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“It’s Galling Season Again”: The GOP’s Phony New Compassion

When someone in any social cohort decides to act like Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s easy and quite natural for everyone else to fall into the role of Bob Cratchit. This is what several Republicans are now doing in reaction to Mitt Romney’s remarks about Barack Obama and his “gifts” to his core constituencies. But Republicans allegedly competing for the loyalties of the 100 percent is a movie we’ve seen. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work for a straightforward reason: free-market solutions to many of the problems faced by the 47 percent simply don’t exist. The GOP has no answer to these problems, and it really doesn’t want to have any. But, boy oh boy, are we about to enter a galling period of hearing them pretend otherwise.

In fact, it’s already started. Bobby Jindal kicked this off by saying in response to Romney, “We need to continue to show how our policies help every voter out there achieve the American dream.” Marco Rubio weighed in with the reassuring news flash that, in fact, he does not think there are “millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work.” Fellow Floridian Rick Scott—bless him, the Rick Scott who ripped off Medicare before he became governor and has tried to block Democrats from voting since occupying the office—says Republicans have to say that “we want to take care of every citizen of our state.” Scott Walker, Haley Barbour, Michael Steele, Susanna Martinez, and others have made similar remarks. All well and good. So now, let’s match this lovely rhetoric to the Republican record of the past decade or so.

Let’s start with health care, a big problem in the lives of many 47 percenters. True, the GOP, when George W. Bush was president, passed the Medicare prescription drug-coverage bill. That was mostly a good thing, although the bill didn’t pay for the program and it created the famous doughnut hole problem that is finally being solved by Obamacare. What else beyond that? Most obviously, they opposed the subsidized coverage for millions of working poor that is at the heart of Obamacare, defenestrating their own proposal (the individual mandate) while doing so.

And how about S-CHIP, the health plan for poor children? Children! They fought it tooth and nail. It was supposedly an imposition on private insurers who were positioned to offer similar coverage. Yet of course, they did not do so. If they had, there’d have been no need for S-CHIP in the first place.

The one health care idea they’ve come up with, health savings accounts, are widely known to be riddled with problems. They work fine until people really need ongoing care, kind of like a car that gets you where you’re going on normal days but won’t start during emergencies. Yet they tend to have very high deductibles, and people can still be thrown off if they get really sick. This is the GOP’s great contribution to addressing the health needs of the working class.

What other problems do the 47 percent face? Hardship in old age surely ranks up there. It’s they, after all, who depend wholly or mostly on their Social Security checks (which average about $1,400 a month) to get by. And what did they see Republicans try to do on this front? Privatize it—a proposal so unpopular that it died with almost no support in Congress from even the GOP, and this after Bush spent weeks barnstorming for it. People clearly don’t want Social Security privatized—just as they don’t want Medicare voucherized.

What else? Paying for college? Oh, the GOP record here is particularly stellar. Republicans in Congress spent loads of political capital fighting the Democrats’ effort in 2010 to lower student-loan interest rates. The Obama student-loan reform has been widely hailed—in addition to helping students by offering lower interest rates, it actually saves taxpayers money by eliminating the middleman (private lenders). This year’s GOP platform called for undoing the reform and going back to the old system, which, wouldn’t you know it, is the position of the big banks.

Believe me, I could go on and on and on for pages. The bottom line is this. These private-sector “solutions” Jindal and others invoke to the problems faced by people of limited means already exist. They have either been implemented and been seen to fail (or at least create big new problems), or they’ve not been implemented because a wary public knows better and has risen up to say no.

Government programs were created for a reason: needs arose that the private sector wasn’t responding to. There was no profit to be made, or not enough, or too much risk to be assumed, in providing health coverage to working-class people and their children, who were more likely to have health issues and be expensive to care for; in offering student loans to people who might not be able to pay them back; et cetera. There just were not and are not practical free-market solutions to these problems. That’s why government stepped in.

If the entire Republican Party were made up of nothing but David Frums and David Brookses, maybe well-designed and good-faith market-based attempts to address some of these problems could have a chance. But the actually existing Republican Party is more accurately represented by another David—Vitter, the Louisiana senator—who dismissed S-CHIP as “Hillarycare.”

And it’s Vitter rather than the other Davids who typifies the party because that is how the party’s voting base wants it. The darkly amusing thing about all this distancing from Romney is that in truth, all he was doing was expressing the views of the overwhelming majority of the party’s conservative base, which rose up in a mighty rage in 2009 against these “moochers” and their “gifts.”

I wish Jindal and the rest of them luck, in spite of it all. If they’re sincere and serious, we’ll have a very different Republican Party five years from now from the one we’ve known. In the meantime, permit me my skepticism. They don’t have good solutions to working people’s problems because the record shows that at bottom, they don’t really want to solve them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 18, 2012

 

November 19, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 11th Circuit’s Affordable Care Act Decision Cannot Be Squared With The Constitution

The key passage in today’s opinion striking down part of the Affordable Care Act appears on page 113, where the two judge majority explains how they will determine whether this law is constitutional:

In answering whether the federal government may exercise this asserted power to issue a mandate for Americans to purchase health insurance from private companies, we next examine a number of issues: (1) the unprecedented nature of the individual mandate; (2) whether Congress’s exercise of its commerce authority affords sufficient and meaningful limiting principles; and (3) the far-reaching implications for our federalist structure.

This is one way to evaluate whether a law is constitutional, but a better way is to ask whether the law can be squared with text of the Constitution. The Constitution provides that Congress may “regulate Commerce…among the several states,” and the very first Supreme Court decision interpreting this language made clear that this power is “plenary,” meaning that Congress may choose whatever means it wishes to regulate interstate marketplaces such as the national health care market, so long as it does not violate another textual provision of the Constitution.

A law requiring most Americans to either carry insurance or pay slightly more taxes clearly regulates the national market for health care. It determines how people will finance health care purchases. It lowers the cost of health insurance. And it protects that market from something known as an “adverse selection death spiral.” So that should have been the end of the case. The Court cites no provision of the Constitution limiting Congress’ authority to pass this law because no such provision exists.

Instead, it imposes two extra-textual limits on national leaders’ ability to solve national problems. If the law is somehow “unprecedented,” and if a decision upholding the law lacks vague and undetermined “meaningful limit[s]” on Congress’ authority that somehow upset the balance between federal and state power, then the law must be struck down even if the Constitution’s text says otherwise.

Yet even if these two novel limits are taken seriously, the court’s analysis still makes no sense. For one thing, the law is only “unprecedented” in the sense that it preferred a market-driven solution to the problem of widespread uninsurance over more government driven solutions such as Medicare. The truth is that Congress already requires nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance — and they have done so for many years. Every year the federal government collects taxes which are in no way optional. A portion of these taxes are then spent to buy health insurance for the elderly (Medicare) for the poor (Medicaid) and for children (SCHIP).

So the only real question in this case is whether the government is required to first take your money and then buy health coverage for you, or whether the Constitution allows Congress to cut out the middle man.

The Court is also simply wrong to claim that a decision upholding the ACA would necessarily mean that there are no limits on federal power. The Constitution does not simply allow Congress to regulate commercial markets. It establishes that, in Justice Scalia’s words, “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

Scalia’s rule is important because the ACA doesn’t just require people to carry insurance, it also eliminates one of the insurance industry’s most abusive practices — denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. This ban cannot function if patients are free to enter and exit the insurance market at will. If patients can wait until they get sick to buy insurance, they will drain all the money out of an insurance plan that they have not previously paid into, leaving nothing left for the rest of the plan’s consumers.

Because the ACA’s regulation of the national insurance market cannot function without a requirement that nearly every American carry insurance. this requirement is clearly constitutional under Justice Scalia’s statement that Congress possess “every power needed” to make it’s economic regulations effective. Moreover, upholding the Affordable Care Act under Justice Scalia’s rule would require a court to do nothing more than hold that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. There is no federal law which depends upon mandatory broccoli purchases, for example, in order to function properly in the same way that the ACA’s preexisting conditions provision can only function properly in the presence of an insurance coverage requirement. Accordingly, the court’s concern that upholding the law would destroy any limits on federal power is unwarranted.

As a final note, it is likely that conservatives will tout the fact that Judge Hull was appointed by President Clinton in the same way that progressives touted Bush-appointed Judge Sutton’s decision rejecting an ACA challenge. The two judges are not comparable, however. Judge Sutton is a former Scalia clerk who stood on the vanguard of the conservative legal movement for many years. Judge Hull, by contrast, is a compromise nominee Clinton selected in order to overcome obstruction from the Republican-controlled Senate.

Hull has a long record of conservative criminal and individual rights decisions. We now know that she is also very far to the right questions of federal power. That is unfortunate, but it also places her well to the right of some of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, U. S. News and World Report, August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Commerce Clause, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Consumers, Democracy, Democrats, GOP, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Insurance Companies, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Pre-Existing Conditions, President Obama, Republicans, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Under Insured, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sen Orrin Hatch’s Desire To Raise Middle-Class Taxes

I think the pressure is starting to get to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He saw what happened to his former colleague, Bob Bennett, in a GOP primary in 2010, and Hatch is starting to panic that he’ll meet the same fate.

But when the heat is on, some rise to the occasion, showing poise and grace. Some, like Hatch, just fall apart.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted against beginning debate on a measure that would have the Senate declare the rich should share the pain of debt reduction Thursday, a day after arguing that it’s the poor and middle class who need to do more.

“I hear how they’re so caring for the poor and so forth,” Hatch said in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, in reference to Democrats. “The poor need jobs! And they also need to share some of the responsibility.”

Hatch went on to say he finds it outrageous that so many millions of Americans don’t pay income taxes, adding, “And that’s going up by the way because of our friend down in the White House and his allies.”

Just so we’re clear, Hatch is incensed because President Obama and his allies aren’t taxing the middle class enough.

This comes up from time to time, and I continue to find it fascinating. Specifically, when conservatives complain about too many Americans not paying federal income taxes, they tend to overlook relevant details — such as the fact that these same Americans still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.

It’s not as if these folks are getting away with something — the existing tax structure leaves them out of the income tax system because they don’t make enough money to qualify.

Moreover, the GOP has a natural revulsion to any tax system, but there’s an eerie comfort with a regressive agenda that showers additional wealth on the rich while asking for more from lower-income workers.

While we’re at it, let’s also not forget that Hatch is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, and would be in a position to serve as chairman if he wins reelection and Republicans take the Senate next year. At that point, he could use his power to punish working people more directly.

Hatch has always been a conservative Republican, but he’d developed a reputation over the years for idiosyncratic positions. Despite being firmly on the right — at least as “the right” was defined in, say, the ’90s — Hatch supported stem-cell research, co-sponsored the DREAM Act, and partnered with Ted Kennedy to pass the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, bringing health coverage to low-income kids. Centrist Democrats hoping to craft a major bipartisan deal would immediately reach out to Hatch.

Needless to say, those days are over.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Unemployed, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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