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“It’s Good To Be A Bush”: How The GOP Presidential Candidates Will Talk About Obamacare

One of my favorite factoids from the 2012 presidential race emerged when Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax return. There may not have been much scandalous contained therein, but Romney’s sources of income were so varied and intricate that the return ran to a mind-boggling 379 pages. And it’s starting to appear that Jeb Bush may have a similarly complex financial life, which he’s starting to unravel as he prepares for a potential presidential run. There’s one particularly interesting source of income, as this article in the Los Angeles Times explains:

And on Wednesday, Bush resigned from the board of directors of Tenet Healthcare Corp., also effective Dec. 31, according to a corporate filing. The Dallas-based company actively supported the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and has seen its revenue rise from it, an issue that could draw fire in Republican primaries.

Bush earned cash and stock awards worth nearly $300,000 from Tenet in 2013, according to corporate filings. He also sold Tenet stock worth $1.1 million that year, the records show.

If it’s like other big corporations, the services for which he was paid $300,000 by Tenet probably involved little more than going to a couple of meetings every year. It’s good to be a Bush. But let’s try to imagine the fire he might draw in the primaries over his association with the company. Are politicians from the party of capitalism and business really going to criticize him for making a ton of money, even if it involved the hated Affordable Care Act?

Yeah, they probably will. Which raises the question of exactly how the 2016 GOP candidates are going to address the ACA, which even as it becomes further embedded in our health-care system is still on many Republicans’ minds. Chances are they’re going to talk about it in the most general terms they can, in a discussion that stays at a symbolic level and avoids any specifics.

That’s because there are many more Americans who have a negative view of the ACA as an abstraction than there are who dislike the things it actually does. Members of the public are about evenly split when you just ask them what they think of the law. (In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 45 percent say we should move forward with the law or expand it, while 43 percent say scale it back or repeal it.) But with the exception of the individual mandate to acquire coverage, the specific provisions of the law are all supported by strong majorities. Even majorities of Republicans support elements such as the creation of the exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and the provision of subsidies to help people afford insurance.

So if you’re a Republican candidate, you have to seek safe harbor on the terrain of the general and symbolic. Otherwise, you’d end up like Mitch McConnell did during the last campaign, insisting that while he wanted to repeal the ACA “root and branch,” he also wanted to keep almost everything the law does.

At the moment, lots of Republicans remain psychologically trapped in the days right after the problematic rollout of convinced them all that the ACA would collapse in a matter of weeks or months. At the time, they could barely contain their glee. As Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin — widely considered two of the more sober conservatives on issues like these — wrote at the time, “As ObamaCare’s failures and victims mount by the day, Republicans have so far mostly been watching in amazement. They expected the law to fail, but even among its most ardent opponents few imagined the scale and speed of the fiasco.”

Even if that was your honest assessment back then, you’d have to be in the grips of a nearly psychotic level of denial to believe it today. Every result of the law may not be perfect, but it has been an overwhelming success. Just about every prediction Republicans made has turned out false. The economy hasn’t tanked, 10 million people were newly insured even before this year’s open enrollment, premium increases are slowing, overall health costs are slowing, and conservatives looking for specific evidence of the law’s failure don’t quite know what to say.

So criticizing something like the fact that one of your opponents sat on the board of a company that benefited from the ACA offers a way to tell voters that you still hate Obamacare with every fiber of your being — and that opponent obviously doesn’t — without having to talk about what the law has accomplished.

Now let’s imagine something fanciful. What if one of the GOP candidates said something like this:

I opposed Obamacare. I wish it had never passed. But now it has been implemented, and just repealing the whole thing isn’t an option anymore. Too many people are now on either Medicaid or plans they got through the exchanges, and it would be wrong to just toss them off their coverage. And there are some things in the law that both conservatives and liberals support. So here’s a plan to keep what’s right about it and fix what’s wrong about it.

We all assume that if a candidate said that, he’d be condemned by his opponents as a traitor and all Republican voters would turn against him. The former would certainly occur, but the latter might not. He might be able to pull the other candidates into a discussion about the specifics of the law, where — if he were the only one with a plan actually grounded in the real world — he could win the argument.

But the truth is, that’s not too likely. If Romney, whose Massachusetts health insurance reform provided the model for the ACA, could win the nomination just shaking his fist at President Obama and insisting that his reform was nothing like Obama’s — which not a single person, Republican or Democrat, actually believed — then why take that chance? If you’re Jeb Bush, you can leave the board of Tenet and repeat over and over that your loathing for the ACA is as strong as anybody’s. In the primaries at least, that will probably be enough to neutralize the issue.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 26, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Choice Is Yours”: Demand That Those Who Ask For Your Vote Stand Up For Choice As Well

December 30, 1994 was the second day of infamy in this country.

That day, a radical anti-abortion activist named John Salvi murdered two employees–Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38–at two Planned Parenthood facilities in Brookline, Massachusetts, and shot and wounded five others. He was later apprehended in Norfolk, Virginia after attacking another women’s health clinic.

This domestic terrorist was found guilty of murder in March 1996; he hanged himself in his prison cell just a few months later. (In 1997, his conviction was posthumously vacated on a technicality.)

Salvi was one of many depraved anti-abortion zealots who couldn’t stand the fact that women had the right to choose in this country. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted earlier this year:

Some of the people who were witnesses to [the Salvi] shooting were people who were there at the clinic working as clinic escorts because of the hostile and intimidating and occasionally violent intense protests that had been happening regularly outside of those clinics.

That day when John Salvi went into the two clinics in Brookline and opened fire and he shot all those people, there were antiabortion protesters right outside the clinic when he did it, as he did it. At the Brookline Planned Parenthood where he killed a 25-year-old receptionist that day, the protesters outside the clinic [attempted] to intimidate people [by] filming everybody as they arrived to work at the clinic, filming people as they arrived to volunteer, filming people who were working as escorts for patients coming into the clinic. And they filmed the patients, themselves, including taking great pains to be seen videotaping their license plates, trying to be very intimidating and very scary to people so they wouldn`t go into that clinic.

But that day when John Salvi got into that clinic and shot it up and he killed the receptionist and wounded other people, as they brought the bodies of the wounded and the killed out of that clinic that day, the antiabortion protesters in the parking lot, they kept filming. They filmed that, too.

I was seventeen years old when the Salvi shooting happened, and it rattled me to the core. Growing up in Massachusetts, I frankly took legal abortion for granted; in the Bay State, even the Republicans were pro-choice (and still are, as it turns out). I was stunned to learn that there were so many folks who were still angry over the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling…so angry that they would actually result to murder in order to effectively overturn the ruling.

As Maddow has noted over the years, the radical anti-abortion movement has seemingly grown stronger and stronger in the years since Salvi’s terrorist attack. Anti-abortion radicalism has also been legitimized in our media: remember Bill O’Reilly’s crusade against Kansas physician George Tiller, a crusade that only ended when Tiller was assassinated in 2009?

Every day that we allow access to legal abortion to be restricted anywhere in this country, we give aid and comfort to these radicals. Every day that we choose not to stand up in absolute defense of a woman’s right to choose, we give another victory to these deranged deviants. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the importance of defending Roe, we help the haters.

The Salvi shootings were a savage signal that a woman’s right to choose is literally under assault in this country. The radical anti-abortion terrorist network in the United States is far more dangerous than ISIS. These people want to murder democracy just as much as they want to murder doctors who provide reproductive services.

We need to defend women’s reproductive rights with renewed intensity in this country. We need to demand that every man and woman we elect pledge allegiance to the sacred right to choose. We need to insist that Roe v. Wade be accorded the same respect we accord to Brown v. Board of Education.

Twenty years ago, my heart broke for Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, two bright, beautiful, bold young women who were mercilessly slaughtered by a right-wing fiend who decided to do with a bullet what he could not do with a ballot. Twenty years later, my heart breaks again, because I know I haven’t been as vigilant in defending a woman’s right to choose as I should have been. I know I let choice slip way down on my list of political priorities. I know I didn’t remember their heroism and their legacy.

Although they are gone, felled by a fanatic, I apologize to Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols for not being as vigilant as I should have been in defending a woman’s right to choose. I ask their families for forgiveness. I promise that I will stand up for choice, and I will demand that those who ask for my vote stand up for choice as well.


By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 27, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Choice, Roe v Wade, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Government Problem”: The Central Issue Is Whom The Government Is For

Some believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.

Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.

It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.

The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.

For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.

Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.

But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.

The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.

It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.

Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.

In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.

Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.

Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.

In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.

An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.

In addition to the provisions in the recent spending bill that reward Wall Street, health insurers, the travel industry, food companies, and defense contractors, other corporate goodies have been long baked into the federal budget.

Big agribusiness gets price supports. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers get their own special “carried-interest” tax loophole. The oil and gas industry gets its special tax subsidies.

Big Pharma gets a particularly big benefit: a prohibition on government using its vast bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate low drug prices.

Why are politicians doing so much for corporate executives and Wall Street insiders? Follow the money. It’s because they’re flooding Washington with money as never before, financing an increasing portion of politicians’ campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s decision this year in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, following in the wake of Citizen’s United, already eliminated the $123,200 cap on the amount an individual could contribute to federal candidates.

The new spending legislation, just enacted, makes it easier for wealthy individuals to write big checks to political parties. Before, individuals could donate up to $32,400 to the Democratic or Republican National Committees.

Starting in 2015, they can donate ten times as much. In a two-year election cycle, a couple will be able to give $1,296,000 to a party’s various accounts.

But the only couples capable of giving that much are those that include corporate executives, Wall Street moguls, and other big-moneyed interests.

Which means Washington will be even more attentive to their needs in the next round of legislation.

That’s been the pattern. As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, individuals and entities with lots of money have greater political power to get favors from government – like the rollback of the Dodd-Frank law and the accumulation of additional corporate welfare. These favors, in turn, further entrench and expand the wealth at the top.

The size of government isn’t the problem. That’s a canard used to hide the far larger problem.

The larger problem is that much of government is no longer working for the vast majority it’s intended to serve. It’s working instead for a small minority at the top.

If government were responding to the public’s interest instead of the moneyed interests, it would be smaller and more efficient.

But unless or until we can reverse the vicious cycle of big money getting political favors that makes big money even bigger, we can’t get the government we want and deserve.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, December 23, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Dodd-Frank, Federal Government, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sharp Focus”: A Reminder Of Our Collective Unfinished Work

Back in 2001, I got into a long argument with a friend about Jesse Jackson, who had just acknowledged having fathered a child with a mistress. I insisted that Jackson’s retirement from the American political scene was long overdue, and that Jackson probably should have called it a career after the 1984 “Hymietown” controversy. Jackson, I asserted, had long since become an obnoxious, ineffective blowhard.

My friend disagreed. While not defending Jackson’s adultery or anti-Semitic rhetoric, he suggested that the best way for Jackson to leave the political stage was for white racism to decline dramatically, and that the folks who wanted Jackson to go away should work harder to combat the manifestations of discrimination. After all, he stated, “If racism goes away, what does Jesse have to complain about?”

I haven’t spoken to that old friend in some time, but I keep thinking about his remarks whenever I see Al Sharpton speak out about police brutality. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a Sharpton fan; I don’t watch his MSNBC program, and even when he makes points I agree with about police violence against African-Americans, I can’t help wondering if it might be better for American race relations to have those points made by someone with, frankly, a less controversial track record than Sharpton.

Yet the point my old friend made about Jackson also applies to Sharpton, no? If we all work harder to combat racism, discrimination, income inequality and police brutality, would we not, in effect, retire Sharpton? Is Sharpton not a reminder of our collective unfinished work?

When we hear complaints about Sharpton’s rhetoric and image, do we really think about how we should best answer those complaints? Getting rid of Sharpton wouldn’t get rid of racism…but getting rid of racism would get rid of Sharpton, no?

I’ll admit it: when I see Sharpton, I still think of Tawana Brawley and Freddie’s Fashion Mart and the other controversies of his past, not his calls for racial justice in the present. For many years, I regarded Sharpton as a voice of racial discord and resentment, and it’s tough for those memories of Sharpton to fade.

However, I can’t deny the validity of the argument that Sharpton’s grievances have to be addressed before he can depart from the platform of American politics. There are millions of Americans—left, right and center—who secretly want Sharpton to shut up and go away. The best way to achieve that goal, of course, is to actually fix the problems Sharpton is talking about.


By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, December 27, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Al Sharpton, Police Brutality, Racism | , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s A New Twist This Time”: To GOP Congress, As Usual, It’s Welfare On The Chopping Block

Congress loves to be Scroogey when it comes to helping the poor at Christmastime. Last year, it let an unemployment extension for the long-term jobless expire during the holidays. That was right after food-stamps were cut. This year, a bare-bones welfare program will continue into the New Year without being updated. For some, it’s a mixed blessing: This Congress would likely cut the program even more rather than fix its problems.

In late 2010, Tea Party Republicans first stormed into the House of Representatives with their budget-cutting agenda, one of the first items they nominated for the chopping block was a component of the program once known as welfare.

The program was a $25 billion emergency fund that passed in the stimulus act and encouraged employers to hire low-income workers by subsidizing their salaries through welfare-to-work funds. Throughout 2009 and 2010, it had created 250,000 jobs in 37 states, including conservative states like Mississippi, and was widely popular because it helped bolster employment during the economic downturn.

Despite the program’s popularity, Congress let it die in September 2010. So it was ironic a couple of months later when the Tea Partiers were railing against it—it had already expired.

And that’s how fights over virtually all aspects of the program once known as welfare go. Welfare recipients have had to meet work requirements to receive their checks ever since President Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform law in 1996, and those paychecks are meager: in most states, the average family will receive between $200 and $400, clocking in between 20 and 30 hours of work activities and applying for as many as 20 jobs a week. Yet stereotypes of the program as a large handout to moochers who don’t have jobs remain, and the program is always among the first that the public and conservatives would sacrifice to budget cuts.

And so as the year ends, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, as what we call welfare is officially known, is not being reauthorized again this year. The bill expired way back in 2010. Congress keeps funding it through continuing resolutions, but TANF’s existence has been year-to-year, and supporters of the social safety net have always preferred full reauthorization.

But there’s a new twist: Now, many progressives and policymakers who care about the poor are ironically happy that TANF isn’t being reauthorized again this year. The reason? These folks fear that reauthorizing the bill will hand Republicans who control the house—and as of January, the Senate—the opportunity they’ve been waiting for—to gut it.

The program already operates at a minimum level. In 1997, the first year after the law was passed, state governments spent 70 percent of the funds provided through the program on cash assistance for families. Now they only spend about a quarter of their money by directly helping families, and they send the rest of the money on other welfare-related programs or use it to close holes in their own budgets. Critics noted this led to the program’s lackluster response to the economic crisis. In 2011, only 27 percent of families living in poverty were receiving welfare assistance.

Among the fears are that House Republicans will try to eviscerate funding—which in 2013 totaled about $16.5 billion for the welfare program. The House budget chair, the Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, wants to turn all safety-net programs into a giant block grant to the states—he says it would maintain the programs’ current levels of funding but most experts believe funding would ultimately dwindle and serve fewer families.

Republicans showed their gleeful willingness to go after safety-net programs when they tried to slash food stamps by more than half. And when President Barack Obama attempted to provide waivers to states so that they could be more flexible in how they administered welfare-to-work and do less paperwork for the federal government, Republicans accused him of gutting the work requirements. So not only are Republicans likely to cut funding, but they would also resist any changes that might actually make the program run better.

This is why progressives are just as happy to see TANF not be reauthorized. However, there’s a downside to that. Only eight states have raised the amount of money that families get to keep pace with inflation, which is why so many families in so many states get so little money. Reauthorizing the bill could force states to readjust the formulas they use to determine benefits so that families get more.

The stimulus program that helped low-income Americans find employment during the recession—the one the Republicans were so proud to claim credit for cutting—could be reauthorized as well. While the economy has been inching toward recovery, the long-term unemployed and low-income Americans are still struggling to find good jobs that pay well, and increased welfare funds designed to employ them could bolster the economy again.

There are other programs, including those designed to help states serve their clients better, that have expired or gotten lost in the shuffle. Many advocates want those changed, adjusted, or bolstered, and the only way to do that is to open up the bill and reauthorize it.

Instead, conservatives still view the fact that Americans need help from the government as a disaster, and are more likely to cut benefits than to think about helping them. It was a Republican Congress working with a Democratic president that succeeded in passing the welfare reform bill the first time. But this time around, advocates are too worried Republicans will do something unprecedented, like they did with food stamps—which is try to tear the program completely apart.


By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, December 26, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, TANF | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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