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“Seven Years And Counting”: House Republican On Health Care Plan: ‘Give Us A Little Time’

One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they’re going to have a plan that rivals “Obamacare,” and it’s going to be awesome.

Yesterday, The Hill reported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.

A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.

“Give us a little time, another month or so,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. “I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative.”

Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “task force,” responsible for coming up with the GOP’s reform alternative.

Upton said the Republican group is currently in “listening mode” – which it’s apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.

And yet, we’re apparently supposed to believe that in “another month or so,” House Republican lawmakers will be “pretty close” to having their own reform plan.

Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe “listening mode” is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with “a little time,” they’re ready to deliver.

It’s certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.

As we discussed when the Republican “task force” was created early last year, the political world may not fully appreciate just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is. It was on June 17, 2009 that then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made a bold promise. The Missouri Republican, a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, had taken the lead in crafting a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he was proud to publicly declare, ”I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill.”

The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.” We’d all see the striking proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.

This was nearly seven years ago. The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.

In early April 2014, then-House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s health plan was nearly done, but it was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 24 months ago. In 2015, assurances that the Republican plan was on the way were also wrong.

In 2016, however, a GOP leader has been reduced to arguing, “Give us a little time,” seemingly unaware of how hilarious this is.

As we talked about last week, the problem probably isn’t dishonesty. In all likelihood, Republicans would love to have a health care plan of their own – no one likes to appear ridiculous while breaking promises – but haven’t because they don’t know how to craft one.

As New York’s Jon Chait explained, “The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans’ health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can’t afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don’t want to do either of them.”

Or as a Republican Hill staffer famously put it in 2014, “As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act…. To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA.”

Which, of course, Republicans can’t bring themselves to do.

But hope springs eternal, and I can’t wait to hear more about the GOP’s progress in “another month or so.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Fred Upton, Health Care, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Bane Of Many Politicians’ Existence”: Senate GOP Solution To Super PAC Rivals; More Money In Politics

This may sound odd, but it rings true amongst Republicans and Democrats alike: The only people who loathe Super PACs more than voters forced to sit through an onslaught of their bullshit ads, are politicians themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, at first many Republicans loved the new, post-Citizen United world of PACs (a.k.a. Political Action Committees who act any way they want). But those powerful outside groups have become the bane of many politicians’ existence—even GOP lawmakers who oppose overturning the Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re at a point where the outside groups have so much more flexibility than the parties do that there’s nothing wrong with giving both political parties a little more flexibility in how they work with candidates,” said Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate.

As Congress scrambles to avoid a year end government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is quietly trying to include a provision to dismantle any limitations remaining on what the parties in Washington can spend coordinating with their candidates. Both parties bemoan that their candidates have lost control of their own campaigns.

Currently GOP and Democratic leaders can only spend about $50,000 to assist House candidates and around $3 million working with Senate campaigns. But for Super PACs the sky is the limit on what they can raise and spend, thus neutering the parties and politicians alike.

“You notice that the political parties are now being shunted aside, because he who pays the pipers calls the tune,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) who doesn’t think McConnell’s latest attempt is all that significant. “It’s the outside money, particularly in the Republican sphere, that is funding elections. And it’s all this undisclosed, unlimited money uncontrolled by the campaign finance law. So until we can stop the outside money you can tinker here and tinker there, and it doesn’t make any difference.”

PACs have complicated everything for today’s political class. Yes, candidates are still the central component of any campaign, but all the campaign cash has eclipsed many candidates’ messages in recent elections. That’s because it’s easier for PACs to rake in millions than it is for candidates and their party to take in similar rolls of dollar bills. Candidates and parties also have to play by different rules.

“The candidates we have to disclose everything and I have to put my name on it,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told The Daily Beast. She’s facing a bruising reelection battle and thinks the Citizens United ruling has unleashed a double standard.

“The parties also, they have to say ‘from the party’ and be able to do that, but you know there are a lot of outside groups, they have different names and it’s tough to know where they’re coming from.”

While candidates want to exert more control over their own campaigns, so do party leaders. In recent years Tea Party challengers have embarrassed themselves and the Republican Party in Senate races from Delaware to Nevada. That made the GOP establishment bristle, and seems to be behind McConnell’s latest move to strengthen the parties.

“McConnell is a party man,” said Kyle Kondik, a campaign analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He probably believes that if the parties are stronger they can exert more control over who gets the nomination. You make the party stronger the individual candidates get weaker.”

That’s why the Tea Party wing of the GOP is opposed to McConnell’s latest move.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said the changes on coordination should also be extended to Super PACs who currently are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns.

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander,” Jordan told The Daily Beast. “So if it’s good for the parties, it should be good for outside groups who are involved in politics and have a big influence on politics as well. I mean free speech is free speech. So either don’t do it at all, or if you’re going to do it, do it in an equal fashion.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has stealthily tried to unwind election law. As the legislative clock wound down at the end of last year, he worked with then Speaker John Boehner to lift the cap on what party committees could solicit from donors. The provision hiked the rate from just under $100,000 to nearly $800,000. It was barely noticed, but critics argue the new provision will be felt.

“It will basically turn the parties into another apparatus that’s owned by the big money crowd,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), an advocate for public financing of campaigns. “In a sense it would allow big donors to become benefactors of specific candidates, using the parties to do it. They would kind of go through the parties to become the sugar daddy of this candidate or that candidate. So the parties lose all independence; they just become the tool of the big money crowd.”

Then there’s the whole presidential scramble going on. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has proven to be a lackluster fundraiser in his #YOLOrace for the White House, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been carefully watching his opponents and their Super PACs. He predicts something will give when the new Congress convenes at the start of 2017.

“I think there is going to be a scandal about money coming in the 2016 cycle from unsavory sources,” Graham to The Daily Beast. “That’s what it’s going to take to spur discussion. So I don’t really care about moving the caps as long as it’s transparent.”

 

By; Matt Laslo, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Mitch Mc Connell, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Urgency Of Six Years Later”: Ryan Sees ‘Urgent’ Need For GOP Alternative To Obamacare

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a fairly long speech at the Library of Congress yesterday, fleshing out his vision for making America “confident again” through a far-right approach to governing. There wasn’t anything particularly surprising about the remarks, and the Republican leader conceded his vision won’t be implemented so long as President Obama is in office.

But there was one part of the speech that jumped out at me as noteworthy. On health care policy, the new Speaker said “the other side” – presumably, Democrats – opposes giving consumers choices, while Republicans want to encourage “insurance companies to compete for your business.” It’s an odd line of attack, since the Affordable Care Act’s exchange marketplaces were specifically designed to invite insurers to compete for consumers’ business. I’m not sure how he could have missed this detail.

Ryan added:

“There are a lot of other ideas out there, but what all conservatives can agree on is this: We think government should encourage personal responsibility, not replace it. We think prices are going up because people have too few choices, not because they have too many. And we think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.”

Let’s just skip the usual points about the efficacy of the ACA, the law’s many successes, and the millions of Americans benefiting from its implementation. Suffice it to say, there’s no credible reason to try – or even want to try, really – to replace “every word” of the Affordable Care Act.

What I found amusing, however, was Ryan’s use of the word “urgent.”

As the Republican leader sees it, there’s no time to waste. The problems in the health care system are so great that the Speaker believes it’s “urgent” for his party to present their conservative alternative – nearly six years after the ACA was signed into law, nearly two years after the ACA was fully implemented. Now Ryan’s serious about his party’s replacement plan.

It’s hard for even the most charitable observers not to laugh. On June 17, 2009, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, publicly declared that he was helping craft his party’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act. “I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill,” he said six and a half years ago.

The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of “Obamacare” was just “weeks away.”

The Huffington Post’s Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they’re finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.

We were told 2014 would be different. In April 2014, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party’s plan was nearly done, but was being delayed “at least a month.” That was 20 months ago.

Then we were told 2015 would be different. Ryan was tasked with personally heading up a Republican “working group” that would finally put together the GOP’s health care plan. Then-House Speaker John Boehner promised Fox News, “There will be an alternative, and you’re going to get to see it.”

That was 11 months ago.

As of yesterday, however, Ryan believes the issue is “so urgent” that we’ll see the Republican “plan” in 2016. And who knows, maybe we will. I wouldn’t bet on it, but anything’s possible.

But revisiting a piece from February, I think we can safely assume that the House GOP alternative to “Obamacare” – if it ever exists – is going to be cover-your-eyes horrible. How can I know that? Because in order to actually reform the pre-2010 health care system – “replacing every word” of the ACA – policymakers have to commit to extensive public investments, expansive government regulation of the insurance industry, and a commitment to help struggling families receive guaranteed benefits.

In other words, to do reform right, Republicans would have to willingly take policy steps that are anathema to everything they believe about government. It’s a safer bet they’ll do reform wrong – if they follow through at all – and when the GOP alternative stands alongside “Obamacare” and consumers are allowed to compare, it won’t be much of a contest.

This point is routinely lost on much of the chattering class, but Republicans don’t actually like health care reform, which is why we’ve waited so many years to see a plan that still doesn’t exist. GOP lawmakers didn’t see the old system – the bankruptcies, the uninsured rates, the deaths, Americans paying more for less – as a problem requiring a solution, which is precisely why they haven’t invested time and energy in writing a detailed reform blueprint.

Ryan seems to think this time will be different.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 4, 2015

December 7, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform, House Republicans, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Voice Of Reason”: Non-Insane Republicans Have To Stand Up And Denounce The Folks Who Kidnapped Their Party

Good on former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for giving the back of his hand to Gov. George Wallace, er, Mike Pence over the latter’s invitation to intolerance:

“I would not have passed this to begin with,” Richard G. Lugar, a former longtime Republican senator from Indiana, said in an interview. He added that he and three former Indianapolis mayors as well as the current mayor, Greg Ballard, also a Republican, intended to convey their concerns to Mr. Pence. Asked whether repeal would be preferable to some revision, Mr. Lugar, who was also once the mayor of Indianapolis, noted the complications.

“That’d be the cleanest way of remedying a mistake,” Mr. Lugar said, “but my guess is that a good number of the people who voted for this do not believe it is a mistake. The problem is pacifying them.”

Lugar, of course, represented one of the last vestiges of non-insane conservatism in the GOP–and, for his alleged ideological sins, he was crucified by the Tea Party in 2012, losing a Senate primary to a Pence-style wingnut named Richard Mourdock, who of course went on to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

I have more respect for Lugar than I have for the allegedly rational Republicans who keep their mouths shut whenever prominent members of their party do something nutty. For example, where were the pro-carbon-tax Republican economists such as Irwin Stelzer and Henry Paulson when Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently put forward a budget amendment scorning the idea? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page went after Sen. Blunt the way Stelzer and Paulson should have:

Coal is very dirty fuel. Some of its pollutants can be scrubbed out, though the energy industry is fighting those regulations, too. The carbon dioxide in coal plant emissions can’t be scrubbed out. It goes into the atmosphere. The cost of that is socialized, passed on to society at large in the form of a hotter planet.

A carbon tax would require consumers to pay the social cost of fossil fuels — coal, gasoline, natural gas, methane, etc. When the social costs of private investments (say in a tank of gas) are included in the price, economists called it a “Pigovian” tax (after British economist Arthur Pigou).

Already the price of a tank of gas includes Pigovian taxes for wear and tear on federal and state highways. Your electric and gas bills have Pigovian fees built in for utility company infrastructure. A carbon tax would be a fee to cover the cost of damage you’re doing to the atmosphere…

Conservative economists like Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, who worked for President George W. Bush and for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, have proposed replacing payroll taxes with a carbon tax. Instead of taxing income, you’d tax the consumption of a damaging substance.

Other nations have adopted carbon taxes without disastrous results, offsetting them with tax deductions and rebates. This December, when the nations of the world meet in Paris to establish new goals for addressing climate change, it would be good if our exceptional nation wasn’t an exception. Right now all we bring to the carbon tax discussion is a firm belief in the concept of a free lunch.

If non-insane Republicans want their party back, they’re going to have to stand up and denounce the folks who kidnapped it in the first place. Lugar has done so. Stelzer and Paulson, among others, have not—and why not? Do they have laryngitis?

 

By: D.R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 4, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Indiana, Mike Pence, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Politics Has Gone So Hideously Wrong”: Did Bullying Kill Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich?

Shortly after Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich killed himself last week, questions about whether politics—and politicians themselves—were to blame hovered quietly beneath the surface.

But on Tuesday, as the state’s political establishment gathered around Schweich’s flag-covered casket at the Church of St. Michael and St. George near the Republican’s former home in Clayton, the Band-Aid concealing the political mess was quickly ripped off in an emotional and frustrated homily by Rev. Jack Danforth, a former U.S. senator for whom Schweich served as chief of staff starting in 1999 during his investigation into the FBI shooting in Waco, Texas.

In his remarks—before two U.S. senators, Missouri’s governor, dozens of state lawmakers, and the state’s political consultants and lobbyists—Danforth said he felt “overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong” in the state’s Republican primary for governor, which Schweich joined last month.

That anger, Danforth said, stemmed from a series of moves by people he called “bullies” in the state’s political scene.

One person he referenced was Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based Republican political consultant who works for Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway and U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Roe produced a negative radio commercial that referred to Schweich as a “little bug” and likened his physical appearance to that of the quirky, unintelligent deputy sheriff on the television show The Andy Griffith Show.

Then there was John Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

In the months leading up to Schweich’s death, the auditor believed that Hancock—an opposition researcher who did work last year for the campaign of Hanaway, Schweich’s primary opponent and a former U.S. attorney—had led a whisper campaign that he was Jewish.

While Schweich did have a Jewish heritage stemming from his grandfather, he did not practice the faith. He was Episcopalian and open about his Christianity.

Schweich, Danforth said, believed that Hancock was telling Christian conservative donors that Schweich was Jewish in an effort to feed off the anti-Semitism that still exists in parts of Missouri.

Since Hancock announced his candidacy for party chairman late last year, Schweich had pleaded with his campaign staff to make his story known.

Even those closest to Schweich, in interviews following his death, said the problem was that Schweich had no substantial evidence of a whisper campaign to present to the press, and they refused to push his narrative.

Last Tuesday, two days before Schweich took his own life, he had planned to stage a news conference in Jefferson City to make his claims known.

Danforth, in his eulogy a week later, said he had advised Schweich against it. Schweich backed down, but two days later, he moved forward on his own, scheduling interviews with reporters from the Associated Press and leaving a message with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Minutes after Schweich left that message, Danforth’s office was on the phone with Schweich’s home, once again urging him to back down.

It was at that point, when Schweich felt that he had lost everyone, that he pulled out a handgun and ended his life, with his wife nearby.

“He may have thought that I had abandoned him and left him on the high ground, all alone to fight the battle that had to be fought,” Danforth said in his remarks.

That high ground, Danforth said, was against what Schweich saw as anti-Semitism. Schweich, he said, was taught by his grandfather to take the high ground against it.

“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry,” Danforth said.

That charge, Schweich spokesman Spence Jackson said Tuesday, should be enough for Republican leaders to distance themselves from Hancock and demand his resignation.

“There is no way that the Missouri Republican Party can move forward under his leadership for the reasons that Sen. Danforth made,” he said. “It is unconscionable to think that the party can be successful in 2016 with John Hancock as the chairman.”

On Wednesday, David Steelman, a Missouri politician who now serves on the University of Missouri Board of Curators, joined the call, along with state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, for Hancock to resign.

But aside from calls made by those close to Schweich, the party has steered clear of calling for Hancock’s resignation.

After a tumultuous two years under a previous chairman during which the state party went underfunded, establishment Republicans here were joyous at the election of Hancock—one of their own—late last month at a committee meeting in Kansas City.

One of those was U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who is seeking reelection next year.

“This is ultimately up to the Republican State Committee, which elects the state party chairman. I continue to focus my attention on remembering Tom’s life and work in the wake of this tragedy,” said Blunt, whose wife, Abigail, is Jewish.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican who is close to both Hancock and Hanaway, also resisted calls for the chairman to step down.

“Ann does not feel that it is appropriate for anyone to inject politics into the situation so soon after Tom Schweich’s tragic suicide,” said Christian Morgan, Wagner’s chief of staff.

Hancock, of course, has said repeatedly that nothing nefarious went on and has denied the charge that he led an anti-Semitic campaign against Schweich. In a letter to the Missouri Republican State Committee last week, Hancock said that until recently, he believed Schweich was Jewish.

“While I do not recall doing so, it is possible that I mentioned Tom’s faith in passing during one of the many conversations I have each day. There was absolutely nothing malicious about my intent, and I certainly was not attempting to ‘inject religion’ into the governor’s race, as some have suggested,” he wrote.

In light of Schweich’s death, Hanaway has suspended her campaign and is not making a public peep about her relationship with Hancock.

“I suspended my campaign last week out of reverence to Auditor Schweich’s family and will not add any additional commentary to further politicize this tragedy. I continue to pray for the Schweich family during this difficult time,” she said in an email Wednesday.

Privately, Republicans here believe that in order to mount a campaign against Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, for governor in 2016, someone soon will have to give, whether it be Hancock or Hanaway, to relieve the negative pressure that has built following Schweich’s death.

Danforth questioned what kind of candidate would even want to emerge in a political field open seemingly only to the “tough and the crude and the calloused.”

“If this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it?” he said.

 

By: Eli Yokley, The Daily Beast, March 5, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Missouri Republican Party, Tom Schweich | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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