Category Archives: Politics

The “Skinny” Repeal of the ACA Is Back

Republicans in the Senate want to cut taxes so much for rich people and corporations that the federal deficit would go way up. That means they need to reduce government spending or find new revenue to offset the cuts. Their latest idea is to bring back the “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The repeal would be “skinny”, because the only thing being repealed would be the “individual mandate”, the requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine.

But why would getting rid of the individual mandate help offset tax cuts? The reason is that millions of low-income people would no longer buy health insurance, so the government would no longer need to give money to help them afford it. Right now, the government spends millions of dollars on health insurance subsidies for people who couldn’t otherwise get it. If those people don’t have health insurance anymore, the subsidies won’t be paid.

Unfortunately, there are serious problems with this approach. From The Washington Post:

Repealing the mandate would undermine … key parts of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law banned insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions. But in order to prevent people from waiting to buy insurance until they got sick, the law … imposed financial penalties [the individual mandate] for individuals who did not maintain health insurance coverage.

Health experts say eliminating the mandate would destabilize the individual insurances markets set up by the Affordable Care Act, as they would be full of people with high health care costs but have far fewer of the healthy people that insurance companies bank on. In response, insurance companies would likely either massively raise premiums or pull out of the marketplaces entirely.

A powerful group of stakeholders, including the major health insurance and hospital insurance lobbies and two influential doctors’ groups, wrote a letter to leaders from both parties arguing that they should retain the individual mandate.

“There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need,” the groups wrote.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), among others, analyzed “skinny” repeal earlier this year. Their conclusions led three Republican senators to vote against it on the night of July 27th (it was in all the papers). Maybe the same three will defeat it again if it’s part of the Republican tax bill, but there might be more pressure on them to accept it this time.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives have their own version of the tax legislation. Today, the CBO had something to say on that. From Yahoo Finance:

If the House GOP tax plan passes, it is projected to cut revenue significantly, likely increasing the deficit by $1.456 trillion from 2018 to 2027, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office.

… the CBO explained that without any more money to offset the fall in revenue, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to issue a “sequestration order” to reduce spending in 2018 by $136 billion.

The effects of this sequestration order would trigger automatic cuts to various programs, including Medicare. According to the CBO, this could be as much as 4% for Medicare, which amounts to $25 billion in 2018. Furthermore, all non-exempt programs would be eliminated, which include some farming subsidies, border security, and student loan help.

So, in order to give the wealthy and corporations an enormous tax cut, Republicans will either raise insurance premiums for millions of average Americans or apply major spending cuts to programs like Medicare (or do both). This is in addition to increasing taxes on millions of people who itemize their deductions because they have big medical bills or live in states or cities with high taxes. All of this will happen while they increase the deficit by $1,456,000,000,000, give or take several billion. 

On the plus side, the president, his family, the billionaires in the Cabinet and lots of other plutocrats, including many CEO’s, will have a lot more money in their very deep pockets, a few dollars of which will trickle down to the rest of us. Inequality will increase, people will die too soon, but that’s all right, because I’ve got mine, Jack!

This, That and the Other Thing

There are few places as forlorn as a resort town on a chilly, cloudy, damp, out of season weekday afternoon. Thus, Virginia Beach, Virginia, last week:

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But let’s move on.

Paul Waldman writes about “The GOP’s Baffling Decision to Raise Taxes on Millions of Americans” at The Week.

If there’s one thing we thought we could count on in this crazy world, it’s that Republicans will never, ever, ever support a tax increase. It wasn’t always this way — Ronald Reagan, who to hear some people tell it practically walked the Earth without sin, actually raised taxes multiple times — but today there may be no more foundational belief to the GOP than the principle that taxes must come down, everywhere and always.

Nevertheless, “the GOP is right now rallying around a bill that will raise taxes on tens of millions of Americans.” It certainly is strange. One part of the explanation, however, is that Republicans aren’t very good at this governing thing. Another part is that they’re so eager to cut taxes for rich people and corporations, they’re willing to antagonize millions of voters and lie about what they’re doing.

As a partial antidote to the above, consider reading all about “The Relentless Honesty of Ludwig Wittgenstein”. Ian Ground presents an excellent overview of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, both early and late, at The Times Literary Supplement.

That Was the Year That Was

The title of Michelle Goldberg’s overview of the past year in The New York Times is “The Anniversary of the Apocalypse”. I thought “apocalypse” was too much, but Merriam-Webster says it means “a great disaster”. That’s fair. In what follows, I’ve removed all descriptions of particular offenses:

In the terror-struck and vertiginous days after [the] election a year ago, as I tried to make sense of America’s new reality, I called people who lived, or had lived, under authoritarianism to ask what to expect. I wasn’t looking for concrete predictions — one of the disorienting things about that moment was that no one, no matter how learned, had any idea what was happening — but for insights into how the texture of life changes when an autocratic demagogue is in charge.

A secular Turkish journalist told me, her voice sad and weary, that while people might at first pour into the streets to oppose [him], eventually the protests would probably die out as a sense of stunned emergency gave way to the slog of sustained opposition. The Russian dissident writer Masha Gessen warned that there’s no way, with a leader who lays siege to the fabric of reality, to fully hold on to a sense of what’s normal. “You drift, and you get warped,” she told me.

They were both right. The country has changed in the past year, and many of us have grown numb after unrelenting shocks. What now passes for ordinary would have once been inconceivable….

… this nightmare year has upended assumptions about the durability of the rules, formal and informal, governing our politics. There’s a metaphysical whiplash in how quickly alarm turns into acceptance and then into forgetfulness….

Hannah Arendt once wrote of the role vulgarity played in undermining liberalism in pre-totalitarian societies: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability”…. In this administration, crassness has become a weapon, annihilating social codes that once restrained political behavior, signaling that old standards no longer apply.

Lately, the pace of shocks has picked up, even if our capacity to process them has not….In another administration this [take your pick] would have been a major scandal. In this one it barely registers.

How can America ever return from this level of systematic derangement and corruption? I wish there was someone I could ask, but we know more about how countries slide into autocracy than how they might climb out of it. It’s been a year, and sometimes I’m still poleaxed by grief at the destruction of our civic inheritance.

In moments of optimism I think that this is just a hideous interregnum….

Hey, all we have to do is win more elections, like we did tonight in Virginia and New Jersey. Or we could get the opposition to develop a sense of shame. One of those should be manageable.

It’s Only Tuesday

Wouldn’t it be great if journalists and editors understood that we’ve already seen his orange face and clown hair more than enough to last several lifetimes?

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg reviews where we are today in “The Plot Against America”:

Despite Trump’s hysterical denials and attempts at diversion, the question is no longer whether there was cooperation between Trump’s campaign and Russia, but how extensive it was.

In truth, that’s been clear for a while. If it’s sometimes hard to grasp the Trump campaign’s conspiracy against our democracy, it’s due less to lack of proof than to the impudent improbability of its B-movie plot line. Monday’s indictments offer evidence of things that Washington already knows but pretends to forget. Trump, more gangster than entrepreneur, has long surrounded himself with bottom-feeding scum, and for all his nationalist bluster, his campaign was a vehicle for Russian subversion….

Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

… Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.

Greg Sargent argues that all the nonsense about the dossier and uranium isn’t merely a diversion. It’s “Trump and His Allies Laying the Groundwork for a Saturday Night Massacre”:

President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.

We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics….

It’s important to reckon with the scope of what Trump and his allies are alleging. The idea is that Mueller — who was originally appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and who became special counsel because of Trump’s own firing of his FBI director over the Russia probe — originally participated in a hallucinatory conspiracy to cover up Clinton collusion with Russia. Now Mueller is using the current investigation to distract from it. In this alternate universe, all of that is the crisis … we face, and the only way to address it is for Trump to close all of it down. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is right to point out that Trump’s trafficking in all of this — his endorsement of the idea of preposterous levels of corruption and conspiracy theories unfurling at many levels throughout the government — itself raises questions about Trump’s fitness to serve. We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this forthrightly, and convey it accurately.

Oh, and Trump’s neo-fascist Chief of Staff, John Kelly (who supports the wall and the Muslim ban and loves to deport children) refused to apologize to a black congresswoman for telling a lie about her. He simultaneously suggested that the Civil War could have been avoided if only the North had agreed to let slavery expand into more of America.

Make Voting Easier and Make Everyone Do It

Today’s Washington Post has 38 suggestions from a variety of people on “How to Fix American Democracy”“How to Fix American Democracy”. My favorite is by two Louisiana State professors. It’s the first one on the list: “Require Everyone to Vote”.

A more accurate title for their suggestion would have been “Make Voting Easier and Make Everyone Vote”. Their suggestion:

A long-standing defect in U.S. suffrage law is the treatment of the electoral franchise as a privilege that is denied too easily and often because of an ugly prejudice or a convenient pretext. Let’s re-imagine the democratic right of voting as a citizen’s obligation. In our doppelganger ally down under, Australia, voting is compulsory. They have far higher turnouts, and their elections boast greater legitimacy.

We can and should make it much easier to carry out this civic duty: Keep polls open for an entire week, not a single day, and make sure that polling places are easily available — distributed across states according to population density. In addition, let’s expand mail-in voting (which is how citizens who serve in the military routinely vote). Public transportation to the polls should be free. A national registry of voters can be created if hospitals automatically submit birth certificates; this way, voters could be identified by their Social Security number, and arbitrary state requirements could not be used to unfairly penalize them. Anyone who fails to cast a ballot would be subject to a fine, the funds from which could be used to support the costs incurred by this compulsory program.

Instead of permitting voter suppression, which stands out as a blemish on our less-than-fully-democratic system, we should be defining the voter as a national citizen. In reversing the emphasis from suspicion of fraud to across-the-board inclusion, we would come closer to being a “representative democracy” — what we’ve always claimed we are. And at least we’ll be able to say with greater authority that candidates look foolish (or bigoted) when they refuse to consider the interests of the entire body of citizens.

Like most improvements, this has little chance of being adopted until the Democrats control all three branches of the government. But individual states could implement it immediately.

Since young people vote less than old people, and poor people vote less than rich people, making everyone vote would increase the percentage of voters who are young or poor. I think that would be a very good thing to do, but maybe people who don’t bother to vote now because they aren’t interested in politics or don’t follow the news would be bad at voting.

Another suggestion (“Persuade Voters to Keep Clicking”) includes thoughts about ill-informed voters:

Inept, corrupt or extremist political leaders are harming our democracy. So, too, are the voters who don’t check if what they are reading, hearing or viewing is true. Our democracy’s problems are not just caused by bad leaders but also by indolent voters.

Citizens who don’t care about politics have always existed. As have those who vote without knowing much about who or what they are voting for — or against. But things have changed. Today, the failure of these voters to “click again” and find out more about their choices threatens all of us. The Internet makes apathetic voters especially vulnerable to the manipulations of demagogues, particular interests or even foreign powers.

The Founding Fathers worried about the impact of the uneducated or ill-informed on American democracy. James Madison argued, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.” Thomas Jefferson hoped that education would be the antidote: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. … They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

It is a paradox of our time: Information has never been easier to find and yet we have all become more vulnerable to misinformation, manipulation and propaganda. The Internet is both a marvelous source of insights and a toxic channel through which weaponized lies freely circulate.

That’s why the author of this last suggestion and several other contributors say we need to make sure voters are better-informed. One of them, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, says we should teach critical thinking skills to every student every year. I’m in favor of making Americans smarter and better thinkers, but it would be quicker and probably more effective to make 24-hour cable “news” channels like Fox News and CNN illegal.