As the dust settles

on the first enrollment period of the new Affordable Care Act, we are learning that a lot more people than a lot of people predicted have signed up for insurance.  President Obama is claiming 7.1 million people signed up on the health insurance exchanges – along with unknown numbers of others who signed up directly with insurance companies.  There was a claim yesterday that 90% of the enrollees had actually paid a first premium, a crucial step to being able to actually use the insurance.  We all know that there will be hassles when people go to their medical provider, when insurance cards don’t arrive in the mail, when someone with expanded Medicaid goes to a doctor who doesn’t accept that plan, but then, there have always been hassles with health insurance.  This will be nothing new.  What will be new is the massive number of new people suddenly looking for a provider.  Adjustments will have to be made all around.

But the biggest losers as of this morning would seem to be the opponents of the ACA or Obamacare as they call it.  Here is Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from this morning’s Boston Globe.

obamacare wasserman

 

And then there is this story from Politico.

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do

But the Republicans do seem to be suffering from a compulsion disorder.  Here is Representative Paul Ryan quoted in the Politico story

And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who on the same day released a budget plan that would repeal the law, wasn’t fazed by the enrollment news.

“I think Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, at the same time that Obama was giving his victory speech in the Rose Garden.

But it was so much easier when they could just say the federal government can’t tie its own shoelaces. Now, they have to acknowledge that the government fixed the problem — and enrollment came roaring back.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is set to release his health care plan – I guess he is running for President.  According to the Washington Post

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce Wednesday a plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s health-care law, an effort by the Republican to insert himself into the increasingly competitive early maneuvering for his party’s presidential nomination.

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

These themes appear to include giving those on Medicare a subsidy to buy private insurance and giving Medicaid money to the states to provide whatever care they decide on.  I have a feeling that this every-state-for-itself  idea will be proven to be a real problem as people in states that didn’t accept the expanded Medicare under the ACA are faced with citizens who won’t understand why Uncle Charlie can get health insurance subsidies and they can’t.  I don’t think this is a plan people will go for – especially after they get a feel for what is covered under ACA – but at least Jindal has something.

President Obama’s poll numbers are creeping up.  Democrats running for re-election would do well to be cautious about running away from the ACA, and optimistic me says that Nate Silver might just be wrong this time with is prediction that the Republicans have the edge in the mid-terms.  It won’t be easy for the Democrats:  They have to turn out their base in larger numbers than is usual for a mid-term, but it can be done.  Nate did favor Duke which lost in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Impasse?! We should look at the Progressive Caucus Budget

President Obama met with the Republicans in the House yesterday.  I think Politico had the best take on the meeting.

After years of pining for more face time with the president, House Republicans  found out Wednesday that Barack Obama looks and sounds the same behind closed  doors as he does on TV.

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

I think they are finally learning what many of us have known for a while:  what you see is what you get with Barack Obama.  Michelle has been trying to tell everyone this for years.  So he has his line and the Republicans led by Paul Ryan have theirs.  But where does that leave the rest of  us?  How to deal in a meaningful way with the sequester and the budget?  I see two paths:  One, those affected by the cuts start putting on the pressure and two, we begin looking at alternatives to either the Republican or White House budget proposals.

On the first, the lobbying has begun.  The New York Times reports

Construction companies are lobbying the government to spare their projects from across-the-board cuts. Drug companies are pleading with the White House to use all the fees they pay to speed the approval of new medicines.

And supporters of Israel have begun a campaign to make sure the Jewish state receives the full amount of military assistance promised by the United States.

A frenzy of lobbying has been touched off by President Obama’s order to slice spending this year by $85 billion, divided equally between military and civilian programs. The cuts have created new alliances and strange bedfellows.

Hunter R. Rawlings III, a historian of ancient Greece who is the president of the Association of American Universities, joined Wesley G. Bush, the chief executive of Northrop Grumman, the maker of surveillance drones and B-2 bombers, in a news conference in which they denounced the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

Health care and education groups, advocates for poor people, and state and local officials who fought in the past for bigger budgets are now trying to minimize the pain.

How much money do you think will be spent on lobbying?  I don’t even want to begin to add it up.  What a waste of money.  But I guess some people will still have jobs.

For an alternate budget we can look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal.    The Economic Policy Institute assisted in putting the budget together and scoring it.  Dean Baker from the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls it “A Serious Budget That the Serious People Won’t Take Seriously”.  The Progressive Caucus has been proposing budgets for a number of years now and takes the position that if their proposals had been adopted, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

So what exactly are they proposing?

Direct hire programs that create a School Improvement Corps, a Park Improvement Corps, and a Student Jobs Corps, among others.

Targeted tax incentives that spur clean energy, manufacturing, and cutting-edge technological investments in the private sector.

Widespread domestic investments including an infrastructure bank, a $556 billion surface transportation bill, and approximately $2.1 trillion in widespread domestic investment.

Ends tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans on schedule at year’s end

Extends tax relief for middle class households and the vast majority of Americans

Creates new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires

Eliminates the tax code’s preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends

Abolishes corporate welfare for oil, gas, and coal companies

Eliminates loopholes that allow businesses to dodge their true tax liability

Calls for the adoption of the “Buffett Rule”

Creates a publicly funded federal election system that gets corporate money out of politics for good.

Provides a Making Work Pay tax credit for families struggling with high gas and food cost 2013-2015

Extends Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit

Invests in programs to stave off further foreclosures to keep families in their homes

Invests in our children’s education by increasing Education, Training, and Social Services

It would also end the war in Afghanistan and do selective, not blanket cuts to the military budget.  It basically spends money to put people back to work and stabilize the economy.  This assumes that people who work pay taxes and put money back into the economy.  It also achieves deficit reduction.  All through government spending.  As Dean Baker poinst out

For those upset that the budget debate is getting ever further removed from the real world problems of an economy that is suffering from a deficit of 9 million jobs, there is good news. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has produced a budget that is intended to make the unemployment situation better rather than worse.

The story of course is that we are still in a situation where we need the government as a source of demand in the economy. This is independent of how much we like the government or the private sector. The private sector does not expand and create jobs just because governments want it to, as is being discovered now by leaders in the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Spain and everywhere else where deficit reduction is now in vogue. In the current economic situation, loss of demand from the government is a loss of demand to the economy. That is why recent steps to reduce the deficit, such as the ending of the payroll tax cut (which put money in consumers’ pockets) and the sequester, will lead to slower growth and higher unemployment.

Would this happen with the adoption of the progressive budget?  I don’t know, but I know that what is going on now isn’t working either.  And what is worse, people are tuning out and shrugging their shoulders assuming nothing can be done.

Gail Collins has this fantasy.

White smoke poured from the Capitol today and crowds of onlookers broke into shouts of jubilation, crying: “We have a budget!”

Inside, where the nation’s legislators had been walled off in seclusion, the newly chosen tax-and-spending plan was garbed in the traditional brass staples for its first public appearance. Insiders said it planned to take the name of Budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

I guess that is alternative number three.  Maybe we should try sequestering Congress.

Responses to the State of the Union Address: being picked isn’t always a good thing

Quick.  Name the four responders to President Obama’s State of the Union/Joint addresses to Congress.  (The first one is not considered to be formal State of the Union.)  Give up?  I could only remember Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell so I had to look them up.

2009 – Bobby Jindal in an address remembered for his Kenneth the Page imitation.  If he ever decides to run for President, this will haunt him.

English: Governor Bobby Jindal at the Republic...

English: Governor Bobby Jindal at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2010 – Bob McDonnell the governor of Virginia who tried to rectify Jindal’s mistakes by giving his speech in the Virginia State House before a live hand-picked audience.  And then he became known as Governor Ultrasound and his Presidential chances disappeared.

2011 – Paul Ryan.  Representative Ryan did run for higher office tied to Mitt and, as we know, they lost.  He is young and maybe can run again someday if the Tea Party ever gains firm control over the Republican Party.

2012 – Mich Daniels, governor of Indiana.  This was supposed to be a stepping stone to the Presidential nomination.  Didn’t happen.

So this year we have Marco Rubio giving the response in English and in Spanish (so we are told).  He is trying to position himself as the young, fresh face for a 2016 run for the Presidency.  I have alread heard some Republican consultants saying  he’s young and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton are old and that is good for the Republicans.  But State of the Union responders don’t have a very good track record, so we shall see.

English: Official portrait of US Senator Marco...

English: Official portrait of US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Go to this link to see a short video of memorable moments.

The Vice Presidential debate in song

Very clever, those Gregory Brothers .

The Gregory Brothers — Andrew, Michael, Evan and Sarah (who is married to Evan) Gregory — are best known for their YouTube music-video mash-ups, including the series Auto-Tune the News and Songify This!, in which they make songs out of non-songs and unintentional singers out of intentional speakers. They live in Brooklyn.

we present you the vice-presidential debate as it should be: Songified. It is our hope that someday, the vice-presidential candidates of the future will learn a lesson and just sing the whole thing to begin with.

http://www.nytimes.com/export_html/common/new_article_post.html?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2012%2F10%2F12%2Fopinion%2Fvice-presidential-debate-highlights-songified.html%3Fsmid%3Dpl-share&title=%E2%80%98V.P.%20Debate%20Highlights%2C%20Songified%E2%80%99&summary=The%20Gregory%20Brothers%20present%20a%20musical%20mash-up%20video%20of%20the%20vice%20presidential%20debate.

Enjoy!

The Republicans and Disfunction

I’m reading It’s even Worse than it Looks: How the american Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of extremism by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.  And yes, it is depressing especially when I’m reading it while also looking at the Republican Platform which has been described by Think Progress as the “most conservative in modern history.”  OK so maybe Think Progress is on the left but they have a pretty good summary.  Here are just a few subheading from the summary.

NO ABORTION IN CASES OF RAPE OR INCEST

NO LEGAL RECOGNITION OF SAME-SEX COUPLES

REPLICATE ARIZONA-STYLE IMMIGRATION LAWS.

NO WOMEN IN COMBAT

NO NEW TAXES, EXCEPT FOR WAR.

The New York Times said this in an editorial last Tuesday

Over the years, the major parties’ election-year platforms have been regarded as Kabuki theater scripts for convention week. The presidential candidates blithely ignored them or openly dismissed the most extreme planks with a knowing wink as merely a gesture to pacify the noisiest activists in the party.

That cannot be said of the draft of the Republican platform circulating ahead of the convention in Tampa, Fla. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the extreme is now the mainstream. The mean-spirited and intolerant platform represents the face of Republican politics in 2012. And unless he makes changes, it is the current face of the shape-shifting Mitt Romney.

The draft document is more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory. It accuses President Obama and the federal judiciary of “an assault on the foundations of our society,” and calls for constitutional amendments banning both same-sex marriage and abortion.

In passages on abortion, the draft platform puts the party on the most extreme fringes of American opinion. It calls for a “human life amendment” and for legislation “to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” That would erase any right women have to make decisions about their health and their bodies. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and such laws could threaten even birth control.

The draft demands that the government “not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage,” which could bar abortion coverage on federally subsidized health-insurance exchanges, for example.

The platform praises states with “informed consent” laws that require women to undergo medically unnecessary tests before having abortions, and “mandatory waiting periods.” Those are among the most patronizing forms of anti-abortion legislation. They presume that a woman is not capable of making a considered decision about abortion before she goes to a doctor. The draft platform also espouses the most extreme Republican views on taxation, national security, military spending and other issues.

Over all, it is farther out on the party’s fringe than Mr. Romney ventured in the primaries, when he repudiated a career’s worth of centrist views on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But the planks hew closely to the views of his running mate, Paul Ryan, and the powerful right-wing. Mr. Romney has a chance to move back in the direction of the center by amending this extremist platform. It will be interesting to see if he seizes it.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia might not have gotten the Vice Presidential nod, but he delivered the platform.  He should be proud.

Mann and Ornstein have a long quote from a former Republican Congressional staff, Mike Lofgren, who wrote in 2011 why he was leaving after almost thirty years [pages 54-55] Part of that quote reads

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.

Later Lofgren writes

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster.  Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.  As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

The platform is the Ryan agenda no matter how much he tries to say that it is Romney who is running for President.  Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan and no one can convince me he didn’t know what Ryan’s positions were or what legislation he had sponsored.  The Republicans like to say they are for smaller, less intrusive government, but the platform seems pretty intrusive to me.  If they have their way, they will be imposing their views on the rest of us.

Akin, Ryan, Romney and Women’s Healthcare

I was cooking dinner and listening to a rerun of Tom Ashbrook’s On Point when I heard Mary Kate Cary say that she agreed with the President that rape was rape, but did not agree with him that male legislators were making health care decisions for women and that they should just let women decide for themselves.  The President’s exact words from a report from CBS News

“Rape is rape,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the daily White House briefing Monday. “And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”

Mr. Obama added that Akin’s remarks underscore “why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.”

The president acknowledged that his GOP rival Mitt Romney and other Republicans have distanced themselves from Akin’s statements. However, he said, “The underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions, or qualifying ‘forcible rape’ versus ‘non-forcible rape’ — those are broader issues….between me and the other party.”

Mary Kate Cary, a former speech writer for President George H. W. Bush, went on to confuse the fact that women probably do make more decisions about health care treatment than men since they are still most likely to take the children to the doctor, with the male legislators setting boundaries on what kind of treatment women can actually choose.  (Thanks to my husband for helping me clarify that.)

So what does all this mean?  It means that Todd Akin, Paul Ryan and the Republican platform are imposing their religious ideas on everyone and removing choice.  And here I thought that they were the party of small government!  What with banning abortion in all situations and/or requiring vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion, I think they are actually intruding in health care decisions.  At the same time, none of them cares about what happens to the child after this forced birth because there will be no available safety net for her or for her mother under the Ryan/Romney cuts to the safety net in the budget combined with the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  There will also be no way for women to prevent pregnancies as there will be no contraception available under the ACA and no funding for Planned Parenthood.

Todd Akin and all his pals who don’t believe that a woman can get pregnant during rape, make that forcible rape, may be on the extreme edge of an extreme edge but they do represent the majority view of the Republican party.  This from the New York Times this morning

As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness. But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities.

It is an agenda that has enjoyed the support of House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, who has called anti-abortion measures “obviously very important in terms of the priorities we set out initially in our pledge to America.” It became inextricably linked to the near-shutdown of the federal government last year when an agreement to keep the government open was reached only after it was linked to a measure restricting abortion in the District of Columbia.

Even as Congressional Republicans, including Mr. Boehner, denounced Mr. Akin’s remark that victims of “legitimate rape” were able to somehow prevent pregnancy, an agenda to roll back abortion is one that House Republicans have largely moved in step with.

In an anti-abortion measure once sponsored by Mr. Akin, Mr. Ryan and scores of other Republican lawmakers, an exemption was made for victims of “forcible” rape, though that word was later removed.

On Tuesday, Republicans approved platform language for next week’s nominating convention that calls for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest. That is a view more restrictive than Mr. Romney’s, who has said that he supports exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape.

Ryan center and Akin to the right in a photograph by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

So Democrats can now keep tying Paul Ryan, Todd Akin and the Republican Platform together while Mitt, as usual, tries to dance away from taking a position.  After all as Republican Party Chair, Reince Priebus said “this is the platform of the Republican Party, it is not the platform of Mitt Romney.”  I titled this “Akin, Ryan, Romney and Women’s Health Care” but if they have their way, women won’t have health care.  There is already a large gender gap.  We can enjoy watching it get bigger.

Paul Ryan’s Proposals in a Nutshell

The Boston Globe columnist, Scott Lehigh wrote what I think is one of the best summaries of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal compared to President Obama’s proposals.  And whether Mitt Romney likes it or not, he is tied to the Ryan budget which he once described as “marvelous”.

Lehigh describes the Ryan budget this way

There will be a fierce fight to frame the argument, but Romney and Ryan will have a tougher challenge persuading the relatively small percentage of undecided voters. With Ryan as his running mate, Romney will no longer be able to hide behind strategic ambiguity about his budget and tax cut plans. To date, a lack of key details has made those proposals hard to analyze, which has obviously been intentional. Nor does the Republicans’ presumptive nominee want to be pinned to the details of Ryan’s Medicare plan, which would shift thousands in health care costs onto the backs of future generations of seniors; one of the talking points the campaign distributed to help Republicans discuss Ryan’s selection is that, as president, Romney will have his own Medicare proposal. But absent necessary details about Romney’s proposal, Ryan’s plan will and should stand as a fair campaign proxy.

Second, the reality is that you simply can’t accomplish what Romney and Ryan hope to — that is, a large, new across-the-board tax cut while tackling the long-term federal budget deficit — without hitting both middle-class and moderate earners. A recent analysis by the nonpartisan, well-regarded Tax Policy Center illustrated that very point. It showed that Romney’s vague assertion that he could pay for his new tax cut by closing loopholes and deductions, but without targeting those important to the middle class, was undoable. If Romney hews to his resolution to pay for his tax cut through loophole closings, the elimination of deductions would be so extensive that the average middle class family would see a tax hike, according to the center’s analysis.

Of course we already know that Romney considers the Tax Policy Center to be a Democratic front.  The difference in approaches?

Now, with the baby boomers retiring and increasingly drawing on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the nation faces a large gap between future spending commitments and future revenues. But though tax cuts helped create the problem, Romney and Ryan insist it must all be solved through spending cuts. That flies in the face of several recent bipartisan deficit commissions, which have said that policy makers should rely on both spending cuts and new revenues.

President Obama, by contrast, wants tax breaks for upper earners to expire, which would mean more revenue, and thus lighter cuts in future spending. Because Obama wants to keeps the tax breaks for families making less than $250,000, substantial spending cuts will still be required, including reductions in entitlements. Obama has left many of those details for the future. But that failing is less egregious than Romney’s. Obama, after all, would recapture $750 billion or more (over 10 years) by ending the Bush tax cuts. And the president isn’t proposing a large new tax cut.

We can only hope that the Democrats can define Paul Ryan as successfully as they were able to define Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney will no longer be able to hide behind strategic ambiguity about his budget and tax cut plans with Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Photograph by SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS