criminal probe of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign, one stood out: A “joke” about a woman trying to sign up her dogs for welfare, because “my Dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty.” The punch line: “My Dogs get their first checks Friday.”

Walker’s deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch replied: “That is hilarious. And so true.”

The joke is bad enough on its own, but it’s also worth noting: Back when Walker was Milwaukee county executive, and Rindfleisch was a top aide, he managed the county’s welfare programs so abysmally that after lawsuits by local clients, the state was forced to take them over. “They didn’t just call people dogs, they treated them like dogs,” one Milwaukee elected official recalled angrily.

“Milwaukee County has demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its (poor) customers,” state health services director Karen Timberlake wrote in a February 2009 letter to Walker announcing the state takeover. Milwaukee became only one of 72 Wisconsin counties to wind up with its programs for poor people under state control.

It’s a chapter in Walker’s career that shows why, to many in Milwaukee, his staff’s racist jokes aren’t funny.

At the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, soared. But in Milwaukee, where 41 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line, people had trouble getting help. Roughly 95 percent of calls to the county’s client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, a state probe later found.

The social services department budget funded 25 positions at the intake center, but a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter found only seven staffers working among empty cubicles when he visited. Advocates and the county workers’ union complained, but Walker stonewalled. Aided by the outcry, Walker began arguing for privatizing the social services intake unit. “He was managing it to fail,” charges AFSCME contract administrator Dave Eisner.

In June 2008, Legal Action of Wisconsin sued on behalf of thousands of needy people who couldn’t get benefits even though they qualified, because they couldn’t get their eligibility verified.

“Milwaukee County has reached a low point in its [welfare] delivery service,” Legal Action lawyer Pat DeLessio wrote in a letter to the County Board. “It is almost impossible to get through to anyone on the phone” to apply for or verify benefits.

But the problems weren’t just at the call center. In 2008, one out of five food stamp recipients dropped for ineligibility were in fact eligible, and wrongly cut from the program. In 2007, 60 percent of county decisions to cut food or other aid were overturned on appeal within two months. Roughly 30 percent of needy applicants were waiting more than two weeks for aid. Two-thirds of all complaints received by state welfare agencies involved Milwaukee County residents having problems obtaining Medicaid, food aid and child care services. And while the state paid a higher share of Milwaukee’s income-maintenance program costs than in other counties, Walker complained that state funding was inadequate.

With the call center problems and need rising, clients took to lining up at county offices for services before they even opened, DeLessio recalled, because by midday workers would declare the building was full, and turn away new applicants. In June 2008 at least 3,000 people showed up before dawn seeking food vouchers in what was later called a “food riot.”

“The food crisis in Milwaukee and throughout the United States is worse than many of us have realized,” said Milwaukee Common Council president Willie Hines. “We expect long lines for free food in third-world countries.”

Walker’s answer was to privatize the intake unit and other services. His proposed September 2008 budget featured his privatization proposals, but the county board blocked him. “It was clearly a game – he didn’t give a damn about poor people,” Eisner charges.

State officials repeatedly complained about the service inadequacies, and eventually threatened to take the programs away from the county. Politics clearly played a role in the conflict; in 2006 Walker had planned to run for governor against incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle, but soon dropped out of the Republican primary. “I believe that it was God’s will for me to run,” Walker said at the time. “After a great deal of prayer during the last week, it is clear that it is God’s will for me to step out of the race.” It was an open secret that Walker was planning another run for governor in 2010, and if his skirmishes with the Doyle administration hurt Milwaukee’s poor, they helped its county executive with the state’s conservative GOP primary voters.

After a series of tense meetings between county and state administrators, when it was clear the state was going to take over the anti-poverty programs, Walker made a brazen move. He wrote to state social services director Karen Timberlake and invited the state to take over the county’s income maintenance program.

“This is a state mandate,” Walker wrote, in a letter he immediately released to the media. “It’s amazing state government has been such a lousy partner on this.”

County board chair Lee Holloway told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Walker invited the state in, over his and the board-majority’s objection, to preempt the state’s embarrassing announcement that it was taking over Milwaukee’s programs. “Holloway said he thought Walker’s letter was meant to upstage state officials ‘before they make a move on him,’” the paper reported.

“The county board didn’t want the takeover,” recalls Legal Action’s Pat DeLessio. “There’s a strong system of county control in Wisconsin. But Walker just gave up.”

No one was fooled by Walker’s letter. A day after he released it, the state announced its takeover. In her letter to Walker explaining the move, Timberlake wrote that Wisconsin state government “has in fact expended millions of additional dollars and thousands of hours of staff resources to assist your county over a period of years. Despite these efforts, Milwaukee County’s performance fails national and state standards and is failing the people of the county.” Yet two years after the state took over his social service programs, Walker took over the state as governor.

Kelly Rindfleisch, who found the joke about welfare-receiving dogs “hilarious” and “so true,” was Walker’s deputy chief of staff while he was mismanaging the county’s welfare programs. Her boss, chief of staff Tom Nardelli, himself circulated a racist joke about the “nightmare” of waking up black, gay, disabled and HIV-positive while working for Milwaukee County. Against the backdrop of the way Walker treated welfare recipients, their joking is even less funny.

Rindfleisch was eventually convicted of illegal campaign activity on public time, a felony conviction that she is appealing. She and Nardelli paid no penalty for enjoying racist jokes on public time.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 3, 2014

March 4, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Country First, Fellas, Country First”: Republicans Blow The Response To Putin’s Aggression

With nothing to offer beyond what the Obama administration is already pursuing in terms of tough economic recriminations in response to Russia’s offensive moves on the Crimean Peninsula, leading GOP elected officials took to the airwaves on Sunday to do what they always do when they have little in the way of constructive ideas—blame Obama.

The favored GOP meme pursued on the Sunday morning talk circuit revolved around suggestions that Obama’s tendency to draw “red lines”,  only to back away from confrontation when possible, has led foreign leaders—including Russian strongman Vladimir Putin—to disrespect the American leader and presume they can do as they please without interference or response from the USA.

Appearing on CNN’s State of The Union, Senator Lindsey Graham had this to say when giving a bit of unsolicited advice to President Obama:

“Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression. President Obama needs to do something. How about this, suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension. Do something.”

Of course, had Senator Graham reserved comment in a manner more befitting of one who is alleged to be a seasoned statesman and foreign policy ‘expert’, he would have discovered—in but a few short hours—that the White House was way ahead of him. Indeed, the administration had already been hard at work lining up support from the G-8 to suspend preparations for the upcoming talks in Sochi, Russia and was doing so well before Graham threw in his two cents.

But then, I suppose that there is no such thing as statesmanship and commitment to the Commander–In-Chief during a foreign crisis when it is an election year, right Senator Graham?

In a joint statement from the G-8 countries issued on Sunday afternoon, the organization condemned Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and informed Putin that the remaining G-8 nations were suspending their participation in preparing for the upcoming summit “until the environment comes back where the G-I is able to have meaningful discussion.”

We are now left to await the Republican effort to take credit for the American policy—despite the fact that achieving such an agreement had to take the White House considerably longer than the couple of elapsed hours between the GOP criticism-fest and the jointly made G-8 announcement.

Even more interesting is the fact that Graham’s idea of playing hardball with Russia, as expressed on CNN, involved suspending the nation from the G-8 group for at least a year plus however many days Russia remains in Crimea.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry was on television suggesting that Russia’s actions could actually lead to a far, far tougher punishment for the Russians—the potential that the country could be permanently tossed out of the G-8. This would mean that, after years  of effort on the part of Russia to become a member of the economic elite, they would permanently be booted from the fraternity of top players in the world’s democratic nations and left to take a seat at the loser table after once being a part of the “in crowd”.

The simple reality is that were you to apply any sort of logic to the scenario, it becomes more than clear that a ‘tougher’ US policy towards Russia before the Ukraine crisis might have given John McCain some emotional satisfaction, but would have had zero impact on Putin’s decision to move against Crimea. This is the reality due to a very simple reason—the Russians, Americans and Europeans all know that there is not a viable military option to be pursued in this situation.

While Vladimir Putin is many undesirable things, he is likely not an idiot. He knows his importance to Europe is waning now that Europe has developed other ways of obtaining natural gas. Where Europe might have been far more timid when it comes to administering some pain on Russia in the past, they are in a far better position to do so today given their growing ability to stick their noses up at Russian energy. And while Putin may not have known the degree to which the West might turn the economic screws on his country, he had to know that his actions in Ukraine would bring an economic response in some measure.

This being the case, just what do these Republicans believe would have been different had President Obama taken a harder line against Russia during his years in office?

Making the GOP reasoning all the more ridiculous is their willingness to pretend that any weakness Putin may have sensed was the fault of Barack Obama.

If, somehow, Putin was led to believe that there would be no significant economic price to pay in response to his actions—as noted, nobody, including those in the GOP who never met a war they didn’t like, believes there is a military option on the table—why would he be looking at Obama?

It wasn’t President Obama who failed to do much of anything at all when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. That would be President George W. Bush. And while I know that the reaction to this statement on the part of some will be to carp that I am just one more Obama apologist who wants to blame Bush for everything, I’m afraid one cannot escape history—and history tells us in great clarity that, just six years ago, Putin experienced the opportunity to invade a neighboring nation without any real US or European response whatsoever.

It may be great political fodder for Republicans to blame a president that super-hawk John McCain has now called “the most naïve president in US history” but it certainly appears that it is actually the John McCain line of reasoning that has been hobbled by naivety. Your first clue that this is the case would be the unwillingness of any of the President’s critics to offer up anything in the way of a sophisticated explanation as to how things might have been different had Obama played it rough and tough with Putin.

Given that the White House is showing signs of taking a much harder line and showing a readiness to enforce economic and political sanctions against Russia that go beyond what most Republicans spent the weekend proposing, would it not have been the wise political move for Republicans to simply chill on the useless criticism as the “go to” response and get behind the President? It might, in fact, have very much helped Republicans running for office this year—like Lindsey Graham—to show their constituencies that they can be reasonable and supportive of the President during a crisis, thus adding credibility to their positions where they have opposed the President.

Of course, to do that requires an actual commitment to the advancement of the national interest rather than advancement of personal, political interests—and that is something that has long been in short supply in Republican circles.

Country first, fellas….country first.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, March 3, 2014

March 4, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Republicans, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He’s So Vain”: McCain Has It All Figured Out

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), you’re so vain, you probably think this invasion’s about you.

Sen. John McCain sharply condemned President Obama on Monday, blasting the administration’s foreign policy as “feckless” and partially responsible for the mounting crisis over the advance of Russian forces into Ukraine. […]

“Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” McCain said to the annual gathering of Jewish leaders in Washington.

McCain was apparently quite animated on the subject, going on (and on) about how President Obama is personally responsible for shaping world events in a way McCain disapproves of.

Reality, meanwhile, points in a very different direction. As David Ignatius explained this morning, “There are many valid criticisms to be made of Obama’s foreign policy … but the notion that Putin’s attack is somehow the United States’ fault is perverse.”

First, I’m struck by the curious application of McCain’s outrage. When Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, ignoring the concerns of the Bush/Cheney administration and the international community, the senior senator from Arizona had precious little to say about blaming the United States for Putin’s ambitions. Now that there’s a president McCain doesn’t like in office, apparently he has fewer qualms about blasting the man in the Oval Office – even as the crisis is still unfolding, even when it appears Putin’s flailing desperately in search of a coherent strategy.

And second, whether McCain appreciates this or not, Russia’s interest in Ukraine predates Barack Obama’s presidency. Come to think of it, given the fact that the president was born in 1961, Russia’s interest in Ukraine predates Barack Obama, too.

It’s unsatisfying for many, especially the most aggressive foreign policy hawks in the U.S., to think world events unfold for reasons that have nothing to do with us. But foreign countries really don’t much care whether it’s unsatisfying or not – their geopolitical agendas exist without any real regard for what Americans are going to think about their decisions.


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

March 4, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, Ukraine | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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