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“Left Coast Rising”: California’s Success Demonstrates That Extremist Ideology Still Dominating Much Of American Politics Is Nonsense

The states, Justice Brandeis famously pointed out, are the laboratories of democracy. And it’s still true. For example, one reason we knew or should have known that Obamacare was workable was the post-2006 success of Romneycare in Massachusetts. More recently, Kansas went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent in the belief that this would spark a huge boom; the boom didn’t happen, but the budget deficit exploded, offering an object lesson to those willing to learn from experience.

And there’s an even bigger if less drastic experiment under way in the opposite direction. California has long suffered from political paralysis, with budget rules that allowed an increasingly extreme Republican minority to hamstring a Democratic majority; when the state’s housing bubble burst, it plunged into fiscal crisis. In 2012, however, Democratic dominance finally became strong enough to overcome the paralysis, and Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare.

I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

What has actually happened? There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe.

If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels.

On health care, some people — basically healthy young men who were getting inexpensive insurance on the individual market and were too affluent to receive subsidies — did face premium increases, which we always knew would happen. Over all, however, the costs of health reform came in below expectations, while enrollment came in well above — more than triple initial predictions in the San Francisco area. A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that California has already cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half. What’s more, all indications are that further progress is in the pipeline, with more insurance companies entering the marketplace for next year.

And, yes, the budget is back in surplus.

Has there been any soul-searching among the prophets of California doom, asking why they were so wrong? Not that I’m aware of. Instead, I’ve been seeing many attempts to devalue the good news from California by pointing out that the state’s job growth still lags that of Texas, which is true, and claiming that this difference is driven by differential tax rates, which isn’t.

For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.

And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.

So what do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 24, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | California, Conservatives, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paul Ryan’s Glossy New Poverty Plan”: Not Much Doubt What The Effect On Poor People Will Be

Every year or so Paul Ryan comes up with a glossy new plan to deal with poverty or spending on social programs. The plans never go anywhere, but they’re not really intended to: They’re designed to make the Republican Party (and Mr. Ryan himself) appear more thoughtful than it actually is on these subjects.

The one he released today is somewhat better than previous efforts, in that it doesn’t propose massive cuts in overall spending (unlike his House budgets), and would even increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the government’s most successful anti-poverty programs. Democrats have also embraced a larger credit, although unlike Mr. Ryan, they would pay for it by raising taxes on the rich rather than slashing federal nutrition programs that Mr. Ryan thinks are a waste of money.

But the lack of seriousness in the plan is demonstrated by its supposedly big idea: It would combine 11 of the most important federal poverty programs into something called an “opportunity grant” that would be given to the states to spend as they see fit. The eliminated programs would include food stamps, what remains of the welfare system (known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), Section 8 housing vouchers, and low-income heating assistance, among others.

This technique should sound familiar. Members of Mr. Ryan’s party have spent years promoting the idea that states can do things better than Washington. As Rick Santorum repeated endlessly in 2012, “Cap it, cut it, freeze it, and block-grant it to the states.” Mr. Ryan’s running mate that year, Mitt Romney, would have turned all of Medicaid into a block grant system dumped onto the steps of 50 state capitols.

Putting programs like food stamps into a block grant means they could not be expanded on a national basis during economic emergencies, when unemployment or poverty soars. If a state were to have a budget crisis, perhaps due to tax cuts, social spending would be the first to go.

The broader problem is the sharp division between the states, which exposes the gap between Mr. Ryan’s attempt at high-mindedness and the petty grievances of the Republican majority. The proponents of these consolidation ideas know that while blue states would shoulder their responsibilities and protect their poorest residents, many red states would not. If Washington were not in the anti-poverty business, Republicans would have an opportunity to reduce spending on social programs in about half the country.

The attitude of red states toward social spending has been made brutally clear by their reaction to the Affordable Care Act. In 36 states, lawmakers refused to set up health care exchanges, putting the insurance subsidies for poor people at risk if a recent court decision is upheld. And only 27 states, including the District of Columbia, have agreed to expand their Medicaid programs. The effect on lowering the number of uninsured people in states with expanded programs is clear, but lawmakers elsewhere don’t care.

In Florida, the Republicans who rule the state have not created exchanges or expanded Medicaid, and have offered nothing to the 760,000 state residents with no insurance. The state has even banned volunteers who were helping poor people sign up for the federal exchange. The president of the Florida Senate, Don Gaetz, summed up the prevailing attitude perfectly this week: “As long as I serve in the Senate, I will never support the state of Florida serving as the instrument by which individuals and businesses are forced into a federal mandate to purchase a health insurance product they may not want.”

Mr. Ryan would never say so, but the real effect of his plan is to turn over a series of highly successful federal poverty programs into the hands of Don Gaetz and other anti-government ideologues. There’s not much doubt what the effect on poor people would be.


By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog; The New York Times, July 24, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Unhinged Than Usual”: Ted Cruz Sees An Imaginary ‘Economic Boycott Of Israel’

Just last week, a civilian airliner was shot down over a war zone, killing all 298 people on board. On Tuesday, just five days after the tragedy in Ukraine, a rocket landed Tuesday within a mile of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

In the interest of public safety and fearing a “potentially hazardous security situation,” the Federal Aviation Administration announced a temporary halt to U.S. flights into the Israeli capital. “Safety is the very first priority for DOT, for FAA,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday. The announcement coincided with suspended flights from Air France and Lufthansa, along with a warning from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which “strongly” recommended against flights into Tel Aviv.

Here in the U.S., many on the right responded to the news with the kind of maturity and restraint we’ve come to expect: “FAA Trutherism” was born. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a move that was brazen even for him, accused the Obama administration of launching an “economic boycott on Israel.”

“When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas. In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA. Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things. One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally.

“Until these serious questions are answered, the facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands. If so, Congress should demand answers.”

By any fair measure, Cruz’s response was more unhinged than his usual condemnations. The FAA’s security concerns, the far-right Texan said, are “punitive” and a possible attempt at “economic blackmail.” The senator raised the prospect of a presidential conspiracy, demanding information on “specific communications … between the FAA and the White House.”

Keep in mind, the Obama administration also asked Congress this week to “fast-track Israel’s request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system.” As Steve M. noted, the Obama administration and other Democrats “are seeking additional funding for Israel’s defense shield while Ted Cruz is alleging an economic boycott of Israel on Obama’s part.”

Cruz either hasn’t kept up on current events or he’s choosing not to see details that contradict his wild-eyed nonsense.

And the senator isn’t alone. Last night, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly told viewers the FAA was prohibiting domestic flights to Tel Aviv, but the FAA hadn’t imposed a similar policy over Ukraine. What Kelly claimed was wrong – the FAA has banned commercial travel over Ukraine since April.

This is what happens when the right gets a little too excited about bashing Obama – they lose sight of reality. The instinct to see presidential conspiracies lurking in every corner has passed the tipping point.

Let’s not brush past just how bizarre this whining really is. At its core, the complaint from Cruz and his allies is that the Obama administration is trying too hard to protect Americans traveling near war zones. If there were a deadly incident at the Tel Aviv airport involving a civilian U.S. passenger plane, it’s easy to imagine conservatives demanding to know why the FAA didn’t do more. This week, Republicans are instead complaining the FAA did too much.

This morning, however, Cruz received the news he wanted to hear: the FAA is now satisfied there are security measures in place and the travel ban is now over. The right can now move safely about the political landscape, looking for new “scandals” in need of conspiracy theories.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s 20-Year War On Health Care”: Republicans Are Going To Extraordinary Lengths To See That More Americans Die

Stop the presses: John Boehner admitted Thursday that the Republican Party’s long-awaited alternative to Obamacare needs a little more time in the oven. “You know, the discussions about Obamacare and what the replacement bill would look like continue. We’re trying to build consensus around one plan,” the Speaker told Hill reporters. “Not there yet.”

As if you even needed me to tell you, rest assured: It could be six months from now, a year from now, five years from now, or the day Bibi Netanyahu and Khaled Mashal share a Nobel Peace Prize—they aren’t going to have a plan. Oh, they might have a “plan.” They had a “plan” last year, or at least Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and two others did. For about two days, they were really tooting its horn. Then it dawned on people that paying for it would involve a hefty middle-class tax increase, on higher-end insurance plans. You may have noticed since then that the Coburn “plan” has not exactly become a leading Republican talking point.

As conservatives continue to hail the Halbig decision, some historical context is called for. In my last column,  I wrote that conservatives and Republicans are going to extraordinary lengths to see that more Americans die. Not every reader was won over by that opinion, as you might imagine. But I think it’s beyond dispute, as a little discussion of political history should show.

The problem of millions of uninsured has existed in this country since—well, since forever. But as a running news story that the media paid attention to, for the last 25 or 30 years. I remember when the then-horrifying number was 15 million uninsured. Then 20 million, then 30 million, on up to the 46 million figure we often saw bandied about before the Affordable Health Care was enacted (10 million new Americans are insured as a result of it—a very respectable dent, for just one year). So, 30 years, a full generation, tens of millions of people adversely affected. And what, in all that time, has the Grand Old Party proposed to do about it all?

Not. One. Thing. Republican presidents had (if we go back to 1984) 16 years to pass some kind of health-insurance law. But none of the three ever even proposed one. George W. Bush did pass his Medicare law, but that was about adding prescription-drug coverage for seniors; it didn’t insure any previously uninsured citizens. What the GOP did instead, of course, was to fight tooth-and-nail to stop the two Democratic attempts to insure more people, succeeding the first time, failing the second.

And “tooth-and-nail” hardly begins to describe the demented and nearly sociopathic reality of Republican and conservative opposition to trying to make health insurance affordable for working-class people. Opposition to doing so has been one of the four grand accomplishments of the Republican Party of our time, which I would rank as follows, one scratched on each side of the obelisk: one, start disastrous wars and commit torture; two, make people despise the government; three, nearly cause a new Depression; and four, deny health insurance to as many people as possible, as aggressively and nastily as possible. It’s a grim record generally, and with regard to health care specifically, inarguably one that has promoted insalubriousness and suffering and, indeed, deaths that might have been avoided or delayed if people had had insurance.

It is true that some conservative intellectuals have offered up some ideas—as we know, the same individual mandate that the right now calumniates was a conservative idea at first. And John McCain actually had a decent-ish health-care platform plank in 2008. But if McCain had been elected, it’s very unlikely that the constellation of interests and power centers in the GOP would have permitted him ever even thinking about pursuing it. It was just something he felt he had to say to have credibility with middle-of-the-road voters. And in any case he wasn’t elected, and those conservative intellectuals’ ideas were never seriously proposed by elected Republicans, so the historical record is what it is.

The 20-year war on health care—since their 1993 defeat of the Clinton plan—has been about Republicans’ hatred of government; their view of people who don’t have insurance as lazy or flawed and not worth lifting a finger for; and their fear that if a law is passed and succeeds in bringing health care to millions, they and their whole vision of society will be discredited in the eyes of millions. Of course, these days, all that is shot through with one more element: a heavy dose of Obama hatred.

I was on Hardball Wednesday evening with David Corn, and Chris Matthews showed poll numbers during our segment that surprised even me. The topic was “rooting for failure.” Back in 2006, he said, Democrats were asked in a Fox News poll whether they wanted President Bush’s policies to succeed or fail. Answers: 40 succeed, 51 fail. Not particularly generous. But earlier this year, he said, CNN asked Republicans  the same question about President Obama. Answers: 14 succeed, 73 fail.

Think about that. Three-quarters of regular Republicans want Obama to fail. And just one in seven wants him to succeed. We pundits spend most of our time blaming politicians for inaction, but maybe it’s time to start blaming the people. If regular Republicans feel like this, there’s no way the elected officials who represent them are going to do anything that looks remotely like compromise or cooperation.

And no, they’re not going to offer a real health-care plan either. They first promised that in 2010, during the campaign season, so they could say “repeal and replace” instead of just “repeal” and sound like they had a positive side. Then they dropped “and replace,” and now that it’s election time again, it’s back. But it’s not in their DNA to do anything constructive about health care. Or—the VA crisis, the border crisis, the Middle East crisis, the wage-and-inequality crisis, et cetera—about much of anything.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 25, 2014

July 26, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Health Reform, John Boehner | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Collective GOP Orgasm”: Today’s Conservative Obamacare Baloney Debunked

If you were perusing the conservative twitter-sphere this morning, you would have witnessed a kind of collective orgasm, as it was discovered that back in 2012, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber gave a talk to a small group in which he seemed to support the analysis of the two judges on the D.C. Circuit who ruled this week in Halbig v. Burwell that the subsidies for buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act should go only to people who live in states that set up their own insurance exchanges. Since Gruber advised Mitt Romney on the creation of Massachusetts’ health reform (which became the model for the ACA) and then advised the White House and Congress during the preparation of the ACA reform, conservatives are now convinced they have their smoking gun: The law, they contend, was always designed to deprive millions of Americans of subsidies, and was in fact never meant to achieve that “universal coverage” that everyone involved said was its goal.

Up to the point where the Supreme Court rules on Halbig, those conservatives will be citing Gruber’s 2012 comments. A lot. But the idea that something Gruber said in response to a question in front of what looks to be around 20 people is more relevant than literally everything else that happened during the drafting and debate over this law’s passage is, to put it plainly, insane.

Let me provide a partial list of people who spent over a year between the beginning of the debate over health-care reform and the passage of the law talking about the ACA, but never mentioned what was supposedly the intent of Congress that people in states using the federal exchange would be deprived of subsidies:

  • Barack Obama
  • Kathleen Sebelius
  • Harry Reid
  • Every other Democratic senator
  • Nancy Pelosi
  • Every other Democratic House member
  • Every health-care analyst in America
  • Every health-care reporter in America
  • Every Republican in the Senate
  • Every Republican in the House
  • Every conservative opponent of the law

Ezra Klein, who wrote as much about health-care reform during this period as anyone, tweeted this morning that he interviewed Gruber dozens of times, and not only did Gruber never mention this issue, “[t]he same is true for literally everyone else I interviewed. I never heard a single person say subsidies don’t work in federal exchanges.”

As for Gruber himself, this morning he spoke to Jonathan Cohn, and here’s what he told him:

I honestly don’t remember why I said that. I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake. People make mistakes. Congress made a mistake drafting the law and I made a mistake talking about it.

During this era, at this time, the federal government was trying to encourage as many states as possible to set up their exchanges. …

At this time, there was also substantial uncertainty about whether the federal backstop would be ready on time for 2014. I might have been thinking that if the federal backstop wasn’t ready by 2014, and states hadn’t set up their own exchange, there was a risk that citizens couldn’t get the tax credits right away. …

But there was never any intention to literally withhold money, to withhold tax credits, from the states that didn’t take that step. That’s clear in the intent of the law and if you talk to anybody who worked on the law. My subsequent statement was just a speak-o—you know, like a typo.

There are few people who worked as closely with Obama administration and Congress as I did, and at no point was it ever even implied that there’d be differential tax credits based on whether the states set up their own exchange. And that was the basis of all the modeling I did, and that was the basis of any sensible analysis of this law that’s been done by any expert, left and right.

I didn’t assume every state would set up its own exchanges but I assumed that subsidies would be available in every state. It was never contemplated by anybody who modeled or worked on this law that availability of subsidies would be conditional of who ran the exchanges.

Cohn, too, says he never spoke to anyone who mentioned this before the Halbig lawsuit. If this was actually what Congress thought the law would do, then liberals would have been freaking out about this provision for years, because it would mean that millions of people wouldn’t be able to get coverage. And conservatives would have been crowing about it for years, for the same reason. But nobody on either side was, because it was never part of Congress’s intent. It was a mistake, and one contradicted by multiple other provisions in the law.

I have no doubt that when the Halbig case is re-argued before the full D.C. Circuit, either the plaintiffs’ attorneys or one of the conservative judges will bring up Gruber’s 2012 comments. Let’s just hope it gets shot down like the baloney it is.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 25, 2014



July 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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