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“The Moment Of Truth”: The GOP Must Admit It Was Wrong On Obamacare

Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong? Is there any cost to those who say things that turn out not to be true and then, when their fabrications or false predictions are exposed, calmly move on to concocting new claims as if they had never made the old ones?

The fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hit its original goal this week of signing up more than 7 million people through its insurance exchanges ought to be a moment of truth — literally as well as figuratively. It ought to give everyone, particularly members of the news media, pause over how reckless the opponents of change have been in making instant judgments and outlandish charges.

When the health-care Web site went haywire last fall, conservatives were absolutely certain this technological failure meant that the entire reform effort was doomed. If you doubt this, try a Google search keyed to that period relating the word “doomed” to the health-care law.

It should be said that the general public was much wiser. A CNN poll in November that Post blogger Greg Sargent highlighted at the time found a majority (54 percent to 45 percent) saying that the problems facing the law “will eventually be solved.” Political moderates took this view by 55 percent to 43 percent, independents by 50 percent to 48 percent. Only Republicans — by a whopping 72 percent to 27 percent — and conservatives (by 66 percent to 33 percent) thought the law could never be fixed.

Their representatives in Washington, moderate conservatives as well as the tea party’s loyalists, followed the base’s lead. In mid-November, for example, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told Fox News flatly that the law is “destined to fail,” “fundamentally flawed” and “not ready for prime time.” House Speaker John Boehner predicted dire outcomes before the Web site fiasco. He repeatedly insisted, as he did in July, that “even the Obama administration knows the ‘train wreck’ will only get worse.”

This attitude affected more neutral observers. Forbes magazine posted a piece on Nov. 22 under the headline: “What to do if and when Obamacare collapses.” The op-ed modestly acknowledged that “it’s too soon to write an epitaph for Obamacare,” but then barged forward, since “its crises are piling up so fast that one has to begin looking ahead.”

At this point, the etiquette of commentary typically requires a “to be sure” paragraph, as in: To be sure, the law could still face other problems, blah, blah, blah. But such paragraphs are timid and often insincere hedges. After all, every successful program, even well-established ones such as Medicare, Social Security and food stamps, confronts ongoing challenges.

So let’s say it out loud: The ACA is doing exactly what its supporters said it would do. It is getting health insurance to millions who didn’t have it before. (The Los Angeles Times pegged the number at 9.5 million at the beginning of the week.) And it’s working especially well in places such as Kentucky, where state officials threw themselves fully and competently behind the cause of signing up the uninsured. Those who want to repeal the law will have to admit that they are willing to deprive these people, or some large percentage of them, of insurance.

Too many conservatives would prefer not to say upfront what they really believe: They don’t want the federal government to spend the significant sums of money needed to get everyone covered. Admitting this can sound cruel, so they insist that their objections are to the ACA’s alleged unworkability, or to “a Washington takeover of the health system” (which makes you wonder what they think of Medicare, a far more centralized program). Or they peddle isolated horror stories that the fact-checkers usually discover are untrue or misleading.

Thus the moment of truth, about the facts and about our purposes.

From now on, will there be more healthy skepticism about conservative claims against the ACA? Given how many times the law’s enemies have said the sky was falling when it wasn’t, will there be tougher interrogation of their next round of apocalyptic predictions? Will their so-called alternatives be analyzed closely to see how many now-insured people would actually lose coverage under the “replacement” plans?

Perhaps more importantly, will we finally be honest about the real argument here: Do we or do we not want to put in the effort and money it takes to guarantee all Americans health insurance? If we do — and we should — let’s get on with doing it the best way we can.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 2, 2014

April 5, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crumbling Walls”: Boehner’s Anti-Unemployment Insurance Excuse Is Falling Apart

Nearly three months after federal unemployment benefits expired for over a million Americans nationwide, House Speaker John Boehner’s excuse for refusing to take up a bill to renew the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program is falling apart.

When Senate Democrats and five Republicans struck a deal that would reauthorize the EUC program for five months and retroactively pay the benefits that expired on December 28, Speaker Boehner immediately dismissed the bill.

Citing a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) – the state agencies that distribute the unemployment checks – Boehner argued that extending unemployment benefits would be too “difficult” and “unworkable,” due to the complications involved in ensuring that beneficiaries were actually looking for work during the proceeding three months.

Abandoning the House’s continuous claims that an extension would hinder job creation and dissuade long-term unemployed Americans from seeking employment, the Speaker argued that “the Senate bill would be costly, difficult to administer, and difficult to determine an individual’s eligibility.”

The bottom line, according to Boehner:  ”This could increase the likelihood of fraud and abuse.”

NASWA president Mark Henry, however, is now clarifying that the organization does not endorse a particular position on whether or not the bill should proceed. As Politico reports, Henry says that some in Washington had “conflated” the concerns mentioned in NASWA’s letter.

“The letter that I wrote did not label the legislation ‘unworkable’; that was Speaker Boehner’s word,” Henry said, distancing himself from the Speaker’s stance.

Also, as The New York Times points out, state agencies managed to overcome that same “difficulty” back in 2010, when benefits were renewed after a lapse.

Even others in the GOP are not buying Boehner’s excuse, which seeks to appease House Republicans, who, for the most part, oppose an extension of the EUC program.

According to Politico, Senator Rob Portman, a powerful Republican also from Ohio, shot back at Boehner, saying he understands the “concern” over implementation, “but it’s been done before.”

“We’re eager to hear [the House’s] ideas as to how it could be implemented more effectively,” he added.

Portman was not alone in speaking out against the House’s opposition to the program’s renewal.

“There’s a lot of things that the Speaker doesn’t like that we do over here,” says Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “What we have out there is a fair proposal.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) also spoke out, describing the deal as a “good compromise that takes care of people who are running out of their checks and does it in a way that is paid for appropriately.”

 

By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, March 26, 2014

March 27, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, John Boehner, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Future Is Now”: It’s Time For Republicans To Choose Sides On Immigration Reform

The future of immigration reform is, for now at least, not up to House Speaker John Boehner. It is in the hands of a group of moderately conservative Republican senators who have to decide whether their desire to solve a decades-old problem outweighs their fears of retaliation from the party’s right wing.

These senators are clearly looking for a way to vote for a bill that is the product of excruciating but largely amicable negotiations across partisan and ideological barriers. But these Republicans — they include Bob Corker, John Hoeven, Susan Collins, Dean Heller and Rob Portman — want enough changes in the measure’s border security provisions so they can tell Tea Party constituents that they didn’t just go along with a middle-of-the-road consensus.

Here’s their problem: Changes that so complicate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as to render it meaningless are (and should be) unacceptable to supporters of reform, including most Democrats. But if the GOP senators accept something short of this, they will face furious attacks from the hardcore opponents of any move toward large-scale naturalization of those who came here illegally.

In the end, there is no way around their dilemma. If they want a bill, they will have to take political risks.

Boehner got a lot of attention the other day for what appeared to be a firm statement that he would not let an immigration bill through the House without majority support from Republicans. On its face, his statement would seem to doom reform, given where that majority now seems to stand.

But as he typically (and, in his partial defense, perhaps necessarily) does, Boehner left himself wiggle room. “I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that will violate the principles of our majority and divide our conference,” he said.

Ah, yes, and let’s remember that this week’s “intention” does not necessarily determine tomorrow’s strategy. It’s in Boehner’s interest to keep the large right end of his caucus at bay and to stake out a hard line to extract as many concessions from the Senate as he can. In the House at the moment, tomorrow is always another day.

What may matter is not how many Republican votes he gets but whether a majority of his caucus quietly decides that passing immigration reform is better for the party than blocking it. Many in such a majority might actually vote against a bill they privately want to see enacted. By doing so, they could satisfy their base voters back home while getting the immigration issue off the political agenda and ending the GOP’s cold war with Latino voters.

This is not unduly cynical. Many essential laws have passed because legislators found a way to balance their political needs with their convictions. The movie Lincoln is instructive on the matter.

Such calculations explain the tensions among Senate Democrats over the best way forward. Politico recently reported on differences between Sen. Charles Schumer, the leading architect of the compromise bill, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Harry Reid, the majority leader.

Schumer is more willing to accept further compromises in order to get broad Republican support. He wants 70 votes for a bill, believing that a big margin would increase pressure on the House to act. He also wants to deprive Republicans of the chance to use procedural complaints as an excuse for voting no.

Durbin and Reid are wary of giving any more ground. They want to preserve negotiating space with the House and believe enough Republicans already know they have to support reform. They see the House as so unpredictable that watering down the bill may not, in any event, be very helpful.

Here’s the potential positive news for immigration reformers: This difference may produce, if unintentionally, a good cop/bad cop dynamic that could keep the key group of Senate Republicans from undercutting the bill. Schumer can be open to a variety of border security changes, as long as they don’t disrupt the path to citizenship. He can also be clear that there are limits on how far his party can go in providing the swing Republicans with political cover.

Which brings it all back to Corker and his allies. A Congressional Budget Office report on Tuesday showing that immigration reform could cut some $900 billion from the deficit over the next two decades should make it easier for them to make a deal. But in the end, they have to choose: Which side are they on?

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“HOAP Hypocrisy”: Republicans Who Want To Repeal The Health Law Are Still Taking Money From It

House Republicans are launching a coordinated campaign against Obamacare, hoping to emphasize the negative effects of the health law to their constituents at upcoming town hall meetings. At the same time, however, they’re fully prepared to tell those same constituents to enjoy all the benefits available to them under health reform — ultimately taking advantage of Obamacare funding in their home districts.

As Politico reports, several of the GOP members of the new coalition — called the “House Obamacare Accountability Project,” or HOAP — went on the record to confirm they will help their constituents figure out how to get the benefits funded through the health reform law. The Republicans said that if they’re asked, they will help people get access to the insurance premium subsidies or the Medicaid coverage that’s available to them under Obamacare. “That’s an important part of constituent services,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) explained.

They’re not the only lawmakers who have advocated for getting rid of the health law even while simultaneously enjoying its benefits. As Lee Fang reports in the Nation, several anti-Obamacare Republicans like Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have requested grants funded through the health reform law for their districts. GOP lawmakers who decry Obamacare in public have requested Obamacare money to bolster their states’ health clinics, extend health services to uninsured residents, and launch public health campaigns.

In their letters requesting Obamacare funds, Republican lawmakers have praised the positive long term effects of the health reform law’s initiatives. Cornyn wrote that a grant from the Affordable Care Act would “improve the health and quality of life of area residents.” In reference to the same grant, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) called the effort a “crucial initiative to achieve a healthier Houston/Harris County.” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) praised a local nonprofit for winning Obamacare funds that will help give “people the tools to live healthier and longer lives.”

That reflects a larger trend when it comes to Obamacare: Although Americans may say they oppose the health law as a whole, they support its individual provisions. That seeming contradiction may partly be thanks to GOP-led initiatives like HOAP. Since political controversy has swirled around the health reform law for the past three years, Americans remain confused about what Obamacare actually does — and over 40 percent of the public isn’t even sure whether it’s still law.

 

By: Tara Culp-Resseler, Think Progress, June 7, 2013

June 8, 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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