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“The Campaign For Liberty”: The War On Obamacare Has Become A War On Minorities And The Poor

Like many eleventh-hour strategies, the right’s final offensive against the Affordable Care Act has a last-gasp quality to it. Where better-laid plans to defeat the ACA in Congress and via Constitutional challenge were fraught with ideological purpose, the challengers in Halbig v. Burwell are engaged in something much smaller. Their argument is merely that if you read a poorly drafted section of the statute out of context, it appears that the law doesn’t contemplate subsidies in states that availed themselves of the federal government’s backstop, Healthcare.gov. Millions of people would lose their health insurance in service of teaching Congress a lesson about the importance of legislative draftsmanship.

That’s not a very becoming political argument, though, so the Halbig supporters have stapled a grandiose claim to their core challenge. Because many of the people who would lose their insurance would also qualify for an exemption from the law’s insurance coverage mandate, they frame it as a principled campaign for liberty.

But many is not all. It’s probably not even most. As University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley noted on Tuesday, a conservative victory in Halbig would eliminate subsidies for everyone, but the hardship exemption would only apply to a subset. Many, many peoplethose above about 180 percent of the federal poverty levelwould still be required to purchase insurance. It would just become more expensive for them. The exemptionthe escape hatch to freedomwould only be available to those whose coverage costs more than eight percent of income: the poor, and near-poor. These are the people whose liberty conservatives claim to be fighting forthe people who were only able to purchase insurance because the subsidies made it affordable. The people who, as Bagley writes, would “be free to decline coverage that, without tax credits, they can’t afford anyhow.”

This kind of post hoc appeal to liberty long predates the Affordable Care Act, but it has become particularly salient in the fight against Obamacare as enrollment has grown and weakened traditional tools of opposition. When the Supreme Court made the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion optional back in 2012, it vouchsafed an old but typically losing conservative argument that using federal spending as an incentive to force state action can be unconstitutionally coercivea freedom-crushing blow against states’ rights. But the freedom the Court upheld two years ago looks, in effect, an awful lot like the freedom the challengers in Halbig claim to be fighting for. In both cases there’s something conspicuous about the people to whom these strange conceptions of liberty apply.

As of early April, per this Kaiser Family Foundation map, 19 states remained fully unwilling to consider Medicaid expansion. In the weeks since, Wyoming and Tennessee joined Utah and Indiana among GOP-controlled states working toward expanding Medicaid. So the chips are slowly falling. But they are falling along fairly predictable racial and income lines.

Tennessee was a genuine surprise, in that it isn’t lily white, and has fairly high rates of poverty. But the GOP-controlled states that have expanded Medicaid, or are considering Medicaid expansion, are pretty white relative to GOP-controlled states where expansion is out of the question. Deep Southern states, where poverty is most concentrated and black population rates approach 30 percent, aren’t calling up the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington to negotiate a conservative Medicaid expansion compromise. To the contrary, that’s probably where resistance to the expansion runs strongest.

The story won’t be much different if conservatives get their way and ACA subsidies disappear in Healthcare.gov states. If you haven’t caught on by now, the conspicuous thing about the Medicaid freedmen and those who would be freed from the individual mandate is that they’re disproportionately black and poor. ACA rejectionism isn’t enhancing their liberty at all.

But there’s something conspicuous about the Obamacare opponents posing as tribunes for liberty, too. They’re nearly all affluent white people, who take their own health insurance for granted and probably wouldn’t consider themselves liberated if a court or legislature took aim at it for any reason. And though their rhetoric suggests otherwise, they’re waging the final Obamacare battles against poor people and minorities, not on their behalf.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, September 4, 2014

September 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Words That Work”: Talking Points Trump Truth In Message-Driven Washington

Former congressional staffer Scott Lilly, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week that lawmakers might be able to reach a bipartisan consensus on how to improve the congressional budget process if Washington were not ruled by public relations people and message mavens.

Lilly, who served as clerk and staff director of the House Appropriations Committee before moving to the liberal-leaning think tank, suggested to lawmakers, who are considering a move from an annual to a biennial budget, that the “biggest failing of the current process is that it has truly failed to inform our citizenry as to why the federal budget is growing at such a rapid pace.”

In a commentary shortly after his testimony, Lilly added that, “The current Congressional budget process is too elaborate, too time consuming and worse off controlled by message makers instead of legislators.” (Emphasis added.)

Lilly’s words could have applied to every other issue members of Congress take up, especially health care. Had message-makers not been in control of the debate over health care reform from the get-go, our citizenry would not be so ill informed about “Obamacare.” Even that word itself was coined by message-makers for no reason other than to persuade us to think a certain way about the Affordable Care Act and to vote against any politician who supported it.

Obama had not been in office more than four months when pre-eminent pollster and message-maker Frank Luntz sent Republican politicians and operatives a 28-page document entitled “The Language of Healthcare 2009: The 10 Rules for Stopping the ‘Washington Takeover’ of Healthcare.”

This was not a policy paper. There was hardly a word about what Republicans should do to improve the U.S. health care system. It was a PR strategy for how Republicans could capitalize by using emotion-laden words and phrases to condemn anything the Democrats came up with. Keep in mind that congressional leaders and the White House were still in the process of exploring options for legislation at the time. Actual bills that Congress would ultimately vote for or against would not materialize for many months.

“This document is based on polling results and Instant Response dial sessions conducted in April 2009,” Luntz wrote. “It captures not just what Americans want to see but exactly what they want to hear. The Words That Work boxes that follow are already being used by a few Congressional and Senatorial Republicans. From today forward they should be used by everyone.”

And they were. Especially the phrases “Washington takeover” and its cousin “government takeover of health care.” They were used repeatedly even though the legislation that was enacted was based in large part on Republican proposals from earlier years.

While message-makers have plied their trade for decades to influence public policy and to help candidates win elections, I can remember a time not so long ago when bipartisanship, civil debate and compromise were possible not only in Washington but also in the state capitals.

As a young reporter, I covered politics in Tennessee when Republican Winfield Dunn was governor and Democrats controlled both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Dunn, and later Republican Gov. and now Sen. Lamar Alexander, who also served while Democrats controlled both houses, had to reach across the political aisle to get any of their policy initiatives enacted. They both succeeded by doing exactly that.

Later I covered Congress and the White House when Jimmy Carter was president, Democrat Tip O’Neill was House Speaker and Republican Howard Baker of Tennessee was Senate Minority Leader. Baker, who died last month, was a true moderate and a master at brokering compromises and getting legislation enacted. He was proud to be called “The Great Conciliator.”

Fast forward to today. Thanks to the rule of message makers, the term “moderate” and “compromise” have become descriptors Republican candidates seeking re-election fear most.

Alexander, who is running for a third term, bears little resemblance to the man who governed Tennessee in a bipartisan fashion and who was first elected to the Senate as a moderate in 2002.

Because he is facing a primary challenge from the right — Sarah Palin just last week endorsed his opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr — Alexander is trying to persuade Tennessee GOP voters that, despite allegations to the contrary, he’s a dyed-in-the wool conservative.

Undoubtedly following the advice of message-makers, he of course is running against Obamacare — and stooping to misinform the citizens of Tennessee about the law — to burnish his conservative bona fides. The Washington Post‘s fact check column awarded him “two Pinocchios” earlier this month for misleading folks with his fuzzy math and suggesting that health insurance premiums have risen 50 percent since the law went into effect. The truth is that hundreds of thousands of his constituents now have health insurance they can afford, thanks in part to subsidies made available by “Obamacare,” and that many of them couldn’t buy coverage at any price prior to the law because of pre-existing conditions.

Politicians have misled voters for as long as there have been politicians. At times, though, and not so long ago, it was not a death wish to claim to be a moderate willing to work with members of the other party. That’s hardly possible when message makers call the shots.

 

By: Wendell Potter, The Huffington Post Blog, July 28, 2014

 

 

 

August 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Electorate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For Koch Brothers, All Politics Is Local”: Influencing Even The Most Local Policy Decisions

The Tennessee State Senate brokered a deal this week to move forward with a hotly contested bus rapid transit (BRT) project. The bill will provide the city of Nashville and neighboring Moore County with 7.1 miles of rapid bus transit lanes. But because of the compromise in the Senate, the BRT plan will now face greater oversight: The proposed buses will be allowed to use lanes separate from regular traffic, but will need approval from the state Assembly and by the commissioner of transportation before constructing those lanes.

Prior to Thursday, the Tennessee State Senate had been blocking the bill, in part because of an effort by a group affiliated with noted Republican donors Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers, and the Tennessee arm of their political organization Americans For Prosperity, had no explicit economic interest in blocking the bus project from moving forward. Rather, as the Tennessee director of Americans For Prosperity told The Tennessean in March, it was something of a trial run for implementing Koch-backed legislation around the country. “With supermajorities in both houses,” AFP state director Andrew Ogles told the paper, “Tennessee is a great state to pass model legislation that can be leveraged in other states.”

The citizens of Nashville and Moore County, however, are not the first Americans to feel the effects of the Kochs’ “model” legislation.

In a similar example of Koch influence on the local level, in 2012 Americans for Prosperity joined the effort to halt a streetcar project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The streetcar plan would connect the lower east side of the city with an Amtrak station two miles away.

The drive was led by Republican alderman Bob Donovan. After construction was approved by the Milwaukee Common Council, Donovan held numerous press conferences in the attempt to publicize a petition and force a referendum on the streetcar plan.

The effort got a leg up when Americans for Prosperity set up a website, “A Streetcar Named Disaster,” to gather signatures for Donovan’s petition.

Donovan’s union with Americans for Prosperity led other elected officials to question his loyalties. Jeff Fleming, then-spokesman for the Department of City Development, said in a statement: ”We never hear Ald. Donovan complain about his Republican friends cutting Milwaukee’s local road aids, our recycling aids or our state shared revenue, which funds police and firefighters. The alderman is so tight with groups and individuals who love gutting and kicking Milwaukee, you have to wonder where his loyalties are.”

Coincidentally, the streetcar project is a hallmark of Mayor Tom Barrett’s administration. Barrett unsuccessfully ran for governor of Wisconsin in 2010 and again in a recall election in 2012, losing to Republican Scott Walker both times. Walker has a close relationship with Americans for Prosperity, who argue that his anti-union legislation is an example that other Republican governors should follow.

Like the proposed rapid transit plan in Nashville, the Milwaukee streetcar plan has moved ahead over AFP’s objections.

The Kochs’ distaste for government-subsidized transportation did result in one big victory on the state level. In Florida, a large mass-transit plan to bring high-speed rail to the state was rejected after Republican Rick Scott was elected. The plan would have used state and federal funds to connect the cities of Tampa and Orlando, with plans to extend it to other tourist hotspots in southern Florida.

The Koch brothers’ fingerprints were all over Scott’s rejection of the plan. For starters, Governor Scott and the Kochs have a long and storied relationship. Scott, for example, famously attended a secret, invitation only meeting held by the Koch brothers in Colorado soon after being elected Florida governor.

The Koch brothers’ influence over Florida’s high-speed rail plan, however, extends beyond their relationship with Governor Scott.

As Curt Levine, former legislator in the Florida House of Representatives, noted at the time, Scott’s decision to nominate Robert Poole as transportation advisor deftly revealed the Koch brothers’ influence in his administration.

Levine wrote in a 2011 op-ed: “Poole is director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, a right-wing lobby group of road-based transportation industrial interests, including petroleum, asphalt and rubber-tire manufacturers. And, not coincidentally, Reason receives substantial funding by the ultraconservative billionaire Koch brothers. David Koch serves as a Reason trustee.”

Levin further explained that Scott’s decision to reject the high-speed rail plan was based, in part, on a report by the Reason Foundation that urged Scott to reject the plan ”as Wisconsin and Ohio have recently done.”

The fact that Koch-funded groups are influencing even the most local policy decisions should perhaps come as no surprise. As The Nation reported in 2011, the Koch brothers have been funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for years. The council touts itself as an organization that brings together conservative state legislators and members of the private sector to further free-market principles. And ALEC has been living up to that tagline — in precisely the way the Koch brothers want it to.

 

By: Ben Feuerherd, The National Memo, April 18, 2014

April 19, 2014 Posted by | Infrastructure, Koch Brothers, Local Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Travesty In Chattanooga”: Republicans Making Sure Their Own People Are Kept In As Submissive A Position As Possible

I wish I could say I’ve never seen the likes of the campaign of intimidation that led to the vote against UAW representation at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday. But I did, as a child growing up in a Georgia textile company town in the early 1960s, where public schools began the year on Labor Day, the word “union” was not said out loud, and people still graphically remembered National Guardsmen being called out to break a strike at Callaway Mills back in 1935—the same year Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m a little rusty on my labor law, but I’m reasonably sure that any employer who issued the sorts of threats made by Republican politicians in Tennessee (including Sen. Bob Corker, Gov. Bill Haslam, and a variety of state legislators, backed by national conservative figures like Grove Norquist) against a unionization effort would have been in blatant violation of the NLRA. But that’s what makes the incident such a travesty: it wasn’t the employer fighting the union (VW by all accounts was neutral-to-positive towards unionization, which would have facilitated establishment of the kind of “work council” the company had set up at other international plants to help maintain good employer-employee relations). As Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press reported (probably incredulously):

The crusade by anti-union forces in Tennessee, including the state’s governor and senior senator, is as much a fight with Volkswagen management as with the UAW.

Not only are Republican legislators accusing Volkswagen of backing the UAW, some of their leaders on Monday threatened to withhold tax incentives for future expansion of the three-year-old assembly plant in Chattanooga if workers vote this week to join the UAW.

So addicted are Tennessee Republicans to the “race to the bottom” approach to economic development that they are willing to risk the good will of an existing employer in their zeal to make sure their own people are kept in as submissive a position as possible. President Obama’s reported comment during a Democratic retreat last week that the pols involved in this union-busting effort are “more concerned about German shareholders than American workers” is one way to put it; I’d say they’ve internalized the ancient despicable tendency of the southern aristocracy to favor the abasement of working people as an end in itself.

This incident is also a pretty good symptom of the radicalization of the Republican Party. It’s one thing to oppose collective bargaining rights for public employees, or to defend “right-to-work” laws that interfere with the contracting rights of employers and employees and create “freeriders” who benefit from union collective bargaining without paying dues. But now the very existence of private-sector unions, a familiar part of the American landscape for most of the last century, is under attack from Republican politicians.

I thought it was bizarre when SC Governor Nikki Haley said in her 2012 State of the State address: “We don’t have unions in South Carolina because we don’t need unions in South Carolina.” Turns out she was ahead of the curve.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 17, 2014

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Preserving The Race To The Bottom”: Just How Much Do Republicans Hate Unions?

If you ask Republicans about their antipathy toward unions, they’ll say that letting workers bargain collectively reduces a company’s ability to act efficiently in the marketplace. If you knew anything about business, the market advocates will patiently explain, you’d understand that unions, with all their rules and conditions and strike threats, only make it harder for the company to make its products. Let management make decisions about things like wages and working conditions, and the result will be higher profits and more jobs, which will benefit everyone. In almost all cases, the corporation agrees; after all, union workers always earn better wages than their non-union counterparts, and they give power to the employees, which no CEO wants.

What most people probably don’t realize is that this inherently hostile relationship between management and unions isn’t something that’s inherent in capitalism. In fact, in many places where there are capitalists making lots of money, corporations work—now hold on here while I blow your mind—cooperatively with unions. One of those places is Germany, and one of the biggest German companies, Volkswagen, is right now embroiled in a union election in Tennessee that has turned into a bizarre spectacle that is showing the true colors of American conservatism. If you thought conservative were just laissez faire capitalists, seeking freedom for businesses to create prosperity, you’re dead wrong. What they actually want is something much uglier.

On Monday, our own Harold Meyerson explained the context and history driving this election, but the short version is that in its Chattanooga plant, Volkswagen wants to create a “works council” of the kind that companies in Germany use, which is a system where management and workers come together to set policies, plan strategy, and solve problems. The details of U.S. labor law require a union if such a council is going to be created, which is one reason VW has seemed supportive of the United Auto Workers organizing the plant. Although VW hasn’t come out and said they support the union, the signals they’ve sent strongly suggest that they do. “Our works councils are key to our success and productivity,” said the VW executive who runs the Chattanooga plant.

So faced with a union-friendly corporation, what have Republicans in the state done? One might expect them to say, “Every company should have the freedom to decide how to deal with its own workers; we may not be big fans of unions, but that freedom is what capitalism is all about,” or something like that. But no. The Republican governor and state legislators have begun issuing threats that there won’t be any future tax incentives for the company if the union wins the election. In other words, tax incentives are vital to bring jobs to the state—but if they’re union jobs, we don’t want them. We’d rather see our constituents unemployed than see them get jobs with union representation. So what you now have is Republicans fighting against a corporation to try to impose their vision of management-labor relations, one the corporation doesn’t want.

Then yesterday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker claimed, “I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.” There are two things to understand about Corker’s statement. First, it doesn’t pass the smell test: the Chattanooga plant is the only Volkswagen factory in the world that doesn’t have a union, and the company has already made its good relationship with unions in general, and its desire for a works council there in particular, quite clear. And second, that kind of blatant attempt to intimidate workers into voting against the union when the election is going on is probably illegal, and could result in the election being halted and rescheduled.

What this issue has revealed is that while one might have thought that as far as conservatives are concerned, the creation of workplaces in which employees are given low wages and few benefits, and generally treated like crap, was merely a means to an end, the end being corporate profits and maximum freedom for business owners. But what we’re now seeing is that a powerless and beaten-down workforce isn’t a means to a larger end, and it isn’t a byproduct. It is the end in itself. It’s the goal. Here you have a highly profitable company that wants to have a more cooperative relationship with its workers, and obviously sees a union as a path to that relationship, because they know that they can work that way with unions, since they do it already all over the world. But the Republican politicians don’t care about what the corporation wants. They are so venomously opposed to collective bargaining that they’ll toss aside all their supposed ideals about economic liberty in a heartbeat.

One of the absurd arguments they’ve made is that other companies, like suppliers, won’t want to come to Tennessee if there’s a unionized auto plant there, as though it were some kind of infection others would fear they might catch. That’s ridiculous, of course—if you have a company that makes car parts, and VW wants to buy thousands and thousands of your parts, you’re damn sure going to set up shop next to their factory if that’s the best way to make money. What Republicans are really afraid of is that the union will come in to the Chattanooga plant and things will work well. If that happened, the rationale for the race to the bottom would be severely undermined. And the idea that corporations can do well by treating their employees like partners and not like enemies might indeed spread.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2014 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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