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“Conservative GOP Governors Are Accepting Obamacare”: Wagging A Finger With One Hand, Holding Out The Other Hand For The Money

Many GOP governors who loudly condemned Obamacare are secretly signing up for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion. And they aren’t just Republicans in Democrat states. A growing number are from Southern conservative states, like Alabama and Tennessee.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced his state would oppose Obamacare, saying that he would rather have any money sent to his state go to private insurance, according to Bill Barrow with the Associated Press. But after getting reelected, Haslam announced that he had struck a deal that would allow that Medicaid expansion, according to Dave Boucher with The Tennessean.

Ditto Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who once claimed that “the anything but Affordable Care Act has done nothing to gain our trust,” according to Tom Baxter with Saporta Report. But there was Bentley, after getting easily reelected, claiming “he could support the expansion in the form of a block grant, with a lot of strings attached,” Baxter writes.

In other red states, Republicans are doing the same, wagging a finger at Obamacare with one hand and holding out the other hand for the money. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback condemned GOP Governors for taking the Medicaid expansion money, as noted on his own website. But then, buffeted by a deficit from ill-advised tax cuts, Brownback took the money, calling it something else, in order to balance the budget, according to Salon.

It is unlikely that Representative Mike Pence cast many votes in favor of Obamacare while in Congress. But as Indiana Governor, he’s signed on to the Medicaid expansion, according to Dana Milbank from the Washington Post.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer joined her name to the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. But then, she signed up for the dollars from Washington, DC after dodging a primary challenge, as reported by CBS.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, another Republican, had few kind words for Obama or the ACA. But once it was clear that he wouldn’t face a primary challenger, Scott took the money, according to the Miami Herald, hoping to boost his reelection chances. He was able to hold onto the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee as a result.

And it was Ohio Governor John Kasich who called for repealing Obamacare, well, at least most of it. Now he’s saying it is here to stay, as noted by CNN, and other Republicans better get used to it being around.

Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times is reporting that even Texas is considering the Medicaid expansion, modeled after Utah’s acceptance of the ACA plan.

There are a few reasons for this. While the House of Representatives and Senate can pass repeal after repeal votes, governors have to balance budgets. Also, many of these governors talk the conservative talk to beat back or forestall Tea Party primary challengers. Given that only a dwindling number of these are succeeding, there’s no need to kowtow to this group after reelection. They can use some creative accounting to accept the money, or call it something else so it will have a lower profile (Alabama could call it Bamacare, for example).

Of course, this is bound to infuriate the most conservative members of the Republican Party, but only if they are paying attention. Besides, this is still the party of Jeb Bush, who was linked to a firm that benefited from Obamacare, as reported by The Daily Mail. It’s also the party of Mitt Romney, whose Romneycare had many similarities to Obamacare, according to health expert Brad Burd.

 

By: John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republican Governors | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Tax System Tilted Toward The Rich”: Hitting Working Americans With Punishing Rates

Congress managed to pass a tax bill in December — a great relief to tax professionals like myself who are going to spend the next four months preparing returns for clients. But what our legislators didn’t do was address the fundamentally unfair way the United States taxes people who work for a living compared with people who live off of the earnings of their investments.

Our current system hits working Americans with punishing rates compared with what the investing classes are charged. A generation’s worth of legislative twists have left our tax code so warped that during the coming filing season, one married couple bringing in $150,000 in total income from two jobs could find itself paying almost three times as much in federal income taxes as another couple that is alike in every way — except for the source of its income.

The tax code started to tilt in the direction of favoring income from investments — or favoring the 1 percent, if you will — more than 20 years ago. In 1993, the year Bill Clinton took office, a married couple claiming the standard deduction — with no children, tax credits or other adjustments to income — and earning $75,000 apiece in wages, would have paid $35,650 in federal income taxes.

A similar couple, whose income came solely from long-term capital gains, would have gotten a small break thanks to what was then the 28 percent top rate on those gains. Their total tax bill, $34,158, would have been about $1,500 lower than that of the wage earners.

By 2000 — the year George W. Bush was first elected — the tax gap between wage earners and investors had already opened up. In that year, our two-wages couple would have paid $33,607 in taxes. They also would have paid that amount if all of their income had been from stock dividends; there was no preferential treatment for dividends at that point.

But the couple whose income came from long-term capital gains would have paid $23,025 in taxes — almost a third less.

Fast-forward to the 2014 tax season. Our two-income couple are still working full time to make the same $150,000 (not a farfetched scenario in our new-normal era of stagnant wages). After a decade’s worth of inflation adjustments to their tax bracket, their tax bill is now $24,138.

And the couple living off of their investments? Their tax bill — whether their money came from long-term capital gains or qualifying dividends — has been slashed to $8,385, or a little more than one-third of the tax load on wage earners.

Some of my clients who get their money from unearned income find this discrepancy unbelievable when they compare their federal taxes to their state bills. During this tax season, I know I will have clients — in California and Oregon, where I live — who will pay more in state income taxes than they do in federal taxes. I may even have some clients who will be stunned to learn that they face a four-figure state tax bill while paying exactly zero in federal income taxes for the year.

The reason: The federal code provides that there is no tax on capital gains or qualifying dividends for people in the 15 percent income tax bracket. That means that a Los Angeles married couple filing jointly for 2014 with $94,100 of adjusted gross income, all from long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends, would pay nothing — zero! — in federal income tax. But their California tax bill would be north of $3,000.

How did we get to this point? No legislator ever campaigned saying, “Tax laborers more than investors!” But several changes in the code since the early 1990s, including lowered tax rates on capital gains and lowered rates on qualified dividends, have conspired to produce that result. My high-income clients were dismayed last year by the new 3.8 percent net investment income tax, which applies to joint filers with modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $250,000 ($200,000 for singles), but that affects relatively few filers and, perversely enough, applies to non-tax-advantaged income such as rentals, as well as to dividends and long-term gains.

Neither political party gets sole credit or blame. President George W. Bush was most aggressive about pushing such tax changes, but breaks for unearned income were also passed and extended under both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Supporters argued that lower rates would benefit retirees living on fixed incomes and also spur investments. But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that almost half of all long-term capital gains in 2012 went to the top 0.1 percent of households by income. For the nearly 60 percent of elderly filers who had incomes of less than $40,000 in 2011, the lower rates were worth less than $6 per household.

In 1924 — a different era to be sure — industrialist-robber baron-Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon wrote in support of treating wages more favorably than investments. “The fairness of taxing more lightly income from wages, salaries or from investments is beyond question,” he wrote. “In the first case, the income is uncertain and limited in duration; sickness or death destroys it and old age diminishes it; in the other, the source of income continues; the income may be disposed of during a man’s life and it descends to his heirs. Surely we can afford to make a distinction between the people whose only capital is their mental and physical energy and the people whose income is derived from investments.”

Well, that’s certainly not going to happen any time soon. But leveling out the tax treatment of wages and investment incomes would increase both the perceived and actual fairness of the tax code. It would eliminate preferences that distort investment and financial planning decisions. A fairer code might also increase respect for the system and improve tax collection rates overall.

 

By: Joseph Anthony, The Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Tax Code, Tax Rates, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”: Beyond Selma – Writing The Next Chapter In American Civil Rights History

In November 2012, I worked with the Obama campaign’s anti-voter suppression efforts in Florida. I was shocked when I saw that voters in largely Hispanic and African-American areas were forced to wait hours and hours to vote by design. The state had cut early voting from 14 to 6 days and added 11 constitutional amendments to the ballot (some written out in full) to make it more time consuming to vote such that one legislator compared the ballot to the Book of Leviticus. I also was told authorities did not deploy all available ballot boxes.

Tasked with encouraging voters to wait for over 3 hours until 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I was struck with how little needed to be done. They knew why they were waiting and that only made them more determined to vote. I was reminded of the song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” and the voting rights marches in Selma during the Civil Rights era and thought how sad it is that here we stand nearly 50 years after Selma and African-Americans still had to fight for their right to vote.

The next year, the Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act that enabled the Justice Department to block discriminatory voting restrictions in Shelby County v Holder. The Act had been reauthorized in 2006 without a single vote of opposition in the Senate, but in the Obama-era a bill to revive the provisions got nowhere last year despite bipartisan support.

The struggle in Selma is now on movie screens across America for viewers to relive the brutality of Bloody Sunday and the ultimate triumphant march that drew Americans from all races and faiths from across the nation to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate.

In March, however, the world’s attention will once again return to the Edmond Pettus Bridge for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It will be a tempered celebration because it has been a difficult two years for race relations in America. Obama’s reelection victory unleashed a torrent of racist hate across social media, then came the killings of Treyvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York and the divisions their cases brought.

More importantly, throughout the period we have steadily moved backwards on voting rights as states across the south and elsewhere took advantage of the Shelby County decision to enact a number of restrictive voting measures that are designed to suppress the African-American vote.

I have one resolution for 2015 — I’m going to Selma.

As a child of Generation Jones, we always looked up to our Baby Boomer brethren who marched for civil rights when we had no need to for the victory had been won. That victory is in jeopardy. I’m going to Selma.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner among others were killed for this most fundamental right — the right to vote. They cannot cry for justice, instead it is the duty of the living to do so for them. I’m going to Selma.

I do not expect a House of Representatives that has no shame over having a white supremacist in its leadership to listen to our pleas for action on voting rights legislation. I’m going to Selma.

Martin Luther King once said, “[h]istory will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Similarly, Benjamin Franklin said that “[j]ustice will not be served until those who are as unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I’m outraged and I’m going to Selma.

We are a generous nation that has come together to help those in need as we did after Katrina or to take a stand that we are one as we did after 9/11. The story of civil rights in America is not relegated to our history books or a movie but is still being written today. It is time to write the next chapter for civil rights in America. Once again we are called to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate. I’m going to Selma.

 

By: Bennet Kelley, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Selma Alabama, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘Wayback’ Machine”: Republicans And The Siren Song Of The Past

President Obama’s dramatic move to reopen relations with Cuba crystalizes the larger story of his presidency: In many significant ways, he has dragged America into the 21st century. But how long will we stay here? I ask because so many Republicans seem nostalgic for the golden era of Chubby Checker, Elvis Presley and The Shirelles, or the slightly more recent decade when Lionel Richie and Olivia Newton-John topped the charts.

For now, Republicans are sitting in the metaphorical green room of history, waiting for their onstage close-up. They’re free to rail against anything and everything Obama does, knowing that his core achievements will be protected for two more years by Senate Democrats and Obama himself. Even the new Republican-controlled Congress can expect filibusters and vetoes if it goes too far in trying to obliterate the Obama era.

The real test will be what the GOP does if and when it has the relatively unfettered capacity to work its will — for instance, if it elects a president in 2016. That person would have to decide whether to roll back the many Obama policies achieved through executive action, regulations and a handful of major laws. Would he or she revive a Cold War with Cuba, stop nuclear talks with Iran, break a climate agreement with China? Revoke temporary legal residency for millions of immigrants? Take away health coverage from millions who are newly insured? Lower the minimum wage for federal contractors? Weaken consumer protections against banks? Reduce tax rates on the rich?

At least a few GOP lawmakers and 2016 prospects must be secretly relieved that Obama is taking the heat for some decisions that were necessary and/or inevitable. We have thriving automobile and renewable energy industries, even as Republicans have been able to rail against government “bailouts” and “picking winners.” We aren’t sending combat troops into quagmires, prolonging a long-failed isolation policy toward Cuba or courting confrontation with Iran, and the GOP can still hammer Obama as weak, indecisive and naive. America has finally joined the rest of the developed world in offering broad access to health insurance — and Republicans, in an act of political jiu-jitsu for the record books, have ridden the new law to two midterm routs.

The positioning so far in the 2016 presidential race is revealing. Most of the hot GOP prospects have a foot in the 1980s, the 1960s or both. The field is crowded with aggressive interventionists, supply-side tax cutters and climate-change skeptics. Some seem to want to prolong the Cold War. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose parents left Cuba well before Fidel Castro’s revolution and takeover, has been so emotional and militant in opposing Obama’s Cuba shift that The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz wrote a parody called “Rubio Vows to Block Twenty-First Century.” (“We cannot stop time, perhaps, but we can defund it”). What’s most striking about Rubio’s old-school views is his age. He’s just 43.

To give them their due, several future contenders are trying to formulate plans for a 21st-century Republican Party. Rubio and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan are looking at alternative ways to fight poverty, while Rubio and former Florida governor Jeb Bush support comprehensive immigration reform that deals with the millions of illegal immigrants already in America. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is a warrior for privacy rights and criminal justice reform, he backs Obama on Cuba, and he’s against what the libertarian Cato Institute’s David Boaz calls “promiscuous interventionism” abroad.

Yet in crucial areas, they and many other GOP prospects are still modeling themselves on an illusory Ronald Reagan. The actual Reagan raised as well as cut taxes, grew the government, terminated a U.S. mission in Lebanon — that is, cut and ran — after 241 military personnel were killed in a bombing, and negotiated with “evil empire” leader Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce nuclear weapons. But who in the Republican field will emulate the practical, flexible Reagan who was open to discussion and compromise?

Paul stands out at this point for rejecting the Reaganesque Republican ideal of America as global supercop with its nose — not to mention its bombs and troops — in everyone’s business. He’s on the same page as his colleagues, however, when it comes to tax cuts as an economic cure-all. His draconian proposals to cut taxes, slash spending and balance the budget in five years are about as newfangled as Hall and Oates.

Given his name and his race, Obama’s two election victories were potent symbols of a new century and the promise of an increasingly diverse nation. Yet the real 21st-century pillars of his presidency are his policies, from energy and health care to immigration and diplomatic engagement. My fingers are crossed that in their rush to reject all things Obama, Republicans won’t reflexively climb into the wayback machine and embrace the ideas of the past.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, January 1, 2015

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Distance Yet To Go”: 2014, A Reminder Of The Lasting Power Of Racial Politics In America

The year 2014 will be remembered politically for many things, among them the Republican Party’s impressive victories in the midterm elections. But as much as anything, the year was a reminder of the depth of racial tensions and divisions in America.

Killings of unarmed African Americans by police officers in several cities brought demonstrators into the streets in many more cities. Then came the fatal shooting of two New York police officers by a black man who apparently targeted them for murder, an attack that shocked the sensibilities of people of all races and worsened strains between the city’s police union and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The final days of the year have seen another racial controversy arise. This time, it was over the 2002 appearance by Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, who is now the House majority whip, before a white-supremacist group founded by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke was a frequent candidate for political office in Louisiana two decades ago.

The Scalise episode, as my colleagues Robert Costa and Philip Rucker wrote, is more than a case of one politician and one event. It is also a reminder of the complexities of race and politics in the Old and New South as that region has made a long transition from one-party Democratic rule a generation ago to today’s one-party Republican dominance.

President Obama is a symbol of the racial progress this country has made and of the distance yet to go. When he was first elected president, he said he believed that his race was as much an asset as a liability in that victory. For every person who cast a vote against him because of his race, he said, there was probably someone who voted for him because of it.

In the weeks after his 2008 victory, he told me that, based on his experience in Illinois, he was confident when he started the campaign that the country had moved far enough on racial issues for race not to be a major obstacle to winning the presidency.

Yet some of Obama’s detractors have made him the target of racially charged criticisms. His allies say that were he not the nation’s first black president, he would not be subjected to such disrespect and venom.

Where does that leave things as the new year begins? Recent polling shows a huge gap between blacks and whites on perceptions of police treatment of minorities — as well as a significant gap between white Democrats and white Republicans. This is not necessarily new, but it speaks to lasting differences that affect political decisions and party coalitions.

Obama, taking a long view, argues that the country has made significant progress and that this ought not to be forgotten at times of heightened tensions. In a reflective interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that was released a few days ago, the president said he believes that the country is less racially divided than it was when he took office six years ago.

Obama said that the way the issue of race surfaced in 2014 was likely healthy for society. “The issue of police and communities of color being mistrustful of each other is hardly new,” he said. “That dates back a long time. It’s just something that hasn’t been talked about.”

He went on to say that the attention given to the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island may make it appear that racial divisions have worsened. But he added, “I assure you, from the perspective of African Americans or Latinos in poor communities who have been dealing with this all their lives, they wouldn’t suggest somehow that it’s worse now than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago.”

The swiftness with which Scalise and other House Republican leaders moved to defuse the controversy over his appearance before Duke’s group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), shows their sensitivity to being tied to anything that smacks of racially insensitive politics. Acting as quickly as they did, the leaders no doubt hope that the Scalise controversy will have mostly died down by the time lawmakers gather next week, with Republicans celebrating the fact that they now control both the House and Senate.

Still, what remains unclear is why Scalise did not immediately recognize at the time the dangers of speaking to a group whose name suggested its origins and racist interests. His friends and allies contend that he has been adept at avoiding racially polarizing actions or connections that plagued other politicians in the past.

Stephanie Grace, who has long covered Scalise in Louisiana, posted an article Tuesday night on the Web site of the New Orleans Advocate in which she said she never saw any evidence that Scalise endorsed the views of Duke’s organization. She said she has seen him work closely with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is African American, and others in the black community.

She also wrote that Scalise once had said to her that he was like Duke without the baggage. As a result, she wrote, “I also get how the invitation wouldn’t have set off alarm bells, given that Scalise had long since made his awkward peace with the situation. In fact, by 2002, Scalise may have been so used to the idea of dealing with Duke voters that he really considered EURO just another part of his constituency, even if it was a distasteful one.“

That David Duke had a following and a constituency was undeniable, given the support he attracted in his campaigns. Conservatives like Scalise, who came along later, wanted the support of many of Duke’s supporters — even if they rejected his racist politics.

Robert Mann, who has worked for a number of Democratic elected officials from Louisiana and is now a professor at Louisiana State University, made another point in an e-mail message sent Tuesday. “Duke’s racial views were — and still are to some degree — pretty mainstream among a significant percentage of whites here,” he wrote.

It’s noteworthy that Republicans now have a diverse set of statewide elected officials in the South and elsewhere: an African American senator (Tim Scott of South Carolina), two Indian American governors (Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina), and two Hispanic governors (Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada).

Equally noteworthy is the degree to which the Republican Party still struggles to expand its voter coalition to include more minorities. That Democrats still command 90 percent of the African American vote and that Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 underscores the distance Republicans must travel.

Today, the two major parties highlight the racial gaps that exist in society. Scott Clement of The Washington Post’s polling unit looked at the racial makeup of the two political parties, based on surveys conducted in the past 15 months. In those polls, the percentage of self-identified Republicans who were white averaged 85 percent. Among Democrats, the average percentage of whites was 53 percent.

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently in the National Journal that, with the continuing decline in support for Democrats among working-class whites and the failure of Republicans to attract more support among minorities, “it is possible to see a future where the GOP is clearly and distinctly a white party, while Democrats are clearly a majority-minority party.”

That’s not healthy — for either party or for the nation. Changing this will be part of the challenge for the president in his final two years, for Republicans as they take control of Congress and implement their agendas in states where they have unified control and for those who seek the presidency two years from now.

 

By: Dan Baltz, The Baltz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post, December 31, 2014

January 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Police Brutality, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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