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“Like A Drunk In A Bar Fight”: Why Republicans Will Never Stop Lying About Obamacare

Politically speaking, here’s the thing about those melodramatic ads attacking the Affordable Care Act currently running on TV: In terms of actual policy, they’re as futile as the 40-odd votes to repeal the law that House Republicans have already cast.

GOP hardliners are like a drunk in a bar fight threatening to whip somebody twice his size if only his friends would let go of his arms.

It’s all over but the shouting.

Even if Republicans make big gains in the 2014 congressional elections, they can’t possibly win enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. What’s more, chances of capturing the White House in 2016 on a platform of canceling millions of Americans’ health insurance benefits appear so remote as to be downright delusional. Like it or not, the ACA is here to stay.

Indeed, governors and legislatures in previously recalcitrant states including New Hampshire, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia are considering Medicaid expansion they’d previously shunned. Despite early signup problems with the federal HealthCare.gov exchange, signups for individual private policies have increased to where it now appears the ACA will come close to meeting its projected goal of 7 million enrollees by the March 31 deadline.

Moreover, for all the predictions of actuarial doom heard on Fox News and elsewhere—supposedly caused by an imbalance of old, sick enrollees versus younger, healthier ones—the Washington Post reported last month that “the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the market’s age distribution freezes at its current level—an extremely unlikely scenario—‘overall costs in individual market plans would be about 2.4 percent higher than premium revenues.’”

That’s a minor problem, but nothing like a “death spiral.”

In terms of affecting health care policy, then, the TV ads are largely symbolic — scripted melodramas calculated to arouse the partisan passions of the GOP “base” in states where control of the U.S. Senate could be determined this fall. Financed by Americans for Prosperity, the Scrooge McDuck-style front group controlled by the Koch brothers and fellow anti-government tycoons, they’re aimed less at killing the Affordable Care Act than convincing voters that Democrats are their enemies.

Maybe that’s why the ad campaign has proven so singularly unpersuasive to skeptics. In Lousiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is up for re-election this fall, AFP has run a commercial featuring a group of actors pretending to be ordinary Louisiana citizens whose health insurance was canceled due to “Obamacare.” But it’s make-believe; a scripted TV drama as fictive as a Viagra advertisment.

In Arkansas, virtually every news program features a pretty, AFP-sponsored actress plaintively begging viewers to remind Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor that health care is about “people,” and that “the law just doesn’t work.” More in sorrow than anger, it seems, because Pryor remains personally popular.

Pryor’s opponent, Koch-financed Rep. Tom Cotton, tells a touching tale about one “Elizabeth, from Pulaski County” whose premiums have allegedly risen 85 percent under the new law “simply because Washington politicians and bureaucrats think they know what’s best for her and her family.”

I found myself wondering what kind of insurance plan the otherwise unidentified Elizabeth used to have, or if she’s like one of those imaginary digitally enhanced hotties that Internet ads assure me are just a mouse-click away.

Supposedly factual AFP ads have proven even less persuasive to skeptical journalists. In Michigan, 49-year-old leukemia patient Julie Boonstra earnestly explained to viewers that her existing health care policy had been canceled due to the Affordable Care Act, implying that she’d also lost her doctor and been broadsided by ruinous costs.

Fact checks by the Washington Post and Detroit News, however, determined that Boonstra hadn’t lost her doctor at all. What’s more, her monthly premiums under the Affordable Care Act cost roughly half what she’d been paying ($571, from $1,100). Her out-of-pocket expenses almost precisely matched those savings — overall, a wash.

A determined opponent of the law, apart from her understandable anxiety about changing insurance carriers while fighting cancer, Boonstra turned out to have suffered no real losses. Not to mention that she now has a policy that can’t be rescinded due to a “previously existing condition.”

And so it goes. Los Angeles Times economics columnist Michael Hiltzik has made a minor specialty out of fact checking these successive tales of woe. It’s left him wondering if there are really any “Obamacare” victims at all.

“What a lot of these stories have in common,” he writes “are, first of all, a subject largely unaware of his or her options under the ACA or unwilling to determine them; and, second, shockingly uninformed and incurious news reporters, including some big names in the business, who don’t bother to look into the facts of the cases they’re offering for public consumption.”

Politically, however, printed facts rarely prevail against televised fictions. Anyway, repealing the Affordable Care Act isn’t the point. It’s inflaming the GOP base and defeating Democrats.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 26, 2014

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Supporting The Politicians”: Wal-Mart Exploits Employee Charity To Help Ted Cruz And John Boehner

Wal-Mart and other top U.S. corporations “reap worker political donations through charities,” according to a Bloomberg report published Monday.

Reporter Renee Dudley wrote that major companies, “forbidden to give money directly to political action committees, are taking advantage of controversial federal rules allowing them to ask employees to do it for them in exchange for matching charitable donations.” Dudley notes that the Federal Election Commission ruled in the 1980s that tying employees’ charitable donations to matching political contributions was legal, and that precedent has remained in place despite repeated disagreement within the agency, including a split vote in 2009. She reports the practice “has become commonplace,” and that those who contribute are mostly in management.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, draws particular attention in the Bloomberg story, which says the retailer’s program is distinguished by offering a two-to-one rather than one-to-one match, and by requiring that the charitable donations go to the company’s Associates in Critical Need Trust. Wal-Mart’s employee-to-employee charitable activities drew unkind scrutiny in November, when the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on a worker-to-worker food drive at a local store.

Bloomberg cites a 2004 memo from Wal-Mart’s then-general counsel pledging, “We’re going to be relentless in encouraging participation until 100% of our management associates are on board.” Center for Responsive Politics data for Wal-Mart’s “PAC for Responsible Government,” cited by Dudley, show a roughly even split in donations between Republicans and Democrats, with recipients including House Speaker John Boehner, Tea Party favorite Senator Ted Cruz and hometown conservative Democratic Senator Mark Pryor. (A June report from the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, factoring in donations from the Walton family which owns half the company, found that 69 percent of combined total Wal-Mart and Walton donations from 2000 to 2012 went to Republican candidates or committees.)

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to Salon’s inquiry regarding Bloomberg story. Wal-Mart Vice President David Tovar told Bloomberg’s Dudley that the program was “a great way for people who contribute to the PAC to also do good for fellow associates,” and offered “an opportunity to support the company and the things we’re advocating for on behalf of the shareholders, our associates, our customers” at the state and federal levels.

As I’ve reported, Wal-Mart also maintains the Walmart Foundation, whose grantees have included non-profits in key cities where the company seeks to expand. The legally-distinct Walton Family Foundation is a major funder of anti-union education reform efforts.

Bloomberg’s story comes weeks after a day of civil disobedience actions mounted by the non-union workers’ group OUR Walmart, which is closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. In an e-mailed statement, OUR Walmart activist Barbara Gertz called the Bloomberg story “further proof that Walmart is determined to spend millions to support politicians who vote to cut food stamps and who oppose increasing the minimum wage, instead of focusing on creating good jobs in our communities.” While OUR Walmart and allies have recently emphasized Wal-Mart employees’ widespread use of public assistance programs (including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky calling those at the top of the company “welfare kings”), in October Wal-Mart’s U.S. CEO declared the company “cautious but modestly optimistic” that food stamp cuts would be good for business — a statement Congressman John Conyers told Salon “borders on the ludicrous.”

Gertz, a Denver Wal-Mart employee, said it was “upsetting to hear that Walmart not only exploited the associates in critical need fund to push a political agenda that hurts ordinary Americans, but it also may have done so in violation of federal laws.”

 

By: Josh Eidelson, Salon, December 23, 2013

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Running Out Of Fresh Attacks”: Republicans Revive Mitt Romney’s Favorite Medicare Attack

With HealthCare.gov substantially improved and new insurance signups surging, Republicans have been forced to pivot to a new line of attack against the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a series of news releases accusing Democratic candidates of cutting Medicare through their support of the health care reform law.

“As the ObamaCare disaster continues to unfold, Mark Pryor and National Democrats have resorted to deceiving seniors using their old and discredited MediScare playbook,” reads the release targeting Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR).

“What’s new this year is the blatant hypocrisy that Mark Pryor and his liberal allies in Washington are exhibiting,” it continues. “Pryor’s deciding vote for ObamaCare cut $717 billion from Medicare—including nearly $5.4 billion directly from Arkansas ($10,296 per Medicare recipient in Arkansas).”

CNN reports that the NRSC campaign will target Senators Pryor, Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN), along with Senate candidates Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) and Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI).

If this line of attack sounds familiar, it’s because it was a centerpiece of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s case against the Affordable Care Act in the 2012 elections. The Republican ticket repeatedly accused President Obama of having “robbed” and “raided” $716 billion from Medicare to “pay for Obamacare, a risky, unproven, federal takeover of health care.”

Of course, that attack ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of the $716 billion actually represented reductions in how much Medicare pays hospitals and insurers, as WonkBlog’s Sarah Kliff explained last August. Medicare benefits themselves are not affected.

It also ignored the fact that Ryan’s own budget included the exact same $716 billion in cuts (with the implied promise of deeper cuts in the future to pay for trillions of dollars in new defense spending and tax cuts). He has also kept the savings in subsequent budget proposals. Nearly every Republican in Congress — including Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Pryor’s chief rival in his 2014 re-election bid — has supported Ryan’s budget plans, significantly blunting the accusation’s impact.

Nonetheless, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) spokesman Brendan Buck told MSNBC that the attack is “a tried and true campaign hit” — ignoring that it totally failed to blunt the Democratic Party’s sweeping victory in 2012.

There’s no denying that Republicans had a good political month targeting the Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout. But the fact that they are already returning to this easily debunked attack, which was proven to be unpersuasive in the last election, raises the question of whether they are running out of fresh attacks against the law. And with repeal seemingly off the table, one wonders where Republicans will turn if good news about the law continues to trickle out.

 

By: Henry Decker, Featured Post, The National Memo, December 4, 2013

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beset By Condescending Outsiders”: Michael Bloomberg’s Gift To Arkansas’ Pro-Gun Sen Mark Pryor

In the unlikely event that Mark Pryor wins re-election as Arkansas’ senior U.S. Senator in 2014, he should send New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg a thank-you gift. Something like a sugary 44-ounce Big Gulp or a case of Dr Pepper. Offering His Honor a 30.06 deer rifle would be churlish.

Unlike liberal groups who scared up a primary opponent for former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010, predictably helping her lose to a cookie-cutter GOP conservative, Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has given the beleaguered Democrat, well, a target to shoot at.

Angered with Pryor’s Senate vote against broadening background checks for gun sales—one of four Democrats to do so—Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been running TV ads in Arkansas citing the murder of state Democratic Party chair Bill Gwatney by a deranged gunman in 2008.

Narrated by former Democratic Party official Angela Bradford-Barnes, the commercial expresses the disgust of just about every Arkansas Democrat I know with what they saw as Pryor’s cowardly vote. “The Caspar Milquetoast of Arkansas politics,” one acerbic columnist dubbed him.

“When my dear, innocent friend was shot to death, I didn’t blame guns,” Bradford-Barnes says, “I blamed a system that makes it so terribly easy for criminals or the dangerous mentally ill to buy guns.”

Pryor has said that he found the politicizing of his friend’s murder “disgusting.” Maybe he did.

Tactically speaking, the problem with the Bloomberg ad is that just about every Democrat I know lives either in Hillcrest, basically the Upper West Side of Little Rock, or in the college town of Fayetteville—completely atypical of Arkansas voters generally. They can be as disgusted as they like. But they have exactly nowhere to go.

Blanche Lincoln carried Hillcrest handily against Rep. John Boozman in 2010. She lost statewide 58 to 37 percent.

President Obama also carried Pulaski County (Little Rock) in 2010; Mitt Romney won Arkansas by 24 points.

So you can see Pryor’s dilemma. Meanwhile, the billionaire-coddling Club for Growth (or “Club for Greed” as former Gov. Mike Huckabee once called it) has also been hammering the Arkansas Democrat with TV ads blaming him for President Obama’s supposedly runaway spending.

But more about that to come.

Do I think Pryor’s vote against background checks was cowardly? I did then. However, Democrats like The Daily Beast’s Mike Tomasky, who cite polls showing strong majorities of Arkansans favoring universal background checks, may be overlooking the difference between a mild preference expressed to a telephone pollster and a conviction strong enough to hold against a barrage of paranoid NRA propaganda.

Can a majority of Arkansans be convinced that bogeyman Obama is coming to confiscate their guns? I wouldn’t bet against it in Arkansas or any state it borders upon—Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee or even Missouri.

Simply put, fear and loathing of President Obama has reached cult-like proportions across the region, and there’s little Mark Pryor can do about it before November, 2014. Almost everywhere you go—dentists’ offices, auto dealers, fitness centers, airports—the waiting room TV is tuned to Fox News, and people are swallowing it whole.

So more than a year early, Sen. Pryor has come out swinging against his dream opponent: Michael Bloomberg. Even though no Republican rival has yet declared, he’s begun airing a 30-second TV spot complaining that, “The mayor of New York City is running ads against me because I opposed President Obama’s gun control legislation.”

The commercial ends with the Senator striking a belligerent pose: “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” he growls. “I listen to Arkansas.”

Take that, limousine liberals! As much as the vote, it was the impression of weakness that may have been Pryor’s greatest liability. Months of unanswered Club for Growth ads also didn’t help.

Now the question is whether he can carry the fight to his presumptive, albeit undeclared GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton, the favored candidate of the aforementioned Club for Greed. Also of GOP kingmaker Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, whose greatest hits as a political prognosticator include the Iraq War and Sarah Palin.

The hand-picked selection, that is, of another passel of New York/Washington elitists. A superficially appealing candidate with impressive credentials, Cotton also appears to be a stone right-wing zealot who not only voted against federal disaster aid for storm victims, but recently proposed a law punishing relatives of lawbreakers—parents, siblings, aunts and uncles—for their transgressions. In a word, a crackpot.

Basically, Pryor’s got to portray himself as an advocate of the Arkansas Way—a moderate Democrat like his father, former Sen. David Pryor, like Dale Bumpers, and Bill Clinton—a just-folks pragmatist beset by condescending outsiders, and one who’ll fight for you as hard as he fights for himself.

A longshot? Definitely. But it’s been done before.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 5, 2013

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scheduling Conflicts”: Senators Who Voted To Kill Background Checks Dodge Meetings With Gun Victims

Senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment expanding background checks for firearm purchased at gun shows and online refused this week to meet with families impacted by gun violence, citing scheduling conflicts or ignoring requests altogether.

The push, part of an effort organized by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, comes as lawmakers who opposed the popular measure are facing pointed questions from angry constituents at town halls and seeing their approval ratings plummet. As a result, some are simply dodging the tough questions, particularly from families who have been most affected by gun violence:

– SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Anne Lyczak — who lost her husband Richard in January 1994, when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Portsmouth, N.H — “wrote a letter to Ayotte, inviting her to dinner at her house to talk about ways to prevent gun violence…. Ayotte’s office, however, turned down Lyczak’s request, saying the senator would keep it under consideration for the future. Ayotte’s office cited scheduling constraints” [Huffington Post, 5/3/2013]

– SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ): “Caren Teves, whose son was killed last summer in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., said she invited Flake to dinner to sit in her son’s empty chair. He replied with a hand-written note affirming his support for expanded gun control measures. “I am confused and would like an answer,” Teves said. “I would like Sen. Flake to look me in the eye and tell me why he ignored me.” Teves said Flake has ignored many emails and phone calls from her and her husband, but she remains determined. [KTAR, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. MARK PRYOR (D-AR): Neil Heslin — whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — “said he invited Senator Pryor to a private dinner to speak about how legislation he wants to eliminate gun loopholes. However, Heslin told us he never heard back from Pryor, but plans to speak with him at a public event in Lonoke County Thursday.” [KATV, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): “Fran Lynch of North Carolina’s Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham sent a letter to Burr, asking that he join her and her friends for a discussion on gun control… Burr’s scheduler replied that the senator was unavailable “due to previously scheduled events already on his schedule.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): “[A] Springfield, Ohio woman whose 27-year-old son was killed in last year’s Colorado movie theater rampage tried to arrange a dinner with Portman so she could express her frustration with his vote….A Portman aide told The Plain Dealer the senator’s schedule did not permit him to meet with Jackson this week, but he would consider it in the future.” [Plain Dealer, 5/2/2013]

– SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Parents of a woman who was killed in the Colorado theatre shooting “said they initially invited both Cruz and Senator John Cornyn to their home for dinner…. Though Cornyn has not accepted their invitation, Cruz, who was in town on Wednesday for a North Side Chamber of Commerce event, met briefly with the couple at a local restaurant.” [KSAT, 5/1/2013]

The National Rifle Association has begun running radio ads thanking Ayotte for voting down background checks and the senator continues to justify her opposition to the amendment by falsely claiming that additional screenings would lead to the creation of a gun registry. The claim, widely debunked, has been advanced by the NRA.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the sponsor of the bipartisan measure, has pledged to slightly modify his amendment and bring it back for a vote in the Senate. Gun advocates remain hopeful that the growing public pressure could convince more than 60 senators to support the bill, forcing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to put it up for a vote in House of Representatives. The House version of the Manchin compromise has more than 120 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, May 4, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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