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“Revisionist History”: Chris Christie Shows Why The GOP Is Hopeless On Health Care Reform

With the rollout of the health care exchanges created by Obamacare hitting some bumps, to put it mildly, and President Obama’s approval rating falling to new lows, it seems like now would be the perfect time for Republicans to take control of the health care issue. Yet they haven’t.

Why? To figure that out, look no further than the GOP’s darling of the moment, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Fresh off a re-election rout, plenty of conservatives are pointing to Christie as the hope for a new, modern and revitalized GOP. And at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council 2013 yesterday, Christie knew his cue, saying, “Obamacare is a failure, it’s always been a failure and it will not succeed. It just won’t.”

But when asked what he would replace it with, Christie first demurred, saying he didn’t have enough time to flesh out a solution, but then added:

Obamacare is wrong, it’s a failure, it’s the most extraordinary overreach of government power in the history of our country. And it’s being run by people who have never run anything. So why are we surprised it’s failing?

What do we need to replace it? We need a robust debate among both sides. Unlike last time, where the president jammed this down everybody’s throat and got not one Republican vote because he was unwilling to make any compromise, including tort reform, for god’s sake. Well, then this time we need a robust conversation between both sides where everybody brings skin to the table and everybody compromises. And if we do that we can craft a solution.

This is just red meat, not a constructive discussion of the nation’s health care problems. And it’s emblematic of the mainstream GOP’s fact-free approach to health care reform and the problems it’s having landing punches against Obamacare.

For starters, it’s simply incorrect that the Obamacare exchanges are “being run by people who have never run anything.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, after all, ran a state (she was the governor of Kansas, not exactly a socialist utopia), which I imagine Christie counts as executive experience. And President Obama, like it or not, has been at the helm of the world’s largest economy and military since 2009.

But far more importantly, Christie’s only solution to the health care conundrum is more “debate.” He seems to believe that health care reform would have gone just fine if mean old Obama hadn’t “jammed this down everybody’s throat” without making any compromises. That’s revisionist history, to say the least.

Back here in reality, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., spent months fruitlessly trying to get Republicans to sign onto a health care bill, which was also endlessly debated in committee, in each chamber of Congress and on the airwaves. There are a slew of provisions in the law that come from various proposals Republicans have put forth over the years, including some lifted from their Obamacare alternative, but they earned Obama not one Republican vote.

Obama also ditched the public option – a government run plan in the health care exchange – as a concession, for which he got nothing in return except accusations that he was engineering a “government takeover” of health care.  Oh, and Christie’s magical tort reform, the GOP silver bullet? Obama has offered it to Republicans multiple times, and in response, they did nothing. (Tort reform, in the end, would result in scant savings anyway.)

This is not to deny that Obamacare has its problems, but simply to highlight that the GOP had the opportunity to be constructive during the health care debate, and instead chose across-the-board opposition and obstruction as an explicit political strategy to bring about Obama’s “Waterloo.”

Now, years later and with Obamacare faltering, the best the GOP’s newest star can muster is to tell the same old tales in the same old way. Complicating the matter is the fact that the few ideas conservatives do have for health care reform would result in many of the same things which Republicans are now criticizing. Reforms favored by the GOP would cause people to lose their insurance plans, even if they like them. And they would cut Medicare. Gasp!

Christie either knows this and can’t say it, because he would then be vilified by the conservative base, or he is just another Republican who doesn’t understand the tradeoffs involved in reforming America’s inefficient, wasteful and oftentimes completely backward health care system. And his refusal to even try to formulate a coherent health care alternative shows why, even after 40-something repeal votes and a disastrous rollout of the exchanges, Obamacare is still very much the law of the land.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, November 19, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Hypocrisy On Obamacare”: Republicans Get The Vapors And Become Outraged About The Problems They Created

Last spring, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and the chairman of the committee, was not pleased with how things were going.

The Obama administration originally had asked for more than half a billion dollars to spend on public relations and outreach for the law. House Republicans had returned with an offer of nothing. That’s right: zero dollars. Without necessary funds, the Department of Health and Human Services worried it would not have the necessary money to pay for navigators to help people enroll in health care, for the technology needed to implement the exchanges and for the public relations campaign that was required to inform citizens about what the law actually did.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the controversial move of asking insurance companies and nonprofit organizations to donate money and help. Republicans were outraged. She asked for more money. She was refused.

Then, when she tried to move some money from the PR budget to replace cuts to other areas, Baucus became quite upset. He was concerned that if the administration did not do more to inform people about the law and get implementation going, there would be problems:

“A lot of people have no idea about all of this,” he said. “People just don’t know a lot about it, and the Kaiser poll pointed that out. I understand you’ve hired a contractor. I’m just worried that that’s gonna be money down the drain because contractors like to make money. … I just tell ya, I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”

As I’ve said before, it’s important to note that the “train wreck” Baucus was describing was a botched implementation because not enough was being done to make things go smoothly.

It wasn’t a description of the law itself but of what might occur if the government did not devote enough resources to making it work. Sebelius’ response was not surprising to those who were paying attention. She said that she was “incredibly disappointed” that all her requests for resources were being denied by Republicans.

That was then. Today, implementation has arrived, and if it’s not a train wreck, then it’s certainly close. The administration is still under fire because people cannot get the insurance they want through the exchanges. But while I will continue to point out the problems with implementation and fault the administration for mistakes they’ve made, how does one ignore the apparent hypocrisy from many politicians who are now “outraged” about the very problems they’ve helped to create.

Republicans refused to appropriate money needed to implement Obamacare. When Sebelius tried to shift money from other areas to help do what needed to be done, she was attacked by Senate Republicans. At every step, Republicans fought measures to get money to put towards implementation.

Is it really a surprise then that implementation hasn’t gone smoothly?

Federal legislators aren’t the only ones to blame. Let’s remember that original versions of the bill called for one big national exchange. This would have been much easier to implement. But conservatives declared that insurance should be left to the states and kept out of the hands of the federal government. So as a compromise (yes, those did occur), exchanges were made state-based instead of national.

As a precaution, the law stipulated that if states failed to do their duty and enact exchanges, the federal government would step in and pick up the slack. This was to prevent obstructionism from killing the law. Surprisingly, it was many of the same conservative states that demanded local control that refused to implement state-based exchanges, leaving the federal government to do it for them.

That made implementation much harder.

There have been books, webinars and meetings explaining how to sabotage the implementation of Obamacare. There have been campaigns trying to persuade young adults not to use the exchanges. It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that many of the same people who have been part of all of this obstructionism seem so “upset” by the fact that people can’t easily use the exchanges.

For goodness sake, the government was shut down just a few weeks ago because some of the same people who are now bemoaning poorly functioning websites were determined to see that not one dime went to Obamacare.

Lest you think I’m defending this month’s rollout, I encourage you to review my last article here. I still maintain that the administration has had a failure in management in overseeing and reporting on progress towards October 1. But I’m also sympathetic that they’ve had a hard job to do. I would like to see this go better. I’d like to see millions more get insurance. I’d like to see the law of the land function as well as it can, and if it doesn’t, I’d like to see Congress continue to amend it to make it work better. I’d like a better health care system.

What I cannot ignore, however, are the many people who actively worked to see implementation fail now get the vapors over its poor start. The truth is, they got what they wanted. A victory lap is somewhat warranted, not concern-trolling.

If, on the other hand, their concern is real, then I’m sure the administration would welcome their help in making things right.


By: Aaron Carroll, Director, Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, Indiana University School of Medicine, Special to CNN, October 28, 2013

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Neoconfederates Or Nihilists”: The GOP’s Latest Shutdown Delusion, They Missed The Obamacare Negotiations

I had the good luck of debating former Newt Gingrich flack Rick Tyler on MSNBC Sunday. It was good luck, because it forced me to encounter one of the ways Republicans are lying to the country about their defund/delay/repeal Obamacare hostage-taking. Tyler insisted shutting down the government was reasonable recourse for his party because the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through in the middle of the night without a single Republican vote.”

I Googled “Obamacare” and “rammed through” to find that’s a regular GOP talking point, of course. I also found the single worst piece of punditry on our current political crisis, by Michael Barone on Real Clear Politics, using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to indict President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me demolish Tyler’s claim that the ACA was “rammed through” Congress without deliberation or debate, part of  a pattern of Obama failing to negotiate with Congress. Well, I knew that was a lie, and I said so to Tyler and host Karen Finney. In fact, the ACA was the result of more than a year of congressional committee hearings in which progressive ideas like single payer or a public option were jettisoned, and hundreds of GOP amendments to the law were accepted, in exchange for zero Republican votes. Sen. Max Baucus, in particular, drove an eight-month bipartisan process via the Senate Finance Committee in which he and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley held dozens of hearings, released joint “policy option” papers and finally presided over 31 meetings lasting 60 hours with the so-called “Gang of Six” – Baucus and Grassley plus Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. — to try to hammer out a compromise that would attract GOP support. (A Twitter friend shared this helpful history of the Finance Committee’s tortuous process.)

But it wasn’t until I read the Finance Committee summary of its work on the ACA that I fully experienced the inanity of Tyler’s argument. It’s actually painful to read. In fact, it was the administration’s determination to compromise, and to let the centrist Baucus drive the process, that led Democrats to head into the disastrous August 2009 recess without an actual bill they could tout, let alone defend – and that vacuum was filled by Tea Party hatred at town halls that Rep. Todd Akin (remember him?) appreciatively labeled “town hells” for Democrats.

And of course it was August when Grassley echoed Sarah Palin’s death panels lie and claimed Obama wanted “to pull the plug on Grandma.” Still, Baucus worked to reach a deal with him, accepting his amendments to the final bill passed by the Finance Committee, along with amendments by Enzi, Snowe and other GOP members. But he never won a single vote from them. Despite that history of desperate efforts to find common ground and win over Republicans, Republicans lie and say it didn’t happen.

The main reason for GOP intransigence, of course, especially in the Senate, was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s widely publicized determination to hold his caucus together to deny the new president any victories on his agenda. On healthcare, in particular, McConnell himself told the New York Times, “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out. It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”

Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett admiringly compared the minority leader to a healthcare reform saboteur in an interview with Josh Green. “McConnell knew the places to go, around the tank, and loosen a lug bolt here, pour sand in a hydraulic receptacle there, and slow the whole thing down,” Bennett told Green.

Against this backdrop, Tyler’s claim that the Affordable Care Act was passed without negotiation is farcical. But if he hadn’t made that silly claim, I never would have Googled “Obamacare” and “rammed through” to find the worst piece of mainstream punditry on our disastrous political dysfunction. On Real Clear Politics last week, Michael Barone had the gall to use the bipartisan coalition that came together behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to indict the president for, that’s right, “ramming through” Obamacare.

Because Lyndon Johnson worked to get Republican votes for the bill, Barone argued, once it became law, “white Southerners largely acquiesced. Traditional Southern courtesy replaced mob violence. Minds and hearts had been changed.” And that’s what would have happened with the ACA if only Obama were LBJ. Or something.

If Barone really believes “traditional Southern courtesy replaced mob violence” after the Civil Rights Act passed, he needs to get out more. He ought to talk to the siblings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, as I did last week, who were murdered in August 1964 after the bill passed; or the survivors of ugly violence at the March 1965 Selma marches, from John Lewis, who had his skull fractured, to the families of Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who were killed for taking part; or the families of Jonathan Daniels or Samuel Younge, or any of the many civil rights martyrs killed after the Civil Rights Act passed.

Sadly, Barone has become a joke. But is it any accident that he casts Obamcare opponents in the role of (vanquished) Jim Crow defenders? Just this weekend an unnamed Republican congressman compared his side to the Confederates who blundered their way into the Battle of Gettysburg. He told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York: “I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn’t intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it,” the congressman said. “That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense.”

Um, OK. I’ve gotten in trouble for pointing to the role of race and racism in driving the GOP’s anti-Obamcare crusade. But I’m not the one comparing them to Confederates or the Jim Crow South.

Whether or not it’s racism, the disrespect for this president continues to amaze me. Tyler himself derisively told me and Finney that “the president doesn’t understand his job, or isn’t very good at it.” That’s pretty rich, coming from Newt Gingrich’s former flack. Neoconfederates or nihilists, take your pick. They intend to destroy this president, and if they have to take down the economy too, so be it.

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, October 7, 2013

October 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Panic Is Just What Republicans Want”: Democrats Shouldn’t Take GOP’s Bait On Obamacare Implementation

The notion that Obamacare’s implementation could become a major liability for Democrats in 2014 is gaining widespread currency, and today it’s the subject of a big New York Times piece reporting on confident predictions by Republicans that implementation problems will give them a powerful weapon against Dem candidates. Obama is set to do a series of events designed to educate the public on the challenges of implementing the law, beginning with one on Friday where he’ll promote the law’s benefits for women.

It strikes me that GOP Obamacare implementation triumphalism is a tad premature.

Here is how the Times characterizes the sentiment in Dem circles about the coming war over implementation:

Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short.

The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level.

“There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”

Quotes like these are widely held up as evidence that Republicans are right that Obamacare implementation is shaping up as a major problem for Dems. But this amounts to a fundamental misreading of what it is these Dems are actually saying. Democrats are simply doing exactly what they should be doing — that is, calling for care and caution in the implementation of Obamacare, and calling for a serious effort to educate the public about the challenges and potential pitfalls it entails. This is not tantamount to running away from the law wholesale; nor is it a concession that implementation will amount to a major political albatross.

As Jonathan Cohn has detailed at length, it’s very possible there will be real problems with the health law’s implementation. If that happens, Republicans will relentlessly try to tie Dem candidates to those difficulties, in hopes for a rerun of 2010. But in 2010, public reactions to the new health law were largely suffused with deep anxiety about the severe economic crisis and uncertainty about the new president’s ability to cope with it. Republicans and allied groups made the assault on Obamacare central in 2012, in the presidential race and in many Senate contests, with absolutely nothing to show for it.

Will implementation make things different in 2014? By all means, the problems could be very real, particularly with Republicans intent on subverting implementation wherever possible. Dems should remain vigilant and prepare for turbulence. But they needn’t fret this too much. For one thing, as Josh Barro has noted, implementation is likely to be most keenly felt among those who currently lack insurance, who will naturally see getting insurance as a preferable outcome to nothing at all, even if it proves logistically difficult.

Dem candidates can strike a balance here: They can call for careful implementation and criticize it when it goes awry, while standing squarely behind the law’s overall goal of expanding coverage to the millions of Americans who lack it. What’s more, they can continue to remind the public that Republicans are offering no alternative of their own and simply want to return the country to a pre-reform free-for-all that nobody, particularly the large ranks of the uninsured, wants. This position is the correct one to take, substantively and politically, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get the balance right. After all, whatever the unpopularity of Obamacare, offering nothing in the way of reform isn’t exactly a winning message, either. Major reforms are not easy, and Dems can say so, while pointing to the endless GOP drive to repeal the law to reinforce the notion that Republicans have no interest in actually addressing the country’s most pressing problems.

Dems should refrain from displays of political panic, since panicking is exactly what Republicans want them to do. “A lot of this is psychological warfare,” is how Dem strategist Doug Thornell recently put it. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.” So would I.


By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 7, 2013

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unfinished Business”: Next Time, The NRA Will Lose

How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.

You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.

Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were … right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.

Something remarkable is happening here. Now, the pressure is on the other side. It’s on the NRA—gathering this Friday and Saturday, incidentally, for its annual convention, its first annual convention since Newtown. I think you’ll agree with me that the group has put a tremendous amount of thought into how to change its image, do a little outreach, present a picture of itself that will confound its critics. Or not: Sarah Palin will open the meeting, and Glenn Beck will close it. The list of eight political speakers—current and former elected officials plus John Bolton—features not a single Democrat. They’re really battening down the hatches.

And they are going to lose. I talked with a couple of knowledgeable sources about what’s going on now. Five Republicans, I’m told, have expressed some degree of interest in the bill: Ayotte, who would appear be a near-certainty to switch her vote; Flake, also a likely; Murkowski; Dean Heller of Nevada; and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Tennessee seems like a tough state to be from when casting such a vote as a Republican, but Corker is someone who at least tries once in a while to have conversations with Democrats.

On the Democratic side, as you’ll recall, four Democrats voted against Manchin-Toomey: Begich, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana. I’m told that Begich would like to switch, just needs to figure out how he can get there. Heitkamp is a bigger question mark. Pryor is probably lost.

That leaves Baucus. Shortly after the last vote, he announced he was retiring. That ought to mean that he should feel free enough to vote for the bill this time. It’s hard to know what Baucus actually believes—if that matters. He has a solid NRA career rating, but he’s cast enough votes the other way (supporting the assault weapons ban and the Brady waiting period) to make the other side suspicious. Before he announced he was quitting, the NRA was running ads against him.

What he believes may matter less than how he wants to spend his Senate afterlife. If he wants to stay in Washington and make money, he’ll be more likely to vote for Manchin-Toomey, because he’ll be dependent to some extent on Democratic money networks that were furious with him after the vote. If he just wants to move back to Montana, who knows.

That’s eight potential switches, where six are needed. One of those six, remember, is sure to be Harry Reid. He cast a procedural no vote because only senators who vote against a bill can bring it to the floor again, but obviously, if it is going to pass, he’ll vote for it. Even so getting to 60 will still be a heavy lift. And then there’s the House. So certain matters remain unclear.

But some things are quite clear. Manchin and Toomey deserve great credit for sticking with this. Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, also up for reelection next year but a supporter of the bill, is every bit as at risk as Pryor and Begich are, and she makes them look like cowards. And clearest of all is the fact that, far from that vote being some kind of devastating blow to Obama or the Democratic Party, it accomplished a lot. It pulled a few bricks loose from the wall. Next time, that wall just might crumble.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 2, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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