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“Seven Years And Counting”: House Republican On Health Care Plan: ‘Give Us A Little Time’

One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they’re going to have a plan that rivals “Obamacare,” and it’s going to be awesome.

Yesterday, The Hill reported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.

A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.

“Give us a little time, another month or so,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. “I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative.”

Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “task force,” responsible for coming up with the GOP’s reform alternative.

Upton said the Republican group is currently in “listening mode” – which it’s apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.

And yet, we’re apparently supposed to believe that in “another month or so,” House Republican lawmakers will be “pretty close” to having their own reform plan.

Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe “listening mode” is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with “a little time,” they’re ready to deliver.

It’s certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.

As we discussed when the Republican “task force” was created early last year, the political world may not fully appreciate just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is. It was on June 17, 2009 that then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made a bold promise. The Missouri Republican, a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, had taken the lead in crafting a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he was proud to publicly declare, ”I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.”

The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.” We’d all see the striking proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.

This was nearly seven years ago. The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.

In early April 2014, then-House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s health plan was nearly done, but it was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 24 months ago. In 2015, assurances that the Republican plan was on the way were also wrong.

In 2016, however, a GOP leader has been reduced to arguing, “Give us a little time,” seemingly unaware of how hilarious this is.

As we talked about last week, the problem probably isn’t dishonesty. In all likelihood, Republicans would love to have a health care plan of their own – no one likes to appear ridiculous while breaking promises – but haven’t because they don’t know how to craft one.

As New York’s Jon Chait explained, “The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans’ health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can’t afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don’t want to do either of them.”

Or as a Republican Hill staffer famously put it in 2014, “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act…. To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.”

Which, of course, Republicans can’t bring themselves to do.

But hope springs eternal, and I can’t wait to hear more about the GOP’s progress in “another month or so.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Fred Upton, Health Care, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A ‘One-Issue’ Candidate”: Bernie Sanders Stumbles On Senate’s Saudi Bill

When Bernie Sanders struggled during a recent interview with the New York Daily News, the criticisms largely focused on his apparent lack of preparation. It’s not that the senator’s answers were substantively controversial, but rather, Sanders responded to several questions with answers such as, “I don’t know the answer to that,” “Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot,” and “You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.”

He ran into similar trouble during a recent interview with the Miami Herald, which asked Sanders about the Cuban Adjustment Act, which establishes the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that may be due for a re-evaluation. The senator responded, “I have to tell you that I am not up to date on that issue as I can” be.

The interviews raised questions about his depth of understanding, particularly outside of the issues that make up his core message. Yesterday, making his 42nd Sunday show appearance of 2016, Sanders ran into similar trouble during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash.

BASH: Let’s talk about something in the news that will be on your plate as a sitting U.S. senator. Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars of American assets if Congress allows the Saudi government to held – to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. How do you intend to vote as a senator?

SANDERS: Well, I need more information before I can give you a decision.

Though the senator spoke generally about his concerns regarding Saudi Arabia, the host pressed further, asking if he supports allowing Americans to hold Saudi Arabia liable in U.S. courts. Sanders replied, “Well, you’re going to hear – you’re asking me to give you a decision about a situation and a piece of legislation that I am not familiar with at this point. And I have got to have more information on that. So, you have got to get some information before you can render, I think, a sensible decision.”

I can appreciate why this may seem like a fairly obscure issue, but the legislation Sanders was asked about was on the front page of the New York Times yesterday morning and the front page of the New York Daily News on Saturday.

It’s not unfair to ask a sitting senator about legislation pending in the Senate that’s quite literally front-page news.

Sanders’ campaign later issued a written statement, clarifying the fact that the senator does, in fact, support the legislation.

The broader question, I suppose, is whether a significant number of voters care about developments like these. It’s entirely possible the answer is no. Sanders isn’t sure how best to answer some of these foreign-policy questions that fall outside his wheelhouse, but for the senator’s ardent fans, the questions themselves probably aren’t terribly important. Sanders’ candidacy is focused primarily on income inequality, Wall Street accountability, and opportunities for the middle class, not international affairs.

At a debate last month, the Vermonter conceded he’s a “one-issue” candidate, and for many of his backers, that’s more than enough. It’s not as if Sanders’ support dropped after he made the concession.

But when it comes to building a broader base of support, and demonstrating presidential readiness, these are the kind of avoidable stumbles the Sanders campaign should take steps to correct.

Postscript: Let’s not brush past the significance of the bill itself. The Times’ report from the weekend noted that Saudi officials have threatened to “sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

The State Department and the Pentagon have urged Congress not to pass the bill, warning of “diplomatic and economic fallout.” The legislation is nevertheless moving forward – it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously – and it enjoys support from some of the chamber’s most liberal and most conservative members.

Update: Several readers have noted that Hillary Clinton, during a separate interview, was asked about the bill, and she said she’d have to look into it because she hasn’t yet read it. That’s true. The difference, of course, Clinton isn’t a sitting senator and she isn’t getting ready to cast a vote on the legislation. What’s more, there’s also no larger pattern of the former Secretary of State passing on questions related to foreign policy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy, Saudi Arabia | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Robber Baron Recessions”: Growing Monopoly Power Is A Big Problem For The U.S. Economy

When Verizon workers went on strike last week, they were mainly protesting efforts to outsource work to low-wage, non-union contractors. But they were also angry about the company’s unwillingness to invest in its own business. In particular, Verizon has shown a remarkable lack of interest in expanding its Fios high-speed Internet network, despite strong demand.

But why doesn’t Verizon want to invest? Probably because it doesn’t have to: many customers have no place else to go, so the company can treat its broadband business as a cash cow, with no need to spend money on providing better service (or, speaking from personal experience, on maintaining existing service).

And Verizon’s case isn’t unique. In recent years many economists, including people like Larry Summers and yours truly, have come to the conclusion that growing monopoly power is a big problem for the U.S. economy — and not just because it raises profits at the expense of wages. Verizon-type stories, in which lack of competition reduces the incentive to invest, may contribute to persistent economic weakness.

The argument begins with a seeming paradox about overall corporate behavior. You see, profits are at near-record highs, thanks to a substantial decline in the percentage of G.D.P. going to workers. You might think that these high profits imply high rates of return to investment. But corporations themselves clearly don’t see it that way: their investment in plant, equipment, and technology (as opposed to mergers and acquisitions) hasn’t taken off, even though they can raise money, whether by issuing bonds or by selling stocks, more cheaply than ever before.

How can this paradox be resolved? Well, suppose that those high corporate profits don’t represent returns on investment, but instead mainly reflect growing monopoly power. In that case many corporations would be in the position I just described: able to milk their businesses for cash, but with little reason to spend money on expanding capacity or improving service. The result would be what we see: an economy with high profits but low investment, even in the face of very low interest rates and high stock prices.

And such an economy wouldn’t just be one in which workers don’t share the benefits of rising productivity; it would also tend to have trouble achieving or sustaining full employment. Why? Because when investment is weak despite low interest rates, the Federal Reserve will too often find its efforts to fight recessions coming up short. So lack of competition can contribute to “secular stagnation” — that awkwardly-named but serious condition in which an economy tends to be depressed much or even most of the time, feeling prosperous only when spending is boosted by unsustainable asset or credit bubbles. If that sounds to you like the story of the U.S. economy since the 1990s, join the club.

There are, then, good reasons to believe that reduced competition and increased monopoly power are very bad for the economy. But do we have direct evidence that such a decline in competition has actually happened? Yes, say a number of recent studies, including one just released by the White House. For example, in many industries the combined market share of the top four firms, a traditional measure used in many antitrust studies, has gone up over time.

The obvious next question is why competition has declined. The answer can be summed up in two words: Ronald Reagan.

For Reagan didn’t just cut taxes and deregulate banks; his administration also turned sharply away from the longstanding U.S. tradition of reining in companies that become too dominant in their industries. A new doctrine, emphasizing the supposed efficiency gains from corporate consolidation, led to what those who have studied the issue often describe as the virtual end of antitrust enforcement.

True, there was a limited revival of anti-monopoly efforts during the Clinton years, but these went away again under George W. Bush. The result was an economy with far too much concentration of economic power. And the Obama administration — preoccupied with the aftermath of financial crisis and the struggle with bitterly hostile Republicans — has only recently been in a position to grapple with competition policy.

Still, better late than never. On Friday the White House issued an executive order directing federal agencies to use whatever authority they have to “promote competition.” What this means in practice isn’t clear, at least to me. But it may mark a turning point in governing philosophy, which could have large consequences if Democrats hold the presidency.

For we aren’t just living in a second Gilded Age, we’re also living in a second robber baron era. And only one party seems bothered by either of those observations.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Economy, Monopolies, Verizon | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hardly Unprecedented”: On Immigration, Law Is On Obama’s Side

The legal controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies will soon come to a head when the Supreme Court justices hear the case United States v. Texas on Monday. Texas claims that the president’s executive decisions lack legal sanction by Congress and have injured the state.

But whether or not you like President Obama’s actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.

Congress has repeatedly granted the executive branch broad power in enforcing immigration laws. The 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Security explicitly said the executive should set “national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” The Supreme Court has recognized the leeway Congress gives the executive branch in deportations. In a 2012 majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court noted that “a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,” including the decision “whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.”

Setting enforcement priorities is vital to the effectiveness of our immigration laws. Congress can’t anticipate every situation. This is why the Supreme Court recognized in 1950 that immigration law is an area where “flexibility and the adaptation of the congressional policy to infinitely variable conditions constitute the essence of the program.”

The immense moral and legal consequences of a deportation campaign targeting up to 11 million undocumented immigrants are obvious. Even Americans whose frustration has overcome their compassion and led them to support the harshest immigration enforcement would be likely to reconsider if they actually saw such an operation in action.

A huge roundup like that would require an extraordinary expansion of federal law enforcement capabilities and resulting intrusions into American society. But in reality, there is no prospect for such a campaign because Congress has not made available more than a small fraction of the necessary money and manpower.

This is why, by its nature, immigration enforcement requires executive discretion.

The administration’s initiatives allow Homeland Security officials to forgo deportation, on a case-by-case basis, of undocumented residents who came here as children before June 15, 2007, and of certain undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents. Both are in keeping with similar programs put in place by both Republican and Democratic presidents dating from the Eisenhower administration.

In 1990, for example, under President George H.W. Bush, the immigration service, relying in part on authority dating from the Reagan administration, offered extended voluntary departure and work authorization to the spouses and children of aliens who had previously been granted legal status.

President Obama’s actions, therefore, are hardly unprecedented. There are two major differences. First, he gave speeches advocating for explicit programs with names, rather than relying on subtler agency direction.

Second, immigration policy has been caught up in today’s hyper-partisanship, where a strident anti-immigration tide within the Republican Party overwhelms all bipartisan compromise. All 26 state officials who have challenged the administration’s executive actions in the Supreme Court case are Republicans, and last month the G.O.P.-led House of Representatives voted to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House.

From these howls of outrage, you wouldn’t know that the Obama administration has vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush. And Mr. Bush vastly exceeded those of President Clinton. President Obama’s directives to focus enforcement efforts on those who have committed crimes in the United States and recent border crossers are a rational executive prioritization, given the resources and the realities.

These facts undercut Texas’s argument that it is unduly burdened by the president’s decisions. With deportations aimed at criminals and new border crossers, we would seem close to an optimal state-friendly federal immigration policy.

When the president took his executive action on immigration, he was not flouting the will of Congress; rather, he was using the discretion Congress gave him to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

 

By: Richard G. Lugar, Represented Indiana in the United States Senate from 1977-2013, President of the Lugar Center;  Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz’s Balancing Act; Anti-Trump Or Trump Lite?”: A Party Suddenly Divided Between Satan And Everybody Else

Ted Cruz took a break from his usual performance as a hammer-headed movement conservative yesterday and tried on the ill-fitting but perhaps essential clothes of a party unifier while in a private meeting of New York Republicans, according to a report from Politico‘s Katie Glueck.

Ted Cruz on Monday acknowledged he’s concerned about how a contested convention might “fracture” the party ahead of the general election, especially if Donald Trump lashes out should he lose the primary.

“There is no doubt, we are likely headed to a contested convention,” the Texas senator told a private gathering of Republicans here in Manhattan, according to audio of the meeting obtained by POLITICO. “One of the greatest risks of a contested convention is, if you come out with a party fractured, it potentially makes you vulnerable going into the general election. I believe, in a contested convention, we’ll have a strong advantage and we will earn the majority of the delegates and unify the party. But in that circumstance it’s not difficult to imagine Donald Trump getting very upset, and making his upsetness [known].”

This solicitude for the feelings of Trump and his supporters is impressive for the guy who in the vocabulary of the mogul’s campaign is routinely referred to as “Lyin’ Ted.” But it’s a real issue for him. If he’s the nominee, he’s already going to be a general election underdog. Dealing with a Trump Rump faction, whether or not it encompasses a third-party or indie campaign, could be fatal for Cruz. And he does have some natural ties to the Trump constituency in terms of being a Republican more eager to shoot terrorists as they allegedly cross the border than over in some godforsaken Middle Eastern country.

At the same time, though, Cruz cannot really start worrying about Trump voters until he’s fully used the #NeverTrump movement to put himself into a position to win the nomination. If Cruz goes out of his way to remind Republican officeholders that he was their nightmare candidate until Trump showed up as the real devil, the temptation to go for the gold in a contested convention and blow up Cruz on a third ballot after Cruz blows up Trump on the second ballot will be powerful.

Beyond all that, you just don’t get the sense that the junior senator from Texas was cut out to be a unity figure, even for a party suddenly divided between Satan and everybody else. Unity candidates are reassuring and have a knack for making you see your own reflection in their soft and soulful eyes. Cruz has the persona of someone who’s been told by his crazy father a thousand times that God has chosen him to redeem America from its secular socialist captors. He’s in the presidential race not to unite Republicans but to smite Babylon and maybe bring on the End Times. He thus does not represent a natural compromise between those who want to lower their marginal tax rates and melt the polar caps and those who mainly want to ensure they’ll never have to “press 1 for English” or hold their tongues in the presence of women and minorities ever again.

Cruz’s ultimate appeal to non-apocalyptic Republicans is as a necessary evil in an extreme situation. That’s a low bar all right, but not one Ted Cruz will leap with any height to spare.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 18, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republican National Convention, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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