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“Or We Could Try To Appeal to a Broader Group of Voters.” [pause] “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

[ 124 ] November 18, 2014 |

Simpsons 1

Just in case vote suppression isn’t enough, some Republicans are proposing to take the United States even further from democracy:

Last week, Michigan state Rep. Pete Lund (R) revealed a plan that would rig the Electoral College to ensure Republican victories in 2016 and beyond if it were enacted in a sufficient number of states. Like similar proposals from GOP lawmakers who proposed rigging the Electoral College in the past, Lund’s proposal takes advantage of the fact that there are several large states that tend to support Democrats in presidential election years but that are currently controlled by Republicans.

Right now, nearly every state allocates 100 percent of its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state as a whole. Lund’s proposal would change that calculation in the blue state of Michigan, however, while continuing to award each red state’s full slate of electoral votes to the Republican candidate for president. If this plan had been in effect in 2012, for example, Mitt Romney would have won a quarter of Michigan’s electoral votes despite losing the state to President Obama by nearly 10 points…

The electoral college is a horrible, indefensible anachronism.  You can tell this not only because it has no international influence, but because the states that otherwise slavishly followed the federal model in designing their political institutions don’t use it.  But norms like electors following the will of the voters and winner-take-all allocation in almost every state have allowed it to work tolerably well in most cases.  For the electoral college to subvert the popular vote, you now generally need an unusual confluence of circumstances — a razor-close vote and voter purges and administrative incompetence and a mendaciously narcissistic vanity candidate and a nakedly partisan Supreme Court.  But the problem is that the electoral college and the fact that the states are given the discretion to unilaterally change the way they allocate the votes just lies around like a loaded weapon, waiting for a party to just say the hell with it, if it’s formally legal and might allow our candidate who gets drubbed in the popular vote to take office, let’s do it.  I suspect it will happen sooner rather than later.

Today In People Insulting Your Intelligence

[ 124 ] November 18, 2014 |
  • Shorter David Brooks: “If Obama takes unilateral action on immigration, congressional Republicans will stop cooperating with his initiatives!”
  • Shorter Lambert Strether: “We would totally have had single-payer if it wasn’t for the meddling of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the United States, and longtime don of the Gambino crime family Jonathan Gruber.  Also, I have no idea what was actually in the Heritage health care proposal, and think that governors rule Massachusetts like kings.”
  • Shorter Verbatim Megan McArdle: “So what would I have done, when Obamacare was tanking in the polls and Scott Brown was elected to the Senate on an anti-Obamacare platform? I would have passed something more modest that still significantly expanded coverage, expanding Medicaid to 150 to 200 percent of the poverty line and creating a national high-risk pool to insure anyone who’d been turned down for coverage more than twice in the past 12 months, at prices comparable to what a healthy person of their age would pay in the insurance market. Again, much cheaper, much less intrusive, no blowback from people who lost their policies, and very unlikely to have been tampered with by the Supreme Court.“  Oh, yes, the Supreme Court tampering with an expansion of Medicaid — that’s unpossible!

“No, no, I mean He Should Have Passed A Bipartisan Affordable Care Act.”

[ 57 ] November 18, 2014 |

Ron Fournier makes himself look ridiculous. Because a man in Ron Fournier’s position can apparently afford to be made to look ridiculous:

On health care, we needed a market-driven plan that decreases the percentage of uninsured Americans without convoluting the U.S. health care system. Just such a plan sprang out of conservative think tanks and was tested by a GOP governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Instead of a bipartisan agreement to bring that plan to scale, we got more partisan warfare. The GOP resisted, Obama surrendered his mantle of bipartisanship, and Democrats muscled through a one-sided law that has never been popular with a majority of the public.

Even leaving aside the “conservative think tanks” issue (please!), what aspect of Travaglinicare did Fournier see missing in the ACA? Was it that the ACA “convoluted” the American health care system because it expanded Medicaid? Well, it’s hard to know because this is a word that does not mean anything in this context. But it would be a strange argument, given that Travaglinicare provided free insurance to a greater percentage of the population than the Medicaid expansion did.

What the argument this, then — see also Krugman on this point — is that Obama should have passed the ACA, but in a way that was…bipartisan. The fact that Republicans had an explicit strategy of not voting for anything that would give Obama a major policy achievement, and hence requiring bipartisanship would mean that the United States would not get the health care reform that Fournier concedes the country needs, it to Fournier beside the point. Anachronistically identifying the Massachusetts health care reform exclusively with Mitt Romney helps to make this sound a little less ridiculous — he was the Republican candidate for president! He supported something like the ACA! — but when you bring the massive supermajorities of Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature back into the picture, the fact that Romney signed the bill the legislature put on his desk (after some overridden vetoes) makes the ridiculousness comes back into focus.  The Massachusetts health care reform tells us less than nothing about what congressional Republicans could support.

But when you believe that whether a law is “bipartisan” is more important than its content, and believe that bipartisanship is something the president can conjure out of thin air, you’re going to push Both-Sides-Do-Itism to a point at which the word “parody” seems grossly inadequate again and again.

Hacktacular! #GruberGate Edition

[ 20 ] November 17, 2014 |

A former Bush factorum has some policy arguments about the ACA, which I’m sure are being offered in good faith and are not at all opportunistic:

Jonathan Gruber’s candid video commentaries have unleashed the latest in a never-ending round of conservative denunciations of Obamacare, the evilest, sneakiest, failing-est, and most unconstitutional assault of freedom ever. Getting in his licks today is Tevi Troy, former Bush administration health official, who takes to the Wall Street Journal editorial page to denounce Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax.” This insidious levy, writes Troy, has a “creeping reach” and a “deceptive design.”

What kind of monster could favor any kind of tax on particular employer-provided health insurance plans?

Troy’s column does not mention that the Cadillac tax — or, usually, even more stringent versions of it — have been a mainstay of Republican health-care plans as well. As a presidential candidate in 2008, John McCain proposed not merely to cap the employer health-care deduction but to eliminate it entirely. (Obama attacked his plan as a tax hike.)

Troy’s op-ed also fails to mention that he himself used to oppose the tax break for employer-sponsored health insurance.

I could do without Gruber’s condescension myself, but when it comes to insulting people’s intelligence he’s got nothing on the parade of hacks attacking him.

Won’t Someone Please Think of the People Who Selectively Pretend to Believe In the Sanctity of Marriage?

[ 37 ] November 17, 2014 |

Shorter Nicolas Sarkozy: Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, and then another woman, and then another woman, and his women on the side. Surely we cannot let the gays ruin everything.

When All You Have Is A Hammer…

[ 160 ] November 17, 2014 |

Joel Kotkin has an analysis of the midterms. You will be not surprised that it involves an imaginary progressive “war” on the suburbs, since for Kotkin everything is. You may have missed any such “war” during the midterm campaigns. But Kotkin is here to read between the lines for you:

As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don’t address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party’s true believers.

When someone argues that stagnating wages and “underperforming schools” are inherently suburban issues irrelevant to urban dwellers, it’s a long-overdue hint that an article is not going to be worth your time.

…Kilgore has more.

This Seems Overdetermined

[ 52 ] November 17, 2014 |

lieberman

I’m not sure why NoLabelsAmericansElectUnity’08 needs to parody itself; we’d be happy to do it for them:

Joe Lieberman, a former senator from Connecticut, has agreed to serve as the co-chairman for No Labels, a loosely codified set of vaguely defined sentiments organized to convince affluent donors to part with money. Lieberman takes over from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who up until last week was the man doing this thing, until he decided not to do it anymore.

In an announcement, Jon Huntsman, the other No Labels co-chair, former Utah governor and Dadaist candidate for president in 2012, said: “Joe was a proven leader and an undisputed problem solver in virtually every area of public policy when serving in the U.S. Senate … His vision of a new culture in Washington, D.C. — where the politics of point-scoring is replaced by the politics of problem solving — is a great fit with our organizational goals, and I look forward to collaborating with him as we develop our National Strategic Agenda.”

That Huntsman calls Lieberman an “undisputed problem solver” who is averse to the “politics of point scoring” indicates that today is the first day Huntsman met Lieberman.

“Joe will play a key role in attracting presidential hopefuls to our growing club of problem solvers,” Huntsman said.

No Labels’ club of “problem solvers” is interesting in that no club member is required to solve a problem. As Yahoo News’ Meredith Shiner reported in July, “The ‘Problem Solver Seals’ granted by No Labels to lawmakers require nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship.”

At least Erskine Bowles remains available for the next Politico Primary!

Non-Denial Denial of the Day

[ 92 ] November 16, 2014 |

Shorter Bill Cosby’s legal representatives: “This is just a he said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said/she said case. We will create the impression that we are denying the charges without actually doing so.”

Thank You John Roberts! Arkansas Edition

[ 58 ] November 16, 2014 |

Those would prefer that hundreds of thousands go uninsured rather than any rentier skim some profits are about to get their wish. My guess is that the people upon whom the contradictions are about to be heightened will be less thrilled with this outcome:

The issue, or one of the big ones, was Obamacare. Outgoing Democratic Governor Mike Beebe compromised with the state’s Republicans on the controversial health care law when it passed and devised a unique plan, called the “private option,” one that many had hoped to replicate in other reluctant red states. Instead of expanding Medicaid, the federal program that insures the poor, the state would foot the bill for its low-income residents to enter the private insurance market.

It has so far insured more than 200,000 people who had never been insured before, but it has to be renewed next year. Hutchinson, the incoming governor, has said he needs time to decide what his position is on the plan. Perhaps more significant is that Republicans won all four races for the state senate, increasing their lead in that chamber by two, and they’ve all come out against renewal. And unlike the rest of the country, turnout there was actually up this midterm election, to 47.6 percent, which means the newly elected officials can more safely claim a mandate than states where the turnout was much lower. A nay vote on the private option in the state legislature could force the new governor’s hand even if he does decide he backs the existing program.

[...]

What does it mean for the people of the state? Arkansas has continually ranked as one of the least healthy states in the country, and has had one of the worst health care systems. Arkansans can expect to die at a younger age than their counterparts in wealthy, healthy states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Yet, Arkansas had been marginally healthier than the states surrounding it. All of the poor states in the mid-South show up at the bottom of all the good lists and the top of all the bad ones, but my little state had always done at least a little bit better than Mississippi, Alabama, and sometimes Louisiana.

Why? Because it had a government that cared about its people. Now I’m afraid that’s going by the wayside. Which means the state has now pulled what I like to call a Full Huckabee. Once, Arkansans believed compassion and good citizenship had roles in government. Now, their state politics, like Huckabee’s career, have been taken over by concerns over money, power, and special interests. And as usual, it’s at the expense of its neediest citizens.

Not a dime’s worth of difference!

Anyway, I’m sure that now that they’re about to lose this particular subsidy the private health insurance industry in Arkansas will spontaneously combust and they’ll have single payer in no time.

Tallahassee’s Double Standard

[ 6 ] November 16, 2014 |

You will be shocked to know that football players continue to be exempt from significant punishment for crimes ordinary people get charged for.

BREAKING! Person Good At Running Econometric Models Says Silly Things About Politics!

[ 83 ] November 15, 2014 |

Before dealing with the latest reported comments of President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the United States, Prime Minister, and Grand Poobah Jonathan Gruber a reminder about his actual role in crafting the ACA:

Mr. Gruber was not, as many claim, the architect of the health-care law. He is an MIT economist who, as a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, modeled the impact of various subsidy levels and rules. He did not make policy, nor did he work for the White House, HHS, or any congressional committee. Earlier, he advised the Massachusetts legislature when it created the health-care reforms that were a model for the ACA.

He did some informal consultation with the White House when putting together exactly the kind of proposal anyone following the Democratic primaries knew he would, and had grad students run some models to test various outcomes.  Again, this is not a trivial role, but assertions that he was the “architect” of the ACA or “wrote” it are demonstrably false.  In addition, in this context it apparently has to be emphasized that he was being paid for his expertise as a health care economist; he wasn’t being paid to tell Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid how to pass legislation.

At any rate, Gruber’s attempts to portray himself as some kind of Machiavellian super-genius are getting ever more annoying:

In a 2011 conversation about the Affordable Care Act, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the law more commonly known as Obamacare, talked about how the bill would get rid of all tax credits for employer-based health insurance through “mislabeling” what the tax is and who it would hit.

[...]

“It turns out politically it’s really hard to get rid of,” Gruber said. “And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”

Ah, more proof that economist’s disease — where expertise in one subject area convinces someone that they are experts in everything — isn’t confined to the right.  First of all, how on earth is it “mislabeling” to call a tax on insurance plans a “tax on insurance plans?” It’s like saying that it’s lying to call a tax on imported goods a “tariff” because consumers bear some of the cost. Gruber seems to think that it’s dishonest to use merely accurate ways of describing your policy proposals, as if it’s the job of people proposing something to portray the proposals in the worst light possible.  I don’t know if Gruber noticed, but plenty of people on the other side of the aisle were busy making things up about the ACA to attack it; I don’t think that Democrats were obliged to do the same.

And, second, as with his previous own-goals the argument is not merely wrong but self-refuting even if you grant the false premise. Precisely because the public is ill-informed on policy details it doesn’t matter to mass public opinion what you call the tax on insurance plans.  Informed stakeholders, meanwhile, knew exactly what the tax did and didn’t like it. Gruber’s comments could not be more wrong on every level.  As a political analyst, he’s a hell of a health care economist.

Part of me feels bad for piling on; I don’t doubt that he was well-intentioned and it can’t be pleasant to be the right-wing villain du jour.  But Gruber has, at the very least, not discouraged the exaggerations of his role in creating the ACA, and he’s made a truckload of money from his reputation.  When you take on this kind of role, you really do have be responsible in your public comments, and Gruber has failed spectacularly in his self-appointed role again and again, saying things that are politically damaging (potentially OK) and wrong (very much not OK.)

I’m Convinced!

[ 89 ] November 14, 2014 |

Vote suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky makes an excellent, if inadvertent, case for the confirmation of Loretta Lynch.

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