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“Shocking Sloppiness Won’t Doom The Health Reforms”: Republican Politicians Will Have A Lot Of Angry People On Their Hands

How many politicians, aides, lobbyists, lawyers, insurance moguls, professional groups, and interns — both the political and medical kind — agonized over the details in the Affordable Care Act? The number is big.

But despite thousands of hands in the kitchen, the final product included four words that cast doubt on a cornerstone of the reforms — subsidies for those buying coverage on federal health insurance exchanges. Unbelievable.

Diehard foes of the reforms have weaponized those words as a means to kill the law. They argue in the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell that specifically offering subsidies for plans bought on exchanges “established by the state” means no help for those going to federal exchanges.

Since the program started, low- and middle-income Americans have been receiving tax credits for coverage on both types of exchanges. Almost everyone assumes that’s how it’s supposed to be.Take away subsidies for federal exchanges and only the sickly will join it. The economic structure underpinning guaranteed coverage will collapse as premiums charged for plans on federal exchanges soar and the healthy stay away in droves.

The plaintiffs, though they come from the right, are doing their Republican colleagues no favors. You see, when the Affordable Care Act created federal exchanges in states that had not set up their own, leaders in Republican-controlled states could noisily defy President Obama while taking few political risks. They could refuse to set up state exchanges knowing that their constituents would enjoy subsidized coverage on the federal exchanges.

Lose those subsidies and Republican politicians are going to have a lot of angry people on their hands. Some 7.5 million Americans receive subsidies on federal exchanges.

Hypocrisy now crashes over the Republicans’ wall of opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Politicians are currently rewriting the story of their obstruction of a law that they dread could come apart.

An exasperating example is Olympia Snowe, a former senator from Maine who fancies herself a moderate Republican. During the battle for the bill’s passage, she strung Obama along for months, pretending that she might provide him at least one Republican vote. (Why Obama indulged these stalling tactics… perhaps his memoirs will tell.)

Anyway, Snowe recently commented that the little words at the heart of the Supreme Court case were unintended. “Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies?” she said. “It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.”

So why did she vote against the bill? She also railed against “Obamacare” as a “government-run health care system,” not that this was the case. Until Snowe left the Senate in 2013, she worked with her party to undercut the reforms.

But get this: At the time of the bill’s writing, Snowe proposed letting Americans buy cheaper drugs from Canada. It was OK, apparently, for a foreign government to help struggling Mainers obtain health care, but not OK for their own to do so.

One expects the health reforms to survive this latest assault. The best outcome would be the Supreme Court’s confirming that the words were a mistake and that yes, subsidies for the federal health exchange are legal.

If the court says no, politicians in states relying on federal exchanges could swing into action and set up some form of state exchange. And the Obama administration would probably make it easy for them.

The bipartisan takeaway here is the appalling state of American governance. We now hear from all sides that omission of subsidies for the federal exchanges was “sloppy,” “careless,” “inadvertent,” “a drafting error.” Actually, it was inexcusable.

But let’s move on.

 

By: Froma Harrop, Featured Post, The National Memo, May 28, 2015

 

 

 

May 29, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Exchanges, King v Burwell | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Insurgent Outliers”: The Republicans Are Burning Down The House Of Democracy

Remind me to send a thank you note to Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann for their heralded Outlook piece sounding a fire alarm about the Republican party burning down the house of democracy in the Washington Post Sunday. Here is its essence:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier…..ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by….facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Washington’s leading experts have spoken. The word has come down from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. This is a nice way to say Republicans in Congress—every single one—have done everything they can to make Barack Obama’s presidency a failure, from day one. In historical retrospect, I am sure Obama will receive some long-delayed credit for bearing the burden of their slights and cuts gracefully and succeeding in spite of their spite.

But there’s something else long delayed here, and that’s a profound indictment of the Republican Party. The messengers are absolutely right, the elephant emperor has no clothes. But Ornstein and Mann’s belated recognition of reality could have been written years ago, and rung true.

Does the impeachment trial of William J. Clinton ring a bell? That Democratic president, too, was relentlessly hunted as prey, even though the country was doing well in times of peace and prosperity. The House Republicans led by Newt Gingrich didn’t give a damn, driven by partisan zeal—since we’re being real, partisan hatred. The difference is Clinton fought back against his enemies. Obama has chosen to act as if they’re not there, or that he can, with time, win them over. In fact, that strategy has been the worst flaw of his governing style.

As the co-authors acknowledge, outrages against the traditions of congressional conduct and engagement took off in once Newt Gingrich decided to become speaker by any means possible. He became speaker in 1995—a good 17 years ago. They also blame Grover Norquist, the antitax fiend, for taking the “Grand” out of the GOP. They left out the third man: Rush Limbaugh, whom Gingrich made the class mascot for the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. Limbaugh has poisoned the well of public “dis-coarse” better than anyone I know. He delivers the House Republicans huge doses of partisan ardor from his angry white middle-class male constituency.

Mann and Ornstein observe, “Divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen.” Yes, and please pass the potatoes. Republicans are acting the same way they ever did (late in the last century) in opposition to a Democratic president. It’s just that they took a half-time break, easing up during the long years of the George W. Bush presidency and its wars. The Mann-Ornstein analysis (published in a new book available this week) is sound and welcome. At last an “official” acknowledgement that there is no center in national politics, so therefore it cannot hold. To wit, Obama waited for snow to melt all summer, so anxious was he for one Senate Republican vote for healthcare reform. And no, the moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe did not melt his first summer as president.

Climate change is perhaps the most urgent issue where Congress has fallen down on the job because Republicans refuse to face the evidence all around us: The earth is warming and changing. Give them this, they are good team players.

But party discipline goes only so far in a hurting country, Mann and Ornstein could have helped us more by speaking out sooner. They take the liberty of scolding the press for trying to achieve false balance by presenting two sides of a story as equally legitimate. They also say the press should take arms against the 60-vote trend in the Senate—meaning 60 votes is necessary to cut off invisible “filibusters.” They rightly note, “The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be [routine].”

We’ve all been watching the elephant emperor with no clothes and we all let the parade go on too long. By golly, I’ll write that thank you note, and hope Ornstein and Mann will understand if it’s a little late.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2012

May 1, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indulging “Moderate Republicans”: Olympia Snowe Gives President An “F” For Not Paying Enough Attention To Her

Retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe has finished grading the president’s report card. President Obama gets an “F” in bipartisanship, where “bipartisanship” is defined as “constantly stroking the fragile egos of self-important Senate moderates.”

Snowe is not seeking reelection because the Republican Party wholly merged with the conservative movement and then began enforcing much stricter party discipline than it had in the past, and she would likely lose a primary election to a more right-wing candidate. But in her high-minded version of what happened, she is leaving because of “partisanship,” an evil spell cast on the formerly fraternal and cooperative United States Senate by comity-hating wizards.

This is how bad things have gotten: President Obama hasn’t called her in almost two years!

If there were ever a Republican for President Obama to work with, it was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. She was one of just three Republicans in the entire Congress to vote for his economic stimulus plan in 2009 and even tried to work with him on health care, but in an interview with ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl, Snowe makes a remarkable revelation: She hasn’t spoken to President Obama in nearly two years.

Snowe said that if she had to grade the President on his willingness to work with Republicans, he would “be close to failing on that point.” In fact, Snowe, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, claims that her meetings with President Obama have been less frequent than with any other president.

That’s so weird, that President Obama stopped talking to her around two years ago. I wonder what happened? That wizard probably got him, and now he hates bipartisanship. That is the only explanation I can think of for why Olympia Snowe — a Republican the president could definitely try to work with! — hasn’t heard from Obama for around two years.

I mean, Snowe “even tried to work with him on health care.” Hey, that was around two years ago, actually! How hard did she try, again? If I recall correctly, she intentionally delayed the process for months before finally voting against a plan she’d previously voted for, never making a single substantive criticism of the policy of the bill in the fear that her criticism would then be addressed by Democrats and she’d be forced to come up with a new reason to oppose the bill, because it turns out she didn’t actually want to vote for healthcare reform, and she would not have supported any plan to expand coverage to all Americans, no matter how it worked.

So this is the problem. In the popular imagination, and in Barack Obama’s naive pre-2010 fantasies, “bipartisanship” means “working together to accomplish things.” In reality, in the Senate, it means “indulging moderates, forever.” For Olympia Snowe, the act of calling Olympia Snowe is more important than the act of … passing legislation to solve problems.

Snowe is now endorsing Scott Brown, saying Massachusetts residents should vote for him because he is another true believer in independent, party line-crossing bipartisanship. He even supports the Violence Against Women Act! (Why should Massachusetts residents vote for a Republican who is willing to cross party lines sometimes to vote for bills that every Democrat supports, instead of just voting for a Democrat whose support you won’t have to just sort of guess at until he comes out and says it? Because “bipartisanship,” that’s why.) (And the fact that Brown supported allowing employers to deny contraception coverage — a measure Snowe opposed — while his opponents shared Snowe’s position on the issue also doesn’t matter, because being a Republican who sometimes bucks the party line to do the right thing is more Honorable than being a Democrat whose party line is already the right thing.)

Would Olympia Snowe have voted for cap-and-trade if the president had called her more often? Or would she have done exactly what she did during the healthcare reform process, and strung Democrats along for months before voting against it for nakedly political reasons? (She was beginning to play the exact same game as she had before, saying she would maybe bring herself to support a “scaled-back” version of the legislation as long as other Republicans also promised to do so.)

Would Olympia Snowe have supported the “scaled-back,” less ambitious alternative to comprehensive immigration reform that was the DREAM Act, which would have allowed people who came to the U.S. as children and served in the military or went to college to seek citizenship legally? No, she would not have, because if the act had passed, “millions of illegal immigrants could attempt to become legal residents….”

So instead of cap-and-trade, we got nothing. Instead of the DREAM Act, we got nothing. If healthcare reform had failed, we’d have nothing. If Snowe’s stated goal was to maintain the status quo, because she doesn’t care about immigration and doesn’t believe in climate change, then she’d be totally doing a very good job. But she claims to care about climate change and want to do something about immigration, which leads me to believe that she’s horrible at being a senator. It is the incompetent political maneuvering of “moderates” like Snowe, and not “partisanship,” that leads directly to Senate inaction. If what she needed, in order to be swayed to the side of passing legislation to address problems, was for the president to make a much bigger public show of courting her, then she’s a bizarre and repulsive specimen. Being against everything because people aren’t paying you enough attention is so much worse than being against everything on principle.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 27, 2012

April 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Boys Allowed”: How The Senate’s Women Maintain Bipartisanship And Civility

When Olympia Snowe announced she was leaving the Senate, her Republican colleagues were hopping mad. Her reasons—that the place had become a dysfunctional partisan hell—only elevated their anger. How dare she depart at a time when they might win a Republican majority in the Senate if they kept her seat?

How me, me, me, and male. Now let’s switch to Snowe’s female colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, who were sad to see her go. Snowe will leave a gaping hole in Washington, in their lives, and in the women’s supper club, a group of bipartisan Senators who meet monthly at one another’s houses or in the Strom Thurmond Room in the Capitol. (No, the irony is not lost on them that he was the avatar of the members who would rather pinch a woman than listen to her.)

The club is not a secret, but it is “no boys allowed” and less about conquering new territory than about finding a heightened quality of life as they seek to heighten their constituents’ quality of life. It wasn’t organized as a caucus around a subject, but to restore some of the natural camaraderie that existed before so many members left their families behind and spent every free moment of their nights and weekends fundraising.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski started the dinner group shortly after she arrived. “The other ladies call me Coach Barb. When a new woman is elected to the Senate—Republican or Democrat—I bring her in for my Senate Power Workshop and guide her on how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.”

And for a meal. Sen. Mary Landrieu lives just a few blocks from the office and serves New Orleans food with pecan pie for dessert. What the off-campus get-togethers do is foster handling the inevitable conflicts that arise. “I’m never going to agree with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on oil drilling,” says Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a tough prosecutor in a soft covering as former attorney general of Minnesota. “But when we went on family vacation to Alaska, Lisa had us over to her house.”

The stories about cross-border friendships in the Capitol are as old as the spittoons that still dot the place—but the emphasis is on old. There was a day when Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had breakfast weekly with Republican Sen. George Aiken and when Tip O’Neill had an after-hours whisky with Richard Nixon. Now the only bipartisan friendships you hear about are between the women (there is a House counterpart to the Senate’s supper club), and both places are better for it. It is hard to picture Sen. Mitch McConnell taking freshman Sen. Mike Bennet under his wing, as Snowe did for Klobuchar, or tossing back a beer (or Kentucky bourbon) with Sen. Tom Harkin.

You can watch hours of lawmaking on C-SPAN and never see one female senator attack another. Nor do they do so behind closed doors. It’s not because women are “nicer” or the “weaker sex” that they don’t undermine, gobsmack, or betray one another even as they have reached the pinnacle of power where it is the coin of the realm. They simply got to know one another and, as a result, says Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, “resolve conflicts the way friends do.”

The list of issues the women work together on is a mile long and goes from children’s health to national security. But women can light on an issue men might think frivolous but, in fact, is anything but. One of the most liberal Democrats joined with the fiscally conservative Snowe after a few infamously long flight delays made the news. “Our constituents were getting stuck on aircraft hour after hour, stuck on the tarmac, with no food, kids screaming, nightmare scenarios, nine, 10 hours on the runway,” recalled Sen. Barbara Boxer, who, with Snowe, put together the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act. When a commuter plane went down in Buffalo, N.Y., the two got a new law passed that mandated sleep rules for pilots of small aircraft. They sent a joint letter to President Obama in 2009 to nominate a woman to replace retiring Justice David Souter, which he did in nominating now Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The complaint you always hear is that there just isn’t enough time for lawmakers to get to know their colleagues to create the civility that is in such short supply. Yet, a second X chromosome doesn’t give women another couple hours in the day. Women just carve out time for what they know is important.

It goes beyond dinner. When Hillary Clinton was a senator, she hosted the group’s baby shower for Hutchison. Klobuchar is in charge of games for the upcoming shower for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who will now be separated from the other Maine twin with Snowe’s retirement. When Sen. Claire McCaskill collaborated on Second City’s “A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics,” at the Woolly Mammoth theater in D.C., a dozen of the group found time to attend the opening.

If only the men could pick up on some of this, Congress might get above a 10 percent favorability rating in Americans’ eyes. The incivility that is driving Snowe out isn’t just atmospherics. It’s crippling the body. A dinner or two might help.

 

By: Margaret Carlson, The Daily Beast, March 4, 2012

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Olympia Snowe’s “Moderation” Hurt The Economy

One of the big stories of this recession is the massive decline in public-sector employment. In order to weather the economic storm, states and localities have cut jobs for teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants. As The New York Times reports, this has also trickled down to higher education, where public colleges have cut training for valuable jobs and professions:

Technical, engineering and health care expertise are among the few skills in huge demand even in today’s lackluster job market. They are also, unfortunately, some of the most expensive subjects to teach. As a result, state colleges in Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Florida and Texas have eliminated entire engineering and computer science departments. […]

This squeeze is one result of the states’ 25-year withdrawal from higher education. During and immediately after the last few recessions, states slashed financing for colleges. Then when the economy recovered, most states never fully restored the money that had been cut. The recent recession has amplified the problem.

You might remember that in 2009, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe pressed for Democrats to reduce the size of the bill by $100 billion as a condition for securing her support. There was no particular reason for shaving that much off of the bill—it was just a nice, round number that she liked. And because she occupied the important pivot point in the Senate, Democrats couldn’t do much to limit her cuts.

The problem, besides the fact that the smaller the stimulus the less effective it would be, is that her cuts came directly from aid for states and localities. Aid that could have saved public jobs as the recession continued, and aid that might have kept colleges from cutting valuable training.

In a lot of ways, this sums up the problem with Snowe’s vaunted moderation—it had no point. It was moderation for the sake of moderation, and more often than not (as with the Bush tax cuts, for example), it resulted in bad policy. Her retirement might be bad for Senate comity, but as far as actual lawmaking is concerned, it strikes me as a good thing.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, March 2, 2012

March 3, 2012 Posted by | Federal Budget, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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