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“ACA Enrollment Tops 6 Million”: The Imminent Implosion Of The Affordable Care Act Has Been Cancelled

The expectation all along was that health care enrollment through the Affordable Care Act would spike shortly before the March 31 deadline. As of this afternoon, those expectations are very much in line with reality.

More than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges, a number that signals a tremendous last-minute surge, the White House said Thursday.

President Barack Obama told volunteers and navigators helping sign people up that 1.5 million people visited on Wednesday – the highest-traffic day yet. Officials have said they logged more than a million visits each day so far this week.

Remember, this total only refers to consumers who’ve signed up for private coverage through exchange marketplaces. It doesn’t include Americans who’ve gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. For that matter, clearing the 6-million milestone is an important threshold, but there’s still time remaining in the open-enrollment period and it’s not unrealistic to think we’ll see 6.2 million by next week.

“We are seeing near-record numbers of consumers coming to check out their options and enroll in coverage. Yesterday alone, we had 1.5 million visits to and took more than 430,000 calls at our 24/7 call center,” said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As of March 1 – not quite four weeks ago – 4.2 million Americans had enrolled through exchanges, suggesting we’ve seen nearly two million consumers sign up in less than a month.

It’s easy to forget, but this seemed like a pipe dream last fall. In October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange – causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to openly mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees.

It was obviously proof, we were told at the time, that the Affordable Care Act itself was “hurtling toward failure.”


The enrollment totals must seem literally unbelievable to Republicans, who managed to convince one another that the ACA is not only catastrophically flawed, but on an inevitable road towards imploding.

Indeed, as Paul Krugman noted earlier today, “[P]eople in the GOP are still working with a completely wrong narrative — namely, that Obamacare is failing, and that these are desperate ploys to save a sinking ship. The reality is quite different: enrollments have clearly surged in the final month…. How will the GOP respond when the numbers come in?”

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I suspect it’ll have something to do with Benghazi.
To reiterate a point from early February, those who say they hate “Obamacare” won’t want to hear this, but the imminent implosion of the Affordable Care Act has been cancelled.

What’s more, this is less of a comeback story than a story of normalcy and effective governance. There was a fair amount of panic in November – remember the pieces that predicted “Obamacare may destroy all of liberalism forever”? – but there were plenty of voices counseling patience. There were problems, but they were surmountable. There were elements that were broken, but they could be fixed.

The recent progress, in other words, isn’t some remarkable fluke the White House achieved through a Hail Mary pass. Rather, what we’re seeing now is progress many of us expected to see all along.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 27, 2014


March 28, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America’s Taxation Tradition”: Public Policy Should Seek To Limit Inequality For Political As Well As Economic Reasons

As inequality has become an increasingly prominent issue in American discourse, there has been furious pushback from the right. Some conservatives argue that focusing on inequality is unwise, that taxing high incomes will cripple economic growth. Some argue that it’s unfair, that people should be allowed to keep what they earn. And some argue that it’s un-American — that we’ve always celebrated those who achieve wealth, and that it violates our national tradition to suggest that some people control too large a share of the wealth.

And they’re right. No true American would say this: “The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” and follow that statement with a call for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes … increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

Who was this left-winger? Theodore Roosevelt, in his famous 1910 New Nationalism speech.

The truth is that, in the early 20th century, many leading Americans warned about the dangers of extreme wealth concentration, and urged that tax policy be used to limit the growth of great fortunes. Here’s another example: In 1919, the great economist Irving Fisher — whose theory of “debt deflation,” by the way, is essential in understanding our current economic troubles — devoted his presidential address to the American Economic Association largely to warning against the effects of “an undemocratic distribution of wealth.” And he spoke favorably of proposals to limit inherited wealth through heavy taxation of estates.

Nor was the notion of limiting the concentration of wealth, especially inherited wealth, just talk. In his landmark book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the economist Thomas Piketty points out that America, which introduced an income tax in 1913 and an inheritance tax in 1916, led the way in the rise of progressive taxation, that it was “far out in front” of Europe. Mr. Piketty goes so far as to say that “confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes” — that is, taxation whose goal was to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money — was an “American invention.”

And this invention had deep historical roots in the Jeffersonian vision of an egalitarian society of small farmers. Back when Teddy Roosevelt gave his speech, many thoughtful Americans realized not just that extreme inequality was making nonsense of that vision, but that America was in danger of turning into a society dominated by hereditary wealth — that the New World was at risk of turning into Old Europe. And they were forthright in arguing that public policy should seek to limit inequality for political as well as economic reasons, that great wealth posed a danger to democracy.

So how did such views not only get pushed out of the mainstream, but come to be considered illegitimate?

Consider how inequality and taxes on top incomes were treated in the 2012 election. Republicans pushed the line that President Obama was hostile to the rich. “If one’s priority is to punish highly successful people, then vote for the Democrats,” said Mitt Romney. Democrats vehemently (and truthfully) denied the charge. Yet Mr. Romney was in effect accusing Mr. Obama of thinking like Teddy Roosevelt. How did that become an unforgivable political sin?

You sometimes hear the argument that concentrated wealth is no longer an important issue, because the big winners in today’s economy are self-made men who owe their position at the top of the ladder to earned income, not inheritance. But that view is a generation out of date. New work by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman finds that the share of wealth held at the very top — the richest 0.1 percent of the population — has doubled since the 1980s, and is now as high as it was when Teddy Roosevelt and Irving Fisher issued their warnings.

We don’t know how much of that wealth is inherited. But it’s interesting to look at the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. By my rough count, about a third of the top 50 inherited large fortunes. Another third are 65 or older, so they will probably be leaving large fortunes to their heirs. We aren’t yet a society with a hereditary aristocracy of wealth, but, if nothing changes, we’ll become that kind of society over the next couple of decades.

In short, the demonization of anyone who talks about the dangers of concentrated wealth is based on a misreading of both the past and the present. Such talk isn’t un-American; it’s very much in the American tradition. And it’s not at all irrelevant to the modern world. So who will be this generation’s Teddy Roosevelt?


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 27, 2014

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Something Is Lacking In His Character”: Paul Ryan’s Endless “I Am Not A Racist” Tour

Will Rep. Paul Ryan ever finish his self-serving “I am not a racist” tour? Maybe not, if he keeps coming up with new ways to be offensive. What was Ryan thinking Tuesday night, when he let Bill O’Reilly attack Rep. Barbara Lee as a “race hustler,” without even trying to come to her defense?

O’Reilly built a whole segment around Lee’s condemnation of Ryan’s comments about “inner city” culture as “a thinly veiled racial attack.” He invited Ryan on the show to talk about his conversation with Lee, and what he most wanted to know was whether the Oakland Democrat had apologized to Ryan. Ryan didn’t exactly answer, but he used Lee to exonerate him from charges of racism.

“She does not believe that I have these views,” he told O’Reilly. “She knows me well, and she knows that I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

O’Reilly wasn’t satisfied: “Then why did she imply you did?”

“Well, you’ll have to ask Barbara that,” Ryan averred. The host jumped in again:

“Are you mad at her? I would be…”

“No, I’m not mad at her. I’m a big boy. I understand that if you challenge the status quo sometimes you’ll be misinterpreted…”

And that’s when O’Reilly got to the point of his segment: trashing Lee and other black leaders as “race hustlers.”

It’s intentional. With all due respect to you, because I think you’re a good man, they don’t want a conversation, they don’t want to solve the problem. These race hustlers make a big living, and they get voted into office, by portraying their constituents as victims. And it’s all your fault, and it’s my fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, and it’s the Republicans’ fault — it’s everybody’s fault except what’s going on.

And what’s going on, as you know, is the dissolution of the family, and you don’t have proper supervision of children, and they grow up with no skills, and they can’t read and speak, and they have tattoos on their neck, and they can’t compete in the marketplace, and that’s what’s going on!

Maybe Ryan got distracted by the whole neck tattoo thing, but he remained silent during O’Reilly’s tirade, just smiling meekly and nodding. Even when the bullying host paused, Ryan didn’t bother coming to Lee’s defense; he effectively co-signed O’Reilly’s attack. “Here’s what I want to do: I want to solve the problem,” he told the host. And then he went on with his stump speech about how anti-poverty programs don’t work.

So let’s get this straight: Ryan effectively uses Lee as a human shield against charges of racism, insisting “she knows I don’t have these views” and “she knows me well” and “she knows I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” But when O’Reilly trashed Lee as a “race hustler,” Ryan can’t be bothered to say a word on her behalf. Instead of smiling and nodding, imagine if Ryan had shown a little spine: “Look, Bill, Barbara and I disagree on these issues, but she is not a ‘race hustler,’ she’s a strong public servant looking out for her constituents.”

But you can’t imagine it, because Ryan likes to talk tough about the “character” of “inner city” men, while kissing the behinds of bullies like O’Reilly. Instead of squirming over charges of racism, Ryan is enjoying the acclaim they’re bringing him on the right, where he’s hailed as a teller of tough truths. And if Barbara Lee winds up collateral damage as Ryan is lionized by his wingnut admirers, so be it. I’m not going to say that’s racist, but it certainly tells me something is lacking in his character.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 27, 2014

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blowing Away The Smoke”: A Democrat-Sponsored Tax Cut Calls The GOP’s Anti-Poverty Bluff

For months now, as congressional Republicans have blocked repeated attempts to extend benefits to the long-term unemployed, as they’ve fought to deny low-income Americans access to health insurance, as they’ve advocated to cut tens of billions from the food stamp program, as they’ve resisted proposals to raise the minimum wage, they have simultaneously professed their commitment to American workers and the poor.

Senator Patty Murray put forth a new test of that commitment on Wednesday, by introducing legislation to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is already one of the largest and most effective anti-poverty programs, rewarding low-wage earners for their work and lightening their tax burden. It’s also one of the very few specific anti-poverty policies Republicans have praised in recent months.

Murray’s bill, the “21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act,” would increase the maximum credit for childless adults and create a new tax deduction for families with two working parents. It’s intended to complement the Democrats’ campaign for a higher minimum wage, and to force Republicans to take a real stand on help for American workers. Given their recent nods towards the EITC, one might reasonably expect Republicans to consider Murray’s proposal seriously. (President Obama also proposed an EITC expansion in his budget for 2015.) Even the tax loopholes Murray proposes closing in order to pay for the expansion have already been singled out for elimination by the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Robert Camp. But these are not reasonable times.

The Republican’s recent expressions of support for expanding the EITC have always seemed more opportunistic than sincere. Rather than actively working to extend the credit to more Americans, the GOP instead uses the EITC as “a protective shield against populist attacks,” as Jonathan Chait put it; specifically, as a counterpoint to calls from the left to raise the minimum wage.

“The minimum wage makes it more expensive for employers to hire low-skilled workers, but the EITC, on the other hand, gives workers a boost—without hurting their prospects,” Representative Paul Ryan said of the EITC in a January speech at the Brookings Institution. “It gives families flexibility—it helps them take ownership of their lives.”

Conservative pundits and academics have taken a similar line. Two economists at the American Enterprise Institute argued last year that “expanding the earned income tax credit is a much more efficient way to fight poverty than increasing the minimum wage.” Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation argued in favor of a higher EITC in January, as did former Bush advisor Glenn Hubbard. Another former Bush advisor, Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, wrote recently that the EITC was “distinctly better” than raising the minimum wage because the costs are born by taxpayers rather than employers.

In his own much-hyped poverty speech in January, Senator Marco Rubio advocated for replacing the EITC with a “federal wage enhancement” subsidy. The vague contours of the alternative he proposed suggested that what he had in mind was nearly identical to the EITC, but with more support for people without kids.

Rubio was right to point out that one of the major shortcomings of the current EITC is that it offers minimal assistance to childless workers. As the program operates now, people without children who are under 25 are ineligible, and the maximum credit for those between 25 and 64 is $487. Families with children receive more substantial benefits. In 2011, their average credit was $2,905.

Murray’s bill addresses Rubio’s professed concern for childless workers by lowering the eligibility age to 21 and raising the maximum credit for childless workers to about $1,400. Those changes would benefit thirteen million people, according to a Treasury Department estimate. The legislation also increases support for families with two working parents by allowing a secondary earner to deduct twenty percent of their income from their federal taxes. This could offset childcare, transportation, and other costs associated with entering the workforce, thus encouraging more stay-at-home parents to find jobs. More than seven million families would benefit from this new deduction, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The bill also doubles the penalties for tax payers who fail to comply with the Internal Revenue Service’s “due diligence” requirement, a reform that addresses Republican concerns about the costs of improper claims.

If Republicans really wanted to use the EITC as a vehicle for boosting low wages, this legislation provides an excellent starting point for negotiation. But they’re unlikely to engage with it seriously, because their lauding of the EITC was never serious to begin with. For example, Rubio’s proposal to expand the credit for childless workers would have been accomplished by taking money away from workers with kids, instead of by increasing the size of the program overall.

Republicans will face a tricky situation if Harry Reid brings Murray’s bill up for a vote in the Senate. “If Republicans aren’t interested in supporting this bill, they’ll need to explain why they are rejecting the alternative that they have often pointed to in order to justify opposing raising the minimum wage,” a senior Democratic aide told The Nation.

If recent votes on unemployment insurance are any indication, Republicans are far more likely to risk hypocrisy and find reasons to kill the bill than do any real governing, even on policies they profess to support. If a vote doesn’t accomplish much for low-wage workers, it may at least blow away some of the smoke from the GOP’s show.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, March 26, 2014

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Earned Income Tax Credit, GOP, Poor and Low Income | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will The Press Let Chris Christie Clear Himself?”: The Beltway Press Has A long History Of Showering Christie With Adoring Coverage

The starting point for any allegation of executive office cover-up, like the one surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is always the same: What did he know and when did he know it?

Eleven weeks after Christie held a marathon press conference to address questions about the bridge scandal that has enveloped his administration, we still don’t know the answer to the central question in the case: When did Christie find out that the city of Fort Lee had been brought to a four-day stand-still when at least one senior member of his staff teamed up with his appointee at the Port Authority to purposefully clog traffic lanes?

The release today of a self-investigation undertaken by Christie’s handpicked attorneys, and at a cost of at least $1 million to New Jersey taxpayers, does little to exonerate Christie on that question.

In fact, the report confirms that David Wildstein, the Christie appointee at the Port Authority who remains at the center of the scandal, insists he told the governor, in real time, about the lane closures on Sept. 11, 2013, and had detailed that meeting to one of Christie’s aides in December. Christie claims he doesn’t recall that conversation and from that he said/he said stand off, the internal probe generously declares Christie version is be believed and that he didn’t find out until weeks later about the Fort Lee fiasco.

Miraculously, in a scandal that brought weeks of relentlessly bad news for Christie in January and February, as revelation after revelation painted a picture of a deeply corrupt administration, his new paid-for investigation couldn’t find much bad news for the governor. The report, according to Christie’s attorney Randy Mastro was “a search for the truth.” It just so happens the reports is also “a vindication of Gov. Christie,” as Mastro stressed to reporters today.

Fact: Mastro served as a New York City deputy mayor under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been perhaps Christie’s most public defender since the scandal broke in January.

Christie aides are hoping the new report, which reads more like a legal brief on the governor’s behalf and which failed to interview key players, represents a political turning point for Christie who has aspirations to run for president in 2016. But whether that strategy works depends a lot on how the national press treats the new report and the public relations push behind it. (Fact: The Beltway press has a long history of showering Christie with adoring coverage.)

For the first time since the scandal broke in January, Christie sits for a one-on-one interview with a national media figure, Diane Sawyer, which will air on ABC’s World News With Diane Sawyer tonight. The interview will be a good indication of how the Beltway press treats the new report and if it’s willing to allow Christie to clear himself of any wrongdoing before the U.S. Attorney’s office and New Jersey lawmakers in Trenton complete their own investigations.

A key to the ABC interview will be if Sawyer presses Christie on when he knew that roadways were being jammed, which remains the central point. Over time, Christie has given an array of answers to that very simple question.


But a review of the governor’s public statements on the controversy shows he has never said precisely when he first heard about the closures, giving slightly different explanations on three separate occasions and at one point describing his knowledge as “an evolving thing.”

What Christie does now when asked about his knowledge of the lane closings is to stress he wasn’t involved in the implementation of the plot.

This has probably been the most important strategic move Christie’s office has made since January: convince the press that the key question of the scandal is whether the governor planned the lane closures, not whether he knew about the wrongdoing in real time. Time and again this winter when asked, Christie has been very careful, and very emphatic, in insisting he was not involved in the plotting of the dirty tricks scheme; he had no advance knowledge.

From a February appearance on a radio call-in show:

“The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes, did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it, did I have any knowledge of it beforehand. And the answer is still the same: It’s unequivocally no.”

But again, that’s not really the question at hand. Think back to Richard Nixon. The pressing, constitutional question wasn’t whether Nixon himself had drawn up the harebrained scheme to break into Democratic Party offices inside the Watergate apartment complex in 1972. It was whether Nixon knew his underlings were running a criminal enterprise from inside the executive offices.

The same holds true for Christie today. And the fact that his paid legal counsel could not produce a report that erased doubts about the governor’s knowledge of the dirty tricks campaign poses a political problem.

Meanwhile, will the new initiative be enough the rekindle the love affair that had blossomed between the Beltway press and the N.J. governor? During that media romance, Christie was relentlessly and adoringly depicted as a Straight Shooter; an authentic and bipartisan Every Man, a master communicator who was willing to cut through the stagecraft and delivers hard truths.

Following Christie’s reelection last November, the admiration reached a new, sugary high. “Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical,” Time’s Mark Halperin announced on Meet The Press that week. Added Time colleague Michael Scherer in a cover story later that month, “He’s a workhorse with a temper and a tongue, the guy who loves his mother and gets it done.”

We’ll soon see if the press uses the new, one-sided report to return to its days of glowing Christie coverage.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 27, 2014

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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