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“What’s Really Obstructing Obamacare?”: An Orchestrated GOP Resistance With Only One Very Ugly Precedent

So we’re a month into the Obamacare era. What does your average American know about it? That the website is a mess, and some number of Americans have suddenly lost their coverage after Barack Obama assured them that wouldn’t happen. These things are true, and a person would be quite wrong to deny this is deeply problematic.

But I wonder how many Americans know the other side of the coin. There are already numerous success stories out there. And then there’s the side of the story that has certainly received coverage but not nearly as much as it deserves to, which is the way—did I say way? Ways—the Republican Party is trying to make sure it fails. Todd Purdum wrote a piece for Politico yesterday on the GOP’s “sabotage” of the law. It was a terrific article, but he didn’t say the half of it.

All across the country, Republican governors and insurance commissioners have actively and directly blocked efforts to make the law work. In August, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded contracts to 105 “navigators” to help guide people through their new predicaments and options. There were local health-care providers, community groups, Planned Parenthood outposts, and even business groups. Again—people and groups given the job, under an existing federal law, to help people understand that law.

What has happened, predictably, is that in at least 17 states where Republicans are in charge, a variety of roadblocks have been thrown in front of these folks. In Indiana, they were required to pay fees of $175. In Florida, which under Governor Rick Scott (who knows a thing or two about how to game the health-care system, you may recall) has been probably the most aggressive state of all here, the health department ruled that local public-health offices can’t have navigators on their premises (interesting, because local public health offices tend to be where uninsured people hang out). In West Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, and other states, grantees have said no thanks and returned the dough after statewide GOP elected officials started getting in their faces and asking lots of questions about how they operate and what they planned to do. Tennessee issued “emergency rules” requiring their employees to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

America, 2013: No background checks to buy assault weapons. But you damn well better not try to enroll someone in health care.

If you Google “Obamacare navigators,” you will be hit smack in the face with the usual agitprop. “Reports” raise “questions” about their qualifications, you see. This is the old trick of finding one bad apple and extrapolating away to beat the band. But in this case the alleged bad apple wasn’t even bad. One enrollment assister in Lawrence, Kansas—one!—had an outstanding warrant. She hadn’t even been aware of the warrant. The group she worked for said, apparently credibly, that the warrant was “no longer active.” (Interestingly under the circumstances, it was about… an unpaid medical bill!) But my favorite story linked—inevitably—the navigator program to ACORN. You will recall that no one ever proved that anybody from ACORN ever did anything wrong, but of course in right-wing land this means nothing.

A second front: Now, with people trying to sign up, some Republican legislators are openly saying that they won’t permit their staffs to answer constituents’ questions about Obamacare. This is really the main job of a member of Congress, especially a House member: People call up all the time with questions about how to slice their way through the federal government’s briar patches, and you have caseworkers on duty—typically a couple in Washington and several more back home in the district regional offices—whose job is exactly that.

Purdum quoted Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp as saying he instructs his staff to refer callers to Kathleen Sebelius. But Huelskamp is not alone. Tennessee’s Diane Black says she doesn’t feel comfortable referring people to navigators. Utah’s Jason Chaffetz is referring people back to the administration, saying: “We know how to forward a phone call.”

Someone I know asked the other day: Has there ever been a law in the history of the country as aggressively resisted by the political opposition as this? Republicans didn’t do this with Social Security. Most of them voted for Social Security. They didn’t do it with Medicare. They, and the Southern racists who were then Democrats, didn’t do it with civil rights. There was a fair amount of on-the-ground opposition to that, but it wasn’t orchestrated at the national level like this was. And when the Voting Rights Act was passed the year after civil rights, Southern states in fact fell in line quickly. Check the black voter-registration figures from Southern states in 1964 versus 1966. It’s pretty amazing.

No, to find obstinacy like this, you have to go back, yes, to the pre-Civil War era. The tariff of 1828, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which led to the civil war in “Bloody Kansas” and ultimately to the Civil War itself. Not a comforting thought. But it’s where we are.

The administration’s cockups are a legitimate story. I’ve never said otherwise. My first column about the website was quite tough on the administration and on Obama personally, when I wrote that I found it shocking that he apparently wasn’t riding herd on staff to make damn sure the thing worked. I said on television, to some host’s surprise, that yes, I did hold him accountable for the mistakes.

So I get why that’s a story. But the sabotage is a story, too. A huge one. It’s almost without precedent in American history, and the precedent it does have includes some of the ugliest chapters in this nation’s history. It gets coverage, yes. But not nearly the coverage it deserves. As is so often the case—as with Benghazi, as with Fast and Furious, as with the IRS—the bigger scandal is on the Republican side.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 1, 2013

November 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defining Default Down”: Conservatives Have An Eccentric Definition Of What Constitutes A “Default”

An important detail to keep in mind when one is trying to reconcile Republicans claims that they won’t allow a debt default but also won’t allow a vote on increasing the debt limit unless Democrats make concessions is this: conservatives tend to have a rather eccentric definition of what constitutes a “default.” National Journal‘s Tim Alberta and Michael Catalini offered a reminder yesterday:

Not only do some conservatives say Oct. 17 is an artificial deadline—”Nobody thinks we’re going to default on Oct. 17th,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.—but they also are attempting to narrowly define what would constitute default.

In interviews with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers, the Republicans rejected the notion that Washington could default on its debt unless a borrowing increase is approved before Oct. 17. For the United States to actually default, these Republicans argue, the Treasury Department would have to stop paying interest on its debts—something GOP lawmakers claim is inconceivable….

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it has been Republicans’ line of attack since their debt-ceiling battle with Obama in the summer of 2011.

Then, as now, the GOP argues it’s not the debt limit that would cause default, it’s Obama. The country would have the funds to pay its creditors if the administration would just delay payments to certain agencies.

This “prioritization” argument, of course, rests on a distinction without a difference in the real world.

“I don’t know any serious person who doesn’t think this will be cataclysmic,” said Steve Bell, a former Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee and now senior director with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The assumption that the U.S. will honor all of its debts—and honor them on time—is the foundation for much of the global financial system, Bell argues. So the fundamental problem with the Republican position is that Treasury makes between 3 million and 5 million financial transactions a day, and if the federal government starts to pick and choose which it will honor, it will land the economy in chaos.

In any event, journalists reporting all these “We won’t allow a default” assurances from John Boehner and others need to go to the trouble of insisting on a definition of terms. If the reference is to a narrow, “technical” default along the lines that Republicans often use, the assurances are virtually worthless.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 7, 2013

October 9, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Muddied Waters And Smokescreens”: These Six States Want To Allow Health Insurers To Deny Coverage To Sick People

Officials in Texas and five other GOP-led states are refusing to oversee even Obamacare’s most basic — and popular — consumer protections and insurance market reforms. That includes the law’s ban on denying coverage or charging more because of a pre-existing condition and discriminating against women on the basis of gender. The decision could present major hurdles to Americans who buy health insurance through federally-run marketplaces in the Lone Star State, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

A majority of states haven’t set up their own insurance marketplaces, opting to let the federal government set one up for them. But every one of those states (other than the six in question) have at least said they will police the insurers that sell plans on their federally-run marketplaces to make sure that they aren’t giving consumers short shrift. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will instead be responsible for enforcing Obamacare’s insurance industry reforms and reviewing consumer complaints in the states refusing to do so on their own.

That could be confusing for Americans who are buying insurance for the first time through the marketplaces. For example, imagine you’re a relatively poor person with diabetes. Your income isn’t low enough to get you on Medicaid — but your employer doesn’t offer health benefits, and you’ve never qualified for insurance on the individual market because of your medical condition. On October 1st, you can go buy insurance with government subsidies for the first time on an Obamacare marketplace. But the plan you choose charges you a suspiciously high premium relative to your income. You suspect it’s because of your medical problem, which is clearly illegal under the reform law. But who do you complain to?

Usually the answer is your state’s insurance department. But the answer is CMS if you live in one of the six states that won’t enforce the consumer protections. Unfortunately, if you don’t know that, you could spend months oscillating between the state and federal government, trying to figure out if you’re getting hoodwinked by your insurance company. And in the meantime, the bills are piling up.

Those kinds of scenarios are the reason that health policy experts say insurance complaints are best handled by state agencies. Officials with the Texas Department of Insurance argue that they legally can’t enforce the regulations because they’ve ceded authority over the marketplace to the federal government, and Texas doesn’t have corresponding state laws holding insurers to the same standards as Obamacare. But Stacy Pogue of the Center for Public Policy Priorities tells the Texas Tribune that’s likely a smokescreen, since Texas has enforced plenty of other federal laws on a statewide level in the past.

Officials in the Lone Star State certainly haven’t been shy about their opposition to the health law. Gov. Rick Perry (R) dug in his heels against reform in 2012, saying he wouldn’t “be a part of expanding [the] socializing of our medicine.” More recently, Perry denied basic health benefits to 1.5 million of his state’s poorest residents by forgoing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Evidently, that wasn’t going far enough.

National Republicans have also been stepping up their efforts to to undermine Obamacare. Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are refusing to help their own constituents if they have questions about the health law, and the Tea Party-affiliated advocacy group FreedomWorks has been telling young Americans to forgo signing up for health coverage under Obamacare entirely.

By: Sy Mukhergee, Think Progress, August , 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You Didn’t Forewarn Us”: Republicans Can’t Decide If They Support Sequestration

As travelers across the country began feeling the consequences of sequester cuts at airports this week, legislators were busy determining who to blame for the increase in disrupted travel. From the beginning Democrats have been consistent in their message—”the sequester will hurt Americans, instead we need a combination of responsible cuts and significant revenue.”

The Republican response to the sequester, on the other hand, has been divided and unclear. Before the cuts materialized, some Republicans were charging Democrats with being “dramatic,” some even welcoming the cuts. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) said, “It is going to happen. It is 2.4 percent of the budget, and it is not the end of the world. We want the savings. We want to bank those savings, and we want to move on.” Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) echoed those same sentiments: “We had a grand total of three phone calls concerned about it. They don’t buy the scare tactics. Most Americans are going to wake up Friday morning and yawn.”

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blamed President Obama for the effects of the sequester, admitted the president never wanted the sequester to happen, and then half-embraced the imminent cuts. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said, “We support replacing the indiscriminate cuts in the sequester with smarter cuts and reforms (of an equal amount).”

Others like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) didn’t find the cuts to be deep enough. “Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America’s credit rating. Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess,” Paul said in his Tea Party response to the State of the Union.

Now that the cuts have taken place and public outrage over delayed and canceled air travel has increased, Republicans have adopted a new argument—”why didn’t anyone tell us the cuts would be this bad?” In a House Committee on Appropriations hearing, Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) blamed Federal Aviation Administration Chief Michael Huerta: “You didn’t forewarn us that this was coming; you didn’t ask advice about how we should handle it.”

Republicans have evolved full circle on this issue—from criticizing President Obama, to claiming victory for the cuts, to now indicating they had no idea the cuts would be so severe. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to these claims on Monday. “We made it clear that there would be these kinds of negative effects if Congress failed to take reasonable action to avert the sequester,” he said. “Policy that everyone who was involved in writing it knew at the time and has made clear ever since was never designed to be implemented. It was designed to be bad policy and, therefore, to be avoided.”

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, April 25, 2013

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Intent On Dismantling The Government”: The Sequester And The Tea Party Plot

Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.

Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.

Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallels.

Tea Party Republicans are crowing about the “sequestration” cuts beginning today (Friday). “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a Tea Partier who was first elected in 2010.

Sequestration is only the start. What they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist – slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.

Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after they took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States – notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”

To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.

Nor do they seem to mind the higher unemployment their strategy will almost certainly bring about. Sequestration combined with January’s fiscal cliff deal is expected to slow economic growth by 1.5 percentage points this year – dangerous for an economy now crawling at about 2 percent. It will be even worse if the Tea Partiers refuse to extend the government’s spending authority, which expires March 27.

A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government – blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.

They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot.

What is the President’s response? He still wants a so-called “grand bargain” of “balanced” spending cuts (including cuts in the projected growth of Social Security and Medicare) combined with tax increases on the wealthy. So far, though, he has agreed to a gross imbalance — $1.5 trillion in cuts to Republicans’ $600 billion in tax increases on the rich.

The President apparently believes Republicans are serious about deficit reduction, when in fact the Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.

And he seems to accept that the budget deficit is the largest economic problem facing the nation, when in reality the largest problem is continuing high unemployment (some 20 million Americans unemployed or under-employed), declining real wages, and widening inequality. Deficit reduction now or in the near-term will only make these worse.

Besides, the deficit is now down to about 5 percent of GDP – where it was when Bill Clinton took office. It is projected to mushroom in later years mainly because healthcare costs are expected to rise faster than the economy is expected to grow, and the American population is aging. These trends have little or nothing to do with government programs. In fact, Medicare is far more efficient than private health insurance.

I suggest the President forget about a “grand bargain.” In fact, he should stop talking about the budget deficit and start talking about jobs and wages, and widening inequality – as he did in the campaign. And he should give up all hope of making a deal with the Tea Partiers who now run the Republican Party.

Instead, the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, February 28, 2013

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Government, Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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