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“Who Are These People”: ‘I Don’t Like The Idea Of Throwing People Off Their Health Insurance’

When it comes to the insanity surrounding the King v. Burwell case, we already have a pretty good sense of most of the relevant angles. We know who supports the ridiculous case and why, what happens if Republican justices go along with this dangerous nonsense, how many families will suffer and where, etc.

We don’t, however, know much about the specific plaintiffs themselves.

Remember, when challenging a federal law, it’s not enough for someone to get a lawyer, go to court, and demand the law be struck down. In the American system, plaintiffs need standing – litigants have to demonstrate that a law harms them in some direct way.

And so, in the painfully absurd King v. Burwell case, anti-healthcare lawyers went out and found four people willing to sue because they’re eligible under the Affordable Care Act for insurance subsidies. They’ve been largely overlooked, but given the possibility that this case will end access to medical care for millions of families, it seems like a good time to ask, “Who are these people who want to destroy the American health care system?”

Stephanie Mencimer reports today on all four of the plaintiffs, and it’s quite a collection of folks. For example, David King of King v. Burwell notoriety, “brought up Benghazi” when asked about the anti-healthcare lawsuit. Rose Luck believes President Obama may be the “anti-Christ” and was elected by “his Muslim people.” But a Virginia woman Brenda Levy stood out as especially significant.

What was more surprising, though, was that she said she didn’t recall exactly how she had been selected as a plaintiff in the case to begin with. “I don’t know how I got on this case. I haven’t done a single thing legally. I’m gonna have to ask them how they found me,” she told me. She thought lawyers involved with the case may have contacted her at some point and she had decided to “help ‘em out.” […]

When I asked her if she realized that her lawsuit could potentially wipe out health coverage for millions, she looked befuddled. “I don’t want things to be more difficult for people,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of throwing people off their health insurance.”

Her case, whether Levy realizes it or not, exists to throw people off their health insurance.

She added that she intends to go to D.C. for the Supreme Court’s oral arguments “It’s an adventure,” Levy said. “Like going to Paris!”

Complicating matters further, three of the four plaintiffs are finding their standing suddenly facing new scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that King “appears to qualify for veterans’ medical coverage, raising questions about his ability to challenge the law.”

The plaintiffs have persuaded courts to hear their case on the grounds that the subsidies allegedly harm them by subjecting them to the law’s requirement to carry insurance or pay a penalty. Without the subsidies, insurance would be too expensive for them, they contend, thus making them exempt from having to pay the fine for lacking insurance.

But Mr. King could avoid paying that fine or any insurance premiums because, according to him and his attorneys, he served in the Army in Vietnam. That qualifies him for medical coverage with no premiums through the Department of Veterans Affairs, benefits and legal experts say. In an interview at his home here, Mr. King said he had been to a VA medical center and had a VA identification card, which typically serves as proof of VA-care enrollment.

Legal experts say the fact that Mr. King could avoid paying the penalty for lacking insurance by enrolling in VA coverage undermines his legal right to bring the case, known as “standing.” The wife of a second plaintiff has described her husband on social media as being a Vietnam veteran. The government previously questioned the standing of a third plaintiff on the grounds that her income may exempt her from paying the penalty for lacking insurance, but a lower court didn’t address the issue.

Levy, the one who doesn’t want to throw people off their health insurance despite her role as a plaintiff in this case, will qualify for Medicare this June – which would remove her from the ACA coverage system anyway.

These fresh details reinforce the impression that the entire King v. Burwell case seems like a transparent scam, and as the WSJ added, the standing issues “could create skepticism about the strength of the challengers’ case and highlight the difficulty of finding plaintiffs to show the health law’s subsidies harm Americans.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 9, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Country Paid Heavily For The Risks He Took”: It’s Not Too Soon To Judge George W. Bush’s Presidency On Key Issues

In the six years since he left the White House, President George W. Bush has often claimed that it is too early for historical judgments about his presidency. “It’s too soon to say how many of my decisions will turn out,” he wrote in Decision Points, his presidential memoir.

In this, Bush was indulging in what we will call the Truman Consolation. President Harry S. Truman was deeply unpopular during most of his time in the White House and in the years immediately afterward. Only decades later did historians begin to rate his presidency highly for the actions he took in the early years of the Cold War. At one time or another, when their poll ratings are slumping and their media coverage is biting, most modern American presidents like to believe they will eventually be vindicated, just as Truman was.

But Bush is largely wrong: In some of the most important areas of his presidency, it’s not too soon to draw conclusions. Just by judging against Bush’s own forecasts, some of the most far-reaching and important initiatives of his presidency didn’t work — or turned out poorly.

At the top of the list is the war in Iraq. Bush and his advisors badly misjudged what it would entail. They overestimated the international support the United States would be able to obtain for military action. They asserted before the war that American troops would need to stay in Iraq for no more than a couple of years. The administration’s public estimate before the war was that it would cost less than $100 billion; instead, it cost $2 trillion.

Intended originally as a short-term demonstration of American power and influence, the Iraq war over the longer term brought about the opposite. In its unhappy aftermath, Americans became increasingly cautious, more reluctant to become involved overseas. Overall, the war will go down as a strategic blunder of epic proportions, among the most serious in American history.

A similar fate will befall the second-most far-reaching aspect of Bush’s legacy, his historic tax cuts. Bush argued that they would stimulate the economy and spur economic growth. The short-term benefits proved dubious at best, but the harmful long-term consequences were incalculable, both for the federal government and, more importantly, for American society.

When Bush took office, America was in a brief period of budgetary surplus. There was actually a debate, forgotten and almost unimaginable today, about how to use the surplus: Pay down the debt? Launch new federal initiatives? Bush chose to cut taxes, and then did so in ways (tax cuts on dividends and capital gains) that proved immensely beneficial to the wealthiest Americans.

It’s true that President Barack Obama eventually allowed the Bush cuts on upper-income Americans to expire. But the damage had been done. Over the course of nearly a decade, the federal government became increasingly short of funds, while wealthy Americans built up greater and greater assets. Whenever you use a road, bridge or airport that needs repairs (or read a news story about the Pentagon complaining about budget constraints), you might pause to think about the Bush tax cuts and the role they played in shaping the America we see today.

Bush’s second round of tax cuts, in 2003, were historic in another sense. By then, he had already dispatched American troops to Iraq. In every previous military conflict since the Civil War, American presidents had raised taxes to help defray the costs. Bush bucked this historical trend: He lowered them.

It’s true that in a few other policy areas judgments of Bush’s presidency may improve over the years as events unfold and as more information comes to light.

The primary example could be counter-terrorism. The Senate’s recent report on enhanced interrogation techniques makes current judgments on that dark era even harsher than they would have been otherwise. Torture is torture, and no passage of time will change the moral judgments on that.

On the other hand, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, some Europeans began to ask why the attackers had not been kept under greater surveillance. If such terrorist attacks were to continue over many years, then judgments on the Bush-era surveillance programs might eventually come to be less harsh than they are today. Or they may come to be seen as the true beginning of a new surveillance state. More time needs to pass before historical judgments on this issue can take shape.

Overall, Bush’s presidency is likely to be remembered for his lack of caution and restraint. Once, in the midst of a discussion with his military advisors, Bush made a telling observation: “Someone has got to be risk-averse in this process, and it better be you, because I’m not.”

George W. Bush was certainly not risk-averse. He took gambles both in foreign policy and with the economy. Sometimes they paid off. Yet overall, the country paid heavily for the risks he took. History isn’t likely to revise that judgment.

 

By: James Mann, Los Angeles Times (TNS), a fellow in residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; The National Memo, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George W Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rigging The Rules”: Scott Walker’s War On Good Government

Here’s a good government rule of thumb: foxes ought not guard the henhouse. When self-interested politicians rig the rules to protect themselves against independent scrutiny, citizens have a reason to be concerned.  Common sense tells us that any politician – especially one with White House dreams like Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker – should know that undermining an independent government agency sure makes it look like you’ve got something to hide.

Gov. Walker gained office – and won reelection last fall – by casting himself as a conservative reformer. His zeal for cutting budgets and bashing unions has made him popular on the right. Following a reportedly “strong performance” at Iowa’s Freedom Summit, sponsored by Citizens United, the same organization that brought you unlimited and unaccountable secret money in politics through its infamous Supreme Court case, Gov. Walker filed paperwork last week to set up a 527 political organization, “Our American Revival,” to explore a run for President in 2016.

This first move towards a presidential run is sure to bring Walker plenty of attention from reporters and Republican activists. Yet it seems Walker’s dreams for the Oval Office might lead him, or allies helping to position him, to interfere with an independent investigation into his campaigns. Walker’s loyalists are attempting to defund, undermine, and destroy Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB), an independent investigative agency, which enforces ethics, campaign finance, and election laws. It’s an agency that investigated alleged illegal campaign finance violations that plagued Walker’s 2012 recall election.

Top election law experts around the country call Wisconsin’s GAB, “America’s Top Model” of agencies charged with administering state elections.  Most modern democracies around the world have independent election overseers to avoid partisan hacks writing election rules to favor their party. Unfortunately, impartial election boards are not common in American democracy yet.  Wisconsin’s GAB is the gold standard, and is watched closely by reformers eager to modernize our political system so that voters set the rules for politicians, instead of politicians writing rules for themselves.

The GAB was created in 2007 with virtually unanimous, bipartisan support in the state legislature. It replaced a collection of ineffective, partisan state elections and ethics boards.  By law, six retired judges make up the board. They are selected in a deliberate, three-part process to ensure that they’re non-partisan and politically impartial. A key provision of the law blocks legislative appropriators from meddling in the agency’s investigations.

Allies of Gov. Walker are unhappy because in 2012 the GAB voted unanimously to investigate possible illegal coordination between the governor’s recall campaign and two outside special interest groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Those organizations spent millions of dollars on Walker’s behalf in the recall election.   The GAB also cooperated and pooled resources with another probe, “John Doe II,” led by Republican and Democratic District Attorneys and a Republican Special Prosecutor.

The John Doe investigators considered potential criminal charges of illegal coordination between Wisconsin Club for Growth and other groups with the Walker campaign during the 2012 recall elections. The John Doe process in Wisconsin is similar to a grand jury investigation – it’s largely secret and permits grants of immunity from prosecution to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.

Some of Gov. Walker’s political allies want to eviscerate the GAB. Others are trying to gut longstanding campaign finance protections. Wisconsin Club for Growth has filed a lawsuit against the GAB, claiming that it lacked power to investigate the possible illegal campaign coordination. Another lawsuit implies that anti-coordination rules, designed to prevent circumvention of contribution limits, impinge on free speech.

Meanwhile, the GAB also is facing legislative attacks.  The legislature has cut GAB funding in the last three state budgets and launched an audit of the agency in an attempt to embarrass and undermine it.  Most recently—and alarmingly – Wisconsin’s speaker of the assembly and the senate majority leader, both Republicans, have pledged an ill-advised effort to ram through legislation adding partisan appointments to the nonpartisan panel of retired judges, or replace it altogether with partisans.

Either move would destroy the agency’s independence and ability to hold Wisconsin’s government accountable.  To date, the ongoing John Doe investigation (now enjoined by a federal court) has not produced charges against Gov. Walker or his campaign.  But if the governor allows allies in the Legislature to eviscerate an independent state agency that voted unanimously to investigate his past campaign, he will face plenty of questions about his role in the debacle that may turn his White House dream into a nightmare.

 

By: Karen Hobert Flynn, The Daily Beast, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin Legislature, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Locked Doors And Shuttered Windows”: About Those Judges Joining Roy Moore In His Rebel Yell

Nobody familiar with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was the least bit surprised by his defiance of both federal district court and U.S. Supreme Court directives that Alabama begin licensing same-sex marriages. The man’s made an entire career out of such gestures, based not only on early nineteenth-century notions of state’s rights and even older (yet evergreen) theocratic principles.

But it might be more surprising that a majority of probate judges in Alabama are at least temporarily going along with Moore’s rebel yell, either refusing to license applicants for same-sex marriages or even closing their doors yesterday, per a report from WaPo’s Sandhya Somashekhar:

On the day that same-sex unions became legal in Alabama, local officials in dozens of counties on Monday defied a federal judge’s decision and refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, casting the state into judicial chaos.

Gay couples were able to get licenses in about a dozen places, including Birmingham, Huntsville and a few other counties where probate judges complied with the judge’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled early Monday that it would deny Alabama’s request to put the marriages on hold.

But in the majority of counties, officials said they would refuse to license same-sex marriages or stop providing licenses altogether, confronting couples — gay and heterosexual — with locked doors and shuttered windows.

What’s up with these probate judges? Are their law school professors hanging their heads in shame at this rather blatant defiance of the Supremacy Clause?

Well, that’s hard to say because Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education (that’s true in my home state of Georgia as well). It’s also one of thirteen states where probate judges are elected in partisan primaries and general elections. I cannot find a current breakdown of the partisan composition of Alabama’s probate judiciary, but given the overall political complexion of the state it’s a good bet a majority are Republicans. With the state’s Republican governor and most famous Republican jurist calling for defiance of the feds (though Gov. Robert Bentley has made it clear he won’t punish any judge that differs with him on this), what would you guess they’d do? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Alabama Supreme Court, Marriage Equality, Roy Moore | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unexploded Ordnance”: Why Republicans Secretly Hope The Supreme Court Will Save Obamacare

Because a Supreme Court decision for plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would impose extreme hardship on Affordable Care Act beneficiaries in 34 states and leave President Obama’s signature achievement in a frightening state of limbo, the law’s supporters are united in opposition to such a ruling.

And for the same reason, most analyses of the consequences of an adverse King decision have centered around the practical nightmare the ruling would create: How would states react? Congress? Insurance companies and providers? Obama himself? Will the pressure to fix the problem grow severe enough to force Republicans into surrender or to cut a reasonable deal?

These are important questions. But individually and combined, they hint at a premise that the aftermath of an adverse King ruling will exclusively effect, and be driven by, existing stakeholders. They neglect that the case itself, which will be decided in late June, is an unexploded ordnance lying in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign field. An adverse King ruling wouldn’t just introduce familiar, crisis-driven legislative politics. It would likely become the defining issue of the Republican primary and general election. It would leave Republicans strategically and substantively divided over how to contain the fallout. And it would transform Obamacare as an issue from a modest liability for the Democratic candidate, into a factor that unifies the entire party against Republicans and the Supreme Court.

Because movement conservatives have signed on enthusiastically to the arguments of the King case, they convey the impression that the right is poised and eager for the Court to do their bidding. But activists and elected officials have different imperatives, and if you immerse yourself in the Republican Party’s posture toward this caseits public attestations, blind quotes, and conspicuous silencesa much more nuanced picture emerges. If the Court grants Republicans a “victory,” many actual Republicans won’t consider it a victory at all, and the competing concerns of anti-Obamacare zealots, industry-friendly pols, swing state incumbents, governors, and presidential candidates will break out into the open.

Democrats would obviously rather win than lose this case, and Republicans vice versa. But the truth is, as one anonymous GOP congressional health care aide conveyed to TPM’s Sahil Kapur, “In fact: King wins, they [the Obama administration and Democrats] hold a lot of high cards. And we hold what?”

That’s just one anonymous aide. But a lot of Republicans are privately “joking” that they’d be happier losing this case than winning.

Some Republican insurance commissioners take a dim view of the King case publicly. Others have communicated their squeamishness by keeping their heads down.

States on both side of the issue have filed briefs with the Supreme Court. But only six red statesOklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginiajoined a brief on behalf of the petitioners. Conspicuously missing are deeply conservative states like Texas, with large beneficiary pools, or any swing states under GOP control. Republican senators from many of those statesincluding Wisconsin, Ohio, and Floridaare in cycle in 2016.

By contrast, the following states have signed on to a brief supporting the government: Virginia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Many of these are healthcare.gov states, and thus have a direct stake in the outcome.

The outcry for a fix will be broad, sustained, and lockstep, but it will meet wildly different audiences. Everyone in the GOP primary field will face extensive pressure to treat an adverse decision as an opportunity to get rid of the law altogether, but some of them will be governors or former governors who won’t be as amenable to using constituent suffering to leverage an unrealistic political goal. Republican Senate candidates from the above-mentioned Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida, but also from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois and elsewhere, will quickly see their political fortunes become entwined with the cause of fixing Obamacare.

As chaos grows, it will be tempting for these Republicans to claim that they and the broader right bear no culpability. Obama and Obamacare did this to them. But that message won’t wash outside of precincts where antipathy to the president already runs extremely deep. Elsewhere it’ll be drowned out by a simple but forceful argument, promulgated by people with much larger megaphonesand by the fact that everything was basically OK until five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices intervened. Unlike Republicans, the team of organizers, lawyers, and political operatives who have banded together to save the ACA have adopted a strategy that precludes them from discussing their political contingency planning. But it stands to reason that Obama and Clinton would both lay the damage at the feet of those justices, and the party on whose behalf they had acted. The ruling would create a hydra of loyal but politically disengaged Obama supporters, consumer groups, health care providers, and other actors, none of whom will be satisfied with Republican excuse-making and inaction.

That returns us to the related question of whether Republicans would respond to the pressure by betraying the conservative base. Would they fix the law? Or perhaps patch it temporarily? Generally speaking, Republicans only break faith in this way when persisting would invite unsurvivable political damage. The various debt limit and government shutdown fights of the Obama years are the most similar precedents. But there are others. In recent years, Republicans proved they were willing to allow extended unemployment benefits to lapse, and the payroll tax holiday to expire. By contrast, they also revealed that they preferred to allow taxes on top earners to increase rather than explain to the broader public why they allowed taxes to increase up and down the income ladder.

In Arkansas, a now-retired Democrat expanded the state’s Medicaid program dramatically. The GOP-controlled legislature has since balked at multiple opportunities to rescind the expansioneven as its majority grew and a Republican moved into the governor’s mansion this year.

Which is the long way of saying that gaming this out is tough. But the question will be whether a ruling for King plaintiffs puts Republicans on their heels briefly, or whether it dominates campaign politics through November 2016.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, February 9, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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