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“Sympathy For The Speaker” GOP Leaders Appear To Know They Have A Credibility Problem

I have sympathy (not much, but some) for John Boehner.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the Republican House Speaker is nearly always between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, he and the GOP leadership must stand against President Barack Obama’s health care law, because the longer it remains on the books, the more likely those who receive its benefits are going to support Democrats, not Republicans.

On the other hand, if someday the Republicans repeal the law, after having returned to the White House with congressional majorities, they will be forced to devise an alternative — an impossibility given the reactionary impulses of today’s GOP.

In the former scenario, Republicans lose.

In the latter scenario, they lose.

So Boehner must thread the needle while hoping his credibility as a GOP leader isn’t badly tarnished, even as rank-and-file Republicans discover through their experience that Obamacare isn’t actually a harbinger of North Korean-style totalitarianism.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Boehner reiterated the Republican position on health care on the May 3 broadcast of Meet the Press, saying that Obamacare wasn’t working.

“Obamacare made it harder for employers to hire people,” he said. “You can ask any employer in America, ask them whether Obamacare has made it harder for them to hire employees, and they’ll tell you yes.”

When asked why none of the Republican Party’s dire predictions about health care came true, Boehner responded: “You know why there’s more people insured? Because a lot more people are on Medicaid.” He continued, “Giving people Medicaid insurance is almost like giving them nothing, because you can’t find a doctor that will see Medicaid patients. So where do they end up? The same place they used to end up: the emergency room.”

Events later in the week suggested, however, that something wasn’t right about Boehner’s claims. On Wednesday, the largest independent study of its kind was released. It found that nearly 17 million Americans are now covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Some lost coverage (about 6 million), according to the RAND Corporation study, but many more found coverage, with a net gain of 16.9 million. The evidence also contravenes those who say Obamacare encumbers hiring. For one thing, the largest gains (nearly 10 million) were made in employer-run insurance plans. For another, some 80 percent of the working population under the age of 65 saw no change at all in their health care coverage.

That wasn’t the only reason to look askance at Boehner’s claims. Last Friday’s monthly jobs report showed the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.4 percent, the lowest it’s been since May 2008, before Obama won the presidency. Even wages, which have not typically kept pace with inflation, rose by 2.2 percent in the past year.

So something’s wrong with the picture Boehner is painting. If most employers are offering insurance, and if the job market is expanding, why is Boehner saying that the Affordable Care Act has led to less insurance coverage and more unemployment?

GOP leaders appear to know they have a credibility problem. They are shifting their stance against Obamacare from quantity to quality. According to a report in The Hill published after Boehner’s appearance on Meet the Press, the Republicans now concede that Obamacare has covered more Americans but argue that the coverage is inferior. Hence, Boehner’s comment about Medicaid: Doctors don’t take Medicaid, and having it is like having nothing.

Such a shift raises its own question of credibility. Why would a Republican Party that equates tyranny with the presence of government in the lives of individuals be worried about the government’s role in providing quality health care to individuals?

Some might judge this as hypocrisy and thus dismiss the new Republican position as entirely unworthy of scrutiny. There’s merit to that, as Washington wallows in hypocrisy. But hypocrisy can prevent us from seeing what’s really going on. In this case, I wonder if Boehner and the leadership are worried about holding their ranks, as the temptation to defect grows from within.

Over time, the Affordable Care Act will penetrate deeper into the population. The millions of Americans who will benefit from the law will have an incentive to maintain the status quo. They’ll likely support the Democratic Party as long as the Republicans demand repeal of the law. So, as of now, a vote for a Republican, from the point of someone covered by the Affordable Care Act, is a self-destructive vote. And among those millions are conservatives.

Some might argue that in saying things about Obamacare that just aren’t true, Boehner risks alienating conservatives that make up the base of the Republican Party. Why would they trust the House Speaker if he is so consistently wrong? There’s something to that, but a likelier explanation for the GOP’s continued, and shifting, stance against the health care law is that opposition, no matter how contorted, is the best way to keep the conservatives in line.

Given time, more conservatives are going to benefit from the law. And the more they do, they more they will vote their self-interests. And that’s why I have (a little) sympathy for John Boehner.

 

By: John Stoehr, The National Memo, May 16, 2015

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, John Boehner, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Praise The Lord, Mom’s Alive”: Rick Scott’s Stunning Health Care ‘Ruse’ In Florida

In early 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) surprised nearly everyone by announcing he’d changed his mind about Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act. The Republican governor had long condemned the idea, but he apparently had a change of heart.

“I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care,” he said at the time. Scott added that Medicaid expansion is “a compassionate, common sense step forward.” The governor even referenced the death of his mother when explaining his rationale.

“A few months ago, my mother passed away, and I lost one of the only constants in my life,” Scott said. “Losing someone so close to you puts everything in new perspective … especially the big decisions…. As I wrestled with this decision, I thought about my Mom’s struggles raising five kids with very little money.”

That was February 2013. In April 2015, Scott reversed course again, announcing his renewed opposition to the policy he’d endorsed. And today, the local CBS affiliate in Miami reports that the governor offered an unexpected explanation for his posture two years ago.

Scott conceded this week that was all a ruse. He now says his support for Medicaid expansion was a calculated move designed to win support from the Obama administration for the state’s proposal to hand over control of Medicaid to private insurance companies. At the time, he denied that his support was tied to a deal with the federal government.

Now that he’s succeeded in privatizing Medicaid, Scott is again railing against Medicaid expansion and is suing the federal government for allegedly forcing it on him.

Oh my.

Of course, if you notice that CBS/Associated Press excerpt, you’ll notice that it’s missing something: a quote. The entire report appears to be a paraphrase of Scott’s comments, and the exact wording always matters.

Indeed, the governor’s office this afternoon pushed back against the AP’s reporting, saying the piece “editorialized” Scott’s comments.

So, which is it? On Twitter, Gary Fineout, an AP reporter in Florida, fleshed this out in a little more detail, explaining the argument Scott presented yesterday. As Fineout described it, the governor may have claimed at the time that his mother’s death inspired him to change his perspective, but in reality – according to Scott’s comments yesterday – the Florida Republican only supported Medicaid expansion as part of “a quid pro quo” to get a waiver from the Obama administration for Medicaid privatization.

Scott may have publicly claimed in 2013 that his position was about his “conscience” and deceased mother, but according to the governor’s new version of events, the rhetoric wasn’t actually sincere – his previous position was a calculated move to gain approval for his privatization plan.

In other words, the governor didn’t literally use the word “ruse” yesterday, so much as he effectively described a scheme in which he told the public something untrue in order to get what he wanted at the time.

I don’t expect much from Florida politics, but when a governor references his deceased mother to make a deliberately misleading argument, the Sunshine State is quite possibly breaking new ground in ugliness.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 7, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Rick Scott, Uninsured | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Florida’s Rick Scott Files Bizarre New ACA Lawsuit”: Scott Only Wants A Check ‘That Doesn’t Have Obamacare Cooties’

It was just last week when Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) completed a rarely seen flip-flop-flip, denouncing Medicaid expansion, then embracing it, and then condemning it. The consequences matter: 800,000 low-income Floridians were poised to have access to medical care, but they’ll now go without.

And while the governor’s decision seemed like the end of the story, it was actually the start of a more ridiculous turn of events.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday that he will sue the federal government for allegedly coercing Florida to expand Medicaid.

“It is appalling that President Obama would cut off federal healthcare dollars to Florida in an effort to force our state further into Obamacare,” Scott said in a statement.

By late yesterday, the far-right governor was reduced to comparing the White House to the mafia. “This is the Sopranos,” Scott said. “[Administration officials] are using bullying tactics to attack our state. It’s wrong. It’s outrageous they are doing this.”

This is actually one of the more amazing political fights in the country right now, and it’s worth appreciating why.

Back in 2006, the Bush/Cheney administration created a Medicaid pilot project intended to provide funds to help hospitals treat the uninsured. The policy was called “Low Income Pools” (LIP) and Florida received some money through the initiative.

Not surprisingly, the Affordable Care Act made the LIP project unnecessary, and began phasing out the policy.

In Florida, Scott seized on this in the most bizarre way possible – if federal officials are willing to scrap LIP funding, the governor said, then maybe they won’t fund Medicaid. The Republican found a convenient excuse to reject billions in federal funds and a lifeline to 800,000 of his struggling constituents.

Yesterday, the governor took this one step further, announcing a lawsuit to force Washington to give Florida federal funds for a program that will no longer exist. Scott wants money from the Obama administration to help Floridians (through LIP), but at the same time, he also doesn’t want money from the Obama administration to help Floridians (through the ACA).

Joan McCarter joked that Scott only wants a check “that doesn’t have Obamacare cooties.” Greg Sargent added that the governor could very easily clean up this mess by re-embracing Medicaid expansion through the ACA and simply claiming “it isn’t Obamacare.”

Even the Republican president of the Florida state Senate acknowledged yesterday that Scott’s lawsuit doesn’t make any sense

The bottom line in this little farce is that Rick Scott is going to extraordinary lengths – embracing and rejecting money, pitting the GOP-led state House against the GOP-led state Senate, dividing his allies, ignoring the needs of hundreds of thousands of his constituents, undermining his own state budget, even turning down tax cuts – because he finds it necessary to be against “Obamacare.” There’s no real substance to any of this, so much as there’s a partisan principle that the Republican governor is choosing to put at the top of his priority list.

The consequences are predictably absurd.

Brian Beutler’s take on this is exactly right: Scott is “suing the federal government to bail him out of a self-made crisis.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 17, 2015

April 19, 2015 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Rick Scott | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time For A Collective And Unbridled Demand For Justice”: Following MLK’s Example Means Ending Our ‘Whatever’ Mindset

I am often deeply disturbed by our remorseless witness. We are all implicated; we share responsibility for our witness of well-defined evil.

We don’t protect our most vulnerable children; we value people according to arbitrary standards blind to the image of God on every face; we are too quick to kill and to slow to forgive; we tolerate the desecration of the only earth we will ever know. We give a platform to political leaders who want to “take back our country” — by setting policies that favor the wealthiest over everyone else, selling public schools to the highest bidder, and tearing apart the safety net that sustains the elderly and assists our most vulnerable — as if their words and ideas are worth listening to, or are grounded in principles worthy of our attention or even support.

Our response? Too often it is tantamount to this: “Whatever.”

We allow injustices to persist as if solutions are someone else’s responsibility. We watched our Congress over the last six years — as we slid deeper into recession, as our immigration crisis worsened, as tragic deaths from gun violence killed children school by school, people in movie theaters, women and children in the sanctity of their homes — do less and less, making history for inactivity. Even now, behind all of the soaring rhetoric is a shocking lack of action. It’s almost as if Congress said, whatever. How will we respond?

February is African-American History Month, so rest assured there will be plenty of posturing by our elected leaders. I hope we will revisit a figure often celebrated at this time of year — but I hope we will have a new appreciation of his example, and what his example should mean in our daily lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young man, going about his daily business, following his predictable path when God called. He was a preacher’s kid from a solid middle class upbringing, attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, Boston University School of Theology, earning a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. He was on a Yellow Brick Road headed for Oz. But God had need of him and he joined the ranks of prophets like Samuel, Amos and Jeremiah; like Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonheoffer; like Gandhi, Ella Baker, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others that could be named.

In part, what distinguishes King and these moral giants is the fullness with which they heard the cry of injustice and responded. And we can all hear it if we listen, and we can all respond. As Callie Plunket-Brewton remarked, “The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry.”

God has no tolerance for whatever.

And King had no tolerance for it either. In 1959 he said, “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” Six years later, in 1965, he described his vision for where that career in humanity should lead us: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

Today, are we not a society that has lost its conscience? One only has to listen to the foolishness that passes for debate in any political season — and there is one on the horizon — or to the witless chatter on our televisions to feel the weight of Whatever pulling us down into the gravity of our condition.

But I have hope. I have hope that people of faith in every tradition will heed the words and examples of King and other prophets, and will wake up and rise up, will speak up and stand up; will turn for a moment from entertaining ourselves, buying things, cheering sports teams and entertainers, and insist on a world where children have clean water to drink and safe places to sleep; where the elderly can rest secure, the fruit of their labor beyond the reach of politicians; where a good public education awaits every eager child and a job with a living wage is there for every adult willing and able to work; where health care is a right, not a privilege, and humanity has matured beyond the illusion that our security is gained by weapons and wars.

This month we will celebrate many great African-Americans whose contributions to better our nation and world seem incalculable. But rather than set them apart, let us learn from their example and respond as they would have responded. I long for the day when people of all faith traditions call upon those who exercise power in our nation with words lifted from the heart of our faith — so that our living may be transformed. The time for whatever has long since passed — it’s time for a collective and unbridled demand for justice.

 

By: Rev. Michael Livingston, Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Company, February 15, 2015; This post first appeared at TalkPoverty.

February 17, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Black History Month, Equal Justice | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Rickety Scaffold Of Fictional History”: The Sham Lawsuit That Could Eviscerate Obamacare

Republicans in the House voted on Wednesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act—for the fifty-six time. After four years these show votes have become a tedious joke. But Wednesday’s action had bleaker implications, as it was cast in the shadow of a lawsuit that could undermine the healthcare law in fatal ways.

In a few weeks the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, which contends that the text of the ACA allows the IRS to give subsidies only to people who purchase insurance through exchanges set up by their state, and not to those who rely on the federally run marketplace. If the plaintiffs prevail, some 7 million people in the thirty-four states that have declined to set up their own exchanges would lose the tax credits that subsidize their insurance. Coverage would likely become unaffordable for many of them; without enough people in the marketplace, the law could collapse into a “death spiral.” In human terms, a group of hospitals wrote in a brief supporting the government, a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs “would be a disaster for millions of lower- and middle-income Americans…. The ranks of the uninsured will swell again, with all that portends in the way of untreated illness and overwhelming debt.”

To build their case, the plaintiffs have erected a rickety scaffold of fictional history around a single phrase in the 906-page law. The section of the law in question concerns the calculation of subsidies available to people “enrolled in through an exchange established by the State.” The plaintiffs argue that lacking an explicit reference to subsidies available to people enrolled in the federal exchanges, the text indicates that subsidies are only available in states operating their own. Furthermore, the plaintiffs argue, this was not sloppy writing but instead “reflects a specific choice by Congress” to design the subsidies as a carrot to entice states to establish their exchanges and punish them if they failed to do so.

The lack of structural integrity in the plaintiff’s case has become increasingly obvious in the past week, thanks to a sheaf of briefs filed states, lawmakers, and the healthcare industry. In sum, there’s about zero evidence for the challengers’ version of history, and what proof they do muster is shoddy. For example, one brief cites former Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, who played a defining role in designing the exchanges. According to the plaintiffs, Nelson thought it was “insufficient to merely allow states the option to establish Exchanges,” hence the need for a stick. But Nelson himself stated recently that he “always believed that tax credits should be available in all fifty states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well.”

It’s not hard to find conservative lawmakers, like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who will argue now that “the language of the law says…subsidies are only available for states that set up state exchanges.” But the idea that subsidies might be withheld was never articulated by anyone during the congressional debate, nor in the months after the law’s passage—even when states began to signal they would not operate their own exchanges. Instead, the same Republicans who endorse the lawsuit now were passing laws and making statements that affirmed the idea that subsidies would be available in all states. Statements from legislators and state officials that back up the plaintiff’s version of legislative history were made only after the implications of that ambiguous phrase in the ACA began to circulate around right-wing thought shops like the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.

If Congress did intend to use the subsidies as an incentive for states to set up their own exchanges, the fact that many state officials were clueless about the possible loss of tax credits is perplexing. None of the states “had reason to believe that choosing a federally facilitated exchange would alter so fundamental a feature of the ACA as the availability of tax credits,” reads a brief filed last week by nearly two dozen attorneys general representing red and blue states alike. “Nothing in the ACA provided clear notice of that risk, and retroactively imposing such a new condition now would upend the bargain the states thought they had struck,” it continues. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent spoke with a number of Republican state officials involved in the implementation of the ACA who confirmed that the possibility of losing subsidies was never part of discussions about whether or not to set up state exchanges.

The court could strike a blow against the ACA without fully accepting the strained version of history offered by the challengers. But as legal scholar Linda Greenhouse describes in The New York Times, doing so would require the justices to set aside their own principles and precedents. “The court has permitted itself to be recruited into the front lines of a partisan war. Not only the Affordable Care Act but the court itself is in peril as a result,” Greenhouse writes. “To reject the government’s defense of the law, the justices would have to suspend their own settled approach to statutory interpretation as well as their often-stated view of how Congress should act toward the states.”

It’s tempting to dismiss the lawsuit as a deeply silly partisan attack, akin to the House GOP’s repeated votes for repeal. Its basis may indeed be fluff. And yet it’s entirely possible that it will be this absurd case—not sabotage by Republicans at the state level; not lawsuits challenging the law on its constitutional merits—that dooms the signature achievement of the Obama years, at an immense human cost.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, February 5, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, King v Burwell | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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