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“The Exact Opposite Of Reality”: Rubio’s Principal Talking Point Starts To Crumble

One of the more dramatic flaws in Marco Rubio’s presidential candidacy is a brutal contradiction: he’s a career politician, winning six elections before his 41st birthday, with no real accomplishments to his name.

In the enormous Republican field, voters can choose between established, experienced candidates who’ve done things in public office (Kasich, Bush) or insurgent outsiders with non-governmental records (Trump, Carson), but Rubio is burdened with the worst of both worlds, winning several elections without having done much in the way of meaningful work.

It’s a point about which the Florida senator appears increasingly sensitive. In fact, in October, Rubio tried to take credit for others’ work during his tenure in the state legislature. This week, Rubio’s begun telling voters that he actually has a major federal accomplishment – he helped undermine the American health care system – and his allied super PAC is pushing the line in a commercial:

“On Obamacare, some Republicans gave up. Some talked tough but got nowhere. For all the Republican talk about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, one Republican hopeful has actually done something.”

For some GOP voters and much of the media, this seems compelling – Rubio hasn’t just spun his wheels for five years on Capitol Hill; when he’s bothered to show up for work, he invested real time and energy into interfering with families’ access to medical care.

There are, however, two important flaws in the pitch. The first, of course, is the fact that deliberately trying to undermine the American health care system is not an accomplishment upon which to build a presidential campaign.

The second, as the Washington Post explained today, is that Rubio didn’t do what he claims to have done.

Success always has many fathers, but Rubio goes way too far in claiming credit here. He raised initial concerns about the risk-corridor provision, but the winning legislative strategy was executed by other lawmakers.

The irony is, Rubio has recently tried to take credit for others’ work as a way of differentiating himself from President Obama. “I’m not like that other one-term senator who ran for president,” the Florida Republican has effectively argued, “because I’ve gotten things done in Congress.”

It’s not just a lazy lie; it’s actually the exact opposite of reality.

As we discussed a few months ago, Obama put far more effort into his congressional career than Rubio, and as a result, he had more success. As a senator, Obama developed a reputation as a work horse, being well prepared for briefings and hearings, introducing a lot of bills, and developing an expertise on serious issues like counter-proliferation.

There’s a great story from 2005 in which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a day-long hearing on U.S. policy in Iraq, and then-Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ill.) praised Obama for being the only other senator who was on hand for the entire thing, start to finish. As Salon’s Simon Maloy noted, “It was minor stuff, but it gave Obama a reputation as someone who was willing to do the basic work needed to get things done.”

Rubio has never developed that kind of reputation among his colleagues. On the contrary, he’s seen as a senator who misses a lot of votes, skips a lot of hearings, and fails to show up for a lot of briefings.

Eight years ago, there was a talking point that made the rounds in GOP circles when going after then-candidate Obama: he’d never run a city; he’d never run a state; and he’d never run a business. The trouble is, the exact same talking point can be applied to Rubio, and can even be made a little worse: he’s never built up a legislative record, either.

It’s not fair to say Rubio never passed a bill, but it’s awfully close. According to congress.gov, the far-right Floridian, over the course of five years, took the lead in sponsoring a measure that was signed into law. It’s called the “Girls Count Act,” and it encourages developing countries to register girls’ births. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the policy, but it was a largely symbolic measure that passed both chambers without so much as a vote.

He also helped name September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

That’s about it.

If Rubio and his allied super PAC find that embarrassing, they should probably try to change the subject – because deceptive claims and taking credit for others’ work isn’t generally a recipe for an improved presidential campaign.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 23, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Florida Legislature, Health Care, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans’ Little Act’s Of Vandalism”: The Secret Swipe At Obamacare — And You

Underscoring how much mischief can result when Congress acts in haste and in secret, hidden away in the year-end omnibus spending bill being acted on this week is an attack on a key provision of the Affordable Care Act long targeted by the GOP.

The provision involves risk corridors, which are designed to stabilize insurance premiums in the first few years of the law. The year-end spending bill quietly erodes funding for the provision.

Republicans have chosen to label the provision a “bailout” for insurance companies. I’ve labeled that position the most cynical attack on Obamacare, because those who advance it — notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) — obviously know it’s a lie. They know it’s actually a consumer protection feature, so calling it “corporate welfare,” as Timothy P. Carney did this week in the Washington Examiner, is a neat bit of disinformation. Adding to the cynicism, the same provision is an essential part of Medicare Part D, which the GOP enacted in 2003.

Here’s another sick irony: One of the raps on the risk corridor provision is that it was “buried deep” in administration explanations of the bill, as Rubio put it. But in fact, the ACA was extensively debated and available for scrutiny by any legislator who chose. The attack on the provision, however, actually is “buried deep” in the year-end spending bill: it’s on page 892 of the 1,603-page bill, which has barely been debated at all.

Let’s see how risk corridors work, and how they’re undermined by the spending bill.

It was well understood that health insurers would have difficulty pricing their plans in the individual market in the first years of the ACA, starting in 2014. Not only would some insurers be entering that market in volume for the first time, but the market itself would be dramatically altered by the flood of new customers and such ACA rules as the prohibition on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Some insurers will end up setting their premiums too low, and therefore will have to pay out benefits higher than they expected; others will set their rates too high, and will capture a windfall.

Without a safety valve, these miscalculations could have an impact on premiums the following year, as insurers tried to adjust. So insurers that set prices more than 3 percent below a set target get a reimbursement from the government, and those that overprice by the same margin have to pay some of the windfall to the government. Importantly, the arrangement is temporary: it expires after 2016, by which time it’s assumed that insurers will know what they’re doing.

Obviously, this isn’t a “bailout,” since it protects underpricing insurers only on the margins, while also providing a check on profiteering. The Congressional Budget Office, moreover, has projected that over time, the risk-corridor program will produce an $8-billion profit for the government, because overpricing insurers will be paying back more than underpricing insurers collect.

Some smart conservatives acknowledge that risk corridors are a good idea. As Yevgeniy Feyman of the Manhattan Institute informed Forbes readers in January, “Any conservative reform plan for universal coverage will have to use similar methods of risk adjustment. … If you want insurers to participate more broadly in the individual market, you’ll need to offer a carrot to offset the unavoidable uncertainties.”

Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans couldn’t resist taking a swipe at this little-understood provision in the ACA, and Democrats weren’t sufficiently attentive, or caring, to call them out on it. The year-end spending bill forbids the Dept. of Health and Human Services to use any outside government funds to pay out adjustments to insurers. On the face of it, the government can only use surplus coming in from overcharging insurers for that purpose. (That’s the interpretation healthcare expert Tim Jost gives to Dylan Scott of Talking Points Memo.)

For the moment, that makes the provision little more than a symbolic swipe at Obamacare. But that could change, and the CBO projections could be wrong. In that event, the Republicans’ little act of vandalism could end up costing ordinary citizens money. Nice work, GOP. Extra points for pulling it off in the dark.

 

By: Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times (TNS); The National Memo, December 16, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Insurance Company Bailout That Republicans Love”: The GOP Has Found A Way To Be Even More Hypocritical Than Before

Remember when Republicans found insurance company bailouts outrageous? Good, because the Republicans don’t.

On Friday, the Obama Administration announced proposed payment rates for Medicare Advantage plans, the private insurance option within Medicare. The federal government pays insurers a fixed fee for each senior they enroll. The program’s goal is to provide seniors with more options and, ideally, foster competition that will lead to better management of care both within the traditional program and for those who get private insruance instead. But, for a long time, experts have said the federal government is actually paying the insurers too much—in other words, more than it costs to provide the same coverage through traditional Medicare.

In the late 1990s, when the program was known as “Medicare+Choice,” the Clinton Administration attempted to rectify this by reducing insurer fees. But experts subsequently found the government was still paying the plans too much, so the Obama Administration and its allies included additional Medicare Advantage cuts in the Affordable Care Act—leaving discretion over the exact rates to the Department of Health and Human Services and its actuaries. On Friday, HHS revealed its calculations for next year’s rates, based in part on projections for how health care spending for the country as a whole is changing.

The payment formula is complicated and even now, with a weekend to digest the announcement, analysts aren’t entirely sure how insurers would react and what that would mean for seniors in the plans. (As Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News reports, many independent experts seem to think the effects would be pretty minimal.) But insurers, who say better benefits account for whatever extra funds they get, have warned that cuts of virtually any magnitude will force insurers to offer less generous benefits, charge higher premiums, or withdraw from the program altogether—as some of them did in the late 1990s, following those cuts the Clinton Administration implemented. The insurers are lobbying the administration to use its discretion to reduce the cuts or, ideally, eliminate them altogether. If you live in Washington and have seen those ubiquitous “Seniors are Watching” advertisements on billboards and buses, you have some idea of how strongly the insurers feel about this.

But insurers aren’t the only ones making a fuss. Republicans are too—and they have been for a while. As you may recall, Republicans pounced on the new Medicare Advantage cuts as proof that Obamacare was bad for seniors—in the 2010 midterms and then, again, in the 2012 presidential election. It was pure political gold, since seniors (particularly white seniors) were among those most skeptical of Obama and his health care law in the first place. Of course, House Republicans voted for the very same cuts when Paul Ryan’s budgets had them. But that didn’t stop Republicans from attacking the cuts then—and it’s not stopping them now. “ObamaCare has already caused millions to lose the healthcare plans they liked, and now it is directly harming seniors who rely on the care they have through Medicare Advantage,” Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, said on Friday. “Our nation’s grandparents should not have to wake up tomorrow worried they no longer can access the care they want because of Obamacare.”

With this latest salvo, however, Republicans have actually found a way to be more hypocritical than before. For the last few weeks, Republicans and their allies have been in high dudgeon about Obamacare’s so-called risk corridor program, in which the federal government will subsidize insurers that take heavy losses for the next three years. Republicans and their allies have decried risk corridors as a “taxpayer bailout” of the insurers. But the policy justification for risk corridors is straightforward and, even to some conservatives, incontrovertible: They will ease the transition to a newly regulated insurance market, so that it’s possible to provide universal coverage through a system of private plans. And unlike the additional Medicare Advantage payments, the risk corridor program might actually end up being a net boon to the taxpayers, since the government also shares in unexpected insurer gains. (The Congressional Budget Office has actually predicted as much, though, as with many such projections, there’s a lot of uncertainty there.)

Maybe Republicans think that’s insufficient reason to pay the Obamacare insurers money—fine. But then how can they simultaneously insist government keep paying higher fees to Medicare insurers, given the case for them is a lot more dubious?

Congressional Democrats haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over this issue. New York Senator Charles Schumer was among the Democrats who signed a bipartisan letter to HHS, urging the administration not to harm beneficiaries with payment reductions, though the senators stopped short of calling for outright reversal of the cuts. But the current Republican position makes no sense whatsoever, unless the GOP’s real priorities are (a) opposing anything the Obama Administration supports (b) sucking money away from the traditional, government-run Medicare program (c) stopping programs and spending that benefits the non-elderly uninsured. Readers can decide for themselves which of those explanations make the most sense—or whether, perhaps, it’s all of the above.

 

By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, Fenbruary 24, 2014

February 25, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Are Losing All Credibility On ObamaCare”: At Some Point, Voters Are Going To Stop Paying Attention To Their Scare Tactics

Even before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, GOP critics assailed it as a socialist, job-killing overreach indicative of a government run amok. In the years since, we’ve seen no shortage of scare-mongering and hand-wringing about how the law would harm Americans and bring the republic to an ignominious end.

Yet as ObamaCare gradually went into effect, reality began to undercut the thrust of that argument. Remember those terrifying death panels Sarah Palin warned us about? And over the past few months in particular, facts have shot down a handful of the more apocalyptic claims about the law.

In the most recent instance, a report last week from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that ObamaCare would trim the labor force by 2 million full-time jobs by 2017, and by 2.5 million come 2024. Critics seized on that as proof that the law would indeed spook businesses and stifle job growth.

What the report actually showed, though, was not a dearth of jobs, but a dearth of labor. Incentives in ObamaCare that make insurance cheaper and easier to obtain, the report suggested, would encourage some people to retire earlier or work less, thus shrinking the labor pool.

With spin and misinformation flying about, the CBO on Monday made that point clear.

“Because the longer-term reduction in work is expected to come almost entirely from a decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply in response to the changes in their incentives, we do not think it is accurate to say that the reduction stems from people “losing” their jobs,” CBO head Doug Elmendorf wrote.

So much for that talking point.

The same CBO report also undercut another meme on the right, that ObamaCare contains a big bailout for insurance companies.

The scuttlebutt involves the risk corridors built into the law, which cap how much insurance companies can make or lose in their first three years on the exchange marketplace. (You can read a more thorough explanation on risk corridors here.) Since taxpayers could theoretically be on the hook for covering the losses of flopping companies, a cadre of Republicans, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), labeled the provision a “bailout” and vowed to repeal it.

As it turns out, the CBO found that insurance companies would receive $8 billion — but pay back double to the government. In other words, the supposed bailout — which was really just standard actuarial practice to begin with, and not a literal bailout — would actually save the government billions of dollars.

Then there’s the zombie claim that lawmakers and their staffs are exempt from ObamaCare. Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he was filing suit over that boondoggle, arguing the administration had “exceeded its legal authority” in “arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by” ObamaCare.

In truth, the law does offer a unique subsidy to Capitol Hill employees to offset the cost of obtaining insurance through the exchanges. But lawmakers and staffers only qualified for that subsidy because the law, via an attempted GOP poison pill amendment, stripped them of federally subsidized coverage and forced them onto the exchanges in the first place. Even National Review thoroughly debunked the exemption claim.

Republicans also warned that Healthcare.gov’s early glitches exposed the entire law as an unworkable train wreck. Writing in The Hill, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) called the problems “catastrophic,” and likened the site to cooked eggs: “You see, you can’t recook eggs!”

Following a massive IT effort though, the site is now running much smoother, and enrollments are surging as a result.

That brings up another ObamaCare bogeyman: the dreaded death spiral.

ObamaCare needs a bunch of young enrollees to offset the cost of enrolling older folks. If not enough young people sign up, premiums for everyone else could spike and the system could crash.

Yet despite the best efforts from some on the right to convince young adults not to enroll — one ad campaign featured a creepy Uncle Sam sexually assaulting young patients — the death spiral, too, was more myth than reality.

Enrollment among young adults has indeed been lower than the administration’s target, but it’s expected to surge as the enrollment deadline nears. And even if the current demographic breakdown remains unchanged, an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation determined the consequences “are not as great as conventional wisdom might suggest.” In a worst-case scenario, the report found, the effect on premiums from an unbalanced pool of enrollees would still be “well below the level that would trigger a ‘death spiral.'”

Phew. That’s a lot of debunked arguments. Next thing you know, critics will be trying to falsely claim the law won’t help enough people get coverage. Oh, wait.

Now, the GOP was right to be skeptical of Obama’s claim that everyone could keep their health insurance under ObamaCare. That turned out to not be the case.

But the party’s overall success rate on loaded ObamaCare allegations is terrible, and is only getting worse. The danger is that at some point, voters are going to stop paying attention.

 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 11, 2014

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.

Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.

One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”

Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.

The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.

Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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