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“Republicans Can’t Win By Attacking Health Care In 2014”: We will Turn The Corner If Progressives Do Not Sit On The Sidelines

For me, the fact that Republicans keep using the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – as a political football is a tragedy. Sure, the law has problems, but it is already saving lives and improving the health of millions of Americans.

Thankfully, it seems that Republicans who are counting on attacking the health reform system to get them into the end zone will be stopped short of the goal line based on numbers coming out of a March special election for a Florida House seat

For me, the Affordable Care Act comes down to people’s lives and health. Consider the story of a young man I met who told me that this new avenue to becoming insured had saved his life.

He had some symptoms that made him worry about his health. But he, like many Americans without insurance, ignored them, as he couldn’t afford to see the doctor. After the Affordable Care Act became law, he got coverage through his parents’ health insurance plan, and on visiting a doctor, found out he had stage 4 — that’s advanced — cancer. Fortunately, he got to the doctor in time to save his life.

That young man is far from alone. As of the end of February, some 11 million Americans have health coverage under the new law. Repealing it, as Republicans continue to insist, would take away coverage from each and every one of them.

In the Florida election, Republican David Jolly said “I’m fighting to repeal Obamacare, right away.” His opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, countered, “We can’t go back to insurance companies doing whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”

The key part of Sink’s message was to remind voters why people wanted health care reform in the first place. As one of Sink’s TV ads said, “Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage.”

That’s an effective reminder of the huge problems Americans have had for decades, when insurance companies could deny care because of a pre-existing condition, charge people higher rates because they were sick, and even charge women higher rates than men. The ACA ended all that.

The candidates in Florida pushed especially hard for the votes of seniors, which is not surprising given both Florida’s high senior population and the fact that seniors vote more frequently than other age groups.

In its ads for Jolly, The Republican Congressional Campaign repeated the same misleading charge that Republicans used successfully in 2010 to scare seniors against the ACA, that it cut $716 billion from Medicare. But unlike 2010, when Democrats did not respond to attacks on the ACA, Sink pushed back.

She reminded seniors that the ACA actually provides important new Medicare benefits, including closing the infamous prescription drug “donut hole.” Sink’s ads accurately said, “His [Jolly’s] plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.”

By Election Day, voters had a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on the ACA. It was a close election, with Jolly winning by a small margin (48.4 percent to 46.5 percent) in a district with an 11-point Republican advantage, one that has been represented by the GOP for nearly 60 years.

But polling found that independent voters in the district supported the “keep and fix” position over the “repeal” position by a margin of 57 percent to 31 percent. Sink actually gained ground over Jolly during the election on the question of which candidate had a better position on the ACA.

I am very much looking forward to the time when Congress can start having real debates on how, as Sink said, “we can keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong” with the Affordable Care Act. However, it looks like it will take at least one more election, in 2014, to get us to that point.

We will turn the corner if progressives do not sit on the sidelines, but instead welcome the debate that Republicans insist on having about repealing the ACA.

That debate is an opportunity for people to be reminded in concrete terms that the new health care program, for all its shortcomings, is about providing every American with the peace of mind that comes with having health coverage.

 

By: Richard Kirsch, Senior Fellow at The Roosevelt Institute; Published in The National Memo, March 20, 2014

March 21, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Election 2014 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forget The Conventional Wisdom”: What Florida Really Tells Us About Obamacare

Was it really Obamacare that sunk Sink? I mean of course Alex Sink, the Democratic Florida congressional candidate who lost to Republican David Jolly on Tuesday. After the results were announced, Washington’s conventional wisdom congealed immediately: This was all about Obamacare, and it’s going to doom the Democrats come November.

Not so fast, says Geoff Garin, the pollster who did Sink’s polling in the race. Garin argues in a memo he released the day of the voting that “the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign.” He followed up by telling me yesterday: “She would have done worse if she’d neglected to hit back and engage the issue.” There’s a lesson in there for Democrats as they march toward November.

Garin put two key questions to the district’s voters. The first paraphrased the criticisms of Sink on Obamacare: Sink supports this law that will take away $716 billion from Medicare, and that caused 300,000 Floridians to lose their coverage and 2,500 patients at a district cancer center to have to change doctors. The second paraphrased criticisms of Jolly’s health-care position: He wants to totally repeal the law instead of fix it, a position that would let insurers again discriminate against the already ill and charge women more than they charge men for coverage. Repeal would also cut expanded prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.

Respondents were asked to say whether this information gave them “very major doubts” about the candidates, “fairly major” doubts, “just some” doubts, or “no real” doubts. Results: While 43 percent now entertained very major doubts about Sink, 50 percent said they had very major doubts about Jolly. And 35 percent had no real doubts about Sink while only 26 percent had no real doubts about Jolly.

If that polling is accurate, then “more lift than drag” is accurate and fair. Guy Molyneux, a partner of Garin’s who oversaw some Obamacare polling for a couple of unions in January, echoed the point that there are at least three things Democrats can say about the law and the Republicans’ repeal zeal that poll really well. People broadly understand, Molyneux told me, that the law protects against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and they approve of that strongly. They also know that insurers can no longer drop sick people on whim, and they like that. And they’re getting to know that the law prevents insurers from charging women more than men, and they like that, too; even men.

There’s one more thing that people don’t yet know very well, but the polling indicates that it could be a strong debating point, too: Under the law, insurers have to publicly justify any rate increases greater than 10 percent. This is called rate review, and it and the medical-loss ratio provisions of the law (explained here) are the two main planks that guard against willy-nilly rate hikes. A Heath and Human Services study from last September found that nearly 7 million citizens had saved more than $1 billion because of rate review, and moreover, that insurance companies were seeking increases of 10 percent far less frequently than before the law because of the added oversight.

Since everybody and his brother assumes that the Affordable Care Act is going to increase their rates, seems to me it’d be awfully useful for the Democrats to develop a sharp talking point or two explaining to people that the law actually helps prevent crazy premium increases.

This all makes the Obamacare story a lot more complicated than “disaster for Dems.” It just doesn’t have to be. Republicans know this, too. Why are they, or some of them, suddenly talking about replacing the law? Precisely to try to insulate themselves from the effective Democratic attack that they’d give carte blanche to insurance companies to go back to their old ways.

It’s worth dwelling on this for a paragraph—it’s important to understand. It was in the spring of 2010 that the GOP unveiled “repeal and replace.” They stuck with that through the election. Then, once they’d retaken the House, they dropped “replace” and went for “repeal” only. Now that a midterm election is coming again, though, they’re starting to put “replace” back in their rhetoric. But it’s as hollow this time as it was then. “Our challenge,” Molyneux told me, “is to show that there’s nothing behind the curtain there.”

Lord knows, the Democrats have more problems than health care staring them in the face for the fall. The turnout question is the biggest one, although they say they’re making efforts this time that have no precedent in a midterm election. And Obama’s bad approval numbers—worse still in many of the states with high-profile Senate contests—are a huge factor. “If Obama’s still at 41 percent in mid-October, we’re in a world of hurt,” Molyneux says. And finally, but far from least, the economy. An awful, awful number from this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: Fully 57 percent of those surveyed said they think we’re still in a recession.

So yeah, there’s a lot for Democrats to worry about. But in most of the contested states—not Louisiana, probably not Arkansas, but the others—they can make Obamacare a net wash if they can be clear about the implications of “repeal” and call out their GOP opponents on “replace.” And maybe as a bonus show they have some fight in them, and give those unmotivated young and Latino voters some good reasons to go to the polls.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 14, 2014

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Keep Calm And Carry On”: Jolly’s Win Does Not Presage Republican Wave

David Jolly won an upset victory over Democrat Alex Sink in Tuesday’s special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district, sending another Republican to the House of Representatives, and unleashing a torrent of breathless predictions that Democrats are doomed in 2014.

A National Journal article by Josh Kraushaar, titled “Why a Republican Wave in 2014 is Looking More Likely Now,” and Joe Scarborough’s declaration that “we may have something historic here happening, where you have one act [Obamacare] actually causing grave damage to a political party two midterms in a row” typify this brand of speculative political analysis.

That makes for an easy narrative, but it’s grounded in very few facts. It’s entirely possible — or even probable — that Republicans make major gains in the 2014 midterms. They may even win a Senate majority. But if they do, it will have nothing to do with what happened in Pinellas County on Tuesday night.

For starters, as political scientist Alan Abramowitz pointed out after a 2011 special election in New York — in which Republican Bob Turner upset Democrat David Weprin, prompting excited (and false) reports of an impending Republican wave in 2012 — the results of special elections do not accurately predict the results of subsequent general elections.

“An analysis of the results of all special House elections since World War II shows that while there is a weak relationship between the net party swing in special elections and the net party swing in the subsequent general election (the correlation is .32), special election results have no impact once you control for other factors such as the party of the president in midterm elections, seats held by the parties going into the election and the incumbent president’s approval rating,” Abramowitz wrote.

A quick look at the specifics of Florida’s special election makes it clear that this contest is no exception.

First, turnout was very low. Just 183,634 voters cast ballots in the election, down from 329,347 in the 2012 general election, and 266,934 in the 2010 midterm. To be clear, Republicans — who have a narrow registration advantage in the district — did a much better job getting their voters out to the polls than Democrats did. But Florida Democrats’ failure to convince voters to turn out for Alex Sink in March tells us exceedingly little about, say, Alaska Democrats’ ability to get out the vote for Mark Begich in November.

Second, there’s no evidence that Obamacare — which has been widely labeled as the hinge on which the election swung — actually served as a decisive factor in the election. There is no exit polling available for the race, but polls leading up to election day suggested that voters had other priorities; a Februrary Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/WUSF Public Media poll, for example, found that while 39 percent said the Affordable Care Act was “very important” to their voting preference, 33 percent said it was just “somewhat important,” and 26 percent said it is “not at all important” (in fairness, that poll also said that Sink would win).

And while the Affordable Care Act featured prominently in the barrage of television ads that saturated the airwaves throughout the campaign, it was hardly the sole focus of the race. In fact, Jolly didn’t even mention the law in his victory speech, choosing instead to focus on his commitment to local issues.

But even if it turns out that Obamacare did seal the victory for Jolly, there’s no reason to assume that the issue will spark a Republican wave. As Abramowitz reminds us, the way that 180,000 Floridians feel about the law in March tells us very little about how some two million voters in North Carolina or Georgia will feel about it eight months from now. And national polls suggest that the law is not set up to be a clear electoral winner for either party.

Finally, in Florida’s election, one must consider Libertartian candidate Lucas Overby, who won about 5 percent of the vote. As Nick Gillespie points out in Reason, Overby’s platform makes it very plausible that he pulled more votes away from Sink than he did from Jolly (in the same manner that Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulled more votes from Democrat Terry McAuliffe than he did from Republican Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election). Again, with no exit polls, it’s impossible to know for sure. But there’s a chance that were Overby not in the race, Sink would have won. If that were the case, would the media be running with overheated reports that Democrats will be in the catbird seat come November?

There’s no question that Sink’s loss should be a major disappointment for Democrats, who squandered a real shot at winning a seat that Republicans have held for decades. And there’s also no question that Democrats, saddled by an unfriendly electoral map and an unpopular president, are in danger of suffering big losses in the midterms. But there is simply no reason to believe that last night’s result provides a roadmap for future elections across the nation. If Republicans do make big gains in November, it will have nothing to do with David Jolly or Alex Sink.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 12, 2014

March 15, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Special Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Learning The Right Lesson”: Despite Their Loss In Florida’s Special Election, Democrats Shouldn’t Panic Over November

So here we go: Republicans—and, no doubt, the Koch Brothers—are crowing that David Jolly’s win over Alex Sink in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District Tuesday proves that Obamacare is the death knell for Democrats this fall. Outside groups, led by the Kochs, pumped a few million into the district, largely hitting Sink over Obamacare, which she said needed to be improved although she still trumpeted its benefits for senior citizens.

Republicans will say more: that they had a flawed candidate in Jolly, a former lobbyist; that Barack Obama carried this district in 2012. The Republicans won’t say that Obama carried it over Mitt Romney by just 2 percent, and this is the very definition of a swing district. But both of these statements are factual, and Republicans will spin them hard today and tomorrow.

Most of all, Republican spin doctors will say this is a bellwether: The Democrats put loads of money and troops into Sink’s race, precisely to prove (in a winnable district) that 2014 wasn’t going to be a disaster for them. They still couldn’t win it, which, the GOP will say, just demonstrates what a bruisin’ Democrats are cruisin’ for this fall.

No denying, they might be right. For one thing, this was one of the few Republican-held House districts (held by lifer Bill Young, whose death necessitated this special) the Democrats had a shot at taking. So on that basis alone, it’s a blow to whatever remote shot Nancy Pelosi had of moving back into the Speaker’s office.

It would be absurd to deny that Obamacare, wasn’t a factor in the race and maybe the crucial one. The outside groups went big on it, no doubt about that. But there were other issues in this race. Jolly attacked Sink for using a state plane to “get to a vacation in the Bahamas.” Politifact judged the Jolly ad half-true, but in congressional campaigns, half-true is usually true enough. The ad had bite, and that surely made some difference too. It seems to be the case that the lion’s share of the undecided swing voters broke for Jolly late in the game, and a pile of data suggests that swing voters care about good-government things like the use of state planes. Their minds were probably made up about Obamacare, so it’s not implausible that something else swung them.

But there’s no doubt that the issue going forward is going to be health care. What health-care-related lesson is each party going to take out of this? For the Republicans, it’s easy: push push push. And there’s reason for them to do so: Sink, remember, wasn’t in Congress; she didn’t even vote for the thing. Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich and all the other vulnerable Senate Democrats defending their seats this fall did.

The Democrats are likely to take, as they often do, the wrong lesson. They’ll want to run and hide. But they should look a little more closely. Sink was no warrior for Obamacare. Her campaign was a textbook exercise in trying to thread the needle (unsuccessfully). Does her loss mean that Democrats should run away from it?

I say no. Let’s watch how this result affects the Florida gubernatorial race for starters. Democrat Charlie Crist has been defending Obamacare—in terms of accepting the Medicaid money—far more aggressively than Sink did. Crist leads Republican Rick Scott in recent polls, by about seven points. Watch how hard Scott—who actually supported taking the Obamacare-Medicaid money for a short time—hits Crist on this point, and how Crist responds, and how the polls change, if they do. Rather than just getting the vapors from Sink’s loss, this is what Democrats nationally ought to be watching. If Crist’s lead shrinks, then Democrats really will run for the hills.

There’s other evidence out there in the world that Obamacare is a political disaster only if the Democrats don’t fight for it. The media didn’t write much last week about a very interesting WashPost-ABC poll result. The survey asked people if they’d be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who backed Obamacare. It came out less likely 36, more likely 34. That’s a margin of error tie, but it’s also a huge change from four months ago, when Republican opponents had a 16-point advantage in that realm. The new poll also reported that Americans said they trusted Democrats more on health care by 44 to 36 percent.

Perhaps the best evidence though that Obamacare wasn’t a real issue came from Jolly himself, who didn’t even mention the ACA in his victory speech. He told reporters later, “This was a closely run race, we know that. I don’t take a mandate from this.”

Just hours before Jolly’s victory on Tuesday night, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 4.2 million people have signed up for health care under the ACA. By November, eight months from now, will statistics like this make more difference than what happened in Pinellas County Tuesday night? I remind you that in the one high-profile congressional special election held in the May, 2010, the Democrat won it—Mark Critz in Pennsylvania (Like Jolly, Critz was the annointed successor of a longtime incumbent as well).  Six month later, Democrats lost 63 seats in Congress. In other words, spring special elections shouldn’t be taken as harbingers.

They’re only harbingers if the losing party accepts them as harbingers. The Republicans laughed off the Critz win, sold it to the media as something that didn’t matter for November, and kept on saying they were going to win 75 seats. The Democrats need to be similarly nonchalant about this one. It’s an embarrassing loss but it’s not the end of the world, unless Democrats think it is..

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 12, 2014

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Obamacare, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boy, How Things Have Changed”: We Will All Be Represented By Lobbyists Someday

Today, former Bush operative and tobacco lobbyist extraordinaire Ed Gillespie confirmed he is going to challenge Virginia Senator Mark Warner. This comes on the heels of news Monday that David Jolly, another lobbyist, had won the GOP primary in a special congressional election in Florida. And let’s not forget the victory of Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic lobbyist and second-worst candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Three examples makes it a trend. But what, if anything, does it herald for the future of American politics? Will Congress eventually be dominated by empty-eyed, gladhanding walking grins whose only skills are flattering the rich and powerful, and raising obscene amounts of money?

The short answer: Yes, so we might as well get used to it.

Congress was never a place where high idealism triumphed. On the contrary, for most of American history it has been dysfunctional, foolish, racist, in thrall to special interests, awash in money, and often stunningly corrupt. But, at the risk of romanticizing the past, it used to be a place that basically functioned, if you define “functioning” as “passing enough legislation to keep the country tottering along, usually after every other possibility was exhausted, and maybe even making things a little better for people every once in awhile.” It was exciting, for boring people at least, a place where ambitious strivers came for a career in political adventure and accomplishment.

But things have changed. Increasingly Congress has stopped doing anything at all, let alone anything positive, and became a place where not blowing up the world financial system for no reason is a success, and passing a budget like responsible countries do on a routine basis counts as a major accomplishment. And even then, everyone hates you for it anyway. Congress has rarely been well-liked, but it keeps setting new records in unpopularity—in November its approval rating was a record-low nine percent. Which only prompted one question: Who are these nine percent of people?

What’s more, the stupendous sums needed for a modern campaign, driven by Citizens United and the unintended consequences of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, have turned our representatives’ daily lives into one of endless begging for money. After the election, Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui wrote about the grim experience awaiting newly elected congressmen:

The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in “call time” and another hour is blocked off for “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers and press work. An hour is walled off to “recharge,” and three to four hours are designated for the actual work of being a member of Congress — hearings, votes, and meetings with constituents. If the constituents are donors, all the better…It is considered poor form in Congress — borderline self-indulgent — for a freshman to sit at length in congressional hearings when the time could instead be spent raising money…

“What’s my experience with it? You might as well be putting bamboo shoots under my fingernails,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a high-ranking Democrat.

Terry McAuliffe might not be terribly principled. But one thing he can do better than all but a handful of living humans is raise money—thanks to his utter shamelessness. Consider the time he, by his own admission, left his wife and literally newborn son in the car to raise money for the Democrats:

We got to the dinner and by then Dorothy was in tears, and I left her with Justin and went inside. Little Peter was sleeping peacefully and Dorothy just sat there and poor Justin didn’t say a word. He was mortified. I was inside maybe fifteen minutes, said a few nice things about Marty, and hurried back out to the car. I felt bad for Dorothy, but it was a million bucks for the Democratic Party and by the time we got home and the kids had their new little brother in their arms, Dorothy was all smiles and we were one big happy family again. Nobody ever said life with me was easy.

If the lobbyist-turned-politician trend continues, how much will it actually change on the Hill? After all, parties are getting better and better at enforcing ideological discipline. Devoid of any principle except their own advancement, lobbyists will serve as little more than a precisely calibrated measurement of the political influence of various interest groups and pressure groups. So to the extent that the country is well-served by actual ideological competition, lobbyist-politicians will be a reasonable proxy.

That’s the sunniest interpretation imaginable, anyway. Realistically, more lobbyist-politicians means more looted taxpayer cash stuffing plutocrats’ pockets. These brave new politicians won’t, by themselves, destroy the republic, but a Congress dominated by these money vacuums will probably be hell for the American people. Just wait until a grinning President McAuliffe signs the Chinese Lead-Based Toy Deregulation Act of 2024.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The New Republic, January 16, 2014

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Lobbyists | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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