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“GOP Critics In An Unenviable Position”: Conservatives Scramble To Downplay ACA News

Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation’s uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts “Obamacare” critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that’s working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who’s struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP’s point person on health care, gave it his best shot. “Millions of people have lost coverage they liked,” the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is “hardly worth celebrating.”

He didn’t say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.

But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journal piece.

Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn’t include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.

“It’s premature to say it’s ACA-related,” Mr. Haislmaier said.

The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.

Oh my.

The economic argument is itself politically tricky for ACA detractors, because it leaves Republicans in a position of arguing, “Let’s not credit Obama’s health care policies for the good news; let’s instead credit Obama’s economic policies.”

But it’s the Heritage Foundation’s other argument that’s truly amazing. The Affordable Care Act was created in large part to expand Americans’ access to affordable medical care. Once the law was implemented, its provisions worked like a charm and uninsured rate dropped. If the Wall Street Journal quoted Edmund Haislmaier fairly, the Heritage argument seems to be that the success might just be a coincidence – the ACA set out to reduce the uninsured rate, the law was implemented, and the uninsured rate fell at its fastest rate in four decades, but it’s “premature” to say the progress and the law are related.

Jon Chait joked:

Right, I mean, who can really say? Yes, there has been a sudden and extremely sharp plunge in the uninsured rates among the populations eligible for coverage under Obamacare that begins at the exact time Obamacare took effect:

But that could be anything. Survey error. People being excited about Republicans winning the midterm. Sunspots. You never know. Probably not the sudden availability of a major new federal health-care law enrolling millions of people.

Perish the thought.

For context, it’s worth noting that the Heritage Foundation used to be one of the leading conservative think tanks in the nation, even sketching out a health-care-reform blueprint several years ago that resembles the “Obamacare” model now. In recent years, however, Heritage’s focus has shifted away from scholarship and towards political activism.

 

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

March 18, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Uninsured | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Hollow Bromide”: Don’t Believe The Hype; Republicans Still Don’t Have A Health Care Plan

With the Supreme Court considering a case that could unravel the Affordable Care Act, leaving some 8.2 million Americans suddenly uninsured and sending premiums skyrocketing, the Republican Party has a comforting message for voters: We have a solution.

“As Supreme Court Weighs Health Law, GOP Plans to Replace It,” blares the headline in Friday’s New York Times. In the article, reporter Jonathan Weisman asserts that “the search for a replacement by Republican lawmakers is finally gaining momentum.”

A legislative scramble is underway. On Monday, Representatives Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Fred Upton of Michigan and John Kline of Minnesota, the chairmen of the powerful committees that control health policy, proposed what they called an “off ramp” from the Obama health act that would let states opt out of the law’s central requirements.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, all Republicans, offered their own plan this week to provide temporary assistance to those who would lose their subsidies and new freedom to all states to redesign their health care marketplaces without the strictures and mandates of the health care law.

So are Republicans really ready to finally advance a health care reform bill of their own?

Probably not.

While the House and Senate groups both laid out broad visions for new health care laws, neither offered any sort of details on how their plans would actually work. Saying that “we would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period,” as the Senate Republicans promise, sounds great. But until they explain how much financial assistance they would provide, or how long the transitional period would last, it is a hollow bromide. Similarly, the House Republicans’ plan to form “a working group to propose a way out for the affected states if the court rules against the administration” sounds great — but Americans still have no idea what, exactly, the way out would be.

Of course, it’s possible that Congress will fill in the details in the coming weeks. But it’s incredibly unlikely. After all, Republicans have literally been promising a detailed alternative to the Affordable Care Act for six years, and so far it’s not much closer to reality than it was in 2009. Why should this time be any different?

Even if Republicans did coalesce around a health care plan of their own, it’s almost impossible to imagine a significant reform passing both the House and Senate. The GOP already has deep divisions on health care policy, and they are likely to intensify as the 2016 elections draw nearer. Republicans who face tough re-election fights will be loath to vote on a controversial measure with such high political stakes (a side effect of the GOP’s all-out war against President Obama’s health care policy).

Put simply: If the Republican Congress could barely come together to avoid a self-inflicted shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, there is no reason to believe that they could pass a massive reform bill on the most radioactive issue in politics.

Republicans have plenty of good reasons to pretend that they have a solution to the disaster that would ensue if the Supreme Court guts the Affordable Care Act. But until they prove otherwise, the latest batch of Republican Obamacare replacements should be viewed as no more likely to become law than their countless predecessors. And if the Supreme Court does rule against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, no help will be on the way for the Americans who would lose their insurance.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 6, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Knew?”: Conservatives Don’t Have An Obamacare Replacement Because They’re Too Busy Complaining About Obamacare

With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear the Obamacare challenge King vs. Burwell next week, Democrats and Republicans are both trying to influence the Court’s decision. For the left, that means focusing on the millions of people who could lose health insurance if the Court rules that the Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide subsidies in the 36 states on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. Just this week, Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell informed Congress that there was no administrative fix if the plaintiffs succeed. Liberal groups are equally reticent to discuss their strategy.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are determined to show that a ruling for King wouldn’t throw the U.S. health care system into disarray. Above all, that means proving that Republicans can finally agree on a replacement plan. Not coincidentally, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, included a panel Thursday titled, “The Conservative Replacement to Obamacare.” If anything, though, the panel showed that Republicans have made no progress on coalescing around an Obamacare replacement.

Moderated by Amy Frederick of the 60 Plus Association, a seniors advocacy organization, the event featured Senator John Barrasso, Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Capretta, a health policy writer from the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. “We continue to hear another lie, that conservatives have no solution to Obamacare,” Frederick said in her opening. “We’re going to put the lies to bed for good.”

While the participants were supposed to talk about a replacement conservative health planat least based on the panel’s titlethey spent the majority of the 36-minute event attacking Obamacare. For instance, after Barrasso, Blackburn, and Capretta each gave their opening statements, Frederick began the question round by saying, “Let’s start with a political question for the panel.”

Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be a policy panel?

Of the five questions Frederick asked, only one was about policy solutions. The rest were about politics.

The lone wonk of the group, Capretta handled that lone policy question, noting that conservative health reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Regardless of the merits of those bills, though, the challenge for Republicans isn’t simply introducing legislation. It’s actually passing it. The House can take up an Obamacare replacement plan at any time. In fact, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to do just that in 2014. “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House,” Cantor said 13 months ago.

Liberals rolled their eyes at that promise, and they’re doing it again as Republicans offer platitudes about their ability to agree on a solution. And rightly so. Just look at the “Points to Remember” that the 60 Plus Association posted on their website about the panel. None of the points has anything to do with a replacement plan. Instead, they only explain the faults of Obamacare. What happened to all of those conservative solutions?

In the past, Democrats mocked the GOP’s inability to coalesce around a replacement plan. But the King case now makes their position far more meaningful. If the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, it will make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans and potentially cripple health insurance systems in states using the federal exchange. No one knows how Congress and the states would respond to such an outcome. But they will have to respond. Republicans understand this. “The most important opportunity we’re going to have soon is the King decision,” Barrasso said, “because that can start us on the path of actually transferring the power out of Washington and to the states.”

Blackburn agreed, although it’s not clear she actually understands the case (or health care in general). “Obamacare is an enormous redistribution of wealth,” she said. “And taking the federal government, inserting itself into the health insurance and health care delivery marketplaces simultaneously and then wrapping up that money and then that accessthat’s why we have to keep our focus on King vs. Burwell and the appropriate response.”

If you know what the latter part of that quote means, please let me know.

Ultimately, Barrasso and Blackburn are right. The King case is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party to come together around a conservative health care proposal. Capretta all but pleaded with congressional Republicans to do just that. “We need to come and rally around a basic single vision for where we need to go,” he said. “It’s really important for everybody to set aside their small differences so that they can rally around the big issue.”

But as CPAC showed, there’s no chance they will actually do that.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, February 26, 2015

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Know Nothing, See Nothing, Do Nothing”: Boehner Waits For Obama’s Orders On War Authorization

For weeks, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been confronted with an awkward dynamic. He’s repeatedly expressed public support for U.S. military intervention against Islamic State militants, but he’s been lost as to how, or whether, Congress should meet its constitutional obligations in authorizing strikes on ISIS targets.

Would Congress act before giving itself another 54 days off? Boehner said no. Would Congress interrupt its pre-election break to do its duty? From Boehner, another no. Would Congress tackle the national-security crisis after the elections, during the lame-duck session? Last week, Boehner gave that a thumbs-down, too.

Yesterday, however, the beleaguered Speaker sat down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and took a slightly different posture. The host asked why Boehner doesn’t simply vote on a war resolution now, and the Speaker replied he’d be “happy to” to do just that.

“The president typically in a situation like this would call for an authorization vote and go sell that to the American people and send a resolution to the Hill. The president has not done that. He believes he has authority under existing resolutions. […]

“I think he does have the authority to do it. But the point I’m making is this is a proposal the Congress ought to consider.”

Boehner added, I believe for the first time, that he’s prepared to “bring the Congress back” into session, presumably before the elections, if President Obama presented lawmakers with a resolution authorizing the use of force.

Around the same time, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Fox News that President Obama “has an obligation to call [lawmakers] back” into session to “start this debate” over ISIS.

This argument has been working its way through Republican circles for a couple of weeks, but it’s apparently become the semi-official GOP line at this point: Congress will meet its obligations, but it’s up to Obama to ask first. The “obligation,” to use Barrasso’s term, falls on the White House, which apparently is responsible for writing Congress’ to-do list.

I can appreciate the appeal of the talking point – it’s a creative way to blame the White House for Congress ignoring its responsibilities – but the argument’s repetition isn’t improving its quality. Indeed, there are two main flaws.

The first should be obvious: Congress is a co-equal branch of government. For leading lawmakers to say it’s up to the executive branch to send over a draft resolution for the legislative branch – a resolution lawmakers are perfectly capable of writing on their own given their basic job description – is very hard to take seriously.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but writing bills is what members of Congress are paid to do. They’re called “lawmakers” for a reason. Neither Boehner nor anyone else who’s pushed the argument has even tried to explain why the legislative branch should just sit around, doing literally no work, waiting for presidential instructions, except to say this is “typically” how the process works.

This is obviously unpersuasive, but it’s also on weak factual ground. When President Clinton used military force in Kosovo, for example, congressional Republicans voted on a resolution that they, not the White House, wrote. The same is true when President Obama launched strikes in Libya. In fairness, these were not measures authorizing force, per se, but they were lawmakers weighing in on the scope of a U.S. military operation by voting on a resolution lawmakers authored.

What’s more, when President Reagan deployed U.S. troops to Lebanon, the White House accepted a congressional resolution, but it came from lawmakers, not the West Wing.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said about Congress’ duties, “We’re not a suitor that has to wait to be asked to dance.” That’s exactly right. Even if lawmakers “typically” waited for a president to tell them what to do, that’s not how the American system is supposed to work, and upon further inspection, that’s not exactly how the process has “typically” worked, anyway.

Boehner told ABC yesterday he’s ready to “bring the Congress back” into session, but only if Obama does their work for them. Only the first half of that sentence makes sense.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that, on an institutional level, no one in Washington is performing brilliantly. The White House has launched a military offensive, but has struggled to connect the mission to previous resolutions authorizing force. Congressional Democrats, who aren’t all reading from the same script, haven’t exactly clamored en masse for a vote, either. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, see ISIS as an existential threat to the nation, but they remain indifferent about doing real work, and worse, they’re trying to blame Obama for their inaction.

Among the three, it’s the House GOP that keeps pushing incoherent arguments in public, but no one is earning plaudits here.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 29, 2014

September 30, 2014 Posted by | Congress, ISIS, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare Fails To Fail”: The People Who Falsely Predicted Doom Just Keep Coming Back With Dire New Warnings

How many Americans know how health reform is going? For that matter, how many people in the news media are following the positive developments?

I suspect that the answer to the first question is “Not many,” while the answer to the second is “Possibly even fewer,” for reasons I’ll get to later. And if I’m right, it’s a remarkable thing — an immense policy success is improving the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s largely slipping under the radar.

How is that possible? Think relentless negativity without accountability. The Affordable Care Act has faced nonstop attacks from partisans and right-wing media, with mainstream news also tending to harp on the act’s troubles. Many of the attacks have involved predictions of disaster, none of which have come true. But absence of disaster doesn’t make a compelling headline, and the people who falsely predicted doom just keep coming back with dire new warnings.

Consider, in particular, the impact of Obamacare on the number of Americans without health insurance. The initial debacle of the federal website produced much glee on the right and many negative reports from the mainstream press as well; at the beginning of 2014, many reports confidently asserted that first-year enrollments would fall far short of White House projections.

Then came the remarkable late surge in enrollment. Did the pessimists face tough questions about why they got it so wrong? Of course not. Instead, the same people just came out with a mix of conspiracy theories and new predictions of doom. The administration was “cooking the books,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming; people who signed up wouldn’t actually pay their premiums, declared an array of “experts”; more people were losing insurance than gaining it, declared Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

But the great majority of those who signed up did indeed pay up, and we now have multiple independent surveys — from Gallup, the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund — all showing a sharp reduction in the number of uninsured Americans since last fall.

I’ve been seeing some claims on the right that the dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured was caused by economic recovery, not health reform (so now conservatives are praising the Obama economy?). But that’s pretty lame, and also demonstrably wrong.

For one thing, the decline is too sharp to be explained by what is at best a modest improvement in the employment picture. For another, that Urban Institute survey shows a striking difference between the experience in states that expanded Medicaid — which are also, in general, states that have done their best to make health care reform work — and those that refused to let the federal government cover their poor. Sure enough, the decline in uninsured residents has been three times as large in Medicaid-expansion states as in Medicaid-expansion rejecters. It’s not the economy; it’s the policy, stupid.

What about the cost? Last year there were many claims about “rate shock” from soaring insurance premiums. But last month the Department of Health and Human Services reported that among those receiving federal subsidies — the great majority of those signing up — the average net premium was only $82 a month.

Yes, there are losers from Obamacare. If you’re young, healthy, and affluent enough that you don’t qualify for a subsidy (and don’t get insurance from your employer), your premium probably did rise. And if you’re rich enough to pay the extra taxes that finance those subsidies, you have taken a financial hit. But it’s telling that even reform’s opponents aren’t trying to highlight these stories. Instead, they keep looking for older, sicker, middle-class victims, and keep failing to find them.

Oh, and according to Commonwealth, the overwhelming majority of the newly insured, including 74 percent of Republicans, are satisfied with their coverage.

You might ask why, if health reform is going so well, it continues to poll badly. It’s crucial, I’d argue, to realize that Obamacare, by design, by and large doesn’t affect Americans who already have good insurance. As a result, many peoples’ views are shaped by the mainly negative coverage in the news media. Still, the latest tracking survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a rising number of Americans are hearing about reform from family and friends, which means that they’re starting to hear from the program’s beneficiaries.

And as I suggested earlier, people in the media — especially elite pundits — may be the last to hear the good news, simply because they’re in a socioeconomic bracket in which people generally have good coverage.

For the less fortunate, however, the Affordable Care Act has already made a big positive difference. The usual suspects will keep crying failure, but the truth is that health reform is — gasp! — working.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 13, 2014

July 14, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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