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“More Budget Gimmickry”: Republicans Vote To Hide Costs Of Repealing Obamacare In Budget

Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee voted Thursday to shield attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act from objections that it would add to the government’s budget deficit.

The budget resolution for 2016 includes what are known as reconciliation instructions that tell several congressional committees to come up with ways to undo Obamacare. Such reconciliation measures only require 51 votes to pass in the Senate.

But the spending plan also includes language that allows lawmakers to raise what are known as budget points of order against any legislation that would add more than $5 billion to the deficit, and block it. According to the last estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, repealing Obamcare would add $210 billion to the deficit.

That would seem to make it likely that any Obamacare repeal effort would run afoul of a point of order, which takes 60 votes to surmount. So, later in the resolution, it exempts an attempt to repeal Obamacare from those points of order.

“What we have in this budget is a very interesting situation,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who offered an amendment to make the deficit rules apply to Obamacare repeal.

“We have a point of order in the budget for anything that adds to the deficit, but we have a section that specifically excludes the Affordable Care Act from that,” Stabenow said. “So think about it. This budget is conceding the fact that the Affordable Care Act has reduced the deficit, and repealing the law would increase the deficit.”

Stabenow also alluded a related problem the GOP budget ignores: At the same time that it instructs Congress to come up with a repeal, it continues to count all the revenue that the Affordable Care Act is expected to raise — and which the government wouldn’t collect if the law is dismantled.

“You can’t rig the rules on both sides,” Stabenow said. “That’s not fair. I would argue that’s really budget gimmickry. I think it’s important if you are going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, you have to step up and assume the consequences of that.”

Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) did not dispute Stabenow’s claim, but seemed to think it was irrelevant, since even if a point of order applies to a repeal measure, it still could be overridden if 60 senators vote to do so. That’s the same filibuster-proof number it takes to pass controversial legislation.

And while using budget reconciliation instructions prevents filibusters — so something can pass with just 51 votes — many parts of the Affordable Care Act could not be legally included in such a measure. And even if they could, it would take a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto that would be certain to follow.

“I think that probably any repeal is probably going to take at least 60 votes, and probably 67 votes,” Enzi said.

Still, Stabenow countered that her amendment was useful in making clear what was actually happening in the name of “honest budgeting.”

Republicans opposed Stabenow’s amendment on a party-line vote, 12 to 10, and passed the budget by the same tally.

The measure is expected to be on the Senate floor next week.


By: Michael McAuliff, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 19 , 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Federal Budget, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More About Marketing Than Math”: The Tea Party’s Big Idea To Shrink Government Is A Vacuous Nothingburger

Insurgent political movements are usually built around a big idea, like abolition or workers’ rights. The Tea Party certainly has a big idea: Shrink the government.

Wanting to shrink the government is a perfectly reasonable impulse given the state of Washington’s finances. The federal debt has more than doubled as a share of GDP since 2007, and future spending projects are off the charts. The latest academic evidence suggests an increase in government size is associated with slower annual GDP growth.

It’s easy to see why this shrink-the-government idea is powerful, and how it fueled the Tea Party’s rapid ascent into a rocket-powered force on the right.

However, a big idea alone is not sufficiently enough, in and of itself, to guarantee success. And therein lies the Tea Party’s big problem.

The Tea Party’s blueprint for turning their raison d’être into reality is flawed. Called the “Penny Plan,” it’s a favorite of the Tea Party Patriots, media supporters such as Sean Hannity of Fox News, and fellow travelers in Congress, including possible 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul and — perhaps most importantly — Mike Enzi, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

First devised by Georgia businessman Bruce Cook, the Penny Plan would cut government spending by 1 percent a year until the federal budget is balanced. After that, federal spending would be capped at 18 percent of GDP, to match the long-term revenue trend. Here’s how Enzi touts the plan on his website:

Though only a 1 percent cut, the savings add up quickly to balance the budget. And if it’s done right, where we’re eliminating duplication and sensibly prioritizing, discomfort will be manageable. … Living with 1 percent less is a small price to pay in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic fiscal failure. [Enzi]

It sounds so simple! Well, it really isn’t.

For starters, the “penny” part of the plan is a gimmick, more about marketing than math. The Enzi version would cut 1 percent a year from total government spending, other than debt interest payments, for three years. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much. But once you factor in inflation, that works out to a 10 percent cut in real terms after three years.

Now maybe that still doesn’t sound like much. But getting such a reduction is tough enough that there are no details in the Penny Plan about what exactly would be cut. To balance the budget in 2018, according to CBO, it would require $540 billion in reduced spending. It can’t all come from reducing non-defense discretionary spending such as foreign aid or scientific research. That part of the budget, just 17 percent, or around $600 billion, is already at its lowest levels since the 1960s as a share of GDP.

That leads to a bigger problem with the Penny Plan: Is it realistic to cap long-term government spending at 18 percent of GDP — well less than the post-WWII average of 21 percent — when an aging population means increased spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security? Remember, most of the spending increase from health-related entitlements and Social Security — 75 percent over the next quarter century — comes from simple demographics, more people getting benefits over a longer period of time. That works out to about 3 percentage points of GDP in additional spending baked into the budgetary cake. Overall, CBO projects total spending at 26 percent of GDP by 2039.

Just keeping long-term spending at its historic average will be a huge challenge, much less sharply reducing it. If you also want to spend a bit more on important public investments such as infrastructure and basic research while keeping military spending constant — well, good luck. Even the GOP Senate’s new balanced budget amendment — which doesn’t calculate debt interest payments as spending — would have a tough time hitting its 18 percent target.

That the Penny Plan offers zero specifics on how to make the numbers work undercuts its seriousness. It would obviously require sweeping entitlement reform — and more. But Enzi, for one, argues that “we should focus on identifying and eliminating all of the wasteful spending that occurs in Washington before we look to other important programs and services.” That’s an evasion, though hardly a surprising one from a party that depends on older voters.

In fact, some on the right are trying to fudge that political reality by distinguishing between “earned” entitlements — Social Security and Medicare — that go to GOP-leaning voters and “unearned” entitlements — such as Medicaid and ObamaCare subsidies — that go to Democratic-leaning voters.

So yes, the Tea Party has a big idea. But it has no idea how to make it happen.


By: James Pethokoukis, The Week, February 19, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, GDP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Social Security Faces Threat From ‘Ideological War'”: Republicans Manufacturing A Crisis’ To Hide Their Real Intent

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a message to supporters yesterday, warning of a real threat to Social Security. By any fair measure, she’s right.

“We’ve known for years that Social Security Disability Insurance is set to run low in 2016, and most people assumed that another bipartisan reallocation was coming,” the senator wrote. “But now, thanks to the Republican ideological war on our most important national safety net, disabled Americans could suddenly face a 20% cut in their Social Security checks next year.”

Let’s recap for those just joining us. The Social Security system provides disability payments to Americans who want to work but can’t for health reasons. For generations, when the disability-insurance program runs short on funds, Congress transfers money from elsewhere in the Social Security system to prevent benefit cuts. The solution, sometimes called “reallocation,” has never been especially controversial – in fact, it’s been done 11 times over the last seven decades.

But last month, congressional Republicans adopted a rule change that makes it almost impossible to approve the usual, straightforward fix. GOP lawmakers seem to want to create the conditions for a crisis.

All of which led to an important Senate hearing yesterday.

Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner for the Social Security Administration, urged senators to act first to avert the crisis at hand and then begin serious negotiations on finding a longer-term solution. She said the threatened cut in disability payments – about 19 percent – would be a “death sentence” for many of the poorest recipients, but time and again, she refused to opine on more concrete options going forward.

When Colvin read aloud the president’s six principles for future reforms, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was scornful. “That’s a set of principles that makes sure we do absolutely nothing meaningful,” Graham said. “If that’s the president’s plan, we’ll never get there.”

And by “meaningful,” it appears Graham and other Senate Republicans are waiting for the White House to propose cuts to Social Security. (Ironically, President Obama was open to modest Social Security cuts as part of a grand bargain with GOP lawmakers, but Republicans have refused to consider any possible concessions and effectively ruled out the possibility of a compromise.)

The Politico report added that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member, “angrily accused the GOP of ‘manufacturing a crisis’ to hide its intent to resurrect past proposals to cut Social Security benefits and privatize the system.”

This has the benefit of being true. Addressing the upcoming shortfall in the disability-insurance program should be easy. Republicans are ensuring that it’s not, hoping to exploit a manufactured crisis to force Social Security cuts they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

Indeed, the literal name for yesterday’s hearing for the GOP-led committee was, “The coming crisis: Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency.” There would be no crisis, and no threat of insolvency, if Republicans hadn’t already ruled out the straightforward solution lawmakers have relied on for decades.

Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said yesterday, “I’m hoping the president will take an active role in this.” Expect more of this kind of rhetoric: Republicans will feign outrage over Obama refusing to offer far-right solutions the GOP-led Congress considers acceptable.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 12, 2015

February 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Social Security, Social Security Disability Fund | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liz Cheney Goes Home To Washington”: At Least Now She Can Stop Pretending She Lives In Wyoming

Liz Cheney, who was trailing in polls by somewhere between 30 and 50 points, announced today that she is ending her Senate primary campaign against Republican Mike Enzi, a campaign that had been launched on the premise that Enzi, a man with a 93 percent lifetime American Conservative Union score, was a bleeding-heart liberal whose efforts in the upper chamber were not nearly filibustery enough. Cheney cited “serious health issues” in her family, implying that it has to do with one of her children, though she couldn’t help wrapping it some gag-inducing baloney: ” My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.” In any case, if one of Cheney’s children is ill, everyone certainly wishes him or her a speedy recovery. But what can we make of the failure of Cheney’s campaign?

For starters, it’s a reminder that celebrity comes in many forms, and guarantees almost nothing in electoral politics apart from some initial attention. Sure, the occasional coke-snorting TV anchor can parlay his time in front of the camera into an election win, but having a familiar name isn’t enough. If you look at all the sons, daughters, and wives (not too many husbands) of politicians who went on to get elected, the successful ones chose their races carefully, not challenging a strong incumbent in a state they hadn’t lived in since they were little kids.

As my friend Cliff Schecter tweeted, next on Liz Cheney’s agenda is moving back to Virginia next week, then getting on Meet the Press. After all, Wyoming is a nice place to run for office from, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Or at least, you can’t live there if you want to be part of the action in Washington, and it sure seemed that Wyoming Republican voters sensed that Cheney was just a tourist in their fine state.

This is something I’ve been going on about for a long time, that so many conservatives wax rhapsodic about small towns and The Heartland, yet they live in big cities on the East Coast, one in particular. Now of course, it’s difficult to have a career as a pundit if you live in Buford, WY (population: 1, seriously). But that’s kind of the point. Liz Cheney grew up in Virginia because her dad was an important guy doing important things in government. It would have been ridiculous for him to keep his family back in Wyoming, all the fine opportunities for fly-fishing not withstanding, so for the Cheneys it became the place they’re from, not the place they live.

Your average conservative Republican congressman spends his time in office railing against the Gomorrah on the Potomac and extolling the virtues of the common folk back in Burgsville, but what happens when he retires or loses an election? He buys a nice townhouse in the Virginia suburbs and becomes a lobbyist, electing to live out his days in the very place he told his constituents was a hellhole he couldn’t wait to get out of.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 6, 2013

January 8, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Culture Is Quite Ill”: The Republican Anti-Obamacare Purity Cult

Sahil Kapur at TPM has a fine report today looking at how hatred of Obamacare has become such an ideé fixe in the Republican party that even the mildest possible concession—or failing to be sufficiently enraged in one’s condemnation of the law—has become grounds for a harsh primary attacks:

[One] victim is Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), who is fending off a primary challenge from Liz Cheney in 2014. An outside group called Americans for Job Security last week released an ad attacking him for praising the concept of insurance market exchanges — the vehicle for Obamacare, which was modeled on conservative principles — early in 2010. “These exchanges can be good,” Enzi said then, in a clip that the ad repeatedly plays.

“Good?” says the narrator in the 30-second ad. “Wyoming’s Obamacare exchange has the most expensive premiums in the country, and it’s marred by glitches. Tell Mike Enzi we don’t like these liberal, big government Obamacare exchanges.” The attack forced Enzi’s campaign to defend him by touting his efforts to “stop the worst parts of the law.”

…[AEI scholar Norman] Ornstein summed it up this way: “These are the talking points and if you don’t apply them, then you’re a traitor.” He confessed that he’s “never seen anything like that before. I mean, you can certainly find party litmus tests…But this has been taken to a level that I think is almost bizarre.”

The comparison everyone is making is to McCarthyism in the 1950s, but there are some notable differences. The McCarthy era was all about nutty right-wing witch hunts, heavily laden with antisemitism and paranoia about fluoridated water and vaccines, led by an alcoholic, power-mad bully. But more to the point, red paranoia was widely shared throughout society. Both parties were fervently anti-communist. There really was a Soviet Union, which really did have nuclear missiles and an extensive spying apparatus. There really was terrible anxiety about another world war.

Whereas the Republican Obamacare purity rituals are restricted to their party only, and from the outside are frankly bizarre. They treat a moderate, incremental reform of the healthcare sector, based largely on Republican ideas, like New Lefters treated Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia. I’m reminded more of Maoist “struggle sessions,” where enemies of the party were publicly beaten and forced to confess their ideological crimes, real or imagined.

But in any case, the historical analogies one reaches for to describe this trend are telling in themselves. The GOP culture is quite ill, and shows little sign of improving anytime soon.


By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 2, 2013

December 4, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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