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“The Three Stages Of Obamacare Acceptance”: It’s Increasingly Difficult To See How Repeal Would Work, Even With Full GOP Control

Now that Obamacare is clearly moving forward, Republicans are adjusting to a new reality: it may no longer be a realistic option to simply wait until the law collapses under its own weight and vanishes entirely. GOP lawmakers are increasingly discussing a range of responses, from proposing profound changes to finally embracing a comprehensive alternative.

Which raises a question: Is it possible to envision a future in which Republicans and Democrats do enter into real negotiations over the future of the law and the health system, in which each side gets some changes it wants, in exchange for accepting some of the other’s proposed changes?

Yes, it is. But to get there, Republicans will first have to pass through what might be called the Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance.

Right now, Republicans entertaining changes or alternatives are still proceeding from the premise that no outcome is acceptable unless it fatally cripples the law or eliminates it entirely. Republicans don’t believe the law can be fixed, since they think that even if it does work according to its own lights, it will still amount to a colossal policy failure. If Republicans want to hold that position indefinitely, there’s not much Dems can do about it.

But if Republicans do get to a point where crippling or eliminating the law is not the only acceptable outcome, there are scenarios under which they might negotiate for certain types of changes to the law, in exchange for changes Dems or liberals want.

Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation laid out the types of incremental changes Republicans might pursue. He suggested Republicans might propose various ways of relaxing Obamacare’s regulations, in keeping with conservative policy ideas, that wouldn’t destroy the law. For instance, they could propose allowing insurance sales across state lines so competition drives down prices, something liberals might be willing to accept under certain circumstances if the law’s uniform federal minimum coverage standards are kept (which could theoretically prevent the “race to the bottom” liberals fear).

Or Republicans could propose to make tax deductions available to those over 400 percent of the poverty line who do not qualify for Obamacare subsidies, helping those who see premiums go up (which Republicans have turned into a major issue) and mitigating Obamacare’s redistributive elements a bit. Or Republicans could propose relaxing the limitations on age ratings, allowing insurance companies to charge more than the current three-to-one ratio the law mandates between older and younger people.

In exchange, liberals might ask for subsidies to be expanded to those who fall into the Medicaid gap — making too little to qualify for subsidies but too much to qualify for Medicaid in states that haven’t opted in to the expansion. Or they might ask for more in subsidies for those who currently qualify.

The point is, there are scenarios under which real negotiations over the future of the law could take place. But Republicans would have to be willing to accept something less than its complete destruction. (As Jonathan Bernstein has detailed, a general unwillingness by Republicans to try to get some of what they want on multiple issues has made the GOP into a kind of dysfunctional “post policy” opposition.)

Let’s be clear: It is certainly still possible that over the long term, Obamacare could fail, if, say, the demographic mix is bad, insurers pull out, and the exchanges collapse. If so, Republicans would theoretically be able to simply wait for the law to fall apart in a few years. But some experts are cautiously optimistic that the latest enrollment numbers suggest the law could be on track to work.

And that’s where the Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance come in — presuming, again, that the law works at least moderately well over the long term:

* Stage One: A dim awareness that there might be some good elements in the law, and that the public might not support returning to the old system. GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, for instance, recently suggested that it might not be “responsible” to simply let the law fall apart, and that lawmakers should be open to anything in it that would help people get coverage. Kingston was immediately slapped down by his primary opponent and quickly reiterated his zeal to get rid of it entirely. Something similar happened to a GOP Senate candidate in Michigan.

* Stage Two: A genuine recognition that large numbers of people are already benefitting from the law, and that this reality needs to be reckoned with — such as by proposing alternatives or changes that purport to accomplish similar goals, even as the elimination or crippling of it remains a paramount aim. GOP Rep. Tom Price has proposed an alternative designed, in part, to cover people with preexisting conditions, but it would probably cover far fewer people, and Price continues to insist on Obamacare’s repeal, maintaining its demise is a certainty.

Meanwhile, Senator Ron Johnson has admitted that “we have to deal with the people who are currently covered under Obamacare,” and to do this, he has proposed keeping the exchanges while getting rid of the individual mandate. The latter, experts say, would fatally undermine the law, and as such this isn’t a serious proposal.

* Stage Three: Republicans accept Obamacare is likely here to stay, abandon the premise that the only acceptable outcome is crippling or eliminating the law, and negotiate to achieve incremental changes they want. This is the scenario outlined by Levitt above. It’s hard to know when this might happen in earnest – certainly not in 2014, and GOP presidential primary politics could also make this difficult next year. But you’re already seeing this a bit with GOP governors who are negotiating with the feds to create their own versions of the Medicaid expansion.

It’s always possible Republicans could win the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2016 and pass legislation repealing the law. And again, if the law fails over time, the above stages could be moot. But it’s increasingly difficult to see how repeal would work in practical terms, even with full GOP control. What’s more, as Jonathan Cohn has detailed, experts think early returns suggest the law is likely to work out. Which means you can begin to imagine Stage Three kicking in. At some point.

“If Republicans were to accept that the law is in place for the foreseeable future, then one could envision tweaks that could move it in a more conservative direction without undermining its goals, while also providing improvements to the law that liberals are looking for,” Levitt says.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Income Inequality Creates Huge Gaps In Opportunity”: The Class Divide Is One Of The Biggest Problems Now Facing The Country

By now, you’ve surely heard of the Texas drunken-driving case that has sparked national outrage — angering victims, upsetting psychologists and sending Twitter into overdrive. A 16-year-old who killed four people while intoxicated was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and treatment in a tony rehab facility.

As unusual as that example of mercy may be, it was the rationale offered by a defense expert that drove observers into a frenzy. A psychologist hired by defense attorneys told the court that the young man’s tragically irresponsible actions were the fault of his rich parents, who didn’t rear him with sufficient discipline. As a consequence, G. Dick Miller said, the teenager suffered from “affluenza” and didn’t know right from wrong. (Many other psychologists have disagreed vociferously, saying there is no such diagnosis.)

It’s hard to stomach that notion, especially since Judge Jean Boyd of the Fort Worth Juvenile Court seems to have swallowed it whole. I can’t imagine how bitter and resentful — not to mention mystified — the victims’ families must be.

But Boyd might have unintentionally done us a favor by opening the door to a dank, dark room that we have worked too hard to keep closed. She has let out the putrid aromas of economic inequality, which we have long ignored. Wealthy people, the judge’s sentence reminds us, have huge advantages over ordinary folk, despite an American mythology about equal opportunity. And the opportunity gap is growing as inequality cleaves the country into haves and have-nots.

The very terms “wage gap” and “disappearing middle class” have become clichés in Washington, often muttered by pandering politicians and comfortable journalists who have little real understanding of the effect that income inequality has had on the lives of ordinary Americans. But the fallout is real enough.

Since the 1970s, the wages of working-class Americans — those without college degrees — have stagnated and fallen further and further behind. Meanwhile, the wealthy have only become more prosperous.

Despite what you may believe to be true, the individual’s work ethic has little to do with those results. No matter how hardworking you are, a job at Walmart won’t give you much in the way of financial security. And if you are born to parents who can give you a trust fund, it doesn’t matter how little you work; you’ll still have plenty of security.

The trends that have eaten away at the great American middle — including globalization and technological gains — have been evident for decades, but the Great Recession accelerated the consequences. Even as economic data show huge gains in productivity, the jobless rate remains high, stuck at around 7 percent. (Translation: Companies have found ways to get more and more work done with technology, whether it’s through eliminating bank tellers and installing more ATMs, or using more robots in factories.)

This is a complex problem with no easy answers, but we could make a start toward solutions by looking squarely at the issue and refusing to call it by other names. Here are a few things it’s not: indolence, racism, the failure of the welfare state.

Mitt Romney became appropriately infamous for his condescending dismissal of the “47 percent” who he claimed don’t want to work, but that wrong-headed idea doesn’t stop with Romney. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, has proposed that poor children sweep school cafeteria floors in exchange for free or reduced lunches, a deal that would get the “myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch,” he said.

But liberals often get it wrong, too — confusing rampant income inequality with racism. The legacy of racism has certainly contributed to the wealth gap between black and white Americans, but class is now a bigger factor in a child’s future than race. President Obama’s children are virtually assured a bright future, while millions of their cohort among the working classes are not.

The class divide is one of the biggest problems now facing the country, and it’s time we started to confront it. Judge Boyd’s unjust sentence is just the provocation to force us to take it on.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 28, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The GOP’s Growing Divide”: The Provocateurs Can Be Counted On To Keep Far-Right Anger And Resentment At A Rolling Boil

The Republican Party, which should have the wind at its back, enters 2014 in disarray bordering on open warfare.

President Obama and the Democrats have had, let’s face it, a bumpy few months. The debut of the Affordable Care Act was not quite the hair-pulling, garment-rending, world-historical disaster that some critics claim, but it was — and remains — messy enough to buff the shine on the GOP’s badly tarnished brand.

A CNN poll released Thursday found that 49 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to be represented by a Republican in Congress, while 44 percent favored a Democrat. That’s not much of a margin, but it’s a big change from two months ago when 50 percent preferred a Democrat and just 42 percent preferred a Republican.

Such generic polls are of limited use in predicting what will happen in November. But the numbers do suggest that the GOP is back in the game. Voters appear willing to listen to what the party has to say.

If only the GOP had a message.

There is one proposition on which the party’s warring factions agree: “We don’t like Obama’s Affordable Care Act.” But there is a lack of consensus, to put it mildly, on how this visceral dislike of a president and his signature policy initiative should translate into concrete political action.

For Republicans — to invert a classic George W. Bush bon mot — Obamacare has somehow become a divider, not a uniter. In a year when the GOP may have a legitimate chance of capturing the Senate, several primary contests appear likely to devolve into bloody battles over Obama’s health-care reforms — not whether to oppose them, but how.

In Georgia, for example, one of the leading candidates to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss is Rep. Jack Kingston. He has voted repeatedly — and fruitlessly — with his House Republican colleagues to defund the Affordable Care Act. But when he suggested recently that to “just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own” was not “the responsible thing to do,” opponents quickly attacked Kingston as some kind of quisling who was waving a flag of surrender.

In fact, Kingston was simply acknowledging reality. Obamacare is the law. Memories of the program’s incompetent launch will fade. Republicans are going to have to decide whether to collaborate in making the Affordable Care Act work better — or risk being seen as working against the nation’s best interests.

On a range of issues, this is the party’s essential dilemma. Ideologues want to continue the practice of massive, uncompromising resistance to anything Obama tries to accomplish. Pragmatists want the GOP to demonstrate that it can be reasonable and trustworthy, on the theory that voters want their government to function well and won’t put a bunch of anti-government extremists in charge of running it.

Keep in mind that despite the findings of that CNN poll, other surveys show the GOP still has a ton of work to do. A recent Wall Street Journal poll reported that 48 percent of respondents had “negative feelings” toward the Republican Party, as opposed to 39 percent who felt negatively toward the Democratic Party.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), took a giant step for pragmatism by negotiating a budget deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — and the ideological wing of the party freaked out. House Speaker John Boehner, as rock-ribbed a Main Street conservative as you’ll ever meet, is routinely attacked on far-right Web sites as some kind of squishy moderate.

The question of how the GOP should proceed really should be a no-brainer. But after cynically taking advantage of the huge jolt of energy provided by tea party activists, the Republican establishment is finding that these true believers don’t necessarily listen when they’re told to go sit in a corner and shut up.

The no-compromises GOP base is fertile fundraising territory for potential presidential candidates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and for pressure groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth. So these provocateurs can be counted on to keep far-right anger and resentment at a rolling boil — and resist the establishment’s attempt to lower the temperature.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is expected to spend up to $50 million to ensure that the Republican Party chooses no extremist “loser candidates” for Senate races. As Scott Reed, the chamber’s chief political strategist, told the Wall Street Journal: “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”

Wanna bet?

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 26, 2013

December 28, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Welfare Queens? Welfare Kings Rule The Land”: For Corporations, Giving Is Giving And Taking Is Pure And Simply Taking It All

Since “welfare queens” and the idea of “givers versus takers” are the topic is “du jour” again, let’s look at the forgotten takers: the “welfare kings” on the corporate side.

Section 5010 of the U.S. tax code is a very interesting piece of federal law. Not to pick on my friends in the liquor industry, but we the taxpayers subsidize “flavored” liquors to the tune of $1.1 billion every 10 years. Think about it: when I turned 18 (yes I’m that old), I’d walk into a bar and there would be plain vodka, plain rum, plain gin, etc. Today, walk into a bar and there are thousands of flavors to be had. Why? Well because Section 5010 of the Internal Revenue Code gives distillers a “discount” for adding flavor. Makes sense right? Don’t get me wrong. I love my citrus flavored vodka with club soda. It’s refreshing but I’m not sure if it’s $1.1 billion worth of refreshment in these tight times.

Or take the domestic sugar industry. Case in point: I hate Valentine’s day but not for reasons you may think. It’s a made-up holiday so people tell each other they love each other. That’s ridiculous. So I’m forced to tell you I love you on this day or I’m in the doghouse? Um, not so much. If you have to be reminded to tell your loved one on that day you love them, then you pretty much suck anyway. This past V-Day, I was waiting in the green room for an appearance on MSNBC and I struck up a conversation with a representative from the candy industry. We were talking about this very issue of corporate subsidies and he told me this year, the U.S. government will buy back $80 million worth of sugar from the domestic sugar producers and store it in warehouses because prices didn’t meet government targets. I really kind of like being single, independent, carefree but I’ll be damned if I want my federal government propping up the domestic sugar industry so husbands across America can go buy crappy chocolate for their less-than-pleased spouses.

Or take the domestic oil and gas industries. They make the liquor industry look destitute. We the taxpayers subsidize companies like Chevron, Exxon and Shell to the tune of $7 billion a year. This confuses me. This confuses most Americans.

If you want to dive into the weeds on corporate subsidies, read this. It’ll blow your mind.

While we’re at it, let’s look at America’s small businesses. Every small business is allowed certain deductions, from business meals to gas or mileage to depreciation of computers. What is a deduction, really? It’s taxpayer-subsidized welfare. Greedy small business owners!

According to the Cato Institute, we the American people subsidize corporate America to the tune of more than $90 billion annually, while individual people on welfare only pull down around $59 billion. I like simple math. It’s easy for me to understand. Corporations are getting the better end of that bargain but I don’t hear Sen. Mitch McConnell and Reps. Jack Kingston and Bill Cassidy – the latest decriers of welfare – declaring a war on the corporate CEOs (who are actually driving real Cadillacs). The hypocrisy is staggering.

Let me be clear: These provisions may be good policy. You’re welcome to make that decision. My point is, if we are going to keep having a conversation about “welfare queens” then I’m going to wholeheartedly keep talking about the “welfare kings of industry.” After all, giving is giving and taking is pure and simple taking.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Here’s a great interactive map where you can pinpoint current data on “welfare queens” by state and congressional district. And Congressman Kingston, you best be thankful that a majority of the kids in your district can’t vote or you’d lose reelection.

 

By: Jimmy Williams, U. S. News and World Report, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Welfare | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rise Of Obamacare McCarthyism”: Anti-Obamacare Republicans Attack Each Other For Being “Crypto-Supporters” Of Obamacare

We talked yesterday about Rep. Jack Kingston, one of several House Republicans running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, who infuriated the right. His transgression? The congressman pushed a bill to add a conservative provision to the Affordable Care Act.

Conservatives were livid, not because of the idea itself, but because House Republicans aren’t supposed to try to “fix” the health care law. To take even a modest step towards moving the law to the right, some conservatives said, is to “surrender on Obamacare.”

We’re seeing a similar situation play out in Wyoming.

A conservative nonprofit group is set to launch a TV attack ad Monday intimating that Republican Sen. Mike Enzi is less than pure in his opposition to Obamacare.

Americans for Job Security highlights the incumbent’s support for exchanges during the 2010 debate over Obamacare…. “I like the exchanges,” Enzi says in a brief clip. “These exchanges can be good.”

The ad is incredulous, as if the senator’s 2010 comments are ridiculous are on their face. It doesn’t matter if Enzi has repeatedly fought to destroy the Affordable Care Act and voted to repeal it; what matters now is that he once said it’s possible that marketplaces with competing private insurance plans are “good.”

And in 2013, that’s apparently a bridge too far.

What’s emerging is an expansive list of litmus tests – it’s not enough to hate “Obamacare,” Republicans must also hate everything within the law, including the Republican ideas.

In this case, the Wyoming attack ad concludes, “Tell Mike Enzi we don’t like these liberal, Big Government Obamacare exchanges.”

Got that? If private insurers compete for consumers’ business in a marketplace originally touted by the Heritage Foundation, it’s “liberal, big government.”

It’s hard to believe in the most gullible GOP primary voter would find this persuasive, but the takeaway here is the attack itself. We’ve reached the point at which a far-right Republican is being condemned for having described the single most capitalistic, free-market aspect of the health care law as “good.”

Josh Marshall described this as an example of “Obamacare McCarthyism,” in which “different anti-Obamacare Republicans attack each other for either being crypto-supporters of Obamacare, being Obamacare-curious or even just having earlier periods of Obamacare confusion.”

Ed Kilgore added this is “likely to be a continuing weapon against any Republican who doesn’t favor the most radical tactics available at any given moment to bring down the Great White Whale of the Affordable Care Act.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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