Before Donald Trump started baying at the moon, and before Ted Cruz launched pointless shutdowns, the state of the art in Republican ideological extremism was Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand–inspired vision of government. Because Ryan is a practical extremist rather than an impractical one, and because he avoids displays of racism and misogyny, he has been cast as his party’s sensible alternative. Ryan has built his party’s agenda, which Republicans have rolled out in stages, achieving mostly adulatory coverage. USA Today’s lead earlier this month struck the typical tone: “Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday started rolling out policy prescriptions that he says are part of a positive Republican vision that will show Americans what the party is for, rather than focusing on what it’s against.” But all Ryan’s agenda would actually do is radically redistribute income upward on a historic and unprecedented scale.
House Republicans have released their plan in stages, and today they release their proposal to slash taxes. It contains all of the traditional elements of supply-side economics: The top tax rate would be cut to 33 percent, lower than it was under George W. Bush; taxes on capital gains and dividends would fall; and tax on estates — which currently applies only to inheritances of more than $10 million per couple — would be abolished. However, it is impossible to quantify just how enormous of a boon this would provide to the most affluent. Republicans have omitted enough key details to prevent a full measurement of the proposal’s effects. “The plan isn’t detailed enough for a complete nonpartisan congressional analysis to verify the impact on the budget and on households,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
The same holds true of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. As with taxes, the overall direction of the policy is clear: It would strip away insurance from tens of millions of people, impose higher costs on people who are poor and sick, and provide lower costs for the affluent and healthy. But just how much cannot be calculated, because Republicans have, again, omitted the key details. “House Republicans have estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on how their health care plan, released Wednesday, would affect the federal deficit,” reports Caitlin Owens. “They’re just not releasing them.” Hard numbers, once again, would reveal all of the painful trade-offs in the Republican plan.
The same dynamic is also true of Ryan’s much-hyped plan to overhaul poverty spending. House Republicans need to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for the poor, since doing so is the only way to reconcile their commitment to deep tax cuts, higher defense spending, and maintaining retirement benefits for people age 55 and up. But Ryan also needs to pose as an earnest friend of the poor, not as the champion of the upward income distribution his policies would actually bring about. So the “anti-poverty” plan relies on vague language and pixie-dust promises about rooting out unstated waste. “Many of the specific policy prescriptions aimed at addressing the problems identified in the paper were left out because members couldn’t agree on details such as how to prevent waste and fraud, according to aides,” report Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis.
Of course, if Trump manages to win, Ryan will claim that the public has given him a mandate for his ideas, and will quickly speed its passage through Congress. But getting to the point where they can do so requires hiding the numbers for as long as possible.
By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 27, 2016
Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) boasted on Twitter yesterday, “You’ve asked for it and tomorrow, House Republicans will release our plan to replace Obamacare.” Whether or not this actually constitutes a “plan,” however, is open to some debate.
After six years of vague talk about a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans on Tuesday finally laid out the replacement for a repealed health law – a package of proposals that they said would slow the growth of health spending and relax federal rules for health insurance. […]
In finally presenting one, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and his Republican team did not provide a cost estimate or legislative language. But they did issue a 20,000-word plan that provides the most extensive description of their health care alternative to date.
Perhaps, but let’s not grade on a curve. It was seven years ago this month that House Republican leaders began promising to unveil a GOP health-care-reform plan, and for seven years, the party has done nothing except offer vague soundbites and vote several dozen times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with nothing.
Or put another way, we’ve seen seven years of posturing on health care policy, but no actual governing.
The New York Times is correct that we now have an “extensive description” of the House Republican vision on the issue, but an “extensive description” does not a plan make. There’s still no legislation; there are still no numbers; there’s still no substance to score and scrutinize.
The Huffington Post summarized the problem nicely: “Speaker Paul Ryan wants to replace 20 million people’s health insurance with 37 pages of talking points.”
The plan, which isn’t legislation and is more like a mission statement, lacks the level of detail that would enable a full analysis, but one thing is clear: If put in place, it would almost surely mean fewer people with health insurance, fewer people getting financial assistance for their premiums or out-of-pocket costs, and fewer consumer protections than the ACA provides.
It’s difficult to be certain, because the proposal, which House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will talk up at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Wednesday, lacks crucial information, like estimates of its costs and effects on how many people will have health coverage.
The document weighs in at 37 pages, which includes the cover, three full pages about how terrible Obamacare is, and two blank sheets.
As for the outline itself, the “plan” includes exactly what we’d expect it to include: tax credits, health savings accounts, high-risk pools that Republicans don’t want to finance, transitioning Medicare into a voucher/coupon system, and the ability to buy insurance across state lines without necessary consumer safeguards and protections.
After seven years of study, GOP lawmakers are stuck with the same collection of ineffective ideas they’ve been pushing to no avail all along.
When House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced plans to unveil a six-part “Better Way” governing agenda, he vowed, “We’re not talking about principles here. This is substance.” That may have been the goal, but as of this morning, we’re still left with “a starting point” and “a broad outline” on health care that will ostensibly help Republicans to work out the details later.
There’s no great mystery here. Republicans haven’t been able to come up with a credible reform package for some pretty obvious reasons: (1) they’re a post-policy party with no real interest in governing; (2) health care reform has never really been a priority for the party, which would prefer to leave this in the hands of the private sector and free-market forces; and (3) trying to improve the system requires a lot of government spending and regulations, which contemporary GOP policymakers find ideologically abhorrent.
On this last point, New York’s Jon Chait explained a while back, “The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans’ health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can’t afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don’t want to do either of them.”
A Republican Hill staffer famously put it this way in 2014: “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act…. To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.”
Which, of course, Republicans can’t bring themselves to do. The result is a shell of a plan, like the one Paul Ryan is rolling out today.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 22, 2016
One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they’re going to have a plan that rivals “Obamacare,” and it’s going to be awesome.
Yesterday, The Hill reported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.
A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.
“Give us a little time, another month or so,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. “I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative.”
Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “task force,” responsible for coming up with the GOP’s reform alternative.
Upton said the Republican group is currently in “listening mode” – which it’s apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.
And yet, we’re apparently supposed to believe that in “another month or so,” House Republican lawmakers will be “pretty close” to having their own reform plan.
Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe “listening mode” is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with “a little time,” they’re ready to deliver.
It’s certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.
As we discussed when the Republican “task force” was created early last year, the political world may not fully appreciate just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is. It was on June 17, 2009 that then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made a bold promise. The Missouri Republican, a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, had taken the lead in crafting a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he was proud to publicly declare, ”I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.”
The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.” We’d all see the striking proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.
This was nearly seven years ago. The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.
In early April 2014, then-House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s health plan was nearly done, but it was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 24 months ago. In 2015, assurances that the Republican plan was on the way were also wrong.
In 2016, however, a GOP leader has been reduced to arguing, “Give us a little time,” seemingly unaware of how hilarious this is.
As we talked about last week, the problem probably isn’t dishonesty. In all likelihood, Republicans would love to have a health care plan of their own – no one likes to appear ridiculous while breaking promises – but haven’t because they don’t know how to craft one.
As New York’s Jon Chait explained, “The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans’ health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can’t afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don’t want to do either of them.”
Or as a Republican Hill staffer famously put it in 2014, “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act…. To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.”
Which, of course, Republicans can’t bring themselves to do.
But hope springs eternal, and I can’t wait to hear more about the GOP’s progress in “another month or so.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 19, 2016
“Move From Unemployment Insurance To Income Insurance”: Why The Sharing Economy Is Harming Workers And What Must Be Done
In this holiday season it’s especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don’t have steady work.
The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.
It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.
This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.
It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.
And it ends employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.
Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.
What to do?
Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.
We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.
In addition, to restore some certainty to people’s lives, we need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.
Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. With income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.
It’s possible to have a flexible economy and also provide workers some minimal level of security.
A decent society requires no less.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 27, 2015