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“Expand Medicare, You Damn Idiots”: On Its Anniversary, We’re Going To Start Hearing The Usual Attacks On Medicare

Every so often—okay, not very often actually, but more often than I hunt, or “take” (what a verb!), lions—I feel a little wistful about the Republican Party we all once knew. And that feeling is never stronger than when I reflect on the history of Medicare and Medicaid, which I spent part of yesterday doing, what with it being the 50th anniversary of the passage of the bill and all.

Lyndon Johnson went into the 1964 election knowing that he wanted to pass a universal health-care bill. He figured he couldn’t get full-bore socialized medicine, so he settled on socialized medicine for old people, reckoning that was a winner. Immediately upon winning election, he directed aides to get cracking, saying as I recall something to the effect that he was going to lose a little political capital every day, so the sooner the better.

It was big and messy and complicated, just like Obamacare, and frankly, Johnson lied about the cost, back in those pre-Congressional Budget Office days. But it passed, and it passed in a way that wasn’t just like Obamacare at all. Thirteen Republican senators voted for it, and 17 against; and in the House, 70 Republicans supported it, while 68 voted no. In other words, almost exactly half of all voting congressional Republicans, 83 out of 168, voted for the program that Ronald Reagan at the time was warning heralded the arrival of Marxism on our shores.

Pretty different GOP, eh? Well, now check out the numbers from 1983. This was, to be sure, more of a compromise piece of legislation. The Social Security Trust fund was in trouble at the time, so the 1983 amendments raised the payroll tax while increasing the retirement age to 67 for those born in 1960 or after, with the new revenue going to Medicare and Social Security. And of course you had a Republican president then, and not just any Republican president; so if Ronald Reagan was okay with a tax increase, they were, too. It passed both chambers overwhelmingly; House Republicans backed the 1983 changes 97-69, while Republican senators supported them by 47-6. (PDF)

It’s worth recalling all this on the anniversary of this great law because soon enough, we’re going to start hearing the usual attacks on Medicare. Wait, did I say soon enough? We already are! And not from the wingnut caucus. It was the, uh, moderate, Jeb Bush, who said just last week that Medicare is “an actuarially unsound system” and that “we need to figure out a way to phase out this program.”

All right. Now I’ll grant that times have changed since 1965 and 1983, and that we’re going to see all those Baby Boomers retire in the coming years. But let’s be clear about a central fact. The Medicare Trust Fund is not in big trouble right now. A few years ago, it was; there were desperate predictions that it was going to go broke in five years, three. I remember 2017 being mentioned as the ominous year, and 2017 is pretty close.

But that has changed. Now, the experts say Medicare is stable until 2030. Now 2030 isn’t infinity and beyond, but it’s not tomorrow either. The crisis has eased, and it has eased considerably.

What changed? Some of the reasons are just too wonky for me to go into with you in any detail, having to do with things like new strategies to reduce preventable hospital admissions. But another seems to be…wait for it…Obamacare. Ever since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, per-enrollee Medicare costs have decreased a little and are rising more slowly than overall health-care costs, and somehow or another the Medicare trustees have added 13 years to the program’s solvency.

In fact, let’s go mildly wonky here. This is worth knowing. Before the ACA passed, projections of Medicare bankruptcy were pegged, as noted, at 2017. Then shortly after the ACA became law, that was pushed to 2024. Then in 2013, it was nudged to 2026. Now it’s at 2030. See a pattern here? The main reason is simple. Overall spending is lower. You might remember Mitt Romney’s famous attacks on Obama for cutting $716 billion from Medicare, which took some cheek given that a) Republicans’ own projected cuts under Paul Ryan’s budget were far more severe and b) Ryan and other Republicans used the same budgetary assumptions Obama used for all their Medicare “reform” plans.

Just remember all this, will you, as you hear more from the Republicans on this topic. They are all going to say: Medicare is a disaster; it’s broke; Obamacare has made it far worse. They’ll say things that one can hardly believe can be said by a person we’re allegedly supposed to be taking seriously, like Marco Rubio’s amazing comment that Social Security and Medicare “weakened us as a people.”

None of what they say will be true. But they’ll say it and say it, and the conservative media will repeat it and repeat it, and we’ll be in that “no, the sky is green and the grass is blue” territory that we know so well. And of course, their “reform” plans are, aside from being just mean, a total fantasy. The way Medicare works is so complicated and so embedded into our national life that the disruptions to doctors and hospitals and service providers of all kinds would be horrific. Only rich people, who don’t really need Medicare, and ideologues, who despise it, think you can do this. They might as well propose rerouting every single Interstate highway in America.

But most of all, it doesn’t need changing. Or actually it does, but in the direction of being expanded, as Bernie Sanders says. That’s probably not in the cards for the foreseeable future, although it will certainly come one day, perhaps by the time of Medicare’s own 65th birthday, when the people will surely be due for another “weakening.”

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Medicare, Republicans | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Searching Her Own Soul”: Hillary Clinton’s Evolution On Marriage Equality Shows How Change Happens, And Why Parties Matter

Over the last few days, Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed has been documenting Hillary Clinton’s evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage, an evolution that may now finally be complete. First Geidner posted some interesting documents from the 1990s showing Clinton and her husband explaining their opposition to marriage rights, then he got the Clinton campaign on record saying that she now hopes the Supreme Court will rule that there is a constitutional right to marriage for all Americans, which is actually a change from what she was saying just a year ago, when her position was that this was an issue best decided state by state.

So does this all tell us that Hillary Clinton is a chameleon willing to shift with the political winds, lacking in any moral core? Not really. Like every politician, she’ll tell you that her shift on this issue was a result of talking to people and searching her own soul, not some political calculation. If that’s true, then it mirrors how millions of Americans have changed their own minds. But even if it isn’t true, it doesn’t matter. She is where she is now, and if she becomes president, her policies will reflect her current position, whether it’s sincere or not. That’s how change happens.

We spend a lot of time in campaigns trying to figure out if politicians are honest or authentic or real, and one of the supposedly important data points in that assessment is whether they’ve changed their positions on any important issues. “Flip-floppers” are supposed to be feared and hated. But most of the time, that judgment is utterly irrelevant to what they would actually do in office.

For instance, few party nominees had in their history the kind of wholesale ideological reinvention that Mitt Romney went through. But what does that actually mean for the kind of president he would have been? Does anyone seriously believe that had he been elected, Romney would have flipped back to becoming a moderate Republican, just because deep down he’s a flip-flopper? Of course he wouldn’t have. Romney changed when his sights moved from liberal Massachusetts to the national stage, which also happened during a period when his party became more conservative. He would have governed as the conservative he became.

When public opinion on an important issue is in flux, politicians are emphatic followers. They figure out what’s happening, particularly within their own party, and then accommodate themselves to that change. It often looks like they’re leading when what they’re actually doing is taking the change in sentiment that has occurred and translating it into policy change. For instance, Barack Obama has taken a number of steps to expand gay rights, like ending the ban on gays serving in the military and pushing the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. But he did all that after public opinion demanded it, not before.

In the end, what’s in a politician’s heart may be interesting to understand, but it doesn’t make much of a practical difference. Does it matter that Lyndon Johnson was personally a racist who spent his early career as a segregationist? No, it doesn’t: When his own party and the American public more broadly moved to support civil rights for African Americans, he passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act and became an advocate for equality.

It’s possible that Hillary Clinton believed in marriage equality all along, but didn’t have the courage to advocate it publicly until she finally did so in 2013. Or maybe every shift in her public stance was a perfectly accurate reflection of her views at that moment. Either way, now that the Democratic Party is firmly in support of marriage equality for everyone in every state, that position is going to guide her if she wins.

And let’s not forget that almost every major Republican politician has gone through their own evolution on this issue as well. The first time it was a major issue in a presidential race, in 2004, Republicans advocated a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage everywhere. Most of them even opposed civil unions. But today, the opinion supported by every presidential contender who has been explicit on the topic is that the decision should be left up to the states, meaning it’s OK with them if some states have marriage equality while others don’t. A few do advocate a constitutional amendment—but not one to ban same-sex marriage nationwide, just one to preserve the ability of individual states to ban it if they choose.

That’s where the Republican Party is now, so that’s what the next Republican president’s policies will reflect. Until they evolve again.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 16, 2015

April 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Hillary Clinton, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Selma Is Hardly History”: Yet After Ferguson And Staten Island, We May Be Less Optimistic Today

I’ve never forgotten what it was like to be in Selma at the start of the March 21, 1965, Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March, but I’ll still be in the ticket line for the opening of the new feature film, “Selma.”

I’m anxious to see how Selma is portrayed by a director and actors for whom it is history rather than personal experience.  The college students I teach have only a hazy knowledge of Selma and its impact on the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, though, Selma has taken on new relevance as it approaches its 50th anniversary.  The failures of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, to indict the police officers whose actions led to the deaths of two unarmed black men has made the gross injustices the civil rights movement fought against in the ’60s seem part of our times.

I am not nostalgic about Selma, but I am struck by how, despite the explicit racism of the South in 1965, there was more optimism then about America’s racial future than we have today.  In New York, where I live, nightly  #blacklivesmatter marches protesting events in Ferguson and Staten Island have been able to disrupt the city to a degree unthinkable 50 years ago, but among the marchers with whom I have spoken, their hopes are modest and specific.  They want to change how policing is done in communities of color, and they are calling for special prosecutors in cases of alleged police misconduct.  Few, though, speak of a new racial day in America arriving any time soon.

In 1965 I was far less sophisticated politically than today’s marchers.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference had been conducting a voter registration campaign in Selma since January 1965, but my awareness of SCLC’s efforts did not come until the night of March 7.  That was the date on which everything to do with Selma changed.   Shortly after 9 o’clock, ABC interrupted its Sunday evening movie,”Judgment at Nuremberg, with pictures from Selma that showed Alabama State Troopers attacking a column of black demonstrators while jeering crowds rooted the troopers on.

What shocked me about the attack, which quickly became known as “Bloody Sunday,” was that the troopers made no effort to conceal their actions from the television cameras. They were confident they would not be called to account.

The story of Selma has been told movingly by a number of historians — particularly, David Garrow in “Protest at Selma” and Taylor Branch in “At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68.”  But in March 1965 when I cut my graduate classes at Brown and headed south, I had little sense that a historic undertaking was about to happen. A second protest march, this one on March 9, had been peaceably turned around, and  I worried that the March 21 march might remain small, even with Martin Luther King and a series of celebrities heading it.

I was encouraged by the fact that on March 15, in a nationwide television address, President Johnson announced that he was sending a voting rights bill to Congress, and I took heart from the fact that Johnson followed up his address by calling out the Alabama National Guard to protect the March 21 march. Nonetheless, when I got to Selma on the night before the march, my worries continued.

The arrival of outsiders like me put an enormous strain on the black families in Selma who were supporting the march. The racial tensions in Selma and the surrounding counties — already high — were heightened still more by our presence.  I was lucky.  A black family opened up its house to me and several others, but many who arrived at the last moment ended up spending the night on the pews of Brown Chapel, the church at the center of civil rights activity in Selma.

In contrast to the end of the march, when 25,000 gathered in Montgomery to hear Martin Luther King speak, the crowd on that first day of the march was just 3,200 — an estimate that still strikes me as high.  It did not take King’s assistant, Andrew Young (then Andy Young), long to organize us.  Wearing bib overalls and a blue jacket, he stood in the middle of the street in front of Brown Chapel and got everyone into rows that would later fill Highway 80, from side to side.

For a moment, the march felt like the start of a small town’s Fourth of July parade, but things quickly turned ugly as we began moving through Selma.  I remember the car that played “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” over its loud speakers and a homemade “Coonsville U.S.A” sign that was impossible to miss. Later, the cries of “White N****r,” especially from teenagers who enjoyed shouting in unison as if they were spectators at a football game, became routine along the march route after we left town.

The following day, with a group of volunteers, I helped clear the pasture where the small band of marchers making the complete trip from Selma to Montgomery were scheduled to spend the night.  Clearing the pasture meant gathering up the cow manure that was everywhere. It was a thankless job, but in the warm Alabama sun, our work went without incident until early in the afternoon when a caravan of cars with gun racks on their roofs and Confederate flags on their doors pulled up.

There was no place to hide, and in this pre-cellphone era, no way to call for help. Scattered over several acres, we were easy targets for anyone with a gun. The men in the cars cursed us for a while over a bullhorn and tried to provoke a fight, but when nobody reacted, they finally got back in their cars and drove away. For those of us clearing the pasture, it was a lesson in the kind of vulnerability anyone who was black faced for trying to register to vote in Alabama. My fear stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon, but when it went away, I was not relieved.  I felt once again how small my role at Selma was.  I could count on being safe the minute I got back on a plane and returned North.

When the 50th anniversary of the Selma march is celebrated this year in Alabama, I’ll make sure to stay in the background if I go, but right now I’m leaning toward staying at home.  I think the money it will cost for me to travel to Selma might better be spent on working for change in the present.

 

By: Nicolaus Mills, Professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College; Salon, December 26, 2014

December 27, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism, Selma | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lurking In The Wings”: Mitt Romney Could Be The Next Andrew Johnson

Tuesday’s presidential election is one of the most important political events to affect racial progress in America since the 1964 contest between Sen. Barry Goldwater and President Lyndon Johnson.

Fortunately, the much-feared Goldwater victory never came to pass. But in ’64, there was plenty of praying among people of good will.

And with good reason.

Widely regarded as a founder of the modern conservative movement, Goldwater entered the presidential race as an outspoken defender of “states rights” and a fierce opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Goldwater’s anti-civil-rights stance earned him the support of Deep South states, making him the first Republican since Reconstruction to carry Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.

Operating with a well-earned inner sense of peril, African Americans voted overwhelmingly against Goldwater, helping to hand Johnson a landslide victory. A retreat on progress toward racial equality was averted.

What would be the consequences for race of a Mitt Romney victory?

A Romney takeover of the White House might well rival Andrew Johnson’s ascendancy to the presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Let’s dispense with something right now. I am not asserting that, in the unlikely event President Obama loses, the result could be chalked up to his being black.

Yes, race still matters in America, as Romney surrogate John Sununu recently reminded us with his slur regarding Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama.

A Romney win would be worrisome, however, because of his strong embrace of states rights and his deep mistrust of the federal government — sentiments Andrew Johnson shared.

And we know what that Johnson did once in office.

His sympathy for Confederacy holdouts, and his distaste for Washington, led him to retreat from Reconstruction and avert his gaze as Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws, many of which lasted until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

There is nothing in Romney’s record to suggest that he would be any stronger than Andrew Johnson in resisting the blandishments of his most extreme supporters, especially regarding federal enforcement.

Johnson stood by as Southern states enacted “black codes,” which restricted rights of freed blacks and prevented blacks from voting.

Romney stood by last year as Republican-controlled state legislatures passed voter-identification laws, making it harder for people of color, senior citizens and people with disabilities to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Is a Romney victory out of the question?

Lest we forget, Abraham Lincoln was not a beloved president across the nation at the time of his death. To white Southerners, wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, the 16th president was “The principal author of all the woe that descended upon them . . . a ruthless Attila bent upon the destruction of a superior civilization.”

In his April 1876 oration in memory of Lincoln, Frederick Douglass said, “Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters.”

In some quarters, the hatred of Lincoln bordered on fanaticism; similar sentiments are in evidence against Obama.

It was Lincoln’s declaration that, after the war, the nation would have “a new birth of freedom” that led to him taking a bullet on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

Obama’s exhortation in 2004, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America,” goes down no better with some folks.

For months on end, Romney and his ilk have been stoking the country with the charge that Obama has been systematically undermining America’s economic and social structure. It has caught hold; how much, we’ll see.

If Romney prevails, who will dictate what policies a Romney administration pursues? Certainly not Mitt Romney, a panderer and flip-flopper whose convictions don’t extend far beyond getting elected.

But the next president will make appointments to the Justice Department, State Department, the Pentagon; the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Treasury Department; and probably a Supreme Court justice or two. And there will be political jobs galore to fill. With a Romney administration, that means recruiting people who hate the federal government.

So where will Romney turn for help? Why, from those who helped get him where he is today: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and the Fox news crew, to name a few.

The ghost of Andrew Johnson is lurking in the wings.

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 2, 2012

November 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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