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“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, 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

“The Bottom Rungs Of The Economic Ladder”: Boehner Undermines His Own Minimum-Wage Argument

When policymakers debate increasing the minimum wage, there’s nothing wrong with them drawing on their personal experiences when making a decision. Some members of Congress, however, really aren’t good at it.

A couple of years ago, for example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued against raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour because, when she was a teenager, she made $2.15 an hour and she “appreciated that opportunity.”

What Blackburn didn’t realize is that inflation exists – when she made $2.15 an hour as a teen, in inflation-adjusted terms, that was over $12 an hour in today’s money. The Tennessee Republican was trying to argue against a minimum-wage hike, but she ended up doing the opposite.

A related problem popped up over the weekend, when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on “60 Minutes” and CBS’s Scott Pelley asked if Congress might increase the “federal minimum wage.” The Republican leader replied:

“It’s a bad idea. I’ve had every kinda rotten job you can imagine growin’ up and gettin’ myself through school. And I wouldn’t have had a chance at half those jobs if the federal government had kept imposing [a] higher minimum wage. You take the bottom rungs off the economic ladder.”

Again, there’s nothing wrong with Boehner, like Blackburn, drawing upon his personal experiences. The trouble is that Boehner, like Blackburn, is flubbing the details.

Sam Stein set the record straight:

[W]hen Boehner was first taking on those “rotten jobs,” the minimum wage was actually at its historic high. And when the wage later dipped relative to inflation, Congress passed a series of hikes that raised it some more.

According to Department of Labor statistics, the minimum wage stood at $1.60 an hour in 1968 – the highest it has ever been when adjusted for inflation…. At first, Boehner went into sales – selling plastics, specifically – after his brief stint with the Navy ended. In 1971, he enrolled in Xavier University. According to a recent Politico profile, Boehner took a number of odd jobs while attending school there, among them “a series of humbling janitorial and construction jobs.” He would graduate in 1977.

On “60 Minutes,” Boehner expressed relief that the government didn’t keep “imposing” a higher minimum wage at the time, but in reality, the government actually did keep “imposing” a higher minimum wage, raising in 1974, 1975, and again in 1976 – just as Boehner was working through college.

And adjusted for inflation, those minimum wages had greater purchasing power than the minimum wage now. If Boehner looks back at that era fondly, he has no reason to create tougher conditions for low-wage workers now.

Keep the political context in mind: the debate about the minimum wage has been ongoing for quite a while, it was a major issue in last year’s elections, and the Speaker no doubt expects questions about the policy during interviews like these. But as of the weekend, his go-to talking point is demonstrably wrong.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 27, 2015

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Congress, John Boehner, Minimum Wage | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Catering To A Small Minority Of Voters”: Don’t Be Fooled; Republicans Are Still As Extreme On Abortion As Ever

A group of Republican men took to the House floor on Wednesday evening and delivered emotional speeches about the need to restrict women’s right to abortion. “A deeply personal issue,” Utah representative Chris Smith noted without a trace of irony, before musing on the pleasures of being a grandfather. Ted Yoho of Florida likened fetuses to an endangered species. “How can we as a nation have laws that protect the sea turtle or bald eagle, but yet refuse to protect the same of our own species?” he asked.

Their speeches anticipated a vote on the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. Originally scheduled for Thursday, the vote has now been indefinitely “delayed” because the bill, it turns out, was too extreme even for some members of the GOP. A number of female members objected to a provision that would have exempted rape victims from the ban only after they reported to police. Dissent grew throughout the week, and with as many as two-dozen Republicans ready to vote against the bill by late Wednesday, leaders pulled the whole thing.

Oh, well. Republicans immediately found another piece of bad meat to throw the mass of anti-abortion protestors who descended on Washington on Thursday for the annual March for Life: the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act Titled just as misleadingly as the “Pain-Capable” legislation, this bill would have the most damaging effects in the private insurance marketplace, as Medicaid and other publicly funded programs are already barred from covering abortion services. House Republicans passed that legislation Thursday afternoon, as the anti-choice chants echoed across Capitol Hill.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill “could result in the entire private insurance market dropping abortion coverage, thereby making such coverage unavailable to anyone.” It would permanently codify bans on abortion coverage for federal employees, residents of the District of Columbia, female inmates, women insured through the Indian Health Service, and women covered by Medicaid. It would also raise taxes on most small businesses.

The pivot was pure pandering. Representative Trent Franks, who introduced the twenty week ban along with Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, had noted previously that the vote was scheduled for the same day at the March for Life because of the “symbolism.” Many of the members who spoke on Wednesday in support of the ban gave more attention to promoting the march than to bill itself. “This week, the defenders of life in the thousands have and will come to Washington DC to support the sanctity of life,” said New Jersey Representative Chris Smith. “I want them to know we will keep fighting to defend the silent, unborn child.”

While reproductive rights groups received the failure of the twenty-week ban with glee, they quickly condemned the scramble to find a substitute bill. “Today’s exercise in the House is not about making public policy, nor is it about helping American women and families. It is about catering to a small minority of voters—anti-abortion activists who are descending on Washington for their annual march,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President (and Nation contributor) Ilyse Hogue in a statement released Thursday.

It’s tempting to probe the political significance of a few female Republicans having the will, and enough muscle, to scuttle a bill that passed the House in similar form just two years ago. Maybe this one instance in which GOP leaders resisted the far-right fringe signals they’re finally waking up to the conclusion, encapsulated in the 2012 election post-mortem, that the party’s long-term success depends on women and minorities. And maybe not. (Call me when the House takes up immigration reform.)

But don’t overestimate the practical significance. Republicans are increasingly policing their optics and broadening their rhetoric—read Ran Paul’s rebuttal to the State of the Union for some silver tongue work concerning poverty, for example—but they are not ending their siege of legal abortion at the federal level or in the states, where the worst damage is being done. This would not be the first time that a high-level Republican chose not to highlight their extreme anti-woman principles and yet stuck to them. The twenty-week ban is likely to come up again this year, and it would be a dangerous bill even with a broader exception for rape victims. And out of the shadow of the March for Life, a vote will still be merely symbolic, as it’s unlikely to get through the Senate or to cross the president’s desk without a veto.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, January 22, 2015

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Reproductive Choice, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Short-Term Pain Isn’t A Problem”: How Republicans Are Heightening The Contradictions

Congress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they’ll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn’t even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of “heightening the contradictions,” the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin.

In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a policy change Republicans want (expediting deportations of Central American children), and did some things that don’t address the problem at all (like beefing up border security, which is irrelevant since these kids are happily turning themselves in). But the conservatives wanted to attach a provision to the bill that would also undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, under which “dreamers” who have been in the U.S. since before 2007 can stay under certain conditions.

As Cruz and his allies knew quite well, while the broader GOP bill faced an uncertain fate in the Senate, a bill that had DACA repeal attached to it had zero chance of passing there. So what was the point? It may be that they were thinking along the same lines as conservative wise man Bill Kristol, who today told Republicans to pass nothing and let Barack Obama take the blame:

If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there’s no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won’t have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they’ll make. Republican challengers won’t have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president—on his refusal to enforce the immigration law, on the effect of his unwise and arbitrary executive actions in 2012, on his pending rash and illegal further executive acts in 2014, and on his refusal to deal with the real legal and policy problems causing the border crisis.

Hooray! Sure, the crisis that they’re allegedly so angry about would continue unabated. But what’s that next to a little political difficulty for Barack Obama?

Something quite similar is happening on the Affordable Care Act. The phrase you now hear from everyone on the right is that the law will “collapse under its own weight,” which is a way of saying that even though there’s been nothing but good news lately about how the law is going, it’s so awful that it will inevitably cause such horrible suffering that everyone will come to agree with us that it must be repealed. “I think it’s going to collapse under its own weight in time,” says Paul Ryan. “Obamacare will collapse under its own weight,” writes Phil Gramm in the Wall Street Journal. “Eventually, all this is going to collapse around them,” says Rep. Marsha Blackburn about the law.

That “collapse” is a fantasy that will never happen, but let’s take them at their word when they say it will. While they never get specific about what the collapse will look like, by definition it would be disastrous for millions of Americans. Would they lose their insurance coverage, or be unable to get treatment for serious medical conditions? It would have to be something like that to constitute a “collapse.” And the Republican position isn’t, “This collapse is coming, so we’d better work hard to make sure it doesn’t and insulate vulnerable Americans from its effects.” Instead, their position is, “This collapse is coming, so we’ll just wait until the nightmare of suffering and death plays itself out, after which we’ll be there to offer our as-yet-undetermined health care alternative.”

The Halbig lawsuit that Republicans are all guffawing about was nothing if not an effort to heighten the contradictions and accelerate the collapse. If it succeeds, insurance subsidies will be taken away from Americans in 36 states, making coverage unaffordable for millions. Republicans won’t say explicitly that this is the outcome they desire, but it’s the only reason to file the lawsuit in the first place. And of course, if the disaster of those millions losing coverage was something Republicans wanted to forestall, they could do it in an afternoon. Just pass a short bill making clear that subsidies apply in every state, and the problem would be solved. But that, of course, wouldn’t heighten the contradictions.

This idea has its limits—for instance, Congress is probably going to pass some short-term fix for the highway trust fund before tomorrow. But that’s because it would be harder for Republicans to escape blame for the consequences when all those construction projects start shutting down. If there’s any way at all for Obama can take the fall on an issue, they’ll do it.

To be sure, there is a certain logic at work here. Like every political party, today’s Republicans believe that if they were in complete control, their preferred policies would be so glorious and work so well that the total of suffering in the country would be reduced to microscopic levels. So some increased suffering in the short term is tolerable if it helps us get closer to that future nirvana. That’s of some reassurance, right?


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 31, 2014

August 2, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Championing Lost Causes”: Michele Bachmann’s Crazy War On Women’s History

It looks as though Michele Bachmann has chosen to spend her final year in Congress as she spent so much of her tenure: ranting about issues in a manner so overwrought that not even her own party can stomach her.

Yesterday, Bachmann generated a fresh round of no-she-didn’t buzz when she took to the House floor to beg colleagues to shoot down legislation creating a bipartisan commission to explore construction of a National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) on the National Mall. Many Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Marsha Blackburn, presumably saw greenlighting the commission as a relatively painless, if largely meaningless, way to say, “See, we love the ladies!” (Cue Tom Cruise bouncing on Oprah’s sofa.)

But not Bachmann. The soon-to-be-ex-lawmaker expressed her grave concerns that “ultimately this museum that will be built on the National Mall, on federal land, will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement, and pro-traditional-marriage movement.”

Bachmann allowed that there is much to celebrate about women. But based on her “cursory review” of the museum’s online exhibits, she had sadly concluded that any worthy offerings would be overshadowed by the feminist propaganda of the left. Singled out for opprobrium was the planned exhibit on Margaret Sanger, birth-control crusader and godmother of Planned Parenthood.

The House responded to Bachmann’s clarion call by passing the bill 383-33.

Now, I understand that the gentlewoman from Minnesota wishes (and sometimes, late at night snuggled up with Marcus, maybe even likes to pretend) that she lived in a right-thinking theocracy with an Old Testament approach to dealing with gays and loose women. But the history of the United States is what it is, and any museum celebrating the ladies and exploring their hard-won fight for equal rights will include a few figures that rub Bachmann the wrong way. Most museums feature exhibits that are controversial, if not downright objectionable, to plenty of visitors. (One can only imagine what Bachmann thinks of the Museum of Natural History’s representations of evolution.)

Come to think of it, some gals might object to the NWHM’s decision to create an online exhibit about Michele Bachmann (an irony that Bachmann had the good graces to mention in her floor speech). After all, the four-term Congresswoman is hardly dripping with historical, or even political, import. As a lawmaker, she has always been more of a show pony than a workhorse. Sure, she became a political celebrity as “Queen of the Tea Party,” and in 2011 she won the why-won’t-someone-euthanize-it-already Ames straw poll. But demagogues are a dime a dozen these days, and Bachmann never displayed any talent for transforming her raving into either legislative achievement or higher office. As Politico noted during her 2011 campaign:

Now in her third House term, Bachmann has never had a bill or resolution she’s sponsored signed into law, and she’s never wielded a committee gavel, either at the full or subcommittee level. Bachmann’s amendments and bills have rarely been considered by any committee, even with the House under GOP control. In a chamber that rewards substantive policy work and insider maneuvering, Bachmann has shunned the inside game, choosing to be more of a bomb thrower than a legislator.

But! If Bachmann has been a mediocre public servant (not to mention an appalling influence on political discourse) she was, back in the day, a phenomenal foster mom, which is what the NWHM exhibit is all about. In its “Profiles in Motherhood” section, the museum has Q&As with a number of women in various categories: “Working Mom,” “Stay at Home Mom,” “Military Mom,” “Adoptive Mom,” and so on. As the featured “Foster Mom,” Bachmann talks about the motivations, challenges, and joys of fostering nearly two dozen teens over the years. No matter how toxic many—many—people find the congresswoman, her willingness to embrace so many children in need is beyond controversy. In this one area, at least, Bachmann found a way to walk the walk and accomplish some lasting good.

The folks at NWHM deserve props for finding a way to spotlight this inspiring aspect of Bachmann’s story—despite how loudly she’s tried to stop them.


By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, May 9, 2014

May 10, 2014 Posted by | Mchele Bachmann | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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