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“Forget About Repealing Obamacare”: Too Many “Message” Votes Have Put The GOP In A Bind

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? That certainly seems to be the motto of House Republicans. Last week, the House GOP took its 56th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.

The bill’s prospects for consideration in the Senate are low and the president has repeatedly promised to veto such a measure anyway. After 56 tries, the House votes to repeal the health care law have become so commonplace that hardly anyone in Washington even blinks an eye at them anymore. Even the president says he’s lost count of how many repeal votes there have been. If House Republicans are serious in their quest to roll back the Affordable Care Act, why do they keep pursuing a strategy they know is doomed to fail?

They do it because these multiple repeal votes aren’t a serious attempt to void the health care law. They are merely symbolic message votes. Voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a popular campaign message for candidates on the right, and the recent House vote gave them a chance to fulfill their election year promises.

The repeal votes also give the Republican party a platform to continue talking about their opposition to the health law and to highlight its differences with the president. However, too many “message” votes may have also put the party in a bind. After 56 votes on essentially the same piece of legislation, the Republican party has faced criticism, according to The Hill, for failing to articulate an alternative plan. The repeated symbolic votes also expose the party to criticism for failing to lead in a critical policy area. The time spent in fruitless endeavors to repeal the law could have instead been used to negotiate on policies to fix the Affordable Care Act’s weaknesses. When it comes to health care policy, Republicans have simply become the party of no.

It’s time to switch tactics. Following the House votes last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., released a proposal for an alternative health care plan. The proposal is a good first step and perhaps necessary as, for the first time, three House Republicans voted against repeal of the Affordable Care Act in protest of their party’s apparent lack of a plan to replace it.

In addition to putting an actual health care plan on the table, Republicans may also want to consider trying to make changes to the current health care law in pieces. There could be opportunity for negotiation on aspects of the law that remain unpopular, such as the medical device tax, the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board and the definition of a full-time work week. Further, the Supreme Court ruling on the King v. Burwell case later this year regarding the legality of the subsidies being provided for the purchase of health insurance on the federal exchanges could provide Republicans with another opportunity to change the law. If the Supreme Court rules against the subsidies, a legislative fix may be necessary. By taking advantage of these opportunities, the party might be able to make the law more palatable for its constituency and improve its credibility in the process.

House Republicans have made their disdain for the Affordable Care Act very clear. A 57th vote to repeal the law will not be necessary, especially since it, too, would be doomed to fail as long as Obama is in office. However, it’s entirely possible we’ll see one. By focusing strictly on repeal of the entire law, Republicans risk giving the impression that they are completely unwilling to engage in meaningful debate on health care policy. The party should instead work to improve the law and continue putting forward ideas to do so.

A great example of this can be found at the state level. Following the Supreme Court’s decision that the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion was optional, several Republican governors have proposed alternative Medicaid plans to the administration. Some have already been successful in putting their imprint on the president’s initial policy because they came to the table in a serious manner. Republicans at the federal level would do well to follow suit.

 

By: Cary Gibson, a Government Relations Consultant with Prime Policy Group; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2015

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Can Dems Be Losing To These Idiots?”: The Most Anti-Idea Party In The History Of Parties

Back in February, I wrote a column arguing that the Democrats would need a strong, base-motivating message this year. By which I did not mean happy talk about jobs or the minimum wage. I meant the age-old motivator, fear—stoking fear in their base of what a Republican Senate would look like.

Well, here we are eight months later and less than a week out from the voting, and they haven’t done it. They’ve done a little of it. They push the “war on women” button, and a couple of others, like Social Security, which I discussed yesterday. But it just amazes me. They are running against a party that is as intellectually dishonest and bankrupt and just plain old willfully stupid as a political party can possibly be, and they have developed no language for communicating that to voters.

I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.

Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.

Not a single constructive idea. Oh, they put out these things they call “ideas,” so they can sound like they have ideas, but they’re not meant for actual implementation. They’re just meant to exist so candidates can campaign saying, “See? I have ideas!”

And then, of course, there are a few actual ideas they do have, like the Ryan Budget, but those are deep-sixed at campaign time, because the Republicans know that it would indeed force seniors to pay more out-of-pocket for their Medicare—I mean, as far as Paul Ryan is concerned, that’s the point!—and they’d much sooner not have to answer such questions at election time.

So they’ve got nothing. Not on the economy. Not on immigration reform. Not on health care—ah, health care. Think back with me now. In the first half of this year, there were a lot of news stories that got pumped out through Speaker John Boehner’s office about the Republicans working on a plan to replace Obamacare. Oh, it’s coming along, he said in summer. And the media scribbled down stories: Lookout, Obama! Republicans coming with alternative proposal!

Well, try Googling it now. You won’t find a word. They have no intention of “replacing” Obamacare with anything, and they never did. It was just something they knew they had to say for a while to sound responsible in Beltway land. Oh and by the way, that celebrated House lawsuit against Obamacare—remember that one, announced back in June? It turns out they haven’t even filed it! How empty can you get? Even their smoke and mirrors is smoke and mirrors.

On foreign policy, which is to say on the question of a world that is clearly in a deep crisis that the United States must perforce play a central solve in trying to solve, Republicans again have nothing meaningful to say. And please, don’t tell me “but Rand Paul!” His speech laid out some decent notions as far as they went, but how can a person support the war against ISIS while opposing the arming of the Syrian rebels? That’s like supporting a crackdown on bank robbery while advocating that banks keep the safes unlocked. And Paul, probably, is the closest thing the party has to a responsible voice on foreign policy.

I could go on, but you follow me. The GOP has absolutely nothing of substance to say to the American people, on any topic. The Republicans’ great triumph of this election season is their gains among women, which have happened because (mirabile dictu!) they’ve managed to make it through the campaign (so far) without any of their candidates asserting that rape is the will of God. All these extremists who may be about to win Senate seats are winning them basically by saying opponent, opponent, opponent, Obama, Obama, Obama.

And the Democrats can’t beat these guys? This should not be hard. But it is hard. Why? There’s the “who votes” question. There’s money, especially the outside dark money I wrote about last week. And there’s the GOP skill at pushing the right fear buttons. And there’s the fact that the president happens to be, well, you know.

But the underlying reason is this: The Democrats don’t have the right words for attacking the Republicans’ core essence and putting Republican candidates on the defensive. When Republicans attack Democrats, the attacks quite often go right to the heart of Democratic essence, and philosophy. “My opponent is a big-government, big-spending, high-taxing” etc. That gets it all in there in a few short words. Every Republican says it, and the fact is that it’s typically at least sort of true, because Democrats do believe in government and spending and taxes.

As a result, in almost every American election, the Democrat is instantly put on the defensive, while the Republican is playing offense. Of course that’s going to be truer in a sixth-year election of an incumbent Democratic president. But it’s usually more true than not. The Democrat, who is for things, who wants to do things besides cut budgets and taxes, carries the burden of explaining why those things will be good.

In fairness to the Democrats, they’re a little boxed in, because they can’t respond to the above attack by saying, “Well, my opponent is a small-government, low-spending, low-taxing” etc., which wouldn’t sound like much of an attack to most people.

So what they have to do instead is find a way to talk about this policy bankruptcy and duplicity of the GOP that I describe above, the party’s essential anti-idea-ness, because it’s through that bankruptcy and duplicity that the Republican Party manages to conceal from voters its actual agenda, which is to slash regulations and taxes and let energy companies and megabanks and multinational corporations do whatever it is they wish to do. Most Americans may be for limited government and lower taxes, but they sure aren’t for that.

In my experience, Democrats seem kind of afraid to do this. Partly afraid of the Republicans, and partly afraid of the conglomerates (they seek campaign contributions from Citibank too). And maybe my suggested way isn’t the only way to do it.

But high-ranking Democrats collectively need to perform the following exercise. Sit down together in a room. Distribute index cards. Let each of them write down five adjectives they associate with the GOP, adjectives they not only believe themselves but hear from constituents. Because the crowd has wisdom that the individual does not, take those that get the most mentions and turn them into attack on the GOP’s essence that will put Republican candidates on the defensive. Maybe that’s when our campaigns will change.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 29, 2014

October 29, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“In Defense Of Obama”: One Of The Most Consequential And, Yes, Successful Presidents In American History

When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

And I wasn’t wrong. Obama was indeed naive: He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically. Furthermore, he came perilously close to doing terrible things to the U.S. safety net in pursuit of a budget Grand Bargain; we were saved from significant cuts to Social Security and a rise in the Medicare age only by Republican greed, the GOP’s unwillingness to make even token concessions.

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

I’ll go through those achievements shortly. First, however, let’s take a moment to talk about the current wave of Obama-bashing. All Obama-bashing can be divided into three types. One, a constant of his time in office, is the onslaught from the right, which has never stopped portraying him as an Islamic atheist Marxist Kenyan. Nothing has changed on that front, and nothing will.

There’s a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who ”posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit.” They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have con- strained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

Finally, there’s the constant belittling of Obama from mainstream pundits and talking heads. Turn on cable news (although I wouldn’t advise it) and you’ll hear endless talk about a rudderless, stalled administration, maybe even about a failed presidency. Such talk is often buttressed by polls showing that Obama does, indeed, have an approval rating that is very low by historical standards.

But this bashing is misguided even in its own terms – and in any case, it’s focused on the wrong thing.

Yes, Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on. Obviously the midterm election hasn’t happened yet, but in a year when Republicans have a huge structural advantage – Democrats are defending a disproportionate number of Senate seats in deep-red states – most analyses suggest that control of the Senate is in doubt, with Democrats doing considerably better than they were supposed to. This isn’t what you’d expect to see if a failing president were dragging his party down.

More important, however, polls – or even elections – are not the measure of a president. High office shouldn’t be about putting points on the electoral scoreboard, it should be about changing the country for the better. Has Obama done that? Do his achievements look likely to endure? The answer to both questions is yes.

HEALTH CARE

When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, an excited Joe Biden whispered audibly, ”This is a big fucking deal!” He was right.

The enactment and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, has been a perils-of-Pauline experience. When an upset in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy cost Democrats their 60-vote Senate majority, health reform had to be rescued with fancy legislative footwork. Then it survived a Supreme Court challenge only thanks to a surprise display of conscience by John Roberts, who nonetheless opened a loophole that has allowed Republican-controlled states to deny coverage to millions of Americans. Then technical difficulties with the HealthCare.gov website seemed to threaten disaster. But here we are, most of the way through the first full year of reform’s implementation, and it’s working better than even the optimists expected.

We won’t have the full data on 2014 until next year’s census report, but multiple independent surveys show a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, probably around 10 million, a number certain to grow greatly over the next two years as more people realize that the program is available and penalties for failure to sign up increase.

It’s true that the Affordable Care Act will still leave millions of people in America uninsured. For one thing, it was never intended to cover undocumented immigrants, who are counted in standard measures of the uninsured. Furthermore, millions of low-income Americans will slip into the loophole Roberts created: They were supposed to be covered by a federally funded expansion of Medicaid, but some states are blocking that expansion out of sheer spite. Finally, unlike Social Security and Medicare, for which almost everyone is automatically eligible, Obamacare requires beneficiaries to prove their eligibility for Medicaid or choose and then pay for a subsidized private plan. Inevitably, some people will fall through the cracks.

Still, Obamacare means a huge improvement in the quality of life for tens of millions of Americans – not just better care, but greater financial security. And even those who were already insured have gained both security and freedom, because they now have a guarantee of coverage if they lose or change jobs.

What about the costs? Here, too, the news is better than anyone expected. In 2014, premiums on the insurance policies offered through the Obamacare exchanges were well below those originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and the available data indicates a mix of modest increases and actual reductions for 2015 – which is very good in a sector where premiums normally increase five percent or more each year. More broadly, overall health spending has slowed substantially, with the cost-control features of the ACA probably deserving some of the credit.

In other words, health reform is looking like a major policy success story. It’s a program that is coming in ahead of schedule – and below budget – costing less, and doing more to reduce overall health costs than even its supporters predicted.

Of course, this success story makes nonsense of right-wing predictions of catastrophe. Beyond that, the good news on health costs refutes conservative orthodoxy. It’s a fixed idea on the right, sometimes echoed by ”centrist” commentators, that the only way to limit health costs is to dismantle guarantees of adequate care – for example, that the only way to control Medicare costs is to replace Medicare as we know it, a program that covers major medical expenditures, with vouchers that may or may not be enough to buy adequate insurance. But what we’re actually seeing is what looks like significant cost control via a laundry list of small changes to how we pay for care, with the basic guarantee of adequate coverage not only intact but widened to include Americans of all ages.

It’s worth pointing out that some criticisms of Obamacare from the left are also looking foolish. Obamacare is a system partly run through private insurance companies (although expansion of Medicaid is also a very important piece). And some on the left were outraged, arguing that the program would do more to raise profits in the medical-industrial complex than it would to protect American families.

You can still argue that single-payer would have covered more people at lower cost – in fact, I would. But that option wasn’t on the table; only a system that appeased insurers and reassured the public that not too much would change was politically feasible. And it’s working reasonably well: Competition among insurers who can no longer deny insurance to those who need it most is turning out to be pretty effective. This isn’t the health care system you would have designed from scratch, or if you could ignore special-interest politics, but it’s doing the job.

And this big improvement in American society is almost surely here to stay. The conservative health care nightmare – the one that led Republicans to go all-out against Bill Clinton’s health plans in 1993 and Obamacare more recently – is that once health care for everyone, or almost everyone, has been put in place, it will be very hard to undo, because too many voters would have a stake in the system. That’s exactly what is happening. Republicans are still going through the motions of attacking Obamacare, but the passion is gone. They’re even offering mealymouthed assurances that people won’t lose their new benefits. By the time Obama leaves office, there will be tens of millions of Americans who have benefited directly from health reform – and that will make it almost impossible to reverse. Health reform has made America a different, better place.

FINANCIAL REFORM

Let’s be clear: The financial crisis should have been followed by a drastic crackdown on Wall Street abuses, and it wasn’t. No important figures have gone to jail; bad banks and other financial institutions, from Citigroup to Goldman, were bailed out with few strings attached; and there has been nothing like the wholesale restructuring and reining in of finance that took place in the 1930s. Obama bears a considerable part of the blame for this disappointing response. It was his Treasury secretary and his attorney general who chose to treat finance with kid gloves.

It’s easy, however, to take this disappointment too far. You often hear Dodd- Frank, the financial-reform bill that Obama signed into law in 2010, dismissed as toothless and meaningless. It isn’t. It may not prevent the next financial crisis, but there’s a good chance that it will at least make future crises less severe and easier to deal with.

Dodd-Frank is a complicated piece of legislation, but let me single out three really important sections.

First, the law gives a special council the ability to designate ”systemically important financial institutions” (SIFIs) – that is, institutions that could create a crisis if they were to fail – and place such institutions under extra scrutiny and regulation of things like the amount of capital they are required to maintain to cover possible losses. This provision has been derided as ineffectual or worse – during the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney claimed that by announcing that some firms were SIFIs, the government was effectively guaranteeing that they would be bailed out, which he called ”the biggest kiss that’s been given to New York banks I’ve ever seen.”

But it’s easy to prove that this is nonsense: Just look at how institutions behave when they’re designated as SIFIs. Are they pleased, because they’re now guaranteed? Not a chance. Instead, they’re furious over the extra regulation, and in some cases fight bitterly to avoid being placed on the list. Right now, for example, MetLife is making an all-out effort to be kept off the SIFI list; this effort demonstrates that we’re talking about real regulation here, and that financial interests don’t like it.

Another key provision in Dodd-Frank is ”orderly liquidation authority,” which gives the government the legal right to seize complex financial institutions in a crisis. This is a bigger deal than you might think. We have a well-established procedure for seizing ordinary banks that get in trouble and putting them into receivership; in fact, it happens all the time. But what do you do when something like Citigroup is on the edge, and its failure might have devastating consequences? Back in 2009, Joseph Stiglitz and yours truly, among others, wanted to temporarily nationalize one or two major financial players, for the same reasons the FDIC takes over failing banks, to keep the institutions running but avoid bailing out stockholders and management. We got a chance to make that case directly to the president. But we lost the argument, and one key reason was Treasury’s claim that it lacked the necessary legal authority. I still think it could have found a way, but in any case that won’t be an issue next time.

A third piece of Dodd-Frank is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild, an agency dedicated to protecting Americans against the predatory lending that has pushed so many into financial distress, and played an important role in the crisis. Warren’s idea was that such a stand-alone agency would more effectively protect the public than agencies that were supposed to protect consumers, but saw their main job as propping up banks. And by all accounts the new agency is in fact doing much more to crack down on predatory practices than anything we used to see.

There’s much more in the financial reform, including a number of pieces we don’t have enough information to evaluate yet. But there’s enough evidence even now to say that there’s a reason Wall Street – which used to give an approximately equal share of money to both parties but now overwhelmingly supports Republicans – tried so hard to kill financial reform, and is still trying to emasculate Dodd-Frank. This may not be the full overhaul of finance we should have had, and it’s not as major as health reform. But it’s a lot better than nothing.

THE ECONOMY

Barack Obama might not have been elected president without the 2008 financial crisis; he certainly wouldn’t have had the House majority and the brief filibuster-proof Senate majority that made health reform possible. So it’s very disappointing that six years into his presidency, the U.S. economy is still a long way from being fully recovered.

Before we ask why, however, we should note that things could have been worse. In fact, in other times and places they have been worse. Make no mistake about it – the devastation wrought by the financial crisis was terrible, with real income falling 5.5 percent. But that’s actually not as bad as the ”typical” experience after financial crises: Even in advanced countries, the median post-crisis decline in per- capita real GDP is seven percent. Recovery has been slow: It took almost six years for the United States to regain pre-crisis average income. But that was actually a bit faster than the historical average.

Or compare our performance with that of the European Union. Unemployment in America rose to a horrifying 10 percent in 2009, but it has come down sharply in the past few years. It’s true that some of the apparent improvement probably reflects discouraged workers dropping out, but there has been substantial real progress. Meanwhile, Europe has had barely any job recovery at all, and unemployment is still in double digits. Compared with our counterparts across the Atlantic, we haven’t done too badly.

Did Obama’s policies contribute to this less-awful performance? Yes, without question. You’d never know it listening to the talking heads, but there’s overwhelming consensus among economists that the Obama stimulus plan helped mitigate the worst of the slump. For example, when a panel of economic experts was asked whether the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus, 82 percent said yes, only two percent said no.

Still, couldn’t the U.S. economy have done a lot better? Of course. The original stimulus should have been both bigger and longer. And after Republicans won the House in 2010, U.S. policy took a sharp turn in the wrong direction. Not only did the stimulus fade out, but sequestration led to further steep cuts in federal spending, exactly the wrong thing to do in a still-depressed economy.

We can argue about how much Obama could have altered this literally depressing turn of events. He could have pushed for a larger, more extended stimulus, perhaps with provisions for extra aid that would have kicked in if unemployment stayed high. (This isn’t 20-20 hindsight, because a number of economists, myself included, pleaded for more aggressive measures from the beginning.) He arguably let Republicans blackmail him over the debt ceiling in 2011, leading to the sequester. But this is all kind of iffy.

The bottom line on Obama’s economic policy should be that what he did helped the economy, and that while enormous economic and human damage has taken place on his watch, the United States coped with the financial crisis better than most countries facing comparable crises have managed. He should have done more and better, but the narrative that portrays his policies as a simple failure is all wrong.

While America remains an incredibly unequal society, and we haven’t seen anything like the New Deal’s efforts to narrow income gaps, Obama has done more to limit inequality than he gets credit for. The rich are paying higher taxes, thanks to the partial expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the special taxes on high incomes that help pay for Obamacare; the Congressional Budget Office estimates the average tax rate of the top one percent at 33.6 percent in 2013, up from 28.1 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the financial aid in Obamacare – expanded Medicaid, subsidies to help lower-income households pay insurance premiums – goes disproportionately to less-well-off Americans. When conservatives accuse Obama of redistributing income, they’re not completely wrong – and liberals should give him credit.

THE ENVIRONMENT

In 2009, it looked, briefly, as if we might be about to get real on the issue of climate change. A fairly comprehensive bill establishing a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse-gas emissions actually passed the House, and visions of global action danced like sugarplums in environmentalists’ heads. But the legislation stalled in the Senate, and Republican victory in the 2010 midterms put an end to that fantasy. Ever since, the only way forward has been through executive action based on existing legislation, which is a poor substitute for the new laws we need.

But as with financial reform, acknowledging the inadequacy of what has been done doesn’t mean that nothing has been achieved. Saying that Obama has been the best environmental president in a long time is actually faint praise, since George W. Bush was terrible and Bill Clinton didn’t get much done. Still, it’s true, and there’s reason to hope for a lot more over the next two years.

First of all, there has been much more progress on the use of renewable energy than most people realize. The share of U.S. energy provided by wind and solar has grown dramatically since Obama took office. True, it’s still only a small fraction of the total, and some of the growth in renewables reflects technological progress, especially in solar panels, that would have happened whoever was in office. But federal policies, including loan guarantees and tax credits, have played an important role.

Nor is it just about renewables; Obama has also taken big steps on energy conservation, especially via fuel-efficiency standards, that have flown, somewhat mysteriously, under the radar. And it’s not just cars. In 2011, the administration announced the first-ever fuel-efficiency standards for medium and heavy vehicles, and in February it announced that these standards would get even tougher for models sold after 2018. As a way to curb green house-gas emissions, these actions, taken together, are comparable in importance to proposed action on power plants.

Which brings us to the latest initiative. Because there’s no chance of getting climate-change legislation through Congress for the foreseeable future, Obama has turned to the EPA’s existing power to regulate pollution – power that the Supreme Court has affirmed extends to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And this past summer, the EPA announced proposed rules that would require a large reduction over time in such emissions from power plants. You might say that such plants are only a piece of the problem, but they’re a large piece – CO2 from coal-burning power plants is in fact a big part of the problem, so if the EPA goes through with anything like the proposed rule, it will be a major step. Again, not nearly enough, and we’ll have to do a lot more soon, or face civilization-threatening disaster. But what Obama has done is far from trivial.

NATIONAL SECURITY

So far, I’ve been talking about Obama’s positive achievements, which have been much bigger than his critics understand. I do, however, need to address one area that has left some early Obama supporters bitterly disappointed: his record on national security policy. Let’s face it – many of his original enthusiasts favored him so strongly over Hillary Clinton because she supported the Iraq War and he didn’t. They hoped he would hold the people who took us to war on false pretenses accountable, that he would transform American foreign policy, and that he would drastically curb the reach of the national security state.

None of that happened. Obama’s team, as far as we can tell, never even considered going after the deceptions that took us to Baghdad, perhaps because they believed that this would play very badly at a time of financial crisis. On overall foreign policy, Obama has been essentially a normal post-Vietnam president, reluctant to commit U.S. ground troops and eager to extract them from ongoing commitments, but quite willing to bomb people considered threatening to U.S. interests. And he has defended the prerogatives of the NSA and the surveillance state in general.

Could and should he have been different? The truth is that I have no special expertise here; as an ordinary concerned citizen, I worry about the precedent of allowing what amount’s to war crimes to go not just unpunished but uninvestigated, even while appreciating that a modern version of the 1970s Church committee hearings on CIA abuses might well have been a political disaster, and undermined the policy achievements I’ve tried to highlight. What I would say is that even if Obama is just an ordinary president on national security issues, that’s a huge improvement over what came before and what we would have had if John McCain or Mitt Romney had won. It’s hard to get excited about a policy of not going to war gratuitously, but it’s a big deal compared with the alternative.

SOCIAL CHANGE

In 2004, social issues, along with national security, were cudgels the right used to bludgeon liberals – I like to say that Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists. Ten years later, and the scene is transformed: Democrats have turned these social issues – especially women’s rights – against Republicans; gay marriage has been widely legalized with approval or at least indifference from the wider public. We have, in a remarkably short stretch of time, become a notably more tolerant, open-minded nation.

Barack Obama has been more a follower than a leader on these issues. But at least he has been willing to follow the country’s new open-mindedness. We shouldn’t take this for granted. Before the Obama presidency, Democrats were in a kind of reflexive cringe on social issues, acting as if the religious right had far more power than it really does and ignoring the growing constituency on the other side. It’s easy to imagine that if someone else had been president these past six years, Democrats would still be cringing as if it were 2004. Thankfully, they aren’t. And the end of the cringe also, I’d argue, helped empower them to seek real change on substantive issues from health reform to the environment. Which brings me back to domestic issues.

As you can see, there’s a theme running through each of the areas of domestic policy I’ve covered. In each case, Obama delivered less than his supporters wanted, less than the country arguably deserved, but more than his current detractors acknowledge. The extent of his partial success ranges from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly. Health reform looks pretty good, especially in historical perspective – remember, even Social Security, in its original FDR version, only covered around half the workforce. Financial reform is, I’d argue, not so bad – it’s not the second coming of Glass-Steagall, but there’s a lot more protection against runaway finance than anyone except angry Wall Streeters seems to realize. Economic policy wasn’t enough to avoid a very ugly period of high unemployment, but Obama did at least mitigate the worst.

And as far as climate policy goes, there’s reason for hope, but we’ll have to see.

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Rolling Stone, October 8, 2014

October 11, 2014 Posted by | Politics, President Obama, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“When Ideology Collides With Reality”: Irrational Republican Exuberance Over Obamacare’s Problems

In these days of hyper-polarization, some readers may wonder why I always treat with great respect the findings and analysis of conservative number-cruncher Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he’s willing to say uncomfortable things to people on his side of the barricades when data and history so indicate, as he did in a column today pouring ice water on the popular conservative idea that a collapse of Obamacare would lead to some sort of “existential crisis” for liberalism or “the welfare state.”

I’ve said before that our press corps suffers from histrionic personality disorder, and this is but the latest example. Wasn’t it just weeks ago that we were told the government shutdown could cost Republicans the House? But elections and the ideological orientation of the country don’t turn on such immediate, short-term events. The arc of history is long. Both parties, and both ideologies, have plenty of wins ahead of them, and neither is likely to suffer a knockout blow.

Let’s start by observing that we’re barely 50 days into Obamacare’s launch. While the program is clearly in much graver political danger than was the case a month ago, it’s still unclear that the ship won’t eventually be righted. Maybe the so-called “young invincibles” will sign up in droves, or maybe they won’t and the program will go into a death spiral. We just don’t know yet.

But even if the Affordable Care Act does collapse, I’m not sure that the liberal project will be kneecapped, much less destroyed. Americans have very short memories, and the pendulum will swing back quickly if Republicans mess up their next opportunity to govern.

Trende then goes through a long series of historical examples (dating back to 1890) of big political calamities for one party or the other that was followed in relatively short order, and sometimes almost instantly, by a big recovery, often because the other party over-estimated its advantages and overreached. And he notes that even in specific policy areas a misstep or defeat doesn’t necessarily take issues off the table:

Even the last failed attempt at health care reform, in the early 1990s, didn’t actually spell the end of reform efforts for the next two decades, as many suggest. It just proceeded incrementally, with some fairly significant steps. Congress in 1996 passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, which established health insurance portability. The following year, Republicans helped to establish the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which today provides health care for almost 8 million children. In 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, Congress was consumed with a debate over the Patient’s Bill of Rights, with the only major disagreement involving whether plaintiffs should be able to collect punitive damages while suing their HMO.

Sean even suggests an Obamacare “disaster” could produce an even more ambitious Democratic health care initiative:

[E]ven if Obamacare does collapse, the most liberal aspects of the American health care system — Medicare and Medicaid — will still be around. Democrats have already been pretty straightforward about what their “Plan B” will be: Medicare/Medicaid for all. Both programs are still very popular, and the Democratic standard-bearer in 2016 would almost certainly campaign on expanding them, perhaps to those over 55 for Medicare and under 25 for Medicaid. I’m not sure that would be a losing issue, even with an Obamacare collapse. In 10 years, I think it’d be a winner.

That is indeed the “silver lining” that a lot of single payer advocates have been seeing in the troubles involving the Obamacare exchanges, which are complex and hard to administer in no small part because of their reliance on a managed competition model many liberals never favored in the first place.

Trende thinks the major lesson here is that the ideological clash of ideas that activists often perceive in political events just isn’t shared by that many voters:

The American electorate is not intensely ideological, and is more motivated by things such as the state of the economy, whether there is peace abroad (or whether we’re winning a war), and whether the president is suffering from a major scandal.

I would agree in part, but would go further to say that today’s radicalized Republican Party has goals that have never commanded a majority of the electorate, and are even less likely to do so in the future. It is capable of making big gains when Democrats screw up, but is determined to risk them immediately to pursue an unpopular agenda. If the worst (or from their point of view, the best) happens and conservatives gain the power to implement that agenda, then the odds are extremely high they will, as Trende puts it, “mess up their next opportunity to govern.” And in that respect, ideology really does matter–when it collides with reality.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 20, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Nonsense”: Blaming President Obama For Passing A “Partisan” Health-Care Bill?

Here’s one thing I absolutely cannot stand hearing: that President Obama is getting what he deserves now because he passed such a “partisan” health-care bill. The suggestion is truly beyond belief and, quite literally, totalitarian in spirit, in the way it flips the truth so perversely on its head, turning the perpetrated-upon into the perpetrator and the aggressor into the victim. As Obamacare flails, one hears the “partisan” line frequently these days on television and radio. More maddeningly still, the alleged liberals and fact-based reporters on various panels often permit it to go unchallenged. Let’s set the record straight.

Obama came into office trying to reach out to Republicans and their voters. Remember Pastor Rick Warren at the inaugural? Remember how the president met with pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights groups early on? (You may not, but he did.) He also tried to horse-trade with them on the stimulus. True, he would not compromise on a tax credit for low-wage workers that Republicans opposed. (Interesting to read this article in retrospect; Obama was trying to help here the later-famous 47 percent.) But he did offer movement on tax cuts, and the Senate did pass a Charles Grassley amendment about the alternative minimum tax. And, at the White House’s request, certain expenditures the White House thought would repel Republicans were stripped out in the hopes of winning GOP support. But that, of course, did not happen in any meaningful way.

In the late spring of 2009, Obama started talking health care. He sat down with Republicans over the summer. He invited a group of Republicans into his office and told them he’d put tort reform in the bill if it would get him Republican votes. They stared at him. Other administration officials met with Republicans a number of times to see if anything could be put in the bill to appease them. The answer was always no. Remember here that the Affordable Care Act is basically a Republican plan to begin with, as the individual mandate idea came from the Heritage Foundation. So you might have thought that some Republicans would be OK with that.

Outside the administration, Democrats in the Senate negotiated with Republicans for months. Those Democrats finally did decide, on August 17, that it was time to throw up their hands, and they reluctantly proceeded without Republicans. “Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul…” is how the Times opened its article on the matter. But it wasn’t for want of trying. Democrats tried, for ages.

Why did they stop trying? Maybe because of things like then-Sen. Jim DeMint’s vow July 9 to make health care Obama’s “Waterloo.” Or maybe Democrats took the hint July 16, when they heard Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say, “We’re doing everything we can to defeat it.” Or maybe it was July 22, when Orrin Hatch, once a reasonable conservative, walked out of the Senate negotiations and announced he would not back any bill. That was, of course, the summer of the Tea Party town hall madness.

It was obvious by then—really before, but certainly by the time of Hatch’s departure—that Republicans would never agree to anything about health-care reform. They would say Obama wouldn’t accept their ideas, and there would be about a half an iota of a smidgeon of truth in that protestation, but of course the reason Obama didn’t accept their ideas is that their ideas were far worse than what ended up in the bill. They put out a four-page set of broad principles in June 2009. Then they filled in some details, and the Congressional Budget Office went over it. Unsurprisingly, it was a joke. The CBO found that it would have increased the number of uninsured and raised premiums for millions. Oh, and get this: Under their plan, insurance companies could still have denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Ending that is the main point of reform, and ending that is why reform is so hard.

So Republicans gave no support at all, by design, essentially from the beginning. And then they blame Obama for passing a “partisan” bill? It’s beyond Kafkaesque. It really is like an old communist secret-police trick: We will seize most of your farmland and then jail you for failing to live up to the production quotas.

And then they vote 40 times to repeal it. And then Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, goes on MSNBC on Thursday, and Chuck Todd asks him if the Republicans want the Affordable Care Act to fail, and he says: “Never.” Never! Can you imagine? Voting to repeal something 40 times is kind of an odd way for a group of people to express their desire to see it succeed.

At a moment when Obamacare is on the ropes, and in a country of people with memories shorter than Michele Bachmann’s future in public life, Republicans know that they can repeat such a dishonest talking point and get a fair percentage of Americans to believe Obama behaved like some raging partisan. The associated corollary point is that this was about his ego or some such nonsense.

Uh, no. Progressive-minded people have been wanting to pass universal health care in the United States for a century. Usually they were Democrats, although back in the day some were Republicans, including Teddy Roosevelt. It has been the major unmet policy goal of American liberalism for decades—not because Democrats want to overpower Republicans politically, but because Democrats want people to have access to health care. Republicans don’t. Since the policy goal makes utterly no sense to them, they assume everything is about politics. Obama wasn’t being “partisan.” He was fulfilling a long-held policy goal—and a central campaign promise, by the way. I thought we were supposed to like it when politicians keep their promises. But now that’s partisan, too, at least to people who see everything through partisan glasses.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2013

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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