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“Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, And The Dreaded ‘M’ Word”: The Label Isn’t Related To Issue Positions, It’s More About Tone And Relationships

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has quietly run a very interesting presidential campaign. He hasn’t held the spotlight much, but he’s raised a lot of money, laid the groundwork for a credible ground game, positioned himself to benefit if/when the Amateur Duo falters, and held his fire, waiting to see who his real rivals are going to be.

Last night, however, Cruz offered a peek into his broader strategy.

“Historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary,” the Texas senator told CNN’s Jake Tapper last night. “There’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane. And, in past cycles, there’s been a consensus moderate choice early on… Look, I think Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane. And so I think they’re going to slug it out for a while.

“But, when you look at the conservative lane, what I’m really encouraged by is that conservatives are consolidating behind our campaign… And once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate … I think the conservative wins.”

Let’s strip away the spin for a minute: Marco Rubio is breathtakingly conservative. He’s a climate denier who desperately wants to give billionaires a massive tax break the country can’t afford. The Florida Republican believes Medicare and Social Security have weakened Americans; he thinks the war in Iraq, even in hindsight, was a fine idea; he still opposes marriage equality; he doesn’t think the federal minimum wage should exist; and Rubio’s so hostile towards reproductive rights that he believes the government has the authority to force impregnated rape victims to take that pregnancy to term, even against her wishes. The guy voted against a bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, even when he knew it would pass easily anyway.

If Marco Rubio prevails in the 2016 race, he would be the most right-wing major-party nominee in generations. If he wins a general election, he’d be the most extreme president in modern American history. There is nothing “moderate” about him.

But that’s not quite what Ted Cruz is talking about.

As the Texas senator sees it, in every race for the Republican presidential nomination, candidates invariably find themselves in “lanes.” And under this framework, there’s always an establishment favorite who’s friendly with party insiders, picks up a lot of endorsements, generates a lot of positive media buzz, etc. For Cruz, this is the “moderate” lane – the label isn’t necessarily related to issue positions, per se, but it’s more about tone and relationships.

In the current GOP fight, the assumption has long been this “lane” would be occupied by Rubio, Jeb Bush, or perhaps John Kasich. But with Kasich struggling, and Jeb faltering, it seems increasingly likely that Rubio will be this establishment “moderate.”

We know – because he’s said so repeatedly – exactly what Ted Cruz is going to tell Republican voters: “You could pick the establishment ‘moderate’ and media darling, or you could choose the unapologetic conservative. Remember, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney were establishment ‘moderates,’ too, and look how the election turned out for us in those cycles.”

A Cruz ally told the conservative Washington Examiner this week, “The difference is, who went to Washington and stood up, not just to Democrats, but to his own party, on issue after issue? The other fatal problem for Marco is ‘gang of eight’ support. People don’t trust him.”

Want to know what the Republican race is going to look and sound like in January? This strikes me as a pretty explicit hint.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Republicans Are Hell-Bent On Destroying Medicare”: Belief’s That Spring From Ideological Faith, Not Facts

One way you can identify politicians’ sincere convictions is by looking at the things they do even when they know they’re unpopular. There are few better examples than the half-century-long quest by Republicans to destroy Medicare.

As we move towards the 2016 presidential election, it’s something we’re hearing about yet again. Conservatives know the Democrats will attack them for it mercilessly, and they know those attacks are probably going to work — yet Republicans keeps trying. Which is why it’s clear that they just can’t stand this program.

When Medicare was being debated in the early 1960s, one of its most prominent opponents was a certain future president, who recorded a spoken word album called Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine. In it, he said that if the bill were to pass, “We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” He failed in that crusade, and ever since, conservatives have watched in pain as the program became more entrenched and more popular.

That popularity didn’t happen by accident. Medicare is popular because it gives seniors something they crave: security. Every American over 65 knows that they can get Medicare, it will be accepted by almost every health care provider, their premiums will be modest, and it won’t be taken away. On the policy level, the program is expensive, but that’s because providing health care for the elderly is expensive. It’s not because the program is inefficient; in fact, Medicare does an excellent job of keeping costs down. Its expenses for overhead (basically everything except health care) are extremely low, somewhere between 1 percent and 5 percent of what it takes in, compared to private insurance costs that can run from 10 percent to 20 percent and, in some cases, even higher. (See here for a good explanation of these figures.)

That’s not to say there’s nothing about the program that could be improved, because there certainly is. The Affordable Care Act tried to institute some Medicare reforms, including moving away from the fee-for-service model (which encourages doctors and hospitals to do as many procedures as possible) and toward a model that creates incentives for keeping patients healthy. It’s still too early to say how great an impact those changes will have. But Medicare is still in most ways the most successful part of the American health insurance system. And if you care about empirical truth, it’s impossible to argue that it’s a failure because it involves too much government.

But Republicans do argue that, and it’s a belief that springs from ideological faith, not facts. In Wednesday’s debate, Rand Paul was asked whether Reagan was right about Medicare, and he responded, “The question always is, what works better, the private marketplace or government? And what distributes goods better? It always seems to be the private marketplace does a better job. Is there an area for a safety net? Can you have Medicare or Social Security? Yes. But you ought to acknowledge the government doesn’t do a very good job at it.” Paul’s ambivalence is obvious — he grudgingly acknowledges that you can have a “safety net,” including Medicare, even as he says it’s terrible. But if that’s so, why not get rid of it entirely?

The presidential candidates who have said anything specific about Medicare all want to move in the direction of privatization, which isn’t too surprising. After all, they believe that it’s impossible for government to do anything better than the private sector, and if you can take a government program and privatize it, that’s what you should do. That’s also what new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan believes: For years he’s been touting a plan to privatize Medicare by essentially turning it into a voucher program. Instead of being an insurer for seniors as it is now, the government would give you a voucher that you could spend to buy yourself private insurance. And if the voucher didn’t cover the cost of the insurance you could find? Tough luck.

When you ask Paul Ryan about this, the first thing he’ll say is that he wants a slow transition to privatizing Medicare, one that won’t affect today’s seniors at all, so they don’t need to worry. In Wednesday’s debate, Marco Rubio made the same argument. “Everyone up here tonight that’s talking about reforms, I think and I know for myself I speak to this, we’re all talking about reforms for future generations,” he said. “Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”

In other words: Medicare is a disaster, but we would never change it for the people who are on it and love it so much. They don’t have to fear the horror of being subject to our plan for Medicare’s future. Which is going to be great.

That contradiction is the essence of the Republicans’ Medicare problem. It’s one of the most successful and beloved social programs America has ever created, and to mess with it is to court political disaster, particularly among seniors who vote at such high rates. And its success is particularly galling, standing as it does as a living rebuke to their fervent belief that there can never be any area in which government might outperform the private sector.

But grant Republicans this: A less ideologically committed group might say, “We don’t like this program, but it’s too politically dangerous to try to undo it. So we’ll just learn to live with it.”

Republicans won’t give up. They want to undermine Medicare, to privatize it, to try in whatever way they can come up with to hasten the day when it disappears. And no matter how often they fail, they keep trying.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 30, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | Medicare, Republicans, Seniors | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Default Prevention Act, Really?”: House GOP Plays With Matches; Will The Economy Burn?

The Republican-led Congress has just 12 days before the nation’s debt ceiling has to be raised. If lawmakers fail to meet their responsibilities, the country won’t be able to pay its bills, we’ll default on our debts, the full faith and credit of the United States will be in jeopardy, and the economic consequences will be severe.

At this point, congressional Republicans appear to be divided into two groups. The first, which includes the GOP leadership, knows it must raise the debt ceiling, but this faction has no idea how to complete the simple task. The second, which includes far-right members in both chambers, wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage, threatening to crash the economy on purpose unless Democrats meets their demands, but this faction hasn’t bothered to fill out the ransom note.

So far, markets aren’t panicking, because everyone is working from the assumption that Republicans won’t deliberately create a recession for no reason – though anything’s possible.

What’s striking, though, is how little work is getting done. We’re 12 days away from a dangerous deadline – Congress is only in session for 7 of those 12 days – and Congress isn’t even trying to move towards a resolution yet. Instead, the GOP-led House spent time yesterday on something called the “Default Prevention Act.”

With the potential for an unprecedented federal default two weeks away, House Republicans on Wednesday plan to pass legislation not to avert disaster, but rather to manage it, channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients if the government’s borrowing limit is not lifted.

Let’s put this in everyday terms. Imagine a gang told you they plan to burn down your town unless their demands are met. You’re skeptical and tell the gang to go away. But the gang members stick around and say, “Before we burn down your town, let’s start making plans to prioritize which parts of the town you might want to rescue before we turn violent.”

That, in a nutshell, is what the “Default Prevention Act” is all about – the gang members passed a bill yesterday to prioritize which bills they’ll allow the United States to pay, and which bills will get burned by their fire.

The problem, of course, is that all of this is completely insane.

What we’re talking about is a plan in which Republicans try to manage the fire from their own arson, “channeling daily tax collections to the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients” after they refuse, on purpose, to raise the debt ceiling.

And why would GOP lawmakers prioritize the nation’s creditors and Social Security recipients? On the former, because so much of the global economy rests on U.S. Treasury bonds, a deliberate default risks crashing financial systems across the planet. That would be … catastrophically bad.

On the latter, congressional Republicans don’t want to be responsible for cutting off Social Security checks for millions of American seniors, right in time for the holidays.

The “Default Prevention Act” is, by this measure, misnamed. It would prevent the nation from defaulting on some debts, while encouraging the nation to default on others.

Making matters just a little worse, Slate’s Jordan Weissmann explained that the GOP plan appears to be illegal and literally impossible to implement.

[E]ven if the government could borrow to pay bondholders and seniors, crossing the debt limit would still be plenty apocalyptic. Treasury’s computers still might not be capable of prioritizing its obligations, in which case we’d still end up failing to pay some bondholders despite Congress’s intentions.

 The mere threat of such an accidental default could cause markets to seize. If the Treasury did successfully keep money flowing to its lenders, meanwhile, the government still wouldn’t be able to cover all of its other costs, and thus would be forced to implement massive, immediate spending cuts to other programs, likely dragging the U.S. and probably the rest of the world into a recession.

He’s referring, of course, to a recession that could easily be avoided by simply raising the debt ceiling – a simple, procedural vote that costs nothing.

Tick, tock.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 22, 2015

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default Prevention Act, Economy | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Ideology Standing In The Way”: How To Get Sicker, Die Sooner, And Pay More For It

It is painful that five years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, 19 states still have not taken advantage of its option to expand Medicaid. It becomes more so with each new report on the deeply flawed U.S. health system.

The latest, from the National Academy of Sciences, finds that rich people live about 13 years longer than poor people. The researchers note that consequently, rich people end up getting the lion’s share of Social Security benefits. Such inequity should be attacked at its root. At the very least, we could use available tools to help low-income people get health insurance.

The NAS report is far from the first to highlight problems in our approach and results. The Commonwealth Fund last year examined health systems in 11 western industrialized nations. For the fourth time in a decade, the United States system placed first in cost and last in what it delivers. Our system is less fair, less efficient, makes us less healthy and gives us shorter lives. All that for an average of $8,508 per person, way more than second-place Norway at $5,669. In case you were wondering, Britain’s socialized National Health Service was No. 1 at less than half the U.S. cost.

That information landed just as Allan Detsky published a New Yorker analysis of two 2013 reports on global health systems by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the National Institutes of Health. The study of the 34 OECD countries found an alarming trend: The United States ranked 20th for life expectancy at birth in 1990 and fell to 27th in 2010. On a measure combining level of health and length of life, we plunged from 14th to 26th.

The NIH report by the federal Institute of Medicine found that Americans fared worse than people in 16 “peer” countries in nine areas: infant mortality, injuries and homicides, teen pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and disability. Why? The authors cite a larger uninsured population than peer countries, worse health habits, more poverty, and more neighborhoods designed to require automobiles.

We have gained a few new tools since some of those studies were done. Some, such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative and money for electronic medical records in the stimulus law, are nudging us slowly in a better direction. Among the most significant advances are the ACA’s new marketplaces (where individuals can buy insurance regardless of their health status) and the law’s expansion of Medicaid (even though the Supreme Court transformed it into an option that states could take or leave).

The Medicaid expansion is designed for people who make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but too little to afford even subsidized private insurance plans. In states that have rejected the expansion, nearly 4 million people are stuck in an absurd coverage gap. That’s even though the federal government is footing the entire bill for the additional enrollees until 2016 and will pay at least 90 percent for them after that.

If we’re already spending a huge amount on health care, why should we sink more into it? It’s a good question — yet we might not have to spend more if we were spending more wisely. We could start by slashing our astonishing medical pricing. It costs more than eight times as much for an MRI here as in Switzerland, a typical example from a study of nine countries released last year by the International Federation of Health Plans. Just this month, The New York Times reported on a 62-year-old drug that went from $13.50 to $750 per tablet overnight.

How can we get a grip on costs? In part by getting a grip on politics. Medicare, overcoming “death panels” alarmism, recently announced it will reimburse doctors for discussing end-of-life choices with patients. That may lead to a decline in expensive, painful and futile treatments. Next, we should lift bans on research into gun violence, the better to reduce shootings and their public health costs.

Ideology is standing in the way on guns, as it is in the 19 states refusing so far to expand Medicaid. The struggles of purple-state Virginia have been among the most epic. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been repeatedly thwarted by Republican lawmakers in his push to expand Medicaid. Last year, a disloyal Democratic lawmaker resigned and threw the state Senate into GOP hands. This year Democrats are trying to win back the chamber and, along with it, the slim chance of a Medicaid deal. In the meantime, some 350,000 Virginians are stranded in the coverage gap.

And this, dear readers, is how you get to be last place in the developed world.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, September 24, 2015

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care Costs, Medicaid Expansion, Uninsured | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Struggling To Justify A Heresy”: Are Republicans Falling Out Of Love With Ronald Reagan?

The first big Republican presidential primary debate defied expectations in any number of ways. But one of the most surprising things may have been that only five of the 10 candidates invoked the memory of that most sainted Republican, that giant among dwarves, that demigod among mortals, America’s greatest president and a man who walked the Earth without sin. I speak, of course, of Ronald Reagan.

How on Earth did the other five candidates forget to speak his name and clothe themselves in his holy memory?

In the “undercard” debate that took place hours before the main event, the ratio was a bit better — four of the seven candidates invoked Reagan. But the trend still held. Could it be that the power of invoking Reagan is beginning to fade — even if only a bit?

Consider that, with the exception of Donald Trump, the Republican candidates who mentioned Reagan in the prime-time debate — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich — are all stuck in single digits, as are all the candidates from the undercard. Furthermore, many of the mentions came when a candidate was struggling to justify a heresy, as if to say, “Please don’t be too angry with me about this, because Reagan did it too.”

Defending his switch from pro-choice to pro-life, Trump said, “Ronald Reagan evolved on many issues.” Paul, explaining why he’s not the hawk other Republicans are, said, “I’m a Reagan conservative. Reagan did negotiate with the Soviets.” And Kasich explained his support of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid by saying, “President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.” Only Cruz offered a good old-fashioned song of praise, when he said with a stirring voice and passion in his eyes, “It is worth emphasizing that Iran released our hostages in 1981 the day Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.” (I won’t bother going over the history of that event, except to say that it didn’t happen because the Iranians were so terrified of Reagan’s steely resolve.)

In a group of people who worship Reagan, maybe there’s little to be gained by reiterating your love for him; it would be like a cardinal saying he ought to be pope because he is in fact a Catholic. Or maybe it’s that a full quarter-century after Reagan left office, even Republicans have a somewhat more realistic view of his presidency than they used to.

I’d like to think that if the importance of Reagan as a totem is fading, it has at least something to do with liberals like me, even if that seems a little far-fetched. We have spent a lot of time not only mocking Republicans for their worship of Reagan, but also pointing out that he was a far more complicated president than they claim. His record even includes a number of decisions that today look downright liberal. He did indeed negotiate with the Soviets (to the dismay of many Republican hard-liners at the time), he raised taxes repeatedly, the deficit ballooned on his watch, and instead of setting out to destroy government entitlements, he partnered with liberals to save Social Security in 1983 (more details can be found here).

That isn’t to say that Reagan wasn’t a strong conservative, because he was. But he was president in another era, when being a Republican meant something rather different than it does today.

Up until the last few years, you could be a Republican in good standing while still being pragmatic. But today’s Republican Party isn’t just more conservative on policy, it has become doctrinaire in a way it didn’t used to be. Compromise itself — regardless of the context or the content — is now held by all right-thinking Republicans to be inherently evil. Far too much is made of Reagan’s alleged friendship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but it’s true that Reagan could be friendly with his political opponents. Today, every Republican has to express a deep and intense loathing for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton if they hope to win their party’s favor. The Tea Party essentially took over the GOP after Obama’s election, forcing everyone in the party to prove again and again that their hearts are pure and they’d rather lose everything than willingly give an inch on anything. Entire organizations now exist to police elected Republicans for signs of heresy, and punish those who fail to measure up.

So maybe that’s why you now hear Reagan invoked mostly defensively. The one who does it knows that he has transgressed, and hopes that the aura of Saint Ronnie will cleanse him of his sins and bring him before the primary electorate clean and unsullied. But it doesn’t seem to work — Republicans are vigilant for even the faintest whiff of impurity, and no amount of Reagan-invocation will distract them once they’ve caught the scent. If that’s true, we might hear his name spoken less and less often as time goes on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 10, 2015

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Primary Debates, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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