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Budget Compromise Shows Conservative Big Government Hypocrisy

They hate big government, those conservative Republicans—especially a big federal government, trying to meddle in Americans’ lives on everything from healthcare to light bulbs.

Except, of course, when it comes to the District of Columbia, which the GOP-controlled House seems to view as its own little political petri dish. As part of its pending agreement to cut $38 billion from the federal budget, negotiators decided to cave in to the GOP’s demand to bar the District from using its own money to subsidize abortions for poor women.

A lot of people don’t like abortion, think it should be illegal, and don’t think government should pay for it. That’s a simple equation: if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. If you think it should be illegal, take it up with the courts, or push for a constitutional amendment banning it. Barring government money from being spent on a legal women’s health service—however controversial—is not defensible. We all have to pay for activities we don’t want, through our taxes or health insurance premiums. Some taxpayers would prefer that their contributions to the federal treasury not be used to pay for wars; some who pay health insurance premiums don’t want the pool of money to be used to pay for someone’s Viagra. But group funds don’t allow for individual micro-management.

The attack on the District of Columbia adds even more insult to the unforgivable injury Washingtonians already endure as the nation’s only legally disenfranchised voters. It’s bad enough that U.S. citizens in Washington—people who pay local and federal taxes, volunteer, serve in wars and on jury duty—don’t have a full voting representative in the House and have no U.S. senators. It’s the height of arrogance for members of the U.S. Congress from other parts of the country to presume to tell the District how to spend tax dollars it collected from its own citizens. Aside from the abortion restrictions, the pending budget agreement also reinstates and expands a private school voucher program for the District.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who was arrested at the Capitol this week in protest over the meddling, sounded just like a genuine political conservative as he described his objections: “I’m tired of being a pawn in a political game. All we want is to be able to spend our own money.”

How unfortunate that congressional Republicans, who demanded the control over the District—and Democrats, who caved into their bullying—can’t see their way to apply true conservative principles when it comes to the city where they work. Other jurisdictions have imposed a “commuter tax” on people who live in one state and work in another. Members of Congress pay taxes in their home districts and states, but not here. If they want a say in how District funds are used, maybe it’s time they started to pay up.

By: Susan Milligan, U.S. News and World Report, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Big Government, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care, Human Rights, Ideologues, Middle East, Politics, Republicans, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mr. Obama’s Health Care Challenge-The Ball Is In Your Court GOP

President Obama had a splendid idea this week. He challenged governors who oppose his health care reforms, most of whom are Republicans, to come up with a better alternative. He has agreed to move up the date at which states can offer their own solutions and thus opt out of requirements that they oppose, like the mandate that everyone buy health insurance and that most employers provide it.

Let as many states as possible test innovative approaches to determine which works best.

The president told the nation’s governors on Monday that he supported a bipartisan bill — sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, and Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana — that would allow states to fashion solutions right from the start of full-scale reform in 2014, rather than waiting until 2017, as the law requires.

The catch is that a state’s plan must cover as many people as the federal law does, provide insurance that is as comprehensive and affordable, and not increase the deficit. That won’t be easy for the governors to accomplish, and House Republicans seem unlikely to pass the bill to let them try. They would much rather repeal the reform law — or have it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — than join Mr. Obama in improving it.

The decision to set the date at 2017 was based on a desire to get the reform elements up and coverage greatly expanded before allowing states to start changing the law. There also were concerns that the early start would be more costly. That’s because the states would be given money for alternatives equal to the cost of insuring their citizens under health care reform. Without three years of experience to get firm figures, those block grants would probably be set too high.

Neither rationale still seems compelling. It would be wasteful to require states to set up exchanges and other elements of the reform only to abandon them for an alternative system three years later. The pending bill would wisely allow states to submit proposals in the near future and, if approved, put them into effect in 2014.

Alternative approaches might include replacing the mandate to buy insurance with a system to automatically enroll people in health plans, reformulating tax credits for small businesses and low-income individuals to encourage near-universal coverage, adopting such liberal approaches as a single-payer plan or a public option, and even moving all or part of the enrollees in Medicaid into new health insurance exchanges. These would all have to be done without driving up the federal deficit or reducing benefits, affordability and coverage.

Reaction among Republican governors has been mixed. The vast majority are focused on their immediate need to reduce Medicaid spending to help close their budget gaps, not on fashioning alternatives for 2014. For the near-term budget problems, the administration is already advising states on ways to reduce Medicaid costs and the president asked the governors to form a bipartisan group to work on further cost-reduction.

The president’s new olive branch is not apt to change the legal arguments over whether the mandate in the reform law is constitutional. But it can’t hurt to bring forcefully to everyone’s attention that there are alternatives to the mandate if states want to pursue them. Republicans ought to rise to the challenge.

By: The New York Times-Editorial, Published March 1, 2011

March 2, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fight Over The Individual Mandate Is Not About Liberty

Whatever the legal argument about the individual mandate is about, it’s not, as some of its detractors would have it, a question of liberty. Charles Fried, Ronald Reagan’s former solicitor general, put this well at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“As I recall,” he said, “the great debate was between this device and the government option. And the government option was described as being akin to socialism, and there was a point to that. But what’s striking is that nobody in the world could’ve argued that the government option or single-payer could’ve been unconstitutional. It could’ve been deplorable. It could’ve been regrettable. It could’ve been Eastern rather than Western European. But it would’ve been constitutional.”

I’d disagree slightly with Fried’s characterization of the policy debate — the individual mandate and the public option do very different things, and a bill with a public option would still have had an individual mandate — but on the law, even the panel’s anti-mandate witnesses agreed with his characterization of the single payer’s legality. So, too, does Daniel Foster, a conservative at the National Review, who wrote, “All conservatives, I’d imagine, think single-payer is unwise, but I’m sure plenty of them think it’s also constitutional (I’m probably one of them, as well).”

There is little doubt that the individual mandate, which preserves a private insurance market and the right to opt out of purchasing coverage, accords more closely with most conservative definitions of liberty than a single-payer system, which wipes out private insurers and coerces every American to pay for the government’s coverage. That doesn’t make it more constitutional, of course. But it does suggest that the dividing point isn’t liberty.

When it comes to the legislation itself, the key question actually comes down to semantics. It’s broadly agreed that tax breaks are constitutional. The individual mandate could’ve been called the “personal responsibility tax.” If you can show the IRS proof of insurance coverage, you then get a “personal responsibility tax credit” for exactly the same amount. This implies that what makes the mandate unconstitutional in the eyes of some conservatives is its wording: It’s called a “penalty” rather than a “tax.” As Judge Henry Hudson put it in his ruling, “In the final version of the [Affordable Care Act] enacted by the Senate on December 24th, 2009, the term ‘penalty’ was substituted for the term ‘tax’ in Section 1501(b)(1). A logical inference can be drawn that the substitution of this critical language was a conscious and deliberate act on the part of Congress.” And it was: Taxes are more politically toxic than penalties, or so the authors of the bill thought. But they’re not more damaging to liberty than taxes.

Despite the overheated rhetoric that’s been tossed around in this debate, I don’t believe our forefathers risked their lives to make sure the word “penalty” was eschewed in favor of the word “tax.” This is not a country built upon semantics. And I don’t think semantics underly the principle conservatives are fighting for here, either. After all, before Barack Obama adopted the individual mandate — and I mean mere months before — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said there was “bipartisan consensus” around the need for an individual mandate. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for the individual mandate in the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) had his name on a bill that included an individual mandate. Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.), back when he led the Senate’s Republicans, co-sponsored a bill that included an individual mandate. None of these legislators takes the Constitution lightly. They didn’t see the individual mandate as a threat to liberty, and they weren’t constantly emphasizing that it was a tax rather than a penalty.

The principle conservatives are fighting for is that they don’t like the Affordable Care Act. And having failed to win that fight in Congress, they’ve moved it to the courts in the hopes that their allies on the bench will accomplish what their members in the Senate couldn’t. That’s fair enough, of course. But they didn’t see the individual mandate as a question of liberty or constitutionality until Democrats passed it into law in a bill Republicans opposed, and they have no interest in changing its name to the “personal responsibility tax,” nor would they be mollified if it was called the “personal responsibility tax.” The hope here is that they’ll get the bill overturned on a technicality. And perhaps they will. But no one should be confused by what’s going on.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, Posted February 2, 2011

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Individual Mandate | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Health Care, Justice Will Prevail

The lawsuits challenging the individual mandate in the health care law, including one in which a federal district judge last week called the law unconstitutional, will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court, and pundits are already making bets on how the justices will vote.

But the predictions of a partisan 5-4 split rest on a misunderstanding of the court and the Constitution. The constitutionality of the health care law is not one of those novel, one-off issues, like the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, that have at times created the impression of Supreme Court justices as political actors rather than legal analysts.

Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law’s constitutionality is open and shut. Does anyone doubt that the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry is an interstate market that Congress has the power to regulate?

Many new provisions in the law, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, are also undeniably permissible. But they would be undermined if healthy or risk-prone individuals could opt out of insurance, which could lead to unacceptably high premiums for those remaining in the pool. For the system to work, all individuals — healthy and sick, risk-prone and risk-averse — must participate to the extent of their economic ability.

In this regard, the health care law is little different from Social Security. The court unanimously recognized in 1982 that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to maintain the financial soundness of a Social Security system from which people could opt out. The same analysis holds here: by restricting certain economic choices of individuals, we ensure the vitality of a regulatory regime clearly within Congress’s power to establish.

The justices aren’t likely to be misled by the reasoning that prompted two of the four federal courts that have ruled on this legislation to invalidate it on the theory that Congress is entitled to regulate only economic “activity,” not “inactivity,” like the decision not to purchase insurance. This distinction is illusory. Individuals who don’t purchase insurance they can afford have made a choice to take a free ride on the health care system. They know that if they need emergency-room care that they can’t pay for, the public will pick up the tab. This conscious choice carries serious economic consequences for the national health care market, which makes it a proper subject for federal regulation.

Even if the interstate commerce clause did not suffice to uphold mandatory insurance, the even broader power of Congress to impose taxes would surely do so. After all, the individual mandate is enforced through taxation, even if supporters have been reluctant to point that out.

Given the clear case for the law’s constitutionality, it’s distressing that many assume its fate will be decided by a partisan, closely divided Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, whom some count as a certain vote against the law, upheld in 2005 Congress’s power to punish those growing marijuana for their own medical use; a ban on homegrown marijuana, he reasoned, might be deemed “necessary and proper” to effectively enforce broader federal regulation of nationwide drug markets. To imagine Justice Scalia would abandon that fundamental understanding of the Constitution’s necessary and proper clause because he was appointed by a Republican president is to insult both his intellect and his integrity.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many unfairly caricature as the “swing vote,” deserves better as well. Yes, his opinion in the 5-4 decision invalidating the federal ban on possession of guns near schools is frequently cited by opponents of the health care law. But that decision in 1995 drew a bright line between commercial choices, all of which Congress has presumptive power to regulate, and conduct like gun possession that is not in itself “commercial” or “economic,” however likely it might be to set off a cascade of economic effects. The decision about how to pay for health care is a quintessentially commercial choice in itself, not merely a decision that might have economic consequences.

Only a crude prediction that justices will vote based on politics rather than principle would lead anybody to imagine that Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito would agree with the judges in Florida and Virginia who have ruled against the health care law. Those judges made the confused assertion that what is at stake here is a matter of personal liberty — the right not to purchase what one wishes not to purchase — rather than the reach of national legislative power in a world where no man is an island.

It would be asking a lot to expect conservative jurists to smuggle into the commerce clause an unenumerated federal “right” to opt out of the social contract. If Justice Clarence Thomas can be counted a nearly sure vote against the health care law, the only reason is that he alone has publicly and repeatedly stressed his principled disagreement with the whole line of post-1937 cases that interpret Congress’s commerce power broadly.

There is every reason to believe that a strong, nonpartisan majority of justices will do their constitutional duty, set aside how they might have voted had they been members of Congress and treat this constitutional challenge for what it is — a political objection in legal garb.

By: Laurence H. Tribe, Op-Ed Contributor, New York Times: Professor, Harvard Law School and author of “The Invisible Constitution”, February 7, 2011


February 8, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Constitution, Health Reform | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Conservative Attacks on Health Care Reform Will Affect You

Attempts to Repeal Affordable Care Act Have Serious Consequences

The Affordable Care Act provides Americans economic and health security with protections against exorbitant premium hikes, better health benefits, and slower growth in health care costs. Conservatives in the Congress are intent on taking these benefits away.

Conservatives are starting to implement their onslaught to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. They have scheduled a vote on January 12. If conservatives have their way and repeal the Affordable Care Act, we will go back to a health care system that failed millions of Americans: one with skyrocketing costs bankrupting families and our budget, fewer people with access to quality care, and more people at the mercy of the health insurance industry.

Increasing premiums for millions of Americans. Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, individuals and families were faced with skyrocketing premiums. Premiums for individuals increased 120 percent and family premiums increased 130 percent from 1999 to 2009. The Affordable Care Act controls these costs. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office or CBO looked at the law’s effect on premiums in 2016 and estimated that the health reform law would cut premiums for millions of Americans. These premiums cuts would be more substantial for those in the individual market, most of whom will receive subsidies to help cover the cost. According to the CBO, those receiving help in the individual market would see their premiums reduced by 56 percent to 59 percent less than they would pay without the law, while also enjoy better coverage than what they currently receive. Repealing the law means going back to a status quo of skyrocketing premiums that made health insurance out of reach and unaffordable for American families.

Costing 400,000 jobs annually. The Affordable Care Act helps create as many as 400,000 jobs annually over the next decade by lowering costs and helping promote a healthier workforce. It includes cost-containment measures to slow the rate of growth of health care spending. Small businesses in particular are helped through exchanges that allow them to pool resources to lower costs as well as tax credits to make it more affordable to offer their employees health coverage. These cost-reduction provisions free up money that otherwise would be spent on health care and allow companies to spend it hiring more workers. In addition, a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. Those benefits disappear, as well as the jobs created along with it, if the law is repealed.

Increasing costs for seniors by as much as $1,500 in 2011. The Affordable Care Act eliminates the “donut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug program by 2020. Seniors with high prescription drug expenses before health reform had to pay full price for their prescription drugs—without any help from their drug plan—once their prescription drug spending reached a pre-defined limit. People who hit this limit in 2011 will get a 50 percent discount on their name-brand prescription drugs, saving some Medicare enrollees as much as $1,500 in out-of-pocket drug costs. Those savings will not be realized if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Hurting communities of color. Communities of color are more likely to be uninsured, and they suffer from higher rates of chronic illness than the rest of the population. The Affordable Care Act addresses these inequities by expanding health insurance coverage and improving access to primary care, including preventive services. These provisions will be eliminated if conservatives have their way and repeal the health reform law.

Increasing costs and deficits. The Affordable Care Act creates tools to control the growth in health costs while improving quality of care. Effective implementation can reduce administrative costs for small businesses and individuals, promote greater use of preventive care, and prevent unnecessary hospitalizations, saving as much as $2 trillion in total health spending over the next decade. In addition, the CBO estimated the law will reduce the federal budget deficit by $143 billion over the first 10 years and more than $1.2 trillion over the next two decades. Repealing the new law stymies these much-needed efforts and reverts to the unsustainable status quo of skyrocketing costs that were bankrupting our country. Make no mistake: The Affordable Care Act provides Americans economic and health security with protections against exorbitant premium hikes, better health benefits, and slower growth in health care costs. Conservatives in Congress are intent on taking these benefits away and going back to a health system that was failing America. And, to top it off, they’d keep their benefits, while taking away ours.

Americans deserve better. We need the Affordable Care Act.

By: Tony Carrk, Center For American Progress. Note: Originally Published January 5, 2011 prior to US House Vote on Repeal.

February 6, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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