Browsing the archives for the Republican Party category.

Does the GOP Fear the Fallout from King v. Burwell? (Updated)

Congress, Health Care, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Supreme Court

SCOTUS will hear the King v. Burwell case on March 4. This is the case in which it is alleged that states that did not set up their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act cannot offer federal subsidies to people buying insurance through the federal exchange. The New York Times editorial board says of this,

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of the most anticipated cases of the term: King v. Burwell, a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity that, if successful, will tear a huge hole in the Affordable Care Act and eliminate health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans — exactly the opposite of what the law was passed to do.

Even an idiot ought to be able to understand that the primary point of the exchanges is to facilitate people buying individual health policies that can be subsidized. I suspect even some Republicans realize this.

The suit is based on one ambiguously worded sentence in the ACA. In a subsection of the law dealing with tax credits, the ACA describes exchanges “established by the states.” The authors of the bill say this was a vestige of the original assumption that the states would set up their own exchanges. It wasn’t anticipated that so many would refuse to do so. But the Burwell challenge hangs on  those four words — established by the states.

The challengers did not innocently happen upon these words; they went all out in search of anything that might be used to gut the law they had failed to kill off once before, on constitutional grounds, in 2012. Soon after the law passed in 2010, Michael Greve, then chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is helping to finance the current suit, said, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”

After the challengers found the four-word “glitch,” as they initially called it, they worked backward to fabricate a story that would make it sound intentional. Congress, they claimed, sought to induce states to establish exchanges by threatening a loss of subsidies if they did not. (Not coincidentally, the challengers also traveled state to state urging officials not to set up exchanges, thus helping to create the very “crisis” they now decry.) Of course, if Congress intended to introduce a suicide clause into a major piece of federal legislation, it would have shouted it from the mountaintops and not hidden it in a short phrase deep inside a sub-sub-subsection of the law. So it is no surprise that no one involved in passing or interpreting the law — not state or federal lawmakers, not health care journalists covering it at the time, not even the four justices who dissented in the 2012 decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act — thought that the subsidies would not be available on federal exchanges.

So, the purpose of Burwell is to kill Obamacare, and if SCOTUS decides for the plaintiffs, it might very well succeed. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the states without their own exchanges lose subsidies, 13,402,890 Americans who ought to be insured by 2016 will lose out. And the entire law could quickly unravel for everyone, as the health insurance industry is thrown into chaos. I understand roughly 9 million people would lose their insurance almost immediately.

The immediate fallout from a decision for the ACA challengers would, therefore, be chaos and devastation, and the long-term consequences potentially even worse. The ripple affect could impact just about everybody, and probably not in a good way.

 This past week Republicans in Congress seemed almost frantic in demanding the Obama Administration reveal their “Plan B” to the world. What will they do to save the ACA if the subsidies are struck down in so many states? And the Administration has said, over and over, there is no Plan B. If the subsidies are lost, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to salvage anything.

But rightie media are not accepting this. The Administration is hiding Plan B. HHS denies it is preparing Plan B. The Administration won’t say it is preparing Plan B. (Actually, it plainly says there isn’t one and none are in the works.) But there must be a Plan B! How could there not be a Plan B? Of course there is a Plan B, and congressional Republicans demand to know what it is.

Smart money says all this posturing is trying to signal the Court that the actual fallout of a decision for the challengers wouldn’t really be that bad; the Administration has a Plan B! Also, when the dominoes start crashing and people find themselves cut off from health care again, they are prepared to point to the White House — See? They should have had a Plan B. It’s their fault.

Republicans also have proposed a Plan B, although no one who knows anything about health care insurance thinks it will work. And a whopping majority — 64 percent — of Americans think that if SCOTUS rules against the subsidies, Congress immediately should step up and reinstate them. Which Republicans in Congress have no intention of doing.

Which makes me think that at least a few Republicans are genuinely nervous that a ruling in their favor could bite them, hard. Deep down, a few of the less demented among them may really want the White House to jump in with a Plan B and save their butts.

Update: Here’s something interesting — a GOP senator is proposing that if the subsidies are struck down, Congress should extend them for 18 months.

The loss of subsidies for millions of people would also put the Obama administration on the offense for the first time to protect its signature healthcare law.

A White House crusade against the GOP would mean a firestorm of accusations that the party is taking away care and endangering lives  – building up for the 2016 election.

To avoid that situation, some Republicans are floating a stopgap that would keep the subsidies in place temporarily.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) promised this week that he would introduce legislation that creates a “temporary model to protect those harmed by ObamaCare” in which people could still receive financial help for their healthcare costs for 18 months after a court decision.

Startin’ to sweat a bit there, dude?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hinted at a similar proposal earlier in the week, promising “a short-term solution” until a Republican can enter the White House.

By some coincidence, 18 months from the likely date of the decision — end of June, 2015 — would possibly take us just past the 2016 elections.


The GOP Tryouts, Self-Absorption Edition

Republican Party

Apparently Chris Christie thinks the world owes him a presidential nomination.

He does not return phone calls. He does not ask for support. He arrives late for meetings. And he acts as if he has all the time in the world.

The complaints have piled up for weeks, dismaying many longtime supporters of Gov.Chris Christie of New Jersey and sending others into the arms of his rivals for the presidential nomination, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republican donors and strategists. …

“He’s a very popular figure, but he’s made a mistake by not creating the necessary momentum for the kind of national organization you need to be successful,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund manager who is now backing Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “He’s not touching enough people. And I think this is a classic rookie mistake.”

Friends say Mr. Christie is both understaffed and too controlling. They also say he is convinced that his raw talent and charisma can overcome the political obstacles in his way. Thomas H. Kean, a former governor of New Jersey and Mr. Christie’s onetime mentor, with whom he mended fences after a public break, said Mr. Christie had “gotten in the habit of kind of doing everything himself.”

“You can’t do that in a presidential campaign,” Mr. Kean said.

Especially since Christie would be challenged to win his own state in a presidential general election, his overconfidence would be puzzling. Would be, that is, until you consider his competition.

According to a CNN/ORC Poll taken February 12-15, the Republican field currently ranks in this order, top to bottom: Mike Huckabee (seriously?), Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Chris Christie or None (tie), Marco Rubio, and Someone Else. Then there’s a four-way tie among Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Unsure. Then comes John Kasich, and finally scraping the bottom at 1 percent each are Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina. Note that Bush and Christie were numbers one and two a month ago. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of mutts, Charles Pierce comments on Scott Walker:

By his works shall ye know him, and by his budget shall ye know Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, and current frontrunner in the Premature Nonsense Primary portion of the 2016 Republican nominating process. Where it is not actively hostile to the interests of anyone except his state’s plutocrats and out-of-state mining interests, there is in the budget a low-running contempt for the concept of the government’s obligation to do much of anything except protect the wealth of the wealthy and throw the right people in jail. His idea of “going big and bold” is to be petty and small-minded. His budget is a melange of childish vandalism, cut-rate empire building, and the construction of a Potemkin record for the consumption of oligarchical moneybags and hayshaking god-botherers in Iowa and elsewhere.

Pierce has the details.


Failure Accomplished

Republican Party

Paul Waldman asks if it’s too soon to declare the current Congress a failure.

In fairness, with a Democratic president there really isn’t much that a Republican Congress can achieve unless it’s willing to compromise, which this Congress isn’t. But after six years of waiting for the moment they’d take complete control, you’d think they’d have some kind of plan. If they do, it’s hard to discern how it’s supposed to work. Every conflict they have with the president only seems to make them look worse, and they seem to be lurching from day to day with no idea how to do anything but fall on their faces.

Ironically, the Republicans had a lot more power when they were in the minority than they do now. With a Democratic Congress, the administration set out an ambitious legislative agenda, which Republicans were able to obstruct and subvert as long as they stayed unified, which they did very well. But once they took control, the administration all but gave up on legislating (apart from unavoidable tasks like passing budgets to keep the government open), which leaves Republicans with no fights to wage apart from the meaningless ones they manage to concoct on their own. And they can’t even figure out how to win those. Winning Congress has put Republicans in a position where they have little choice other than to make things worse.

The box they’ve put themselves in is that they can’t actually do anything. Even if they were capable of doing something, they can’t allow themselves to do it. The few things they might be able to do, like approve the XL pipeline, will be vetoed, and anything that wouldn’t be vetoed would probably get them in hot water with the base. Waldman continues,

They could come to an agreement with President Obama on infrastructure spending, which everyone used to agree is absolutely necessary. They could make tough but realistic demands on the budget, and pass something that Obama will be willing to sign but still manages to move government’s priorities in the direction they’d like — even if tea partiers call it a betrayal, because tea partiers will call any compromise a betrayal. If the Supreme Court rules in their favor in King v. Burwell and takes insurance subsidies from millions of people, they could be ready with a plan to help them immediately, instead of just celebrating the fact that they successfully made so many Americans’ lives worse.

All that could happen. But based on their first month with control of Congress, does anyone think it will?

The health care issue more than any other reveals how hamstrung they are. They’ve been promising their own version of health care reform since the bleeping Clinton Administration. Where is it? The one halfway workable idea they came up with ended up becoming Obamacare, which they have sworn to destroy.

Recently the GOP announced it was creating a task force, headed by Paul Ryan, to come up with an alternative plan in case the SCOTUS screws with the subsidies. CNBC reported,

The GOP has been criticized for their continued opposition to President Barack Obama’s signature health law without offering a serious alternative to the program, which is credited with significantly reducing the number of uninsured Americans last year.

But the pending Supreme Court case, due to be argued in March, has spurred what could turn out to be serious action by Republicans.

But … but … but … for years they’ve been saying they do have an alternative plan. Lots of them, actually. Here on this very blog I have written about them. For example, I wrote about a plan back in 2009 that, remarkably, is a lot like their other plans. These plans largely are designed to provide talking points so they can fake having a plan. They survive scrutiny about as long as a Popsicle in July.

They’re in the same box regarding presidential politics. They may not allow themselves to address real issues or propose workable solutions, because it will piss off the base. Michael Tomasky wrote,

I finally sat myself down and watched that Scott Walker speech from last week that everyone is raving about. If this was the standout speech, I sure made the right decision in not subjecting myself to the rest of them. It was little more than a series of red-meat appetizers and entrees: Wisconsin defunded Planned Parenthood, said no to Obamacare, passed some kind of law against “frivolous” lawsuits, and moved to crack down on voter “fraud””—all of that besides, of course, his big move, busting the public-employee unions. There wasn’t a single concrete idea about addressing any of the major problems the country faces.

There’s lots of noise that Walker is the front runner this week.

He’s gained because those items— kicking Planned Parenthood, denying your own citizens subsidized health-care coverage, pretending that voter fraud is a thing—are what pass for ideas in today’s GOP. Walker is even more vacuous on foreign policy, as Martha Raddatz revealed yesterday, twisting him around like a pretzel with a couple of mildly tough questions on Syria. The Democratic Party has its problems, but at least Democrats are talking about middle-class wage stagnation, which is the country’s core economic quandary. Rick Santorum is, in fairness, but a) his solutions are the same ones conservatives have been advertising for years (lower taxes, less regulation, more two-parent families) and b) he’s not going anywhere in the polls so far, undoubtedly precisely because he’s trying to drop the homosexuality-is-bestiality shtick and talk about actual economic problems.

This vacuity works for them sometimes, especially when they can blame screwups on Democrats and OH LOOK MUSLIMS SHAIRA LAW MOSQUES BOOGA BOOGA. So, one can argue, they don’t need to accomplish anything; they just have to persuade enough voters that Democrats will take away their guns / give them cooties / hate Jesus. So we’ll see.


GOP 2016: Preseason Tryouts

Republican Party

So Mittens announced today that he wouldn’t be running for President. I’m actually sorry; I was so looking forward to seeing Mr. Privilege retool himself as a champion of the downtrodden. It would have been fun.

The  “I will not run” statement reveals a lot about the man. He has decided to magnanimously step aside and give “other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee,” even though he believes he had it in the bag:

Let me give you some of my thinking. First, I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination. Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening. I know that early poll numbers move up and down a great deal during a campaign, but we would have no doubt started in a strong position. One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.

I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee, but that is before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.

In brief, I am the superior candidate, the one America wants and needs, the one who would most likely whip whatever the Democrats nominate, but I am stepping aside to let lesser men take a shot at it, because that’s the kind of guy I am.

Mark Halperin apparently had insider information, and his assessment doesn’t make Mittens look any better. Mittens thought  he ought to run, because by golly he would make a great President, and he felt downright obligated as a patriot to jump in there and take the White House and make America a better place. It was his duty. And he could win it this time, too; he just had to persuade a few more of the little folks that he really cares about them , too, in an abstract sort of way.

On the negative side, winning the nomination would be hard, because all those other GOP candidates will say unkind things about him, and in the meantime Hillary Clinton is going to take the Dem nomination in a cakewalk and will enter the general election unscathed. Not that he couldn’t beat her, of course, but it would be hard. He’d have to fight for it. And even though he is far and away the best man and the front runner for the GOP nomination, and he felt obligated to serve his country as head of it, because nobody but him understands how to do anything.  he might lose. So he quit.

Seriously; that’s what Halperin says of Mittens’s decision, in a lot more words. What a pathetic weenie.

Compare/contrast Crazy Bill Serman’s  “I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected,” which were his actual words, not the “If nominated I will not run ….” thing. His troops called him Crazy Bill, but in fact Sherman was a man who had been through hell and seen and done hard things, and he was a man with few illusions. Pretty much the opposite of Mittens.

But if Mittens truly is out … and it wouldn’t surprise me if his faux noblesse oblige called him back into the Clown Car in a few months — we may luck out and get Lindsey Graham , who is exploring the possibility of running on his sterling record of — get this, children — foreign policy.

I know. Kind of takes your breath away, huh?

Simon Maloy reviews part of Sen. Graham’s record as a foreign policy genius at Salon. For some of the senator’s more recent geniius, see Maloy’s  America’s most terrified senator: Lindsey Graham’s never-ending doomsday visions from last September.


Opposing Income Inequality Is the New Black

elections, Mittens, Obama Administration, Republican Party

It was funny enough when Rick Santorum tried to rebrand himself as an economic populist. But you’ll never guess who’s getting on the “we are the 99 percent” bandwagon. Well, unless you’ve already read this.

Mitt Romney, sudden champion of Americans trying to make ends meet — it’s coming off to progressives and veterans of Obama’s winning re-election campaign as a little too rich.

The 2012 Republican nominee’s sudden return to presidential politics already had them dusting off old attack lines. His reinvention Friday night as an anti-poverty warrior has them in a frenzy of excitement, even glee at what they see as the Democratic Party’s stroke of good luck.

Yes, children, Mittens now fancies himself to be the Savior of the Downtrodden. This is something like making Ronald McDonald the poster boy for heart-healthy diets.
His message, or as much as I can glean from news stories, is this:
  • Mittens really cares about poor people. He knows this because his wife Ann says so.
“She knows my heart in a way that few people do,” he said. “She’s seen me not just as a business guy and a political guy, but for over 10 years as you know I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations… She’s seen me work with folks that are looking for better work and jobs and providing care for the sick and the elderly. She knows where my heart is.”
  • Liberal policies haven’t worked. Of course they haven’t actually been tried for decades because they’ve been obstructed by conservatives, but let’s not quibble. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and this must be Obama’s fault. The fact that the rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer since the Reagan Administration is water under the bridge.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” Romney said. “Under this president, his policies have not worked. Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

  •  Mittens has a plan, something bold and original that hasn’t been done before. He explained to Republican National Committee members,
“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of the American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles,” Romney said to no applause from the Republican crowd.
I’m sure they forgot to applaud because they were struck numb by the boldness of Romney’s plan. And maybe he could get Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as an economic policy adviser.

Snark aside, it appears income inequality is going to be a big issue in 2016. Hillary Clinton also has been making noise about it and trying to tie herself to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a long-time friend and alleged progressive. Opposing income inequality is the new black.

But hearing it from Romney, de Blasio said, is a sign that income inequality has really arrived as the defining issue of the 2016 campaign.

“This is on the minds of more and more people around the country, because income inequality is basically the touchstone of what we’re dealing with right now,” de Blasio said. “It is very telling that a guy who’s trying to find his way back to political relevance will grab onto it.”

It is telling, and it suggests the 2016 election campaigns will be a ton of fun. But if we end up with a HRC-Jeb Bush general election choice the terrorists will have won.

The Results Are In: As Governor, Christie Sucks

Republican Party

The economic recovery being enjoyed by most of the country has bypassed New Jersey.

Twenty-first century New Jersey is a state so disconnected from the national narrative of “recovery” it might as well be its own country. The fact that the major media has ignored this story for so long is a tribute to Governor Christie’s prowess as a great entertainer. Not since the arrival of the Great Pandas from China has the major media been so distracted by sideshow antics.

New Jersey is only one of three states where poverty has gone up according to the latest U.S. Census data. (New Mexico and Washington are the two others.) Back in 2007, 8.6 percent of the state lived below the poverty line. That went up to 9.4 percent in 2009 and in 2013 hit 11.4 percent.

New Jersey was positioned to be in better shape than this. I lived in NJ from 1983 to 2000. It had a healthy mix of industry, lots of corporate headquarters, lots of office operations that had moved from Manhattan to save expenses. A lot of consumer product companies had their product development operations in New Jersey, and there were labs doing more basic scientific research. And, of course, Manhattan is right there. Lots of people work in the City and live in New Jersey, and lots of companies used office space in New Jersey but could still do business in New York.

When Christie took office in 2010, of course the state had been smacked hard by the financial crisis. The population of the state had been shrinking slowly for some time, but before Christie took office this had turned into a regular diaspora. And one of his campaign promises was to stop the flow.

“People are leaving the state in droves, businesses are leaving this state in droves and taking their jobs with them. That’s why we have the worst unemployment rate in 33 years,” Christie charged.

Scroll forward six years, as Gov. Christie is set to give his second state of the state in his second term, and the exodus continues — and for good reason. According to United Van Lines’ annual analysis of national migration data, they booked 4,003 outbound moves from Jersey but posted only 2,169 incoming. 2014 was the fourth time in the last five years that New Jersey topped the nation for out migration according to United Van Lines.

Late last year a Monmouth University/ Asbury Park Press poll found that half of the New Jersey residents surveyed wanted to leave the state more than five years after Christie was first elected. In the survey of 802 adults 54 percent identified the state’s cost of living and tax burden as the primary driver for their desire to relocate.

Even worse, the people who are leaving are the high income earners. Most of the people who are left are ALICEs. Asset Limited, Income Constrained, but Employed. Between ALICEs and the unemployed, about 40 percent of the people of the state are struggling to meet basic living expenses. And while New Jersey is cheaper than Manhattan, and taxes are lower than New York’s (as I remember),  it’s still expensive compared to the rest of the country.

The Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel that Christie killed would have done the state a lot of good, not only making it easier for New Jersey residents to take jobs in Manhattan but also making it easier for New Yorkers to shop in New Jersey and take advantage of lower sales taxes. As I understand it, with ARC people could have gone directly from midtown to the malls in Secaucus, easy peasy. Now, getting into New Jersey from Manhattan to shop on a Saturday is a major headache. As I noted a few days ago,

The project would have eased overcrowding in Penn Station by building a new rail station at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan, and it would have generated 5,700 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs, and increased home values in towns that would now have one-seat service to Manhattan, the study noted.

… And keep in mind that New Jersey under Christie has had terrible job growth numbers. Under Christie, New Jersey jobs growth has been among the slowest in the nation. I’m pretty sure New Jersey beats Kansas, but not many other states. Most damning is that New Jersey has lagged way behind all its neighboring states in jobs growth, especially Delaware and New York.

Like a lot of Republican governors Christie had been trying to create jobs by handing out tax break packages to big corporations, to limited results, but as far as manufacturing is concerned NJ can’t compete with the South — too expensive — and the research labs and product development facilities have been drying up as well.  And these are trends that started long before Christie took office, but his administration did zilch to slow the hemorrhage. Surrounding states were hit with similar challenges, but none have failed to meet those challenges as spectacularly as New Jersey.

I remember in the 1990s — remember the Clinton Administration? — McMansions were sprouting in New Jersey like flowers in spring. According to the article, there are so many empty and abandoned properties that in some communities the city government has taken over maintaining lawns and at least making cosmetic repairs to abandoned homes so that entire neighborhoods don’t go to seed.

Way to go, Chris Christie.


New Congress So Far (Be Afraid)

Congress, Obama Administration, Republican Party

This is just the stuff that happened yesterday.

The House passed its “dynamic scoring” bill directing the Congressional Budget Office to lie about the real effects of legislation on the budget. See also Jonathan Chait, “Why the Republican Congress’s First Act Was to Declare War on Math.”

This story provides a clue why the Republicans are determined to take the CBO in hand and dictate what conclusions it will reach:

One of the House Republican leadership’s first bills of the new Congress will add some $53 billion to the deficit and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans health insurance, according to a new report by Congress’ non-partisan budget office.

The bill, the Save American Workers Act, aims to redefine the number of hours that people work each week before their employers fall under the Affordable Care Act, raising the threshold from 30 hours to 40. Under current law, larger firms that don’t provide health insurance for people who work more than 30 hours will be fined. The bill would raise the fine threshold to 40 hours.

Republicans argue that by requiring companies to provide health benefits to anyone who works more than 30 hours, the Affordable Care Act creates an incentive for employers to cut hours to less than 30. Analysts say there is no evidence of that alleged trend, however, and a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that involuntary part-time work has actually fallen since the peak of the recession and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The Congressional Budget Office “score” of the bill released Wednesday suggested the shift proposed by the bill could actually worsen the healthcare situation, even as it raises costs to taxpayers.

Republicans can’t have the CBO saying things like that, can they?

Two House Republicans introduced a national 20-week abortion ban. Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that 20 weeks is “very late term.” Huh? A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Even I can calculate that 20 weeks is the mid point, not “very late.”  Also, too:

Franks compared late abortions to torture in a statement released with the bill.

“More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America,” Franks said Tuesday.

“These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”

I don’t know about the number of abortions at 20 weeks or later in the U.S., but at this time it’s the broad consensus of medical science that a fetus at 20 weeks gestation lacks the nervous system apparatus required to feel pain (see “Navigating the Junk Science of Fetal Pain“).  And no infant born at 20 weeks gestation has ever survived outside the womb in recorded history. The threshold of viability currently is between 22 and 25 weeks, and at the very early end of that a fetus is so impaired that most of the time palliative care only is recommended.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. See Teresa Tritch in the New York Times: “Uh Oh, Republicans Are Trying to ‘Protect’ Social Security Again.”

Buried in the new rules being adopted by the House Republican majority for the current session of Congress is one that the drafters say will “protect” Social Security retirement benefits from being raided to pay for Social Security disability benefits. What this boils down to is using a misleading argument to tee up benefit cuts.

You can read the article for details, but basically the GOP is “fixing” something that ain’t broke. Michael Hiltzik writes at the Los Angeles Times that their “fix” prohibits reallocating money from the retirement fund into the disability fund without  “benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds.” But there was no reason to do that; the disability allocations were not putting the retirement fund in jeopardy. But if this goes through, Hiltzik says, the most likely outcome will be that disability benefits will be cut by 20 percent sometime next year.

It begins.


Keystone Cop-outs

Canada, Congress, disasters, natural and unnatural, environment, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Along with dynamic scoring, aka fantasy budgeting, another issue to be pushed by congressional Republicans is approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s a nice op ed in The Hill explaining why Keystone XL is not in our national interest. The main points.

It’s not much of a jobs-creator. “The pipeline company, TransCanada, told the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create 35 permanent U.S. jobs. That’s about half as many workers as it takes to run a McDonald’s.” Further, it will create fewer than 2,000 temporary constructions jobs, and if those are such great jobs why don’t we spend some money and put people to work fixing public infrastructure, hmm?

For that matter, remember when righties cheered when Gov. Chris Christie killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail tunnel that would have gone under the Hudson River and provided better connections between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan?

The project would have eased overcrowding in Penn Station by building a new rail station at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue on the West Side of Manhattan, and it would have generated 5,700 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs, and increased home values in towns that would now have one-seat service to Manhattan, the study noted.

Yes it cost money, buckets of which the feds had already handed over for the project, and much of which Christie had to hand back. It would have been good for the economies of both New Jersey and New York City and added a lot of value to a lot of businesses. Not to mention lightened the aggravation factor of trying to commute into Manhattan, which half of New Jersey seems to do every day.

And keep in mind that New Jersey under Christie has had terrible job growth numbers. Under Christie, New Jersey jobs growth has been among the slowest in the nation. I’m pretty sure New Jersey beats Kansas, but not many other states. Most damning is that New Jersey has lagged way behind all its neighboring states in jobs growth, especially Delaware and New York.

But we’re talking about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Noting that a lot of the same people who applauded Christie’s killing of the tunnel project are now claiming that Keystone XL is needed to provide jobs, let’s go on to the next point.

The Keystone XL oil is not going to provide more gas for U.S. cars. The oil isn’t for us; it’s meant to be refined and shipped overseas. I think most of the people who support it have some notion that as soon as the pipeline is built all kinds of cheap gas will show up at the local Shell station. It won’t.

If something goes wrong, it could go really really awful bad wrong and cause long-term disaster. The tar sands oil is really dirty oil, the article says, and if it spills or leaks it’s even harder to clean up than most oil. The pipeline is intended to go through many critical wetlands and agricultural areas, and a leak or spill could do huge amounts of damage that no doubt would cost U.S. taxpayers dearly to clean up.

In Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the pipeline would run within a mile of more than 3,000 wells that provide drinking and irrigation water. It would also cross 1,073 rivers, lakes and streams — from the Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River in Nebraska — along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands. Pipeline blowouts are not rare events, and the transport of tar sands oil threatens all those resources. Between 1994 and late 2014, there were nearly 6,000 pipeline blowouts or other serious incidents, spilling a cumulative 100 million gallons of oil and other hazardous liquids. A spill of tar sands crude, which has proven more damaging and difficult to clean up than conventional oil, would make matters worse.

Bottom line, it’s a hugely risky project that would provide very little benefit to the United States and its citizens. Note that a many Canadians want to stop the tar sands oil extraction because it’s doing a lot of environmental damage in Canada.

A pro-pipeline article argues that absent a pipeline, the crude oil is being transferred by train, which (it argues) is even less secure than a pipeline. Also making the oil available on the world’s oil economy would stop OPEC from messing with prices. And, of course, the real long-term answer to that is to learn to be less dependent on fossil fuel, period. Between the deep ocean drilling that caused the contamination of the Gulf of Mexico that still hasn’t been cleaned up properly to the Keystone disaster-in-the-making, we’re basically tearing our planet apart trying to wring every last bit of fossil fuel out of it already. Is there anyone out there foolish enough to think this isn’t going to have to stop sometime, somewhere?

Well, yes, unfortunately. I guess there are.


Cooking the Public Books

Budget, Obama Administration, Republican Party

The phrase for today, boys and girls, is “dynamic scoring.” We’ll likely be hearing a lot about dynamic scoring when the new Congress convenes, because dynamic scoring is high on the Republican agenda.

What is dynamic scoring? This has to do with the Congressional Budget Office, the doggedly nonpartisan office that analyzes whatever Congress is up to that might impact the federal budget. The CBO has always used what’s called “static scoring,” which actually isn’t all that static, to make projections.  Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, explains:

Whenever new tax legislation is proposed, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “scores” it, to estimate whether the bill would raise more or less revenue than existing law would.

In preparing estimates, scorekeepers try to predict how people will respond to a new tax law. For example, if Congress contemplates raising the excise tax on cigarettes, scorekeepers consider existing trends in cigarette consumption, the likelihood that the higher taxes will induce some smokers to quit, and the prospect that higher prices will increase incentives for cigarette smuggling. There are no truly “static” revenue estimates.

How would dynamic scoring be more dynamic? Might I remind you this is a Republican idea? Could you guess if I told you Paul Ryan is a big fan of dynamic scoring? That’s right, folks — dynamic scoring adds an assumption that tax cuts will raise revenues.

So if Republicans get their way, future CBO projections will will filled with rainbows, unicorns and confidence fairies.

 A lot of Republicans also want to replace the CBO chief to appoint someone who will reliably give them analyses more to their liking. In other words, they want to “capture” the CBO and turn it into a propaganda tool for the Republican Party. Whether they’re going to get away with this isn’t clear. Note that they object to the current guy, Doug Elmendorf, not because CBO projections have been wrong, but because they don’t always fit right-wing narratives.

Elmendorf’s term actually ends today, but apparently he’s going to stay on the job until Congress decides what it is doing. This may take awhile.


Lame Duck Trolling and Cuba

Obama Administration, Republican Party

For a lot of reasons many of you already brought up, there’s no downside to normalizing relations with Cuba. The old policy certainly did nothing to weaken Castro or set the people of Cuba free. Business interests in the U.S. welcome the change; Gulf Coast states especially could benefit. And, of course, this should provide an economic boost for the people of Cuba. Pope Francis himself helped broker the deal.

Republicans, naturally, are furious. They are working up plans to stop the deal. They are screaming about appeasement. Marco Rubio strongly hinted the Pope hates freedom.

“My understanding is that the influence that His Holiness had was on the release of Mr. [Alan] Gross, which I’ve not criticized. As I said, I’m happy that he’s with the Cuban people [sic]. I would also ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” Rubio, a Catholic whose parents immigrated from Cuba to flee an oppressive regime, told reporters.

“I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives. Obviously the Vatican’s its own state, but very nearby,” the senator and rumored 2016 presidential hopeful continued. “My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy. The Cuban people are the only people in this hemisphere that have not been able to elect a leader in more than 55 or 60 years. That’s outrageous.”

And the damnfool embargo has been in place for 54 years, and it wasn’t doing a damn thing to help the people of Cuba get voting rights. I’ve long thought that if we really wanted to help the people of Cuba enjoy the blessings of capitalism, allowing Cubans to do business with the U.S. would accomplish that a lot faster than not. As usual, the Right is oblivious to the real-world effect of doctrine and cares only about symbolism.

John Cole says most everything else I want to say, including this:

In the defense of Republicans, there used to be a train of thought that the way to liberate the world was through trade and travel, but that notion on the right is as dead as Dick Cheney’s dark heart after 70 years of eating cheesy Freedom Fries. So when you watch all these guys freak out, and seriously, they are freaking the fuck out, just realize that they are exhibiting all they know, which is the cold war mindset. Think back to not so long ago, when Putin was the man of their dreams and the ho yay was in full bloom- he was a real leader, riding shirtless on a bear as he annexed everything to the east of the Rhine while our waffler in chief just stood by. We’re all Georgians and Ukrainians and Romney was Right or whatever the cry du jour was from Johnny Get Your Guns McCain, another Cold War relic that needs to be put down, all while Lindsey Graham wearily lifted himself from the fainting couch long enough to emit a plaintive wail on Hardball. New Cold War! He wants to create a new greater Russian empire! We have to meet force with force! That’s all Putin understands!

Meanwhile, our Kenyan appeaser in chief had different plans, and worked with the international community to put in place a sustained series of sanctions aimed at punishing Putin for his aggression, and where are we now? Without a shot fired, without one casket wept over in Arlington, Russia’s economy is near collapse if it hasn’t already. The ruble is as worthless as Sarah Palin’s diploma, there is an astounding brain drain as the educated emigrate at astounding levels, Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels have agreed to resume peace talks, and just the other day, Obama supported another round of sanctions. Our President knows when and how to stick the shiv in, and it’s much more effective than the wingnut plan of launching a thousand tanks and ten thousand men eastward through the Fulda Gap.

For all the right-wing posturing, though, I rather doubt most Americans are going to get worked up into a snit about Cuba, other than to wonder when they can get the cigars. Republicans may find themselves whistling in the wind on this one, no matter how hard Fox News tries to gin up outrage.

Update: See also “On Cuba, Republicans Trapped by Old Think.

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