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“Give Me Liberty And Give You Death”: How The GOP Embraced Being The Party Of Death

As part of their long-standing war on the Affordable Care Act, conservatives have filed a lawsuit willfully misreading the statute to deny upward of 10 million people subsidies to purchase insurance. This denial of insurance will almost certainly lead to significant amounts of preventable death and suffering.

Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute doesn’t deny any of this. Instead, he argues that some suffering and death may well be a price worth paying:

In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time. [The Washington Post]

At a high enough level of abstraction, what Strain is saying isn’t wrong. Not all public policy can function on the basis of keeping mortality rates to the lowest possible number. Some lifesaving treatments might help so few people and cost so much that they might not be worth it. Even major infrastructure projects entail some risk of injury or death on the part of workers, but few people would argue that any such risk is unacceptable.

But the fact that the costs of the ACA might theoretically exceed the benefits doesn’t get us very far. What benefits, exactly, would accrue if millions of people were denied medical coverage because the ACA is seriously damaged or destroyed? It’s here that Strain’s argument falls apart.

One potential line against the ACA is the radical libertarian one, holding that any effort by the government to provide health care to the non-affluent represents an unacceptable level of state coercion. The problem here is that the “freedom” to die of preventable illnesses and injuries is not one the vast majority of people value very highly. A Republican Party committed to these principles would be transformed into an electoral coalition that would make Barry Goldwater’s 52 electoral votes in 1964 look robust.

Since the people responsible for the anti-ACA effort know this perfectly well, the constitutional arguments against the ACA have the advantage of not logically requiring the Supreme Court to rule the entire modern regulatory state unconstitutional. The disadvantage is that they ask the court to deny many millions of people health coverage based on liberty interests that are ludicrously trivial.

The litigants challenging the constitutionality of the ACA do not contend that the federal government cannot regulate national health-care markets. Rather, their constitutional argument boils down to an assertion that the government has the authority to assess a tax to compel people to purchase health insurance, but not a penalty. It’s pretty hard to argue that the fate of liberty in America hinges on this formal limitation on federal power.

The more successful federalist argument launched against the Affordable Care Act is similarly unattractive. Chief Justice John Roberts’ inept rewriting of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion allowed states to opt out. Republican-controlled states have eagerly rejected the large amounts of federal money on offer to insure more poor residents, something that is likely to result in the unnecessary deaths of more than 5,000 people a year.

I don’t think this particular protection of state autonomy is worth that many lives (or, indeed, a single life). But here’s the kicker: The Supreme Court’s decision does not even meaningfully protect state sovereignty. Under the court’s theory, Congress could have enacted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion by repealing the pre-existing Medicaid entirely. This, apparently, would be completely constitutional. There may be things worth 5,000 lives a year; an incoherent legal argument that doesn’t even really protect states’ rights isn’t one of them.

Strain’s arguments have similar problems. To his credit, he’s not a libertarian radical who asserts that the federal government cannot play any role in expanding health-care coverage. Rather, “universal coverage should concern itself with the catastrophic expenses associated with serious medical events that will affect a minority of the population.” The affluent, or people with good jobs, can get real medical coverage; the non-affluent might get some protection for disasters, but would have to pay through the nose for common medical procedures. Whether or not one prefers this policy alternative — which I think is far worse — there’s not a lot of meaningful protection of “freedom” going on here. The number of lives worth sacrificing so that people can choose between a few more insurance alternatives — or between the “freedom” to pay for checkups for their children or their electric bill — strikes me as “zero.”

And, of course, even this is too generous to the Republican reformers. The ACA isn’t unpopular because it provides subsidies that are too generous or because the exchanges offer insurance that cover too many things. The Republican alternatives Strain discusses will all disappear should the ACA be destroyed, because the trade-offs involved will outrage many voters. The actual Republican alternative Strain thinks it’s worth killing a lot of people for is “nothing.”

But, hey, the next upper-class Republican tax cut could be even larger, and it’s not going to be elite Republicans who pay the price. As the writer Roy Edroso puts it, Strain’s argument can be summarized as “give me liberty and give you death.” I think we can see why Republicans would prefer for the Supreme Court to do their dirty work.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, January 29, 2015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Happens If The Dog Catches The Car?”: GOP Faces Health Care Challenge It’s Totally Unprepared For

We don’t yet know what the Supreme Court will do in the King v. Burwell case, but we have a fairly good sense what will happen if the Supreme Court sides with Republicans. In effect, there will be chaos that could do considerable harm to insurers, families, state budgets, the federal budget, hospitals, and low-income children.

It sounds melodramatic, but the fact remains that if the GOP prevails, more Americans will literally go bankrupt and/or die as a result of this ruling.

With this in mind, I couldn’t help but find some sardonic humor in the House Republicans’ request for information from the Obama administration yesterday.

Senior House Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration reveal its contingency plans in the event that the Supreme Court scraps Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states. […]

“Specifically, we are examining the extent to which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other relevant agencies of the federal government, are preparing for the possible consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of King v. Burwell,” wrote the lawmakers.

The fact that the GOP lawmakers didn’t appreciate the irony was itself unfortunate, but the simple truth is that the underlying question – what happens if the Supreme Court takes this stupid case seriously and guts the American health care system? – is one Republicans should be answering, not asking.

If we had a normal, functioning political system, represented by two mainstream governing parties, the solution would be incredibly simple. If the Supreme Court said the language in the Affordable Care Act needed clarification, lawmakers would simply approve more specific language before Americans felt adverse consequences. The legislative fix would be quite brief and the whole process could be wrapped up in an afternoon.

No one, in this scenario, would actually suffer.

But in 2015, Americans don’t have the benefits of a normal, functioning political system, represented by two mainstream governing parties. On the contrary, we have a dysfunctional Congress led by a radicalized, post-policy party that has no use for governing, and which welcomes adverse consequences no matter how many Americans suffer.

And the question for them is what they intend to do if, like the dog that catches the car, Republican justices on the Supreme Court rule their way in the King v. Burwell case. Sahil Kapur had a terrific report on this overnight.

Many Republicans would view it as a dream come true if the Supreme Court were to slash a centerpiece of Obamacare by the end of June. But that dream could fade into a nightmare as the spotlight turns to the Republican Congress to fix the mayhem that could ensue.

“It’s an opportunity that we’ve failed at for two decades. We’ve not been particularly close to being on the same page on this subject for two decades,” said a congressional Republican health policy aide who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “So this idea – we’re ready to go? Actually no, we’re not.”

Republican leaders recognize the dilemma. In King v. Burwell, they roundly claim the court ought to invalidate insurance subsidies in some three-dozen states, and that Congress must be ready with a response once they do. But conversations with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers and aides indicate that the party is nowhere close to a solution. Outside health policy experts consulted by the Republicans are also at odds on how the party should respond.

Republicans could approve a simple legislative fix, but they don’t want to. Republicans could introduce their ACA alternative, but they don’t want to do that, either. They could encourage states to create their own exchange marketplaces, largely negating the crisis, but they don’t want to do that, either.

So what do GOP lawmakers want? They haven’t the foggiest idea.

Kapur talked to a GOP aide who works on health care policy on Capitol Hill who said, “Our guys feel like: King wins, game over, we win. No. In fact: King wins, they [the Obama administration and Democrats] hold a lot of high cards. And we hold what?”

Millions of families who would be screwed by Republican victory in this case will be eager to hear an answer to that question.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Exchanges, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Dynamic GOP Often Bemoan’s”: Don’t Mess With Government Giveaways To The Well-Off

The Obama administration has given up on its plan to remove the tax benefits of 529 college investment accounts, which under current law allow parents to put money away, then withdraw it to pay for their children’s education without paying any taxes on the profits. Republicans not only basked in what looked like a White House defeat, but were emphatic in their defense of the 529 tax break: John Boehner called the proposal “a tax hike on middle-class families.”

As often happens with a punctured trial balloon, we say afterward, “How could they not have known this would never fly?”

If you want to know whether an idea like this has any chance of getting support in Congress, the first question to ask is, who is going to be harmed? The 529 proposal was targeted at what may be the single most dangerous constituency to anger: the upper middle class. That’s because they’re wealthy enough to have influence, and numerous enough to be a significant voting block.

The administration’s proposal may not have been policy genius, but it was certainly defensible. While 529 plans are open to anyone, they give their greatest benefit to those who have the disposable income to make substantial contributions to them, which of course are the wealthy and near-wealthy. While different surveys have produced slightly different figures (some are discussed here), it’s clear that most of the tax benefit was flowing to parents with six-figure incomes who could afford to pay taxes on the profits of their 529 accounts.

The administration’s idea was to increase other tax credits for education alongside removing the 529 benefit, so that more tax benefits would go to those who need them more. If officials had been thinking more about the potential backlash, they might have instead proposed taking away the 529 benefit only for those with incomes over some high level like $200,000 a year. But they didn’t, perhaps because that would have been another layer of complexity to the tax code, and one of their rationales for this proposal was simplifying the available tax benefits for education.

Whatever the reason, this is what they came up with, and the details of the proposal made its demise inevitable. Not only was it opposed by Republicans, even Democrats didn’t like it; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi personally lobbied the President to drop it, and had encouragement from Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. Is it a coincidence that both members — Pelosi from San Francisco, and Van Hollen from Montgomery County in Maryland — have lots of wealthy and upper middle class constituents who have no doubt taken advantage of 529 benefits? Probably not.

The Republicans who are crowing about the White House’s retreat ought to remind themselves that this is yet another illustration of a dynamic they often bemoan: that it’s easy to give people a government benefit, but much harder to take it away once it’s in place. And while they sneer in disgust at the moochers who get food stamps or Medicaid, the program they’re now celebrating is a government giveaway, too, just one that is mostly given away to people who don’t need it.

Here’s the real lesson from this whole affair:  If you want to create a politically bulletproof government benefit, like the 529 program or the mortgage interest deduction (which costs the government about $70 billion a year), just make sure it’s technically open to anyone, but that the chief beneficiaries will be people who are doing well. They’ll squawk if it ever gets threatened, and it’s an absolute certainty that their representatives in Congress — Democrat and Republican alike — will hear them loud and clear.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Education, Republicans, Tax Credits | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bought And Paid For”: Pennsylvania’s Shameful NRA Sellout

Two days after losing his reelection bid, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a bill with an amendment that allows the National Rifle Association (NRA) to sue cities and towns that pass ordinances regulating firearms by claiming they infringe upon individual rights. Until the gun lobby’s dream amendment got tacked on in the final hours of the legislative session, Act 192 had nothing to do with guns; it criminalizes the theft of secondary metal, like copper wire, and it had broad support.

With Democrat Tom Wolf replacing the Republican Corbett, the NRA and its allies in the legislature had to act quickly. In his haste, Corbett even signed the wrong version of the bill, and had to be called back for a second signing. Outraged at how gun enthusiasts rammed through the amendment, Democratic State Senator Daylin Leach recruited several other elected officials plus the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lancaster to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Pennsylvania law says amendments must be germane, and empowering the NRA to sue municipalities for enacting gun laws is far afield from Act 192’s intent. Leach, a lawyer, wrote the brief himself, and the lawsuit is before the Commonwealth Court. “The Pennsylvania legislature is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA,” he says, explaining that the NRA saw an opening in the closing days of Corbett’s term to “sneak it in” while it had the votes and a proven ally in the governor’s office.

The NRA quickly used its newfound legal power, suing a number of municipalities and threatening others to get them to back down. The amendment as written says an organization does not need what’s known as “standing”—in other words, the NRA doesn’t have to prove someone has been harmed by a gun safety law. It can just outright sue, and if it wins, the city or town has to pay the group’s legal expenses. But there’s no risk to the NRA; if it loses, it doesn’t pay the winning side’s legal expenses.

Ed Foley, the mayor of Jenkintown, a borough in the Philadelphia suburbs, told the Daily Beast that the NRA forced him “to choose between public safety and financial solvency.” Foley describes Jenkintown on his Twitter account as “0.6 square miles of the best place to live, dine, shop, and raise a family.” With a population of 4,500 and a budget of $6.5 million, “We can’t afford to defend a law suit even if we win it, and if we lose, we have to pay their legal fees. That’s a form of blackmail,” he says, “or maybe extortion is a better word.”

Under the threat of a lawsuit brought by the NRA, an ordinance in place since 2010 requiring Jenkintown residents to report lost or stolen firearms at the police station was rescinded in a public meeting. “It was a hold-your-nose vote,” says Foley. “It’s such an innocuous law, and it doesn’t do anything to restrict anybody’s right to have a gun. I don’t know why the NRA isn’t a bigger supporter of the police. The police want the law.”

The NRA never plays defense, it always goes on offense, says Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic group. “Even after Sandy Hook, they were trying to expand their reach and loosen gun laws,” he says. The nation may have recoiled in horror at the massacre of 20 first graders, but the NRA’s response is always more access to guns, not more restrictions. A movement to expand gun rights is growing, fueled by a libertarian streak on the right and the left, and it is playing out on the state level. In Florida, a campus shooting in November prompted a House panel to approve guns on college campuses, a first step to overturning a state ban on concealed weapons on university grounds.

Gun safety advocates favor ballot measures like the one Washington state passed in 2014 requiring background checks while gun rights groups work their will through state legislatures. State Senator Leach tells the story of the time when he had the votes to overturn the “Florida loophole” in Pennsylvania law. Then the NRA lobbied each member one by one “and they came back ashen-faced.” When Leach asked, “’Are you still with me?’ most didn’t respond; one said, ‘I’ve got to fuck you, buddy.’” The Florida loophole allows people who can’t get a gun under Pennsylvania’s very low standards to go online, get one from Florida, and Pennsylvania will respect that. “We would never do that on marriage,” says Leach. “ Let another state decide what to do in our state.” As for his colleague’s X-rated comment, he says, “I appreciated his candor, and that’s the Democratic caucus. I’m sure the Republican caucus is far worse.”

Not everyone is afraid of the NRA. Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto declared in a statement that the city would not be deterred from enforcing its requirement that lost and stolen firearms must be reported: “Too many people are being killed in the streets of Pittsburgh and other cities with stolen guns. It’s a common-sense requirement, which is why police across the state support the regulation, as do many members of the NRA.”

Mayor Richard Gray of Lancaster, a city of some 60,000 known for its distinctive Amish population, is also determined to protect its requirement that lost or stolen firearms are reported to the police within 72 hours. “The NRA is trying to bully smaller communities,” Gray told the Beast.  “I learned in junior high school the one way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him, so we’re not backing down. And if they lose, over a hundred communities will pass the same law. I guarantee it.”

A Common Sense Lancaster Legal Defense Fund was launched in mid-January, and has collected almost $10,000 in small contributions. Gray says the NRA is “a paper tiger,” and if challenged can be defeated. He said in a statement announcing the Fund that statewide legislation to make reporting of lost or stolen guns mandatory was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature in 2007, but it never got out of committee. He noted that the new law granting unprecedented legal power to the NRA was needed, according to its prime sponsor, “to stop little tyrants at the local level from enacting their own gun-control measures.” Now it’s up to the voters and the courts to judge where the tyranny lies, whose rights are being trampled, and whether Act 192 will be allowed to endure as the will of the people, or the product of a process bullied by the NRA.

 

By: Eleanor Clift,

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, National Rifle Association, Tom Corbett | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Next Palin Is In Your Pigsty”: She May Not Field Dress A Moose, But She Castrates Pigs

Before the 2016 campaign for president could even begin in earnest, the greatest political romance of our times has already died. And it could make all the difference next November.

In a turn that was perhaps inevitable but nonetheless remarkable, Sarah Palin delivered a hyped-up speech (at Iowa’s high-profile Freedom Summit) that drew disappointing reviews from within her own base of support.

To the surprise of no one, Palin’s critics blew a gasket straining to capture the extent of their contempt for the warmed-over address. An apparent TelePrompTer malfunction — the nightmare of pols ten times more polished and canny than Palin — only added to their sense of gleeful horror.

But with her rambling rehash of familiar tropes and postures, Palin finally outlasted the patience and goodwill of her own core constituency — the red-meat grassroots and the movement conservative media. Without any infrastructure, without any institutional platform, Palin could always count on her brand of performance art to put going rogue back in vogue. No longer.

Small-time soap opera, you say. End of an error. Actually, this is a big deal. Because the Palin phenomenon — the popularity, the opportunism, the branding, and, yes, the politics — all arose from a single source. Palin’s importance wasn’t as a new kind of conservative, ideologically speaking. It was as a new kind of politician.

There had never been a Republican or a Democrat with Palin’s combination of personality, character, youthfulness, and very specifically gendered sort of sex. Even to the critics, she didn’t come off as a pencil-necked weenie like Bobby Jindal or a sound-body-sound-mind orthogonian like Paul Ryan.

Being a woman helped. But, to borrow a line of analysis from critical theory, Palin wasn’t gendered the same way as other political women, in any party. She was no granny in a pantsuit, like Elizabeth Dole or Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t come off as fustily professional as Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman. Palin’s character type can never be a career politician because she’s not even a career woman, in that stereotypical manner now apotheosized by Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer.

Palin’s life experience mattered because it betokened the entry into politics of a new kind of woman — equally into sports, guns, and kids. Palin’s character type eventually appeared to exist everywhere across the vast red swath of the American interior. Conservatives have long understood in what complex way their youthful women could be masculine without losing the femininity. (Tocqueville bemusedly praised American ladies’ “manly virtue.”) The revolution was in a conservative woman mobilizing that naturally grown manner in the arena of national politics.

However you choose to slice and dice gender identities, you must admit that Palin’s success arose from her own — and that losing her appeal in spite of it, much like earning an F in English, took a lot of willpower to pull off.

The failure was on glaring display when the right-leaning Washington Examiner went in search of praise for Palin’s prospects, but notable figures in the conservative mediasphere balked. Red-state stalwarts like HotAir’s Ed Morrissey sighed that her speech “wasn’t well prepared”; Gabriel Malor at Ace of Spades HQ said simply: “She is done.”

Voices like these, once locked into mutual admiration with the rogue Republican who decried the “lamestream” media, can’t by themselves consign Palin to the political scrapheap. As they freely admit, however, the grassroots has “generally moved on,” too, in the words of Ben Domenech (whose website, The Federalist, I have written for).

So the essential question for 2016 is where, or whom, they’ll move on to. The tea party ethos that Palin helped midwife may be protean and loosely organized, but it hasn’t weakened much  as a political force. This year’s crop of presumptive Republican candidates offers the conservative base its strongest, broadest, and most credible choices ever. Domenech could plausibly suggest to the Examiner that contenders with an outsider appeal, such as Gov. Scott Walker Or Sen. Ted Cruz, were well positioned to attract and energize Palin’s former constituency.

But character type is deeper, and it’s prior to politics. The true heir to Palin’s constituency will be a woman. How could it be otherwise?

It’s a question not lost on the Republican elite, which is smart enough to know there is no real reason Palin’s character type can’t be brought into a more establishmentarian alignment. Enter Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst — servicewoman, heartland heroine, and the no-brainer choice to respond to the president’s State of the Union on behalf of the whole Republican Party. Even a pig-castrating farm girl, you see, can find her way into the arms of such king- and queen-makers as Mitt Romney.

To her credit, Ernst possesses far more discipline than Palin, whose taste for guns did not extend into a longing for the military life. But if the whiff of the establishment gets too strong around her, the base will balk — just ask Marco Rubio. And the jilted Palin constituency will be up for grabs again.

 

By: James Poulos, The Daily Beast, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Joni Ernst, Sarah Palin, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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