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[ 54 ] March 23, 2015 |


It was five years ago today that the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Particularly given the immense difficulties and compromises inherent in getting legislation through the World’s Worst Deliberative Body, it has been a remarkable policy triumph. Jon Cohn observes:

Five years later, by any reasonable and objective criteria, “Obamacare” has achieved a great deal. The percentage of adults without health insurance has dropped to 12.9 percent, according to Gallup. That’s the lowest the organization has recorded and corresponds, according to the Obama administration, to insurance for about 16.4 million people who might not otherwise have it. “Health insurance” is not the same as “health care,” but studies of previous coverage expansions suggest that as more people get insurance, they will be more financially secure and, over the long run, less likely to die.

Meanwhile, the budget deficit is coming down, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act has contributed significantly to that reduction. Overall health costs — i.e. what the U.S. as a whole spends on medical care — are rising at historically low rates. Nobody can be sure what role Obamacare has played in that progress — but it’s probably helped, and it certainly hasn’t hurt.

At this point it’s also worth going back to another point made by Cohn. Max Baucus was seen by many liberals is a villain in the process, and in certain ways he was. But the crucial facts are that 1)the most important progressive legislation since the Johnson administration got through his committee with his support, and 2)there’s no way a public option was getting 60 votes in the Senate even had it made it into the Finance Committee version of the bill. Particularly since in 1993 an inexplicably (or, come to think of it, all-too-explicably) well-regarded senator from New York in Baucus’s position didn’t merely throw health care reform into the wood chipper but was proudly indifferent about the issue, it’s not a trivial accomplishment and he deserves the credit he’s due.

It’s also worth comparing the above signing ceremony to the one I linked to earlier this weekend, which as I’m sure many of you knew was Bush signing the Partial-Birth Abortion (sic) Ban Act of 2003. It really is the two parties in a nutshell. Democrats want to use the federal government to do things like provide access to health care for millions of people over fanatical Republican opposition. Republicans want to use the federal government to impose health disabilities on women for no benefits whatsoever using justifications that can’t even be bothered to hide their sexism. But, you know, not a dime’s worth etc.

Cuomo’s Misplaced Transit Priorities

[ 59 ] March 23, 2015 |

While obviously New York City has mass transit that most of the country would envy, it’s becoming both worse and more expensive:

Fares are about to go up. Delays are driving riders to distraction. And on a recent evening, Ian Nolan’s train was out of service.

Widespread problems across the subway system in recent weeks have left weary commuters waiting on crowded platforms, stranded inside stalled cars and scrambling to find alternate routes. With a fare increase set to go into effect on Sunday, riders across New York City are complaining of having to pay more when service is worse.

But transit experts and advocates say conditions will not improve unless the Metropolitan Transportation Authority invests heavily in upgrading and expanding the system’s infrastructure — the tracks, the trains and the tunnels that power the city’s daily transit miracle, except when they don’t.

A plan is being proposed to deal with it:

Transit advocates say that while they understand the angst over another fare increase, they are focused on securing money from state and city officials for the authority’s capital plan, which includes many of the very upgrades that would bring meaningful improvement to commutes. The plan proposes $32 billion in spending over five years, but it is $15 billion short — the largest funding gap ever and a striking sign of the difference between what the system needs and what the authority can afford.

Andrew Cuomo has other priorities:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has called the plan “bloated” and has not addressed the funding gap, instead publicly drawing attention to other infrastructure projects, including a new Tappan Zee Bridge and his proposal for an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport.

The Tappan Zee replacement is a project of legitimate importance and value. But an LGA Air Train? Even on its face, the idea that this would be more important than the basic subway system is absurd. Via Atrios, I see it’s worse than that: even on its own terms, the project is essentially useless:

As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport. In fact, compared to existing transit services, most riders using the AirTrain would spend more time traveling to LaGuardia than they do now.

There is no hope that this AirTrain will “solve” the access to LaGuardia problem.

Yeah, that should really be a high priority.

Clown Car Gets First Official, and Craziest, Passenger

[ 148 ] March 22, 2015 |

Well, he’s smarter than Rick Perry, give him that.  The race to the winger bottom is going to be even more intense in the 2016 primaries, what with this cycle’s Texas neoconfederate being able to speak complete sentences and everything.

Some Sunday Reading

[ 27 ] March 22, 2015 |

How to be a Hack, Fred Hiatt Edition

[ 51 ] March 21, 2015 |



Above: Now that’s how you compromise on abortion policy!

Today, the editorial board of the Washington Post honors the memory of David Broder with a pitch-perfect parody of Both Sides Doitism.  The thesis: the Republicans holding the nomination of Loretta Lynch hostage to try to leverage Democrats into accepting restrictions on abortion in an anti-sex trafficking bill shows that Democrats are the obstructionist party now. How could anyone possibly defend such a transparently nonsensical assertion?  Behold:

DEMOCRATS WHO have been filibustering the Senate’s consideration of legislation to combat human trafficking cited concerns with language they claimed would greatly expand the reach of Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion.

You have to love the wording here. Democrats are merely “claiming” that the language would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment, implying that there’s a dispute about the facts and Democrats might be making it up. A more accurate way of writing this would be “Democrats oppose this version of the bill because it would extend the reach of the Hyde Amendment.” But the way the editorial is worded does demonstrate a skill that’s important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.

This skill is also evident in the next sentence:

But when John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chief sponsor of the trafficking bill and Senate majority whip, offered a compromise that would seem to answer their stated objections, it was rejected out of hand.

You have to like the “would seem” wording. You might think from this that the new version of the bill removes the abortion restrictions, so Democrats now have no reason to oppose the bill. But you would be wrong.

Perhaps Democrats thought they could score political points, or maybe they didn’t want to anger their traditional allies in the abortion rights lobby.

Now we’ve reached the heart of the matter. This is pure, distilled multiple times anti-abortion-rights contrarianism of the kind you don’t see quite as much anymore but must be due for a comeback. As always, the central premise is that Democrats can’t possibly have any principled reason for defending hysterical women and their silly reproductive rights; they must be caving to the immensely powerful abortion rights lobby which is preventing them from addressing real priorities. (Needless to say, similar aspersions are not cast on the motives of Republicans cynically using a bill about sex trafficking to both obstruct an executive branch nomination and try to restrict abortion rights. “Pro-lifers” are always assumed to be operating from a plane of the highest principle, even when their positions are a moral, legal, and intellectual shambles.)

Either way, it became depressingly clear that what they weren’t thinking about was the needs of vulnerable people, mostly young women and girls, who are the victims of sex trafficking.

Yes, if you really care about women who have been coerced into sex work, one way of demonstrating that is being indifferent about restrictions intended to make it more difficult for them to end unwanted pregnancies that have a high likelihood of being the result of sex they did not consent to. This isn’t just recycling brain-dead turn-of-the-century abortion contrarianism — they’re taking it to a new level.

The piece goes on to argue that newly amended language would merely preserve the status quo. But if this is true, why can’t the provision simply be stricken from the language altogether? Leahy’s objections to the new language are perfectly reasonable.  They also argue that Republicans are wrong to hold the Lynch nomination hostage…because it gives Democrats an excuse.

This is also great:

There is, as we wrote earlier this week, a reasonable way for the two sides to compromise on the trafficking bill, but both sides need to be reasonable. Sadly, that was not the case for Senate Democrats this week.

There is a compromise out there that would work. Republicans aren’t actually offering this compromise, but nonetheless Democrats should agree to the bill anyway or they’re the obstructionists. I can’t explain High Broderism any better than that, ladies and gentlemen.

BREAKING! Republicans Will Not Fix the ACA if the Supreme Court Guts It

[ 45 ] March 21, 2015 |

Paul Ryan urges Republican statehouses to do what they would do anyway:

If the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies to states using the federal health insurance exchanges, Rep. Paul Ryan was asked, should they set up their own exchanges to prevent people from losing their insurance?

“Oh God, no…The last thing anybody in my opinion would want to do, even if you are not a conservative, is consign your state to this law,” the Wisconsin Republican told state legislators Thursday during a conference call organized by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think-tank.

I’ll bet the federal law he’s pretending to favor instead is awesome!  Well, no, actually Ryan is particularly excited about the possibility of repealing guaranteed issue and the requirement that insurance actually cover things.  They are the party of death, you know.


Would a “Chief Justice Roberts Has Made His Ruling, Now Let Him Enforce It?” Approach Work if the Court Goes the Full Moops?

[ 27 ] March 20, 2015 |


You may have seen Will Baude’s op-ed arguing that Obama could just ignore a Supreme Court ruling that providing subsidies on the federally established exchanges for everyone but the four plaintiffs. You may have thought that it sounded like a #slatepitch with a suspicious agenda. If so, I think you were right:

The most favorable historical analogy for Baude’s argument would be Abraham Lincoln’s response to Dred Scott. Lincoln argued that the court’s infamous 1857 ruling that Congress could not ban slavery in the territories, and that blacks were by definition not American citizens, was binding on the parties to the suit, but not as a constitutional rule. These weren’t just empty words, either. When he became president, Lincoln pointedly ignored Dred Scott, signing legislation banning slavery in the territories and ordering his attorney general to issue passports to free blacks.

But as a justification for Obama evading a bad ruling in King v. Burwell, Lincoln’s actions don’t get you very far. Everything about Dred Scott was unusual, and actions that are justified in fighting a moral evil on the scale of chattel slavery are not necessarily justified in other contexts. If Obama is within his rights to largely ignore a ruling concerning tax credits, what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional? Would judges in Alabama be justified in making each and every same-sex couple sue to get their marriages recognized? Strong departmentalist arguments have fallen out of favor for good reason.

And even if Baude’s idea is justified in theory, it wouldn’t work. “Every individual, business, or state with standing who wants to get the subsidies enjoined with regard to that individual, business’s workers, or state’s residents will be entitled to such an injunction,” Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School told me. “At that point, the subsidy regime would become such a checkerboard that the federal government couldn’t administer it.”

The point about the ability of states to sue is particularly crucial. Most of the states with federally established exchanges are governed by Republicans who are extremely hostile to the Affordable Care Act, and will be willing to go to court even if most of their citizens would just as soon keep their subsidy. Baude might argue that states will not be able to get the standing to sue, but this is extremely implausible. If the Obama administration tries to bypass a Supreme Court decision, a majority of the court is going to be very generous in determining a plaintiff’s standing to sue so that its ruling can be effectively enforced.

One additional point about Dred Scott is that everything about the case is highly atypical — I think we can be confident that it will be the only Supreme Court decision ever praised before it’s handed down in an inaugural address. It was the culmination of a long-term struggle to preserve the Jacksonian political order, which was dead as soon as South Carolina seceded — Democratic political elites wanted the Supreme Court to “settle” the question of slavery in the territories and it tried to. So using Lincoln’s ability to ignore Dred Scott as a precent for nullifying rulings in other contexts is rarely going to work.

Alas, I Don’t Think 6 Months Will Help This Make Sense

[ 160 ] March 19, 2015 |

Shorter Tom Friedman: Nobody could have anticipated that invading Iraq would do far more for Iranian interests than American ones. You are still supposed to care about my foreign policy views for some reason.

You know, I’m almost beginning to think that scorching hot non-sequiturs up to and including calling something that isn’t anything like a bubble a “bubble” are not a sound basis for reasoning about foreign policy. I’d also recommend not supporting wars if you don’t “understand what they were about” contemporaneously.

No, Mr. and Mrs. Newly Insured, I Expect You to Suffer (And Possibly Die)!

[ 86 ] March 19, 2015 |


The Republican budget presents a clear Republican health care plan:

The Republican Party’s greatest health-care triumph is that it has managed to pass off its position on health care as some kind of undefined work in progress rather than a decision that has been made. Six years after the start of the health-care debate, Republicans keep telling reporters that they’re working on a plan. (Jeffrey Young has a hilarious, frequently updated timeline of the perennially just-over-the-horizon Republican Obamacare replacement plan.) In fact, the Republicans do have a health-care plan: It is to repeal Obamacare and replace it with what we had before Obamacare. They don’t want to admit that’s their plan, but it is. It’s right there, in the new budget released by House Republicans this week.

As we’ll get to in a second, the boldfaced bottom line is actually too charitable. I also enjoy the discussions with the reformicons who want to deny that the Republican offer to those who would be uninsured if the ACA is repealed is “nothing.” (Can you tell the con artists from the conned? When it’s bad faith all the way down, is the distinction even relevant anymore?)

The reasons for the lack of candor are not hard to discern:

Worried about the number of Americans who still don’t have health insurance? If House Republican leaders get their way, the number will be much bigger — maybe even twice as big.

That may sound ridiculous. But health care analysts tell The Huffington Post that it’s a fair interpretation of the proposed 2016 budget that Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, released on Tuesday.

The Republican budget would, in fact, be worse than the status quo ante, because “block grants” are weasel for “savage cuts to programs than benefit the poor”:

And Obamacare repeal is only the first way in which Price’s health care agenda would increase the number of uninsured. Turning Medicaid into a block grant, as the House budget seeks to do, would mean ending the program’s current guarantee: that, as more people fall into the program’s eligibility guidelines, the federal government will provide more money. Under a block grant scheme, by contrast, the federal government would start giving states fixed sums of money with which to administer the program. Given the funding levels Price’s budget appears to set, the money almost certainly wouldn’t keep up with demand for the program.

In reality, these block grants are huge budget cuts by another name. States would find it impossible to maintain the Medicaid rolls at those funding levels, and start removing people from the program as a result. How many? Price’s budget doesn’t provide the same level of detail that Ryan’s early budgets did. But the proposals appear to be very similar. And an estimate of Ryan’s 2012 scheme, put together by researchers from the Urban Institute and published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, suggested that by 2022, turning Medicaid into a block grant would reduce the number of people receiving insurance through the program by between 14.3 million and 20.5 million.

Again, this would be on top of the people who would lose insurance thanks to repeal of Obamacare. Add the numbers together and, come 2022, something like 60 or 70 million people who would have gotten insurance through either Medicaid or Obamacare would no longer have it.

And let’s remember the very real consequences involved:

This is more personal for me than usual. Scary, too. There are no guarantees in life, and there’s no guarantee that MoJo will employ me forever. If I lose my job, and Republicans repeal Obamacare, I will be left with a very serious and very expensive medical condition and no insurance to pay for it. And I feel quite certain that Republicans will do nothing to help me out.

But all the freedom!

And Now, the Punchline

[ 43 ] March 18, 2015 |


Of the many ways one could react to the Daily Tucker’s rule forbidding bloggers from criticizing people who pay Tucker Carlson, this is one of them:

Carlson’s noisy (and controversial) aspiration to build an institution on an equal journalistic footing as The New York Times would appear to be abandoned.

Right, until yesterday it was entirely plausible that Tucker Carlson was building a peer of the New York Times. But now that he’s forbidden Mickey Kaus form attacking Fox News from the right, one may have to start questioning his heretofore unassailable integritude.

The New Gilded Age, Again With the Bushes Edition

[ 80 ] March 18, 2015 |

Jeb Bush comes out against the federal minimum wage.  I believe he’s supposed to be the “moderate,” “mainstream” option in the Republican primaries…

When Racist Demagoguery Works

[ 222 ] March 18, 2015 |

In the waning stages of the campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly laid out his vision for an apartheid state. The response of the electorate was…not encouraging:

After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel won a clear victory in Tuesday’s elections and seemed all but certain to form a new government and serve a fourth term, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.

With 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, the YNet news site reported Wednesday morning that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had captured 29 or 30 of the 120 seats in Parliament, sweeping past his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, which got 24 seats.

If you have any optimism about this political situation, I both envy you and question your grasp on reality.

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