Weekend Reading List

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on the Obama campaign’s tech folks, corporate blackmailing of the American people, the need for Obama to address climate change, the next steps in implementing health care reform, a parody of Tom Friedman’s writing, and a guide to evaluating economic inequality.

 

When the Nerds Go Marching In – an entertaining and informative look at the technologists who built and ran the database and software that were key to the Obama campaign’s impressive ground game.

The Corporate  Blackmailing of America is Now All the Rage – how Papa John’s is just one of many corporate entities trying to blackmail their employees and the American people into assuming the costs of health care and deficits.

No More Magical Thinking – a call for President Obama to make tackling climate change a primary focus of his second term.

Election 2012: A Win for Health Reform, But Much Work Remains - an overview of the regulations that need to be promulgated, exchanges that need to be created, and hurdles that need to be overcome to ensure the effective implementation of ObamaCare.

The Grenade of Understanding: Winners of the Write-Like-Friedman Contest – the best entries to Rolling Stone’s competition for people to parody the epically bizarre writing style of columnist Tom Friedman.

A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality - a thorough report regarding the various ways to measure economic inequality and how all of those forms of measurement are demonstrating that inequality is increasing in the US.

President Obama’s Impressive List of Accomplishments

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

 

Over the past three-and-a-half years, President Obama and Democrats have successfully enacted significant progressive legislation and executive policies that have, among other things, created 5.2 million private sector jobs over the past 31 months, kept our nation safe and taken out Bin Laden, made a fairer and more just society, advanced gender equality, and rescued the American auto industry.  At stake in November 2012 is whether these accomplishments will be repealed by the GOP, or whether we will be able to continue to focus on moving our country forward in 2013 and beyond.

Unfortunately, the message of the significant progress that has been achieved so far during the Obama Administration won’t get out unless we progressives talk to our neighbors and friends, write letters to our local newspapers, and use social media to help keep other voters well informed.  In order to help our readers do so, below are links to Winning Progressive’s coverage of just some of the Obama Administration’s progressive accomplishments.  Please share widely.

List of 2009-2010 Democratic Accomplishments

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Rescuing the American Auto Industry

Closing the Medicare Doughnut Hole

The Successful 2009 Stimulus

Credit Card Industry Reform

Fighting For Small Businesses

Ending Combat Operations in Iraq

Ending Abusive Health Insurance Industry Practices

Expanding Health Insurance Coverage to 32 Million More Americans

Making College More Affordable

Reforming Wall Street

2011 Health Care Reform Benefits

Eliminating Co-Pays on Contraceptive Services as Preventive Care

Challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in Federal Court

Rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline

Finalizing Air Pollution Rules That Will Save 13,000 Lives Per Year

Increasing Vehicle Fuel Efficiency to 35.5mpg By 2016 and 54.5 by 2025

Implementing a Sensible New Immigration Policy for “DREAMers”

Obama DOJ Wins Significant, Though Not Complete, Victory Over Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law

American High-Speed Rail Moving Forward

A Good Friend of Labor

Obama’s Record of Support for Israel

 

Weekend Reading List

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on the impact of the 2012 elections on our judicial system and health care policy, Paul Ryan’s reactionary budgets and bad debate performance, and how Mitt Romney dodges taxes and failed to be a bipartisan leader in Massachusetts.

 

The Hidden Stakes of the Election – While the fate of the Supreme Court gets almost all of the attention in talk about what is at stake this November, the differences in the judges that President Obama would appoint to lower courts versus those that Mitt Romney would appoint is critical to determining whether our judicial system will uphold or overturn important public health and safety regulations.

The Health Policy Election – an overview of the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on health care reform, Medicare, and Medicaid, and what those differences would mean for each program.

Ryan Meets Reality – a great summary of the Vice-Presidential debate explaining how it appeared that “one vice-presidential candidate [was] speaking from knowledge and experience and the other from index cards.”

Ryan Roundup: Everything You Need to Know About Chairman Ryan’s Budget - While Paul Ryan may be trying to hide his reactionary fiscal and tax policies, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have offered a helpful reminder of what Ryan really stands for by collecting all of their articles about Ryan’s proposals to abolish Medicare, eviscerate Medicaid, and slash the safety net in order to finance more tax giveaways to billionaires and big corporations.

Mitt Romney’s Tax Dodge – a helpful summary of all of the ways that quarter-of-a-billionaire Mitt Romney manages to pay a lower effective tax rate than most middle class Americans.

Romney Claims of Bipartisanship as Governor Face Challenge – a closer look suggests that there is little to back up Romney’s claims that he was a bipartisan leader in Massachusetts.

Why Is the GOP Working to Raise the Cost of Health Insurance for Working Class Families?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In yesterday’s post, we explained how Republicans’ pathological opposition to health care reform is motivated by the GOP’s fear that reform will demonstrate that government can be successful in improving the lives of everyday Americans.  Because of this fear, conservatives have sought to derail President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) through lawsuits, 31 separate and pointless votes by House Republicans to repeal the law, refusals by GOP Governors to implement various portions of the law, and more than a quarter-of-a-billion in advertising attacking the law.

Today’s post will look at perhaps the most cynical branch of the GOP’s anti-health care reform effort – the refusal of various Republican-led states to develop health insurance exchanges. Such refusal initially appeared to be just symbolic, as the federal government will establish exchanges for those states.  But conservatives are now pushing the argument that an apparent drafting error in the ACA means that families earning under $88,000 per year who purchase insurance through a federally-created exchange (rather than a state exchange) cannot receive the significant tax benefits that were included in the ACA to make purchasing insurance more affordable.  In other words, the GOP’s obsession with trying to defeat health care reform is now threatening to come at the cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars per year for working and middle class families.

A core element of the ACA’s effort to expand insurance coverage to 32 million more Americans is a grand bargain under which people are required to purchase insurance (or else pay a fine) while insurance is to be made fairer and more affordable through health insurance exchanges and tax credits.  The exchanges are essentially an on-line marketplace in which insurance companies are required to meet certain standards and where it will be easy to make side-by-side comparison of the insurance options available.  Whether created by a state or the federal government, the exchanges will be overseen by the federal Office of Personnel Management and/or state-based non-profits to help ensure fairness and transparency.  As for affordability, the ACA provides sliding scale refundable tax credits to people earning up to approximately $88,000 for a family of four, or $43,320 for an individual, in order to limit spending on health insurance premiums to between 2 and 9.5% of income.

Conservatives are seeking to disrupt this bargain by seizing on an apparent error in the drafting of the law.  The error stems from the fact the provisions calling for states to create health insurance exchanges are found in Section 1311 of the ACA, while the ability of the federal government to create an exchange in a state that fails to do so is found in Section 1321 of the ACA.  Yet Section 1401 of the ACA, which establishes the tax credits for families earning up to $88,000 per year, provides that the credits are for people who enrolled in a health insurance plan “through an Exchange established by the State under 1311.”  In other words, a strict reading of the text of the ACA suggests that refundable tax credits should only go to people purchasing insurance through an exchange created by a state under Section 1311, not through an exchange created by the federal government under Section 1321.

Conservatives have seized on this language as another way to attack health care reform.  For example, in a paper ridiculously titled “Taxation Without Representation,” conservative law professor Jonathan Adler and the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon contend that Congress intended to limit tax credits to only state-created exchanges and that, even if Congress did not specifically intend such limitation, the plain language of the statute should govern on this issue.  And conservative legislators, such as Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have attacked IRS regulations that extend the tax credits to everyone purchasing insurances instead of just people purchasing insurance through state created exchanges.   Other scholars, such as Law Professor Timothy S. Jost, counter that this is clearly a situation involving just poor drafting that a court can ignore or correct because it is obvious that Congress never intended to limit health care tax credits only to states where the state itself created the exchange.

To our knowledge, no one so far has filed any litigation challenging the IRS regulations extending the tax credit to all exchanges, rather than to just state exchanges.  But, in the absence of a Congressional fix (which is a virtual impossibility given GOP control of the House), it seems inevitable that such a challenge will be pursued.  And if and when such litigation is pursued, it will be useful to remind voters and the media that the only impact of such litigation would be to significantly increase the cost of health insurance to middle and working class Americans in states like Texas where the Governor had decided to forgo creating a state level health insurance exchange.

Why is the GOP Scared of Health Care Reform? Because It Shows Government Can Help People

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

With the Supreme Court having upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the majority of Americans have made clear that they want to move beyond the debate over health care reform and let the law be implemented.  Republicans, however, have apparently not gotten the message, as they have continued their incessant and unfounded attacks on the ACA.   For example, we have witnessed:

* 31 House Repeal Votes: House Republicans took their 31st vote since January 2011 to repeal, defund, or dismantle health care reform, with no proposal to replace any of the significant benefits of the law.  All 31 votes were, of course, pointless as repeal legislation would not pass the Senate or, even if it did, it would be vetoed by President Obama.  Yet House Republicans continue to hold these votes, with one GOP Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn saying that she wished the House would vote to repeal the ACA every day.

* Rejection of Medicaid Expansion: At least four GOP-run states – Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida – have announced that their states will not accept the expansion of Medicaid provided for as part of health care reform, even though the federal government would be picking up 100% of the cost from 2014 through 2016, 93% of the cost for 2014 through 2022, and 90% of the cost thereafter.  Under the ACA, Medicaid is to be expanded to cover people whose income is up to 133% of the poverty line, and the increase in coverage is expected to save states billions of dollars by reducing spending on uncompensated care.  Yet these GOP-run states are proposing to forgo these benefits, even as those states have some of the highest rates of uninsured people in the nation.

* Refusal to Set Up Consumer-Friendly Health Insurance Exchanges: A number of Republican-led states, such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, are refusing to or delaying the set up the health-insurance exchanges (through which consumers who are not covered by the government or through businesses with more than 50 employees can purchase coverage). While the ACA provides that the federal government will create health care exchanges in states that fail to do so, conservatives are now arguing that people living in states without state-created health care exchanges will not be eligible for the tax subsidies that the health care reform law provides to make insurance affordable for families earning under $88,000 per year.  We’ll have more on this topic in a future post.

* A Quarter-of-a-Billion  Dollars in Anti-Reform Spending – Conservatives have spent approximately $250 million on advertising attacking health care reform, compared to only $75 million in pro-reform advertising.

The GOP’s continued, over-the-top opposition to health care reform can only be described as pathological. The law passed by Congressional Democrats and President Obama eschewed the liberal dream of Medicare for all and instead took an idea developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and melded it with moderately progressive ideas about regulating the insurance industry, making insurance more affordable, and curbing escalating health care costs.  Yet the GOP has treated the ACA as if it were a socialist plot that they must battle to the death.

The question one has to ask then is why is the GOP so pathologically obsessed with stopping health care reform. Partisan gain and hatred of President Obama certainly play a role.  But we think that the primary factor motivating the GOP here is fear of the fact that health care reform will work to improve the lives of tens millions of average Americans and, therefore, undermine the entire ideological basis for today’s Republican Party.

Over the past few years, the GOP has entirely internalized Ronald Reagan’s infamous statement that “government is the problem” to the point where much of the GOP agenda thrives on the rejection of government as a source of social good. And incompetent governance under President W. Bush, unprecedented obstructionism by Congressional Republicans during the Obama Administration, and budgetary cutbacks to important government services have led many people to buy into the GOP’s anti-government message.  At the same time, most of the ways that government directly improves our lives – environmental regulations, workplace safety rules, Social Security, Medicare, infrastructure investments, etc. – have been around so long that many Americans simply take these things for granted, rather than realizing the importance of the progressive politics and policies that make those programs possible.  Combined, the GOP’s consistent painting of government as the enemy and the lack of concrete new reminders that government often can be a useful tool for improving society has created a large political opening for the GOP.

Health care reform, however, threatens to change that dynamic. Before health care reform, our health care system was broken,with 50 million Americans uninsured, excessive costs for not great levels of care, and widespread abusive insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and cutting off people’s benefits as soon as they get sick.   Health care reform certainly will not fix all of those problems, but it will vastly improve health insurance and care in numerous ways that directly benefit tens of millions of Americans by, for example:

* Forbidding pre-existing condition exclusion policies

* Forbidding annual and lifetime caps on benefits under health insurance policies

* Preventing recissions, which is the industry practice of accepting your premiums for years on end, but then cancelling your coverage as soon as you get sick

* Requiring insurance companies to spend at least 80% of your premiums on providing health care services, which has led to $1.3 billion in refunds to consumers

* Requiring health insurance companies justify rate increases of more than 10%.

* Closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage doughnut hole

* Eliminating co-pays for preventive care services

* Requiring insurance companies to cover under their parents’ policies adult children until they reach the age of 26

* Expanding health insurance coverage to 32 million more Americans through providing tax credits to make coverage more affordable for families earning under $88,000 per year and small businesses, and by expanding Medicaid

In short, the GOP tells people that government is the problem.  But the tens of millions of people who will be able to get affordable insurance, who will not have to worry about coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, or who detect a disease at an early, more treatable stage due to free preventive care services will experience first hand that government can be a tool for improving the lives of average Americans.  And that is what scares the GOP so much about President Obama’s health care reform.

Repelling the “Nanny State” with “Nanny Judges”

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

(By Fay Paxton, cross-posted at The Pragmatic Pundit)

If I hear that right-wing narrative about how the federal government and its do-gooder programs are holding America back one more time, like Rick Santorum, I’m liable to puke.  “If only government would get out of the way, along with its regulations, its taxes and its social safety net.. “ they sing.   They spout platitudes about bygone days, a rose-colored social construct, and the sanctity of the Constitution.  The irony is, the very politicians and citizens who can lay claim to middle and upper class status (and fight so ferociously to withhold it from everyone else) can do so only because of a government “New Deal” that lifted their parents or grandparents from the ravages of the Great Depression.

The Tea Party and Justice Broccoli invoke the Tenth Amendment and “states rights”, but, in fact, the Constitution represents the shift of power from the states to the national government.  It eradicates states’ sovereignty which had existed under the Articles of Confederation.  The goal of the Constitutional Convention was to create a federal system that could address national problems and make the country competitive with Europe.  It also sought to protect the new nation from outside forces as well as those within.  Unlike the idiots who represent our government today, the Founders who drafted the Constitution, quite sensibly saw danger in disunity.

The Tenth Amendment states simply that: 

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the  Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.” 

Now think about it, what exactly does that mean?  Then consider that the very first Article of the Constitution, the touchstone of our nation,  states,  “ALL LEGISLATIVE POWERS herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.”  So what then are the powers not delegated to the Congress by the Constitution?  The Tenth Amendment is nothing more than a seed of peace, added to appease the State’s Rights advocates, who even today are still fighting the Civil War and that includes Justice Broccoli, et al.

I speak of the Tenth Amendment because the tortured interpretation of its meaning places us where we find ourselves today.  It is the basis for the “laboratories of democracy” concept that many refer to regarding healthcare.  Never mind that we’ve already had healthcare experiments.  In 1994 Kentucky enacted reforms regarding preexisting conditions, but without an individual mandate. Kentucky was forced to repeal the reform when insurance costs rose so steeply insurers pulled out of the market altogether. Initiatives introduced in New York and New Jersey faced similar problems.  While, in Massachusetts, where reform was coupled with an individual mandate, the system has worked.  How many laboratories do we need?

And finally, there’s that pathetic whine about “loss of liberty”.  A decision that Congress has the power to enact the individual mandate speaks only to whether the government has the power to require citizens to participate in health insurance.  Nothing more, nothing less. The framers gave Congress the power to address problems of national scope that could not adequately be left to the states. Healthcare is precisely such a problem. One that has been broached by both Democratic and Republican presidents for nearly a century.  Clearly, were states up to the task, we would not have this dilemma.  The same can be said of the Republicans, who now have ALL the answers, but apparently had none when they occupied the House, Senate and White House from 2001 to 2007.  They should change their name to the Reactionaries.

My friend argues that if the government can tell us to buy health insurance, they will soon tell us we must buy an electric car or place solar panels on our homes.  An asinine theory, for we have a choice to purchase a car or not, to buy a house or not. Illness, an accident or debilitating disease is not a choice.  Besides, the individual mandate is aimed at people who fail to acquire insurance, and then cannot pay the cost of their own health care when they need it. That cost is ultimately borne by the rest of us. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that in 2008 the uninsured shifted $43 billion of health care costs to those of us who are covered.

Have you noticed that those who yell loudest are already insured and are therefore not affected by the new law?  Whatever the case, absolutely nothing in the Constitution even remotely guarantees a right to be a free rider and to shift the costs of one’s health care to others.

According to Justice Broccoli,  “If every person comes within the Commerce Clause power of Congress to regulate by the simple reason that he will one day engage in commerce, the idea of a limited Government power is at an end.”

Congress plainly can tax for the purpose of providing health insurance. It does so already, through Medicare and Medicaid. Of course, Medicare contributions are a tax, not a purchase.  Or is it?  Isn’t it a purchase of insurance?  Whatever, to my way of thinking, an obligation to pay has the same effect whether we call it a tax, purchase, fee, fine, penalty or contribution. In fact, Medicare is even worse than the Affordable Care Act, because it requires an investment over a lifetime, that God forbid, one might not live long enough to collect.  But of course, Medicare forces us to buy health insurance from the government, rather than from private insurers, even though the option is available. In the final analysis, the problem, solution, intent and end result are the same.

The four justices said people who don’t want health insurance are “quite simply not participants in that market, and cannot be made so (and thereby subjected to regulation) by the simple device of defining participants to include all those who will, later in their lifetime, probably purchase the goods or services covered by the mandated insurance.”

This ignores the very purpose and idea of insurance.  It provides  protection against a possible eventuality.  Medicare presumes that people will reach age 65 and need medical attention.  An employed 22 year-old is not exempt because they refuse to project 43 years into the future.  Consequently, in that same vein, the  Medicare mandate legislates “inactivity” for 43 years. Would it really be erroneous to suggest that Medicare “purchases” future healthcare coverage?  And since the 22 year-old cannot actually benefit from the purchase, can the purchaser be considered “inactive”? Such knit-picking analogies could go on forever.

Justice Broccoli wrote:  “Indeed, the main objection many have to the Mandate is that they have no intention of purchasing most or even any of such goods or services and thus no need to buy insurance for those purchases.”

Despite proclamations about Justice Broccoli’s superior intellect, this is far-flung reasoning.  People require medical care and in fact die, at every stage of life.  The question is not whether one wants it, but whether it is needed.  One may not want a vaccination, afterall who actually plans to contract polio, yet it is mandated none the less.  Such a statement indicates that he was less worried about the interpretation of the Constitution and the economic viability of the nation than he was about the boundaries of government authority.

The argument  that the framers could not possibly have envisioned a congressional power to force purchases is upended by the fact that in 1798, Congress required seamen to buy hospital insurance.  Some believed the Justices felt the Merchant Marine law outdated, but when giving his snide dissent to the immigration law, Justice Broccoli had no problem reaching all the way back into the caverns of abolitionists.

More importantly, the Justices initially determined they could hear the case because the mandate did not represent a tax.  Only to turn full circle and determine the mandate could only be legitimate because it is a tax.  But wait!  If the mandate is a tax, how does the court have the right to pass judgment at all before it goes into effect?  This is the kind of insidious legal beagle double-speak one should expect to hear at a bond hearing.  Instead of hallowed halls of deliberation, the Supreme Court sounds more like  “Let’s Make a Deal” with Justice Roberts assuming the role of Monty Hall.

I see absolutely nothing heroic or commendable about the Robert’s decision. The justices ignored precedent, Congress’s right and duty to regulate and secure the economic welfare of the nation,  and the Constitution in favor of an ideology that is entrenched in the defunct Articles of Confederation.    I do not accept that any of them had serious doubts about the Constitutionality of the minimum coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but were simply determined to reinterpret the limits of the Commerce Clause, undermine the Federal government and who knows, perhaps even this President.  So it came down to, you give me the Medicaid that Conservatives mortally despise and I’ll give you the mandate.

People who shudder at the prospect of the nation becoming a “nanny state” should be equally concerned when “nanny judges” tell us what laws we can write.