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“Cleaning Up Another Republican Mess”: Louisiana Ready To Make Big Gains Through Medicaid Expansion

Few states need Medicaid expansion more than Louisiana, which made it all the more difficult to justify former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) refusal to consider the policy. By all appearances, the Republican made a plainly political decision without regard for the state’s needs: Jindal wanted to be president (yes, of the United States), so he took a firm stand against “Obamacare.”

Louisiana’s current governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, won his election fairly easily, and immediately adopted the policy. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported yesterday that the governor went directly to the legislature to explain why this was the smart move for Louisiana.

Medicaid expansion is estimated to save Louisiana $677 million over the next five years and more than $1 billion over the next decade, Department of Health and Hospitals officials told Senate Health and Welfare Committee members Monday (April 18).

The cost estimates came after Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before the committee about his decision to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 375,000 people between July 1 and June 30, 2017. DHH officials will make an effort in the coming weeks to educate legislators about the benefits of Medicaid expansion and what they said was misinformation given to the Legislature to justify not expanding Medicaid under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“I believe the folks in the prior administration who said we couldn’t afford Medicaid expansion, they took the worst case scenario on every variable,” Edwards told lawmakers in the GOP-led legislature. “If you look at what we’re doing in light of experience in other states … we know we’re going to save money.”

And he knows this because it’s true.

I can appreciate why this may seem a little counter-intuitive. Ordinarily, when state policymakers recommend expanding benefits to struggling families, critics will respond, “We’d like to help, but we can’t afford it and we’re not willing to raise taxes.”

But Medicaid expansion is one of those policies in which states get to do both: participating states receive federal funds to implement the program, while expanding coverage for low-income families who would otherwise go uninsured. At the same time, hospitals’ finances are strengthened as medical facilities see fewer patients who can’t pay their bills.

Since implementation of the Affordable Care Act began, how many states have found Medicaid expansion hurt state budgets? None. Republicans will be quick to argue that someday, maybe, in the future, the fiscal challenges will become more acute, but given pre-ACA reimbursement rates, there’s no reason to believe they’re correct.

It’s exactly why every governor with access to a calculator – including plenty of red-state Republicans – have found the arithmetic undeniable.

As for Louisiana in particular, as we talked about last week, the state really is having an “elections have consequences” moment right now. Gov. Edwards, the region’s only Democratic governor, hasn’t been in office long, but he’s already making strides to clean up the Republican mess he inherited.

 

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

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards, Louisiana, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Brutal General Election”: Bernie Sanders’ Supporters Are Convinced He Could Win A General Election. They’re Wrong

Bernie Sanders’ rather unconventional personal style and characteristics are part of his appeal. Not some blow-dried politician who could fill in doing the weather on your local newscast, Sanders looks different from other candidates. A 74-year-old socialist with wild hair, frumpy suits, and an old-timey Brooklyn accent thicker than a pastrami sandwich, Sanders seems like the last guy who’d be able to assemble a national majority. But if that’s what you think, his supporters will tell you, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, they say, Bernie is the only Democrat who can win in the fall. It’s only if the party screws up and nominates Hillary Clinton that Democrats are doomed.

It may be getting late in the process for arguments about electability, particularly when Clinton will almost have the nomination in hand if she wins in New York. But since Sanders supporters are so insistent on this point, it’s worth exploring.

Before we begin, we should acknowledge that all judgments about electability are imperfect, to say the least. That’s partly because politics is inherently unpredictable, and you never know what issues will emerge, what events will occur, what the other side will do, and how your candidate might screw up. It’s also because all of us have a hard time putting ourselves in the mindset of people who think differently than we do. In particular, people who care a great deal about politics and have clearly thought-out and ideologically coherent beliefs often find undecided voters positively baffling. How on earth can a person look at two candidates representing parties with profoundly different agendas and values, and say, “Gee, I just don’t know who to pick”?

But they do, and as we’ve seen before, the voting public’s judgments about candidates they don’t know much about beforehand can be radically altered by what happens in the fall campaign.

Sanders supporters, however, say not to worry. Their primary evidence for the superior electability of their candidate comes from “trial heats,” polls that ask voters whom they would choose in the general election between each Republican and each Democrat. And it’s true that in those polls, Sanders usually does better than Clinton. Trial heats show her beating Donald Trump, roughly tied with Ted Cruz, and behind John Kasich, while Sanders beats all three.

But is that much of an indication of what would happen in the general election? Clinton and Sanders come to this race with very different profiles. He was a completely novel character to most Americans, while she has been one of the country’s central political figures for over two decades. So in the eyes of most Americans — who are paying only intermittent attention to the primary campaign — Bernie Sanders seems like a kindly if eccentric uncle. He doesn’t sound like a typical politician (always a bonus), he speaks some uncomfortable truths, and he has an air of purity about him.

But what hasn’t happened yet is anyone really attacking Sanders. Clinton’s criticisms have been mild, and have largely come from the left, on those few issues like guns where she could position herself there. But you can barely get a Republican to utter an unkind word about Sanders, and that’s precisely because they know how they’d be able to go to town on him if he became the nominee.

So let’s consider the kinds of attacks Sanders would face from Republicans. They wouldn’t just call him a socialist — in fact, that’d be about the nicest thing they’d say about him. They’d say he’s coming to raise your taxes to fund big-government schemes. They’d say he wants to cripple the military. They’d say he’s advocated eliminating our intelligence capabilities. They’d say he was part of a Trotskyite party that expressed “solidarity” with the theocratic government of Iran while it was holding Americans hostage. They’d say he wants government to seize the means of production. They’d say he hates America. They’d say he’s the author of smutty rape fantasies.

These attacks would be unfair, exaggerated, distorted, dishonest — and when Sanders protests, the Republicans would laugh and keep making them. By the time they’re done with him, most Americans would think Sanders is so radical and dangerous that they wouldn’t want him running their local food co-op, let alone the United States government.

Sanders supporters tend to wave away the possibility that these attacks would hurt him in much the same way the candidate himself dispenses with questions of practicality, by saying that his revolution will be so extraordinary that it will sweep all opposition away. Millions of heretofore absent voters will turn up at the polls, Americans will see the wisdom of his ideas, this election will be different than any that came before! But there’s little reason to believe that will happen, particularly when even within the Democratic Party, Sanders hasn’t been persuasive enough to overcome Hillary Clinton, who is supposed to be so weak.

And there’s no doubt that Clinton does indeed have plenty of weaknesses as a candidate. Twenty-five years of attacks from the right have taken their toll on her public image, and she’s made plenty of her own mistakes along the way. But there’s nothing new that the GOP is going to throw at her — we know what Republicans will say, and we have a good idea of how the public will react.

On the other hand, the Democrats haven’t nominated a candidate as far to the left as Bernie Sanders since George McGovern in 1972 (and maybe not even then). I’d love to think that a candidate with his ideological profile could get through a brutal general election and still assemble a national majority. But it’s an awfully hard thing to believe.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Gaming Election Laws”: Donald Trump’s Right That The Game Is Rigged—For Him To Make Money By Running

Win or lose, Donald Trump appears poised to come out ahead financially from his run for the White House thanks to campaign finance laws that, as he has pointed out, were not written with candidates of great wealth in mind.

Those laws let Trump shift many of his lifestyle costs to his campaign and earn a tidy profit, as we shall see.

The commercialization of the presidency is a modern development. When Harry S. Truman left the White House he had to live on his $112 a month (about $1,120 a month in today’s money) World War I army pension.

The big money for former presidents started with Gerald Ford, the only appointee to that post who turned his 29 months in office into a lucrative post-White House career making public appearances. Ronald Reagan upped the ante by collecting $2 million for speeches in Japan alone after he left the White House, plus much more money from other speeches and book royalties.

The full potential of the entrepreneurial ex-president, though, came when Bill Clinton left the White House. Together with his wife, Hillary, who hopes to be the next president, the couple raked in more than $153 million in speaking fees alone. She made $21 million from 91 speeches—with most of the money coming from Wall Street firms.

But Trump has figured out how to profit not by becoming president but merely by declaring himself a candidate—fulfilling his own prediction from 16 years ago, when he was running as the candidate of the tiny Reform Party, and told Fortune magazine: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

At the time, Trump had a deal with Tony Robbins, the traveling motivational speaker, to deliver 10 speeches for $1 million. Trump coordinated his campaign stops with the speeches, boasting that this meant he was “making a lot of money” from flying his 1969 model Boeing 727 to campaign events.

He may be making lots more money this time. Here’s how: Federal law builds in a profit for a candidate who owns his own aircraft by requiring them to charge the campaign charter rates, which include a profit.

Most candidates hire planes, services, and equipment as needed during a campaign, giving them an incentive to get the lowest price so they have more money free to spend on television commercials, consultants, and get-out-the-vote drives.

But someone who must bear the ongoing cost of a private jet and helicopter, or a building, has an incentive to shift as much of the costs as possible to the campaign.

The same is true for shifting to the campaign the salaries and fringe benefits paid to bodyguards, which Trump has employed for at least 30 years.

If enough donations come in from supporters, Trump’s campaign can relieve Trump of much of the multimillion-dollar annual costs of his Boeing 757-200 jet—complete with gold-plated seatbelts, dining room, two bedrooms, and shower—and Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

Trump claims he paid $100 million in 2011 for his 1991 model plane. At the time, aircraft brokers listed such planes for about $20 million, although they were outfitted for commercial airline service. Current prices are in the neighborhood of $10 million.

By putting that astronomical value on his plane, he can justify—assuming he’s put that number in his tax returns, which he’s yet to release, and not just his public bragging—a much higher charter rate, one that’s now paid to Trump by the Trump campaign.

All told, Trump’s Federal Election Commission spending reports show payments of $3.2 million to Trump Air Group (TAG), the Florida firm that operates his aircraft. That is almost 10 percent of the $33.4 million the campaign spent through February.

For comparison, Hillary Clinton, who has traveled much more extensively on the campaign trail, has spent about $2.5 million chartering jets. That is less than 2 percent of the $129 million her campaign has reported spending.

Donations have covered about 29 percent of Trump’s roughly $12,500 per day in aircraft costs. The rest is in the form of loans Trump made to the campaign, which may eventually be paid off with future donations.

Federal law says candidates who own their own aircraft must charge their campaign “the fair market value of the normal and usual charter fare or rental charge for a comparable plane of comparable size.”

Data from Boeing, analyzed by flight companies, suggests operating costs in the range of $8,000 to $9,000 per flight-hour when jet fuel prices were double current levels.

Charles Williams, editor of a British website which analyzes airline industry costs, and several charter operators put the hourly operating costs of a 757-200 in that range with charter flights starting at about $14,000 an hour. The chief sales agent for one charter firm told me that charges for blinged-out 757 like Trump’s could be as much as $30,000 per flight-hour.

Williams said the charter fees Trump charges the campaign, after a back of the envelope analysis using the limited data available from the campaign, seem reasonable.

So each hour Trump flies his jet to and from campaign events he both relieves himself of part of the burden of the plane’s fixed costs and turns a profit of several thousand dollars.

The law’s reference to “a comparable plane of comparable size” also suggests that Trump can charge a much higher than typical price for a Boeing 757 because he asserts it is the most fancily decked out private aircraft of its kind.

That’s right: He’s found the alchemist’s recipe for turning glitz into cash.

The campaign has also rented space in Trump Tower and rooms from Trump-branded hotels—both of which can legally charge rates that include a normal profit.

America would benefit from politicians as public servants and not from a campaign of presidency for profit.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Finance Laws, Donald Trump, Presidential Elections, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“There Are Rules Involved”: Want To Change The System, Trump And Sanders Supporters? Learn How It Works First

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

Civic participation is one of the most important responsibilities of being an American. I’m old enough to remember when being selected to lead your homeroom class in the daily Pledge of Allegiance was a source of great pride. As kids, with our hands over our hearts, shoulders squared, we’d recite those venerable words, “…and to the republic, for which is stands…” with purpose. Unfortunately, the moral imperative of being a good steward of this great nation and understanding what it takes to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is an afterthought for many, if any thought at all.

Without question, the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have jolted many Americans out of their normal political malaise. Bringing more citizens into the political fold is a good thing. But, what many of them are now realizing is that it takes more than just rolling out of bed to rage against the machine at big political rallies to select the next leader of the free world.

Surprise! There are rules involved. Rules governing the presidential election date back to our founding and the establishment of the Electoral College. The Constitution also gives latitude to the states in how to structure their nominating process. Electing the president wasn’t necessarily meant to be easy. Nothing worth safeguarding usually is. The founders deliberately designed our constitutional republic that way to avoid the tyrannical pitfalls of past societies like ancient Greece or the monarchies of Europe.

The Framers wanted multi-layered stakeholders invested in the best interest of the republic making it less vulnerable to the rash whims of a majority. They understood how pure democracy without checks and balances historically led to the subjugation of minority voices. It was true then and still rings true today. That’s why our Constitution does not allow for direct voting to elect the president.

The inconvenient truth is it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed and understand how our voting laws work. And it’s the responsibility of any serious candidate for president to do the same. In this day and age, when the answers to almost anything are no more than a Google search or Siri question away, there’s no excuse for ignorance of the law/rules. With freedom comes responsibility by each and every one of us to pay enough attention to make sure those freedoms are protected.

The act of voting is one of the most fundamental rights and privileges of being an American, yet millions take it for granted and seemingly can’t be bothered to learn how their state voting procedures and deadlines work, i.e. Colorado or even New York for that matter. Just ask Trump’s own children.

It’s typical of not only Donald Trump’s personality to shift blame onto everyone and thing other than himself when he fails miserably, but it’s a growing characteristic of our society. Perhaps many are victims of their own uninformed apathy.

Perhaps there’s a lack of emphasis on the importance of civic engagement and what that entails.

Which brings me to a story shared with me by a former elementary school teacher of a charter school in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.  She wanted to incorporate lessons on World War II into her curriculum. When she approached the principal about her plan, the principal scoffed and said, “What do we need to know about World War II for?” Seriously? If this is the attitude of some educators, no wonder it’s so easy to throw slogans around like Make American Great Again when so many don’t even understand what made America great in the first place.

Unfortunately, this teacher’s experience is not isolated. It’s going on in school districts around the country. Federal education policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have shifted emphasis away from social studies and history to a focus on standardized testing. In 2012, 21 states required testing in history and only nine of them required it to graduate. Only one-third of Americans can name the three branches of government, much less say what each does.

As a result of this disheartening trend, the Civics Education Initiative was born. It seeks to require high school students, as a condition for graduation, to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics similar to the United States Citizenship Civics Test. The national effort is gaining traction with Arizona, Utah, and the Dakotas now requiring the civic proficiency test for graduation. A dozen other states are considering the same. It’s a start.

A dumbed down electorate is more susceptible to the manipulation of charismatic figures willing to allegedly “tell it like it is” while preying on their fears and ignorance of the history and framework of the country. It allows for someone like Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders for that matter, to whip mobs of people into a frenzy believing they’ve been disenfranchised by a system they don’t even understand.

Scores of folks on both the Left and the Right complain that “This is not how democracy works!” They are right. This is how a constitutional republic works.

Is our system infallible? Of course not. Various changes have been made from the enactment of the 12th Amendment to the creation of the McGovern Frasier Commission after the tumult of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. If people are unhappy with the current rules, then by all means work to improve them.

However, the time to do that is not in the middle of an election cycle when the rules have already been set and agreed upon by all campaigns involved. There’s no whining in politics.

Albert Einstein famously said, “First you learn the rules of the game. Then you play better than everyone else.” Prior to running for president, Trump retweeted that very quote in 2014.  Too bad in 2016 he’s chosen to kvetch about allegedly “rigged” rules instead of putting in the campaign work to finish the job and win. It’s much easier to play the victim than take responsibility. Nowadays, it’s always someone else’s fault.

It takes effort to become President of the United States. Just like it takes effort to be a good citizen. When something is important enough, we make it a priority. It’s not the government’s job to compel us to pay attention.

How far we’ve come from President Kennedy’s decree to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Let’s start by learning how it works.

 

By: Tara Setmayer, The Daily Beast, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democracy, Donald Trump, Presidential Elections | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chairman Of His Personal Make A Wish Foundation”: Conservatives Shouldn’t Kid Themselves About Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz isn’t messing around. Donald Trump is probably going to come up just short of the number of delegates to win the Republican nomination on the first ballot — and it’s mostly Cruz’s fault.

Cruz and his campaign team have been working the delegate selection system hard, and grabbing delegates wherever they can find them. From the beginning of the campaign, his outfit has shown itself to be one of the most-savvy, technologically well-equipped, and hardest working units in politics today. It is as if his campaign is saying, “Sure, Donald Trump may end up with more votes by the end, but we will have the delegates, the institutional support, the donor support, and the working knowledge to run a national campaign. Trump won’t.”

Conservatives have noticed. Trump is complaining about a system that is rigged, but conservatives look at the Cruz campaign working the system and think it competent, not crooked. When Trump fails on the first ballot in Cleveland, many will argue that Cruz is the obvious choice.

But conservatives shouldn’t kid themselves about Cruz. Yes, he respects conservative institutions and competently sings the dearest lines from its standard songbook in a way that Trump can’t. Yes, Cruz wants the presidency so badly that even television viewers can feel the humidity rising from his flop sweat. Yes, he is working for it as if he is the chairman of his personal Make a Wish Foundation. But like Trump, Cruz would be a shockingly unpopular pick in a post-Goldwater national election. Although not as badly as Trump, Cruz generally repulses women, according to all polls. Republicans can’t do well in a general election unless they win — and win big — among married women.

Compared to Trump, Cruz may look like a normal Republican, sure. But the mainstream of the party and the big wallets of the donor class are never going to support Cruz in the same way that they’ve supported Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush before. Yes, they may come around to endorsing him. Some elected officials may even campaign for him, but if Cruz is the nominee, they’re going to be thinking about how to save their own seats and the year 2020.

And yes, even Lindsey Graham, who used to joke in an unsettling way about murdering Cruz, has come around to stumping for him. But I agree with Graham’s original diagnosis: “If you’re a Republican and your choices are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the general election,” Graham said, “it’s the difference between being poisoned or shot. You’re still dead.” In your heart, you know that Graham still thinks this way.

Ted Cruz doesn’t have any way of reaching independent and persuadable Democratic voters. It’s important to point out that part of Cruz’s unpopularity is his ideological conservatism. Successful national Republicans usually have a few “heresies” to advert to the center. The Bushes portrayed themselves as compassionate conservatives and triangulated on issues like education. McCain made himself a scourge of the corruption of money in politics, even when it brought him into conflict with typical conservative views on free speech. Romney was a businessman and technocrat, not merely a creature of politics. By contrast, Cruz is a man who seems to have received his entire political formation within the ideological hothouse of the conservative movement.

Cruz’s “disagreements” with the party at large tend to be about tactics. He’s for the extreme ones. Or they are hedges between different competing schools of thought within conservatism. He is willing to split the difference between neoconservative interventionists and conservative Jacksonians on issues of foreign policy. But this never, ever dulls the sharp edges of his partisanship.

Conservatives should be wary of having Cruz as their candidate precisely because he offers such a high-octane distillation of their views. As it would be for any movement promoting its ideas at their rawest state, an up or down vote for “conservatism” is a losing one for Republicans. That’s why the party historically tries not to nominate people like Ted Cruz.

And as hard as Ted Cruz works, he is simply not all that sympathetic a figure. He has an unsettling smile. He speaks in a very peculiar patois that sets much of the nation to instantly hold on tighter to their wallets for fear of being suckered. He may save the conservative movement from a reckoning that a Trump nomination will bring, but he is not much more likely to win the general election or save the Republican Party from its electoral demise.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, April 19, 2016

April 20, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Conservatives, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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