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“The Only Card They Have To Play”: What Can Republicans Do If Obamacare Isn’t A Disaster?

As the 2014 midterms draw nearer, the Republican Party has developed a simple, Costanza-esque plan for the election season: Nothing.

The theory, which is reportedly being pushed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) over the objections of some House members, goes as follows: As the rollout of the Affordable Care Act continues, Republicans should fade to the background and watch it “collapse under its own weight,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is prone to saying. That will allow Republicans to eliminate any distractions as they relentlessly hammer Democrats over the law’s failures, on the way to maintaining their House majority and winning the net six seats needed to take control of the Senate.

The Republican strategy makes some sense on its face — after all, no issue fires up Republican loyalists quite like the Affordable Care Act, and there’s no question that the law’s troubled rollout has been a massive political headache for Democrats.

But there’s a question that should keep every Republican strategist up at night: What happens if health care reform isn’t the electoral albatross that Republicans assume?

It’s not an unrealistic proposition. After all, despite the massively publicized problems with the launch of the law, the percentage of Americans who want it scaled back or repealed has hardly changed over the past two years. There are more reasons to be optimistic that the law will work as intended than there have been at any point since its rollout. Americans still have no faith in the Republican Party to create a constructive alternative. And, crucially, at least one poll suggests that the public is more concerned with job creation, gun reform, and immigration reform — bread-and-butter issues for Democrats — than with reducing the deficit or repealing Obamacare (the central tenets of the GOP platform, such as it exists).

In fact, according to the final Democracy Corps battleground survey of 2013, Republicans may actually pay a political price for their unyielding attacks on the health care reform law. As pollster Erica Seifert put it, “battling on Obamacare is [Republicans’] weakest case for re-election. In fact, it undermines it.”

So if the Affordable Care Act doesn’t crash and burn, destroying the Democratic Party with it, what is the Republican Party’s plan B?

It appears that their guess is as good as yours.

Speaker Boehner has reportedly been trumpeting the results of a recent survey finding that the public now primarily blames President Obama for the nation’s economic problems, rather than the policies of his predecessor.

“Since he can’t blame George W. Bush anymore, the president has chosen to talk about rising income inequality, unemployment, and the need to extend emergency unemployment benefits,” Boehner told House Republicans, according to The Hill. “After five years in office, Barack Obama still doesn’t have an answer to the question: Where are the jobs?”

The problem for Boehner is twofold: First, Americans very clearly want to have the conversation that President Obama has begun. Second, if Republicans have an answer to the “where are the jobs?” question, they are keeping it awfully close to the vest.

The Republican Party’s official “Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs” is incredibly thin on details. In fact, with the exception of repealing Obamacare — and replacing it with yet-undefined “patient-centered reforms” — it does not offer a single specific policy prescription. (By contrast, the White House jobs page leads directly to a description of the American Jobs Act, which, regardless of what one thinks of its merits, is undisputably an actual plan.)

The GOP has similar problems discussing other top issues of the day. Tacit in Boehner’s barb about President Obama “distracting” Americans with a discussion of inequality is the fact that Republicans have few productive ideas to add to the conversation. Immigration reform is similarly treacherous territory for the party. As is any conversation on “reforming” Social Security or Medicare.

It’s not as though Republicans aren’t aware of the issue; after the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee made a concerted effort to change its image from that of a party that’s only “talking to itself” (it has not been going well, by the way).

Perhaps in an attempt to fill out its pitch to voters, on Thursday the Republican National Committee tweeted a link to a “campaign strategy survey,” urging its followers to “tell us your top issues” so the party can “win big in 2014.”

In a reflection of the party’s priorities, however, question one — “Which of the following should be the top priority for the Republican Party in the next 18 months?” — offers a choice between “Elect principled conservatives to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate,” “Rally a grassroots movement,” “Stop the liberal agenda by defeating Democrats,” and “Unite the party.” In other words, the “strategy” isn’t exactly technocratic.

It’s entirely possible that Republican predictions are right, and merely opposing Democrats — with a specific focus on their health care reforms — will be enough to carry them through the midterm elections. After all, the map and the electorate (which history suggests will be smaller, older, and whiter than 2012) favor the GOP. But if they’re wrong, and Obamacare does not ruin the Democrats, then Republicans could be in serious trouble. Because unless they have a major surprise up their sleeves, this is the only card they have to play.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 17, 2014

January 19, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Merry Christmas From The GOP”: On December 28th Unemployment Benefits End For 1.3 Million Families

Three days after Christmas, unemployment benefits end for 1.3 million people who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits, but still can’t find a job.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you have to be actively looking for a job. Virtually all of these people would rather work, but can’t find a job in today’s economy where there are three applicants for every job available.

But when the budget deal was negotiated in Congress over the last several weeks, Republican negotiators refused to agree to continue those unemployment benefits. And at the same time, they demanded the continuation of tax breaks for big oil companies and loopholes for Wall Street billionaires who get their income from hedge funds.

Merry Christmas from the GOP.

Of course this kind of Christmas cheer comes from the same gang that routinely drags out the well-worn charge that progressives and Democrats are engaging in a “war on Christmas”. Maybe someone should force Republican Members of Congress to sit through a showing of “A Christmas Carol” and then explain why they think Ebenezer Scrooge is the hero.

Over the last decade the far right, that now dominates the GOP, has conducted a real war on the values that we celebrate at Christmas.

In case they missed it, Christmas is about giving, and sharing and loving your neighbor. It’s about family. Christmas has nothing to do with greed or selfishness or paying people poverty level wages so you can maximize your bottom line.

The Christmas spirit is not about cutting off an economic lifeline for over a million people so the wealthiest in the land can continue to prosper beyond imagining. And remember many of those same wealthy people who are doing so well are personally responsible for the recklessness that caused the Great Recession and cost the jobs of those whose unemployment benefits they now believe we can “no longer afford”.

You hear a lot from the right wing about having to make “tough choices” because some things “we just can’t afford”. Ironically those “things we cannot afford” never include the things that benefit the very wealthy.

In fact, as surprising as it may seem to many Americans, there is more bounty in the land this Christmas, than at any time in our nation’s history. Our income per capita – and our productivity per person – has increased by 80% over the last 30 years. But over those same 30 years, average incomes for most Americans were stagnant – and virtually all of that increased income and wealth went to the top 1%.

That is bad enough. But then to insist that our country “can’t afford” to continue paying unemployment benefits to people who can’t find a job – and by the way – cut off their benefits three days after Christmas – that is an outrage.

Many on the right are so out of touch with ordinary Americans that they argue that providing unemployment benefits makes people “dependent”. This of course completely ignores the fact that to qualify you have to have been working and lost your job for no fault of your own; you have to be actively looking for work; and the maximum benefits in many states are very low.

Ask the Koch brothers to support a family on the $258 per week maximum benefit in Louisiana, or the $275 per week maximum benefit in Florida – or even the $524 per week maximum benefit in Ohio.

People don’t want to stay on unemployment benefits. They want to find a job that provides them with income and benefits that allow them to give a better life to their families and their kids. They want to make a contribution and feel that they do worthwhile work. Most Americans want to be proud of what they do for a living – they don’t want to be “dependent” on anyone.

You have to be from another planet to believe that most people will become “dependent” on a total income of $275 per week.

Unemployment benefits provide workers and their families with an economic shot in the arm to get them through being laid off in an economy when jobs are still hard to come by.

And let’s be real clear why jobs are so hard to come by. Jobs are still hard to come by because of the policies of those very same right wing politicians who refused to reign in the orgy of reckless speculation on Wall Street that resulted in a ruinous financial collapse from which the economy is still recovering.

Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP did not do everything it could to block President Obama’s American’s Jobs Act that would create millions of jobs in both the public and private sectors by investing in teachers, and infrastructure.

Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP were not fixated on cutting government investment at a time when virtually all economists – including the Federal Reserve Chairman – believe we need more fiscal stimulus and that the policy’s of the Republicans in Congress continue to be a major drag on economic growth.

In fact the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that failing to continue federal unemployment benefits will cost the economy 240,000 jobs and slow the growth of the overall economy by .2%.

Those who receive unemployment benefits spend virtually every dime on the goods and services they need to live. That spending provides jobs to thousands of other Americans. So cutting federal unemployment benefits will actually create a quarter million more people who are unemployed. Great work GOP.

So here is the bottom line. It turns out that a society that reflects the spirit of Christmas – one where we have each other’s back – where we care about each other and not just ourselves – a society like that is better for everyone.

In fact, it turns out that the “moral” thing to do – the “right” thing to do – is also the “smart” thing to do.

It turns out that progressive values like loving your neighbor as your self – are the most precious possessions of humanity because they are the values that will allow us and our children to prosper and survive.

And that’s why the spirit of Christmas doesn’t just belong to Christians – or Catholics or Baptists or Episcopalians – or anyone. The Christmas spirit belongs to everyone on our small fragile planet. And that spirit embodies exactly the set of values that we must use to chart our course not just on Christmas Day but 365 days each year – including December 28th when over a million families will lose the economic lifeline that provides them a bridge to a better life.

 

By: Robert Creamer, The Huffington Post Blog, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Solid Template”: President Obama’s Opening Bid To Avert The Fiscal Cliff Is Familiar And Sound

President Obama’s opening bid for negotiations resolving the “fiscal cliff” has surfaced, and the contours are both familiar and sound. The Washington Postand an unofficial outline drafted by Republican aides both suggest that the administration has essentially proposed its budget request for fiscal 2013. And the president’s latest budget offers a solid framework for navigating the fiscal obstacle course, as it would substantially moderate the pace of deficit reduction while making a responsible down payment on longer-term deficit reduction. Relative to current policy, the contours are shaping up roughly as follows:

  • Allow the upper-income Bush tax cuts to expire (+$850 billion)
  • Restore the estate and gift taxes to 2009 parameters (+$120 billion)
  • Curb tax expenditures (+600 billion)
  • Stimulus spending (-$50 billion)
  • Extend emergency unemployment benefits (-$30 billion)
  • Extend or replace the payroll tax cut (-$110 billion)
  • Continue AMT patch, “doc fix,” and tax extenders (-$240 billion)
  • Defer sequestration (?)

Most critically, the Obama framework includes a variation of his American Jobs Act, proposing increased near-term government spending on infrastructure and state fiscal relief while maintaining the ad hoc stimulus set to expire at year’s end—the emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) program, the payroll tax cut, and recent expansion of refundable tax credits—which is the single largest economic headwind threatening recovery among the major components of the scheduled fiscal restraint. (See our à la carte deconstruction of these major components’ budgetary versus economic impacts) The Republican aides’ draft suggests the administration would dedicate $50 billion for infrastructure and stimulus spending, $30 billion for EUC, and $110 billion for an extension of the payroll tax cut or a targeted tax credit, all relative to current policy. And if the administration is looking for a replacement for the payroll tax cut, they could adopt our proposed targeted refundable tax rebate, which would provide a bigger and better economic boost.

Beyond these job creation measures, the president’s proposal for dealing with the economic challenge at hand of overly rapid deficit reduction would largely adhere to current policy—the alternative minimum tax would be indexed for inflation, scheduled Medicare physician reimbursement cuts would be prevented (i.e., the “doc fix” would be continued), expiring business tax provisions would be continued, the sequester would not be implemented in 2013, and the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended for all but upper-income households (those earning more than $250,000 a year). Again, this is all consistent with the president’s budget, with the exception that the budget repealed the sequester instead of deferring it to an unspecified date.

Overall, this proposal would substantially moderate the pace of deficit reduction relative to the current policy, which is critical because this baseline includes sizable fiscal contraction (the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits are assumed to expire and discretionary spending caps ratchet down). Indeed, the entire challenge posed by the fiscal obstacle course is that budget deficits closing too quickly will push the economy into an austerity-induced recession, and the president’s opening bid actually addresses this very real economic challenge, prioritizing job creation and economic recovery over the (not imminent) problem of longer-term deficit reduction.

But the proposal would make substantial long-run deficit reduction as well. It would allow the upper-income Bush tax cuts to expire, raise roughly another $600 billion from upper-income households and business (presumably by capping the value of tax expenditures), return the estate and gift tax to 2009 parameters, reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending by nearly $400 billion (largely without cost-shifting to states or households, with most savings from providers and pharmaceutical companies). Again, these are all proposals from the president’s budget request. As I calculated a few months back, the president’s budget—as scored by the Congressional Budget Office and adjusted for subsequent baseline revisions—would reduce public debt by $3.0 trillion relative to current policy, lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio to a sustainable 73.4 percent. (Add in the nearly $1 trillion from ending the war in Afghanistan, already built into current policy, and you hit the $4 trillion mark that has become the arbitrary but symbolic threshold for fiscal seriousness.)

A back of the envelope calculation suggests that the combination of continuing EUC, continuing the payroll tax cut, increased infrastructure spending, and expiration of the upper-income tax cuts would boost real GDP growth by 1.5 percentage points and increase nonfarm payroll employment by 1.8 million jobs by the end of 2013, relative to current policy. Details on timing of other deficit reduction are lacking, and would likely somewhat reduce the net economic boost, but the proposal nevertheless offers substantial net fiscal support for our depressed economy. My colleague Josh Bivens and I estimated in another recent paper that the president’s 2013 budget would boost employment by about 1.1 million jobs in 2013, largely because of AJA spending and targeted tax cuts (which we delayed one year from the now-ended 2012 fiscal year to allow for feasible implementation).

This framework also closely resembles the proposals in our recent EPI and Century Foundation report Navigating the fiscal obstacle course: Supporting job creation with savings from ending the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts. We proposed diverting half of the savings from ending the upper-income Bush tax cuts and recent estate tax cuts—roughly $600 billion—to job creation measures heavily weighted toward the next three years, which would boost real GDP growth by 1.7 percentage points and increase employment by 2.0 million jobs in 2013. The upper-income Bush tax cuts are the least economically supportive component of the fiscal obstacle course and have a huge opportunity cost; as far as down payments on deficit reduction go, this is the most sound starting point—as the president has proposed in all four budget requests.

The one major departure from the president’s budget is the new and excellent proposal to eliminate the statutory debt ceiling. The statutory debt ceiling has proved an unacceptable economic liability, particularly since Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) irresponsibly pledged in May that he would again hijack the nation’s debt ceiling to be used as a bargaining chip. This duplicative, ill-conceived law should be repealed, or at the very least ruled inoperative.

The president’s budget offered a sound template for moderating the pace of deficit reduction, coupled with a down payment on longer-term deficit reduction that would impose little near-term economic drag—substantially less than the economic boost from the AJA. By adding repeal of the debt ceiling to this balanced package, the president’s opening bid makes for an even more responsible economic and budgetary policy.

 

By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, November 30, 2012

 

 

December 2, 2012 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Word To The Not So Wise”: You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss

If you want a sense of how remarkable Barack Obama’s re-election victory is, think back to last summer. At the time, the president was struggling to reach a deal with House Republicans, who were threatening not to raise the debt ceiling and plunge the economy into a second recession. Unemployment was high—9.2 percent—Obama’s approval had dipped to the low 40s, and to anyone paying attention, the first African American president looked like a one-term failure.

But beginning in the fall, Obama began to reassert himself. With the American Jobs Act, he outlined a viable plan for generating economic growth and kick-starting the recovery. With his widely praised speech in Kansas, he outlined a populist agenda of greater investment and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Over the course of 2012, he built good will with important communities, from LGBT Americans with an endorsement of same-sex marriage to Latino immigrants and their families with a measure meant to emulate the DREAM Act. What’s more, the economy began to pick up: Job growth increased, unemployment dropped, and the overall economic picture began to brighten.

Together with one of the most hard-nosed campaigns of recent memory, Obama managed to bounce back from the nadir of 2011 to one of the broadest re-election victories since Reagan’s 1984 landslide. At this point, news networks have called New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Ohio for President Obama. Only Florida has yet to be called, where the remaining votes are in traditionally Democratic areas of the state. Compared with 2008, Obama lost only two states: North Carolina and Indiana. When all is said and done, Barack Obama will have won re-election with 332 electoral votes—a much larger margin than the last president to win re-election, George W. Bush

Over the next week, I’ll write about the details of Obama’s victory, in particular his huge advantage with nonwhite voters—without historic margins (and turnout) among African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, it’s likely Obama would have failed in his quest for a second term. Indeed, it should be said that Republicans have themselves to blame for a good deal of this. If not for their categorical opposition to health-care reform, the Affordable Care Act would have never been passed in its current form. If not for their harsh approach to immigration, they might have won greater Latino support over the last four years. If not for their embrace of misogyny, they might have closed the gender gap. If not for their willingness to indulge the worst conspiracies about Obama, they might have made inroads with young people and college-educated voters.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting what Obama’s victory means for the next four years of public policy.

Obamacare will be implemented in full, and the United States will begin its journey toward universal health-care coverage. Millions of Americans will be covered by the bill’s Medicaid expansion, and millions more will—for the first time—have access to affordable health insurance. Likewise, Dodd-Frank will survive, and the federal government will begin to craft regulations that will—with any luck—prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse. Obama’s re-election shields core liberal commitments—on social insurance, anti-poverty policy, and environmental regulation—from conservative assault, and gives Democrats a chance to reshape the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary writ large.

Thanks to last night’s results, liberals have four years to cement a host of policies and achievements that could prove as transformative as the Great Society or even the New Deal. And this is on top of an economic recovery that will almost certainly boost Democrats’ standing with the public.

It’s still far too early to make a judgment about Barack Obama’s overall historical standing. But by virtue of winning re-election, he has become the most successful Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson, and one of the most successful of the 21st century.

Not bad for the skinny Hawaiian kid with a funny name.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Especially Sweet”: Obamacare Gets Its Vindication

George Shultz once offered advice to Cabinet secretaries seeking to make a difference, advice that applies equally well to presidents. It’s easy to be consumed by your in box in these big jobs, Shultz explained. The flow of “incoming” could keep anyone fully occupied from the moment they were sworn in to the day they left office. The key to leaving your mark is to be sure you work on priorities you select and put into other people’s in-boxes. Don’t just work off your own.

This sound counsel captures why Barack Obama’s devotion to major health reform was so important — and why the risks he took to pursue that course must make his vindication Tuesday night especially sweet.

Obama didn’t “have” to do health reform. It wasn’t in his in box. A historic economic collapse was. He could have devoted himself exclusively to economic crisis management. (Though even if he’d done that, it’s not clear the recovery would be further along. After all, the Republicans blocked the sensible infrastructure investments in his Jobs Act a year ago that would have left 1 million more Americans working today — and unemployment at 7.2 percent, not 7.9 percent).

But Obama took the longer view. He knew U.S. health care was a scandal, with outsize costs and 50 million people uninsured. Now, thanks to the president’s reelection and the certainty that the law will be phased in by 2014, everything will change.

For the first time, Americans will have guaranteed access to coverage at group rates outside the employment setting. This fact got zero discussion in the campaign, but it’s impossible to overstate its significance. We’re the only wealthy nation where such access isn’t the case today. It’s been bad for people and disastrous for entrepreneurship (because budding entrepreneurs routinely stay in jobs they dislike in order to keep health coverage if there’s illness in their family).

The status quo has been bad for business, which carries the cost of health care on its payrolls. It’s also been bad for workers, because the cash devoured by employer-paid health premiums would otherwise be available for higher wages.

With Obama’s reelection, the great hope now is that in the years ahead, as politicians and business leaders in both parties realize that the new insurance exchanges are a safe and sensible way for folks to get coverage, more Americans will be allowed to migrate to the exchanges, with sliding-scale subsidies for those who need help to buy decent policies.

Everyone needs to realize that this development would be terrific — good for people, good for business, good for the economy. Republicans have talked inanely about people at risk of being “dumped” into the new exchanges, when in fact private plans will be offered exactly like those employers have offered, except that people will have many more choices.

Smart employers see this trend coming and know it makes sense. When I spoke to an audience of human-resource executives not long after Obamacare passed, I polled the audience on what it expected. Today about 20 million people get coverage outside the job setting (not counting folks on Medicare and Medicaid). What would that number be in a decade, I asked. 20 million? 40 million? Or 100 million? Most said 100 million — which would obviously represent a dramatic shift in so short a time. It may be a threat to the benefits empires these folks run for their companies, but it represents huge progress for the country.

This progress will have been possible only because President Obama took a bigger view and then persisted. He wasn’t going to make his entire presidency about his in box — which meant cleaning up George W. Bush’s mess. Instead, he fought for major changes that mattered for the long term. He paid a big price for this choice. Not only did he face the GOP’s fury but, because his team didn’t design health reform to phase in fully until 2014, voters had to go through this election without any sense of the security Obamacare will bring.

Republicans who grasped the stakes opposed it so fiercely because they knew that if Obamacare wasn’t killed in its cradle, it would eventually be popular and deepen the public’s attachment to the party that authored it (this same sentiment accounted for the violent opposition to Clintoncare in the 1990s).

Well, these GOP fears were well-founded. By 2016, Obamacare will be immensely popular. Mark my words.

There are surely 100 reasons why reelection must be satisfying to the president. But one of the biggest has to be the vindication of his choice to go big on health care. Long after the damage of the burst financial and real estate bubbles is healed, Obamacare will be his legacy. It will have improved our society and laid the groundwork for greater economic security in an era in which Americans will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces beyond their control.

The law is hardly perfect. Twenty million to 30 million Americans will still lack coverage even after it is implemented. Some of its regulations amount to micromanagement (such as rules requiring insurers to spend 80 percent of premiums on health care). The decision to finance the bill partly with fees on employers who don’t offer coverage created needless business opposition and may lead some to cut workers’ hours to stay below the threshold that triggers such fees.

But these things can easily be fixed. The big point remains: By instinctively heeding Shultz’s advice and keeping his eye on America’s unfinished agenda even as economic storms raged around him, Obama is now certain to leave America a more decent society in ways that business will come to recognize are good for the economy as well. (The fact that Mitt Romney’s health reform inspired its design gives the achievement a kind of tacit bipartisan poetry as well.)

Not bad for a night’s work. All we need now is filibuster reform, and we might really be on to something.

 

By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 7, 2012

November 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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