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“Collaborating With The Enemy”: Can Republicans Be Convinced To Help Improve The Affordable Care Act?

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, people made lots of predictions about how its implementation would proceed, in both practical and political terms. While the law’s opponents all agreed that it would be a disaster from start to finish, the law’s supporters were slightly less unanimous, if nevertheless optimistic. Most figured that though there would probably be problems here and there, by and large the law would work as it was intended, enabling millions of uninsured Americans to get coverage and providing all of us a level of health security we hadn’t known before.

And that’s what has happened. But there was one other assumption among the supporters that’s worth examining anew, now that most of us agree the law isn’t going to be repealed. Like every large and complex piece of social legislation, it was said, the ACA would have to be tweaked and adjusted over time. For instance, when it was passed in 1935, Social Security excluded agricultural and domestic workers, just coincidentally shutting most African-Americans out of the program. Those workers were added later on, and other changes were made as well, like adding cost of living adjustments to account for inflation. Medicare, too, has undergone changes both large (like adding a prescription drug benefit) and small. So what are the possibilities for adjusting the ACA in the near future? In the current atmosphere—one not just of intense partisanship, but one in which one party has made venomous opposition to this law the very core of its political identity—can we hope to actually fix the things about the law that might need fixing?

The administration has already made some changes to the law using its executive authority. Most notably, it has delayed the employer mandate; as it stands now, the mandate won’t fully take effect until 2016. As it happens, few people are particularly enthused with the employer mandate in its current form; conservatives have never liked it, and more than a few liberals have their doubts about it. As Mike Konczal recently explained, there’s an alternative:

The employer mandate has been another major roadblock for the ACA. The current “Obamacare” plan requires employers with more than 50 full-time workers to pay a part of the health care costs for employees who work more than 30 hours a week, or pay a fine. This is unpopular with employers, and it fuels larger worries that workers are getting their hours capped or that expanding businesses are hitting a major road bump the moment they reach 50 employees.

As the Roosevelt Institute’s Richard Kirsch writes, the way the final House bill tackled this issue was much smarter: Under the House plan, employers that didn’t provide health care to their employees would pay a percentage of payroll as a tax to cover health care. Consequently, there would be no incentive to juke the number of new hires or their hours. Also, current health insurance premiums don’t vary according to an employee’s income, which discourages employers from hiring lower-wage workers. Charging a percentage of payroll for coverage would help companies cover the costs even as the system moves towards the exchanges.

If you were a Republican who cared about this issue, this would be a perfect opportunity to change the law in a way you’d like. It wouldn’t be giving up something to get half a loaf, it’d be giving up nothing to get half a loaf. Democrats and Republicans could agree to change the mandate, whether it’s to more closely resemble the original House version of the bill, or something else. I’m sure that creative legislators could come up with any number of ways to produce the maximum number of people with employer-sponsored coverage—or even, now that the exchanges seem to be working quite well, devise a new way for employees to use them without employers just getting off the hook for providing coverage.

But we all understand the present reality, which is that no Republican is willing to work with Democrats to improve the ACA, even in ways that address particular complaints conservatives have about the law, because that’s considered collaboration with the enemy and would guarantee you the wrath of the Tea Party and a primary challenge from the right. Within the GOP, changing the law for the better is actually thought to be a terrible sin, while making futile gestures in opposition to the law while tacitly accepting its existence in its current form is thought to be the height of ideological integrity.

It’s possible that over time, as the repeal fantasy looks more and more ridiculous, Republicans will begin to grow more open to legislation making changes to the ACA to improve its operation. That’s what logic would dictate, but anything other than fist-shaking opposition to the ACA may remain politically toxic for a long time in the GOP.

But maybe there’s something Democrats can do to affect that conversation. It’s easy for them to just say:

“If Republicans really cared about improving people’s lives they’d join with us to make improvements, but instead they’d rather just have talking points.” It’s even true. But that doesn’t get you anywhere. So perhaps Democrats could try getting more specific. They could come up with whatever they think is the best way to deal with a weakness in the law, like the current form of the employer mandate. Turn that into a bill. Start moving it through the legislative process in the Senate. Force Republicans to answer specific questions about it, like: “Congressman, you’ve criticized the current employer mandate. Tell me why you think this new proposal isn’t an improvement.”

I’m not naïve enough to think that all Republican opposition to improving the ACA is going to melt before the power of those questions. But it only helps Republicans if they can stay vague in their discussions of the law. The more specific the discussion gets, the harder it is for them. And at least you could introduce the idea of Republicans joining with Democrats to improve the law, which is something barely anyone has brought up until now.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Robbing-Peter-To-Pay-Paul”: Congress Unites To Screw The Hungry

Five years into our so-called recovery, hunger in America remains stuck at a depressingly high level. The number of families who struggle to put food on the table has barely inched downward, even though employment is up. And while a majority of those struggling families are already receiving food stamps, one of the biggest ways we assist families in need, it’s just not enough, making hunger in America a very real and serious concern.

You would think a generous, wealthy country like the United States would have no problem bolstering an initiative designed to help the working poor in such dire times. Surely, you might think, there is bipartisan support for one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country. But in fact there has been bipartisan support for decreasing both the amount of food stamp money families receive and the number of families who receive them.

In any given month, roughly 46 to 47 million people receive food stamps. It’s highly likely that even more families are eligible to receive them, but don’t seek the help because they don’t believe they qualify, are reluctant to go through the hassle of applying, or are subtly or overtly discouraged from doing so by the caseworker they meet.

Food stamps help reduce hunger, but they don’t eliminate it. Estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture last week show that 17.5 million families struggle to put food on the table, and 62 percent of them were already receiving food stamps. About 6.8 million of those families have so little money for food they skip meals or eat less than they should. Those numbers are about the same they were in the previous year.

The costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are officially known, went up to about $78 billion a year during the recession, mostly because more people were using them. The increase in use tracks pretty well with the rise in unemployment and poverty during the downturn. More people lost jobs or income, and so more people needed help feeding their children.

In response to the rising need, Congress bumped up the amount of money families got on their benefit cards when they passed the stimulus act in 2009. The reasons were multifold: more money would help struggling families buy more food, but it also meant they spent more at their grocery stores, keeping their local economies pumping. Each dollar spent by the government in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.

Then, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to gut the program. As David Dayen reported in The American Prospect, the Democrats were the first to raid this piggy bank when they decided to use food-stamp funds to help pay for a state aid bill in 2010. The stimulus food-stamp boost was supposed to last until about 2016, but the changes the Democrats made meant the extra funding would end earlier, in 2014.

The food stamp program then lost $2.2 billion to help pay for a $4.5 billion increase in the school lunch bill in 2010. Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas who was then chair of the Senate agriculture committee, designed this Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul move. It drew opposition from anti-hunger groups but the bill passed anyway, partly because it was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s newly launched Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.

After Democrats laid that foundation, the Republicans came in and began attacking the program. First, they let the stimulus boost expire, which that meant an average family of three receiving benefits lost $29 per month. The cuts went into effect November 2013, right before the holidays.

Next, the House Republicans in charge attacked the base funding itself. Food stamps are the biggest and most expensive component of the farm bill—an arcane piece of legislation that sets farm policy. Because of the 70 percent increase in food stamp spending since the last farm bill had passed, in 2008, House Republicans refused to pass this one when it first went up for a vote last year. It was the first time in history a farm bill failed, and it later passed without the food-stamp component. After the House finally did address nutrition spending and work with the Senate, the program emerged in February with $8.6 billion cut over the next 10 years, so it’s no wonder families are still going hungry.

To be fair, Democrats fought these final cuts to the program: House Republicans originally wanted to cut $40 billion and the Democrats brought that number down. Indeed, a few Democrats—like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the Senate—want to rescind cuts and provide even more food stamp funding. But even if they succeed, that money might be too tempting for their fellow party members to pass up the next time they want to spend cash on something else.


By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Does Fox News Apologize?”: After Years Of On-Air Idiocy, Why Walk Back Your Business Model Now?

Nearly two years ago, Fox News luminary Shepard Smith delivered a memorable apology. On a slow-news afternoon in September 2012, Smith’s afternoon program followed a protracted car-chase in the Arizona sticks. Its coverage of the drama was so intense that producers failed to cut away from the scene when the driver got out of his car, staggered through a desolate area and shot himself.

Tonal perfection characterized Smith’s mea culpa: “We really messed up, and we’re all very sorry. That didn’t belong on TV. … I personally apologize to you that that happened,” said the host.

The theme of Fox News’s capacity for apology surfaced this week, after “Fox & Friends” co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy joked about the Ray Rice situation. On Monday’s program, the two were discussing the emergence of the video showing Rice assaulting his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel. To wrap up the discussion, Kilmeade quipped, “I think the message is, take the stairs.”

Doocy, in the jocular spirit of a cable-news morning show during a discussion of domestic violence, joined in: “The message is when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.”

With that, “Fox & Friends” prepped public expectations for a stone-faced apology. Tuesday morning, that didn’t happen. Instead, Kilmeade appeared to be blaming viewers for using their eyes and ears: “Comments that we made during this story yesterday made some feel like we were taking the situation too lightly. We are not. We were not. Domestic abuse is a very serious issue to us, I can assure you.”

CNN, like a good competitor network, found newsworthiness in the depravity of “Fox & Friends.” In a chat with host Carol Costello, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter said, “It’s a cheap try yo pretend to apologize but then again, Fox News tends not to come out and apologize when their hosts say offensive things.”

Cue the Google and Nexis searches for “fox news apologizes.”

In August, Fox News’s Shepard Smith apologized for having called Robin Williams a “coward.” (Hat Tip: Johnny Dollar)

In April, Fox News apologized for a graphic that painted a distorted picture of Obamacare enrollment numbers.

In March, Fox News host Clayton Morris apologized for “ignorant” comments that he’d made about gender. (Hat tip: Johnny Dollar)

In October 2013, Fox News apologized for reporting — based on a bogus story — that President Obama had pledged to personally donate to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures during the government shutdown.

In February 2013, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson apologized for ripping Wiccans. (Hat tip: Johnny Dollar)

In July 2012, Fox News apologized for showing a picture of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in a discussion of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

In July 2011, Fox News apologized after its politics Twitter account was hacked, resulting in a false message about the assassination of President Obama.

In November 2009, Fox News apologized for misrepresenting some footage of Sarah Palin.

So there’s a sampling of Fox News’s regretful moments of recent years (we don’t claim it’s comprehensive). The circumstances behind them vary — some correct factual mistakes, others remedy stupid, ill-considered remarks made in the error factory that is live television.

Does the network under-apologize for “offensive” remarks, as Stelter suggested? Who knows — a claim that broad and subject to value judgments is both unprovable and irrefutable, a perfect thing to say on cable news. Perhaps there is a contrast to be drawn with MSNBC, a network that went on an apologetic tear starting last November after offending the likes of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, the “right wing” and others.

Despite the squishiness inherent in this debate, it’s clear that there’s an entire industry of apology demands directed at Fox News. Here’s a demand that Fox News host Megyn Kelly apologize for her comments about Santa and Jesus being white. Here’s a demand (from now-Fox News guy Howard Kurtz, in 2009) that Fox News apologize for using “partisan propaganda” on air. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize for its Steubenville rape coverage. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize to all Canadians for mocking their country’s military. Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize to John Kerry for catching his off-mic remarks (see comments section). Here’s a demand that Fox News apologize for some allegedly transphobic remarks by Dr. Keith Ablow (who produces apologizable statements in just about every appearance, it must be noted).

And on and on: Some of the demands are perfectly ridiculous, some compelling.

Of all the moments for which Fox News has apologized or received apology demands, none appears as regret-worthy as what went down on Monday’s edition of “Fox & Friends.” In advising “take the stairs,” Kilmeade appeared to be counseling domestic abusers on how to do their thing. Or perhaps he was counseling women not to get into elevators with their boyfriends. Abominable either way. Fox News — and “Fox & Friends” itself — has apologized for much less. Absent an explanation from Fox News itself, only pure arrogance can account for why the network whiffed on its responsibility to viewers. Years and years of on-air idiocy, after all, have propelled “Fox & Friends” to the top of the morning cable-news ratings. Why walk back the show’s business model now?


By: Erik Wemple, The Washington Post, September 10, 2014


September 12, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Fox News, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Political Value Of Fear”: McCain Joins Far-Right Chorus On ISIS Border Threat

There can be no doubt that ISIS’s brutal murder of two journalists had a deep impact on how Americans perceive the terrorist threat. For years, polls showed a war-weary nation reluctant to launch new military offenses in the Middle East, but the recent beheadings abroad changed the calculus on the public’s appetite for intervention.

But it’s also true that many voices in the U.S. have exploited the political value of fear.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued a few weeks ago that there’s “a very real possibility” that ISIS terrorists may have entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico. Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added that the U.S. border is “porous,” and officials must “secure our own borders” to prevent “ISIS infiltration.” This week, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, echoed Perry’s original claim, telling Fox News that ISIS terrorists might “actually [be] coming through the border right now.”

Last night on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus.

ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?

JOHN MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.

A few hours earlier on Twitter, McCain encouraged his followers to read a piece on a far-right website, which reported that the U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate the United States through our southern border.

Is it any wonder so many Americans are afraid?

Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a deep breath – and a reality check.

The basic facts are not in dispute. First, there’s no evidence – literally, none at all – of ISIS terrorists entering the United States through the southern border with Mexico. In fact, there’s no evidence of ISIS terrorists even trying.

Second, the southern border is not “porous.” The Obama administration really has increased U.S. border security to levels unseen in modern times.

But what about the report McCain promoted that said U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate through Mexico? The senator may have heard what he wanted to hear, but that’s not quite what officials told lawmakers.

Despite some Twitter chatter, there is no evidence ISIS terrorists are trying to slip into the United States from Mexico, Department of Homeland Security officials told Congress Wednesday.

Administration officials said they are more concerned about jihadists entering the U.S. legally on commercial airline flights.

Administration higher-ups testifying at a House hearing Wednesday threw cold water on scary border scenarios cited by conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Francis Taylor, the undersecretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, told McCain that there have been some “social media exchanges” among ISIS adherents about the “possibility” of entering the United States through Mexico, but none of the exchanges have led to action and Taylor added that U.S. officials are “satisfied we have the intelligence and capability on the border that would prevent that activity.”

So what are we left with? Some lunatics wrote some tweets about the “possibility” of trying to get into the United States. I don’t want to play semantics games, but it’s fair to say this is a far cry from Islamic State terrorists “planning” to infiltrate the country through Mexico.

What’s more, as Steve M. noted, “Let me remind you: Al Qaeda has never gotten anyone across the Mexican border to commit a terrorist act – and Al Qaeda clearly does want to pursue attacks on the West. We have to be watchful, but no, this sort of attack isn’t going to happen soon.”

It’s important to appreciate why Republicans are pushing this line. It seems pretty clear that McCain and others see the utility of Americans being afraid – if the public fears a domestic attack from ISIS, there will be stronger support for more and expansive wars.

But Republicans also want the White House to give the right what it wants on immigration: more border security in exchange for nothing. This rhetoric is intended to kill two birds with one stone.

No one should be fooled.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | ISIS, John McCain, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pretending To Be Relevant”: Man Who Failed Twice At Becoming President Thinks He’d Be Better At Being President Than Hillary Clinton

Mitt Romney, once governor of Massachusetts and a failure at winning presidential elections, pops up every now and again to tell us that he is not running for president. These TV interviews can be grating, but they’re also charitable: Romney gets to pretend he actually is relevant, or even president, and his opinion is afforded the sort of faux-weight that only a Sunday news show can provide. It’s political cos-play.

This week, it was Romney on Barack Obama’s follies, and Romney on Hillary Clinton’s presidential bona fides.

You will likely not be surprised to hear that Romney shared his disappointment with Obama in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “I think the president is really out of touch with reality,” Romney said of the man who twice accomplished what he, himself, could not. “He’s so out of touch with reality that he hasn’t taken the necessary steps. . . . He’s too busy on the golf course. I don’t know if you can see the reality from the fairway, but he doesn’t see reality.” (Nailed it, Romney thought after letting go of that zinger.)

Obama’s foreign policy is fundamentally flawed because it is “based on common humanity, and humanity is not common,” Romney said. “Bad people do bad things.” Apparently the president is not hip to the fact that ISIS is “bad.”

Romney is, per Romney, a more skilled politician that not just the current president, but also the Democratic frontrunner for 2016. Asked if he would deliver a better performance in the White House than Clinton, Romney said there was “no question in my mind,” though he conceded one complicating factor: “The American people may disagree with me.”

During both of his failed presidential campaigns, Romney tried to use his record as a businessman as proof that he knew how to run the government (because he ran companies, remember?). He repeated that winning line on Sunday: “You’ve also got to have people who have actually run something. . . . I don’t think Hillary Clinton has that experience.”

“My time has come and gone,” Romney said, during the nationally televised interview.

If Romney changes his mind and reneges on his oft-repeated promise not to run for president again, perhaps he can point to comments by high-profile supporters such as himself as evidence of his political vitality. In Mitt he trusts.


By: Kia Makarechi, Vanity Fair Daily, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , | Leave a comment

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