Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
The GOP is in sort of a bind on healthcare. First, Obamacare is based on their own ideas. Second, though they are eager to repeal the program, they have yet to come up with (another) alternative. (Their first idea was Obamacare, but since that’s been implemented, they need now to come up with something else.) Ezra Klein points out some aspects of the bind they’re in:
Now that HealthCare.Gov is on a clear path to functionality, Republicans are having to come to terms with the fact that Obamacare will not conveniently collapse before anyone can purchase insurance. If the law is going to fulfill its promise of destroying Barack Obama’s presidency and giving Republicans their long-awaited chance to repeal-and-replace, it will have to be because people actually hate the insurance they get through Obamacare.
Republicans have zeroed in on two things that people really will hate about insurance under Obamacare: The high deductibles and the limited networks. Brendan Buck, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, tweets:
“As consumers dig into the details,” Robert Pear reports in the linked article, “they are finding that the deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs are often much higher than what is typical in employer-sponsored health plans.”
What’s confusing about this line of attack is that high-deductible health-care plans — more commonly known as “health savings accounts” — were, before Obamacare, a core tenet of Republican health-care policy thinking. In fact, one of the major criticisms of Obamacare was that it would somehow kill those plans off. “Obamacare may be fatal for your HSA,” warned the Heritage Foundation on 2010. “Health Savings Accounts Under Attack” blared Red State.
When Republicans were forced to come up with alternatives for Obamacare, high-deductible plans were core to those proposals. “Conservatives have suggested deregulating Obamacare’s exchanges to make it easier to provide policies with high deductibles,” wrote Ramesh Ponnuru. One of those conservatives was right-wing darling Dr. Ben Carson. “In order to right the ship, we need to return the responsibility for good health care to the patient and the health care provider,” he said. “One of the best ways to do this is through health savings accounts, which patients can control.”
This always baffled Obamacare’s supporters. “The minimal, or bronze, insurance option allows out-of-pocket spending of up to $12,500 for a family of four,” wrote Jonathan Cohn. “Those are some pretty high deductibles!”
Now that those high deductibles are here, Republicans have decided that they are, if anything, too high. Just one more broken promise.
Obama’s pledge that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” is also under fire. The issue here is that insurers entering the competitive health marketplaces are tightening their networks in order to cut costs and improve quality. It’s worked: Premiums in the marketplaces are far lower than was expected when Obamacare passed.
This, too, is a success for a longtime conservative health-policy idea. Insurance exchanges have been in every major Republican health-care bill since the early 1990s. They were in Paul Ryan’s 2009 health-care proposal. They’re the basis of the GOP’s plan for Medicare reform.
Conservatives believe that a huge problem with the health-care status quo is that most people get insurance through their employer or the government. In both cases, they don’t directly pay the full cost of the plan, and so they have every reason to demand more generous care rather than more cost-effective care. If they were paying and shopping for plans themselves, they would care about price, and insurers would have an incentive to cut costs by carefully choosing the doctors and hospitals that can do the best job for the least money.
“Narrow networks are not some cruel attempt to limit patient choice foisted upon us by the insurance industry,” write economists David Dranove and Craig Garthwaite. “Instead, these plans may provide our best opportunity for harnessing market forces to lower prices.”
But Republicans don’t seem pleased to see their ideas in action. “As I travel across Kentucky, I hear from many constituents who are seeing premiums increase along with higher co-pays and higher deductibles as a result of Obamacare,” wrote Mitch McConnell in an op-ed for the New Democrat Leader. “Adding insult to injury, these constituents are discovering that despite these higher costs, they have no guarantee that they will be able to continue using the hospital of their choice.”
The Republican turnaround on high-deductible plans and tighter networks has puzzled many longtime health-care observers. “Conservatives are winning at least as much as they are losing in health care, even if they don’t know it or won’t say it,” wrote Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
I asked some of the GOP’s most influential health-care voices about the tension between the criticisms Republicans are launching against Obamacare and their longstanding commitment to these ideas. . .
Continue reading. The whole column is interesting and mordantly entertaining.
As many have noted, the budget plan worked out by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray simply continues the program of reducing government services and resources: see this Wonkblog post by Brad Plumer, which includes this chart:
And yet the government is trying to serve the needs of a growing population in a more complex society—and it requires resources to do the job. Turning things over to the private sector is not a solution for any number of reasons, mainly the drive by companies in the private sector to increase profits from quarter to quarter indefinitely, which in the service area means cutting service and raising prices. And the effort to cut government spending impacts the economy and thus our lives. As Paul Krugman points out in his blog:
As many people have noted, a strange thing has happened on the fiscal policy front. Intellectually, the case for austerity has pretty much collapsed, having been reduced at this point to the Three Stooges Theory: we’re supposed to consider austerity a success because it feels good when you stop, or at least let up. At the same time, however, austerity policies continue to be imposed, on both sides of the Atlantic.
And amid the punditizing over the latest budget deal, it’s worth considering just how unprecedented US austerity has been. Look at total government spending — federal, state, and local — and correct it for inflation, as measured by the core personal consumption expenditures deflator (the Fed’s preferred measure). (It doesn’t matter much which measure you use, but this one has less noise). Smooth it out by looking at three-year changes. Here’s what you get:
You can see that there was a brief, modest spurt in spending associated with the Obama stimulus — but it has long since been outweighed and swamped by a collapse in spending without precedent in the past half century. Taking it further back is tricky given data non-comparability, but as far as I can tell the recent austerity binge was bigger than the demobilization after the Korean War; you really have to go back to post-World-War-II demobilization to get anything similar.
And to do this when the private sector is still deleveraging and interest rates are at the zero lower bound is just awesomely destructive.
Obama seems to like a closed administration, with secrecy throughout. His comments on “transparency”, it is now clear, were mere rhetoric in which he had no belief, stated (presumably) because people like to hear that sort of thing. At ProPublica Cora Currier looks a the Obama Administration’s latest effort to work in secrecy:
As ProPublica reported this fall, the Obama administration is rolling back limits on some U.S. arms exports. Experts are concerned that the changes could result in military parts flowing more freely to the world’s conflict zones, and that arms sanctions against Iran and other countrieswill be harder to enforce.
Now, some in Congress are seeking to add back some oversight mechanisms lost in the overhaul – over opposition from the administration.
As part of the administration’s larger changes to what many view as an antiquated arms export system, thousands of military items have moved out from under the State Department’s long-standing oversight to the looser controls of the Commerce Department.
Commerce Department officials have said that, as a matter of policy, they will continue human rights vetting of recipient countries and reporting big sales to Congress, things the State Department was legally required to do.
A bill introduced in the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month would add back those and other legal requirements for many military items moving to Commerce control.
The bill is intended to “preserve Congressional oversight of arms transfers as the administration implements its Export Control Reform Initiative,” said Daniel Harsha, a spokesman for the committee.
While administration officials declined to comment on the pending legislation, they have quietly resisted it.
“They’ve opposed it because they don’t think it’s necessary,” said Colby Goodman, a consultant to the Open Society Policy Center who was formerly with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs. (Open Society provides funding to ProPublica.) “The administration appears to prefer having human rights vetting in policy only. Unfortunately, this stance makes it easier for the administration to ignore such vetting when it suits them.”
Brandt Pasco, a lawyer who helped craft the overall export changes, said Congress may be over-reacting. “Most of what’s being transferred over, the reason it was being moved to the Commerce system was that it was not seen as being enormously sensitive,” said Pasco, who added that the human rights requirement risked creating “needless bureaucracy” for unimportant items.
The Senate is also considering legislation in response to the changes, though its approach may have less practical effect than that of the House.
The president decides what stays on the State Department’s control list, and the current standard is items that provide a critical military advantage to the U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has put forward an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that lays out broader criteria for the president’s decision. . . .
I will be so glad when Dianne Feinstein reaches the end of this term. Although every now and then she takes a good position, in general she has done an increasingly shoddy job as Senator. Brendan Sasso and Bob Cusack report in The Hill:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. doesn’t mince his words.
The Wisconsin Republican says the House and Senate Intelligence committees have become “cheerleaders” for the National Security Agency.
“Instead of putting the brakes on overreaches, they’ve been stepping on the gas,” he said of the committees, which are led by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
In an interview with The Hill, Sensenbrenner — who has offered legislation to rein in the NSA — called rival legislation “a joke.”
He said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for “lying” to Congress on the nation’s surveillance programs.
Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, wants to limit the NSA’s surveillance powers in the wake of leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
“There is no limit — apparently, according to the NSA — on what they can collect. And that has got to be stopped,” he said.
The 18-term lawmaker claims Congress fell down on the job of overseeing the NSA.
He said the failure in oversight occurred after Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2006, just as he was stepping down as Judiciary Committee chairman.
The NSA then won secret approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to use a provision of the Patriot Act to collect records on all U.S. phone calls.
The court authorized the sweeping data collection even though the provision, Section 215, only allows the NSA to collect records that are “relevant” to terrorism.
“I don’t think the oversight was vigorously done by the Judiciary Committee,” Sensenbrenner said. “When I was running the Judiciary Committee, it was being vigorously done.”
Sensenbrenner, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), has introduced the USA Freedom Act to end the bulk collection of phone records, limit the NSA’s power and tighten oversight.
But Rogers and Feinstein are fighting to protect the NSA’s authority, especially its sweeping phone record collection program. Feinstein has introduced a bill that would make certain reforms to promote transparency but would endorse the phone data collection.
“The Feinstein bill is a joke,” Sensenbrenner said.
He said that her view is essentially “if you like your NSA, you can keep it.”
Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, declined to respond to Sensenbrenner’s salvo…
Now this is good legislation, whatever the motive: in 2009 the GOP votes to require that Congress be covered under Obamacare. While the intent was political theater and punitive, the effects are likely to be salutary and good for the country. One has to recognize positive legislative action when it occurs, whatever brings it about. Ryan Cooper writes in the Washington Post:
Right now, one of the primary ways Congressional Republicans are attacking Obamacare is to cite the sob stories of Congressional staffers — and lawmakers themselves — who are having a bad experience with the law. Thanks to a bit of Republican legislative trolling that forced Members and their staffs onto the exchanges to make a political point, some are discovering that premiums are higher than they would have expected, having previously enjoyed the protection of government benefits that essentially shielded them from reality.
But if anything, the fact that Members of Congress are now having an unpleasant brush with the American health care system is a good thing. These Members are experiencing the same American health care system that the uninsured and people with preexisting conditions have been experiencing for many years. They are being forced to face the fact that American health care costs a lot, which, of course, is one of the reasons reform is so hard.
The health care system is already deeply unjust. A good article in the New York Times sheds light on this, and on how Obamacare is changing things for the better:
More than 243,000 have signed up for private coverage through the exchanges…and more than 567,000 have been determined eligible for Medicaid…For many, particularly people with existing medical conditions… the coverage is proving less expensive than what they had. Many others are getting health insurance for the first time in years, giving them alternatives to seeking care through free clinics or emergency rooms — or putting it off indefinitely.
Kevin Drum adds a related note about how hospitals routinely gouge uninsured people for everything they’ve got:
A heart attack that gets billed—profitably!—to Blue Cross at $50,000, can end up costing you $200,000 if you’re unlucky enough to suffer that heart attack while you’re uninsured. Think about that: for decades, the health care industry has deliberately taken ruthless advantage of the very people who are the weakest and most vulnerable—those who are poor or unemployed… It’s shameless and obscene. It’s like kicking a beggar and stealing his coat just because you know the cops will never do anything about it.
Obamacare, by slowing bringing everyone into the insurance system, will eventually stop this. Compare that to Rep. Michael McCaul (who with at least $114 million is the second-richest member of congress) complaining that the new plans on the DC health exchange are expensive.
This sort of experience is unvarnished good news. Finally, wealthy members of congress are getting a tiny, tiny taste of how the healthcare sector actually works. Five decades of skyrocketing health price inflation didn’t inspire so much as a peep when Republicans held all three branches of government. But now that Republicans have derped themselves onto the exchanges, they’re shocked, shocked at how expensive things have gotten. . .
The minimum wage really does not significantly impact the employment rate: see this summary of why. The suggestion at the bottom of the column to settle the question by doing some randomized trials makes a lot of sense, which in politics seems to be a handicap so it’s unlikely the experiment will be tried. (Cf. how determined the GOP and NRA are that the CDC do no research on gun safety—none. It’s much better to remain ignorant, in their view, in case reality conflicts with their beliefs.)
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee writes at ThinkProgress:
On Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) incorrectly asserted that raising the minimum wage would most adversely affect young people between the ages of 16 and 24. He also claimed that companies would replace young workers with machines, a move he said that he’s already witnessed at a burger place that he was at this past week.
During a televised conversation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) argued that people earning the minimum wage are unable to support their families. But Portman pushed back, emphasizing that the minimum wage is a young person’s salary, and that raising it would cause job loss:
If you want to deal with income inequality, the number one way is to get people to work. About two percent of Americans get paid the minimum wage of that group — it’s a lot of young people. About 50 percent of them are between 16 and 24 years old. For a lot of them, it’s a part-time job.You don’t want to raise the minimum wage to the point that you’re losing jobs.
I went to a burger place this past week. There was a digital display to buy a hamburger. There was nobody behind the counter except the cashier. You go into the fast food places, there’s a drink dispenser. You have one fewer person. If you raise the minimum wage too high, you’ll have not more jobs but fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for the young people. About half the people who get the minimum wage are between 16 and 24. I think the Republicans want to look at this through the context of how do you get the economy moving?
But in actuality, the age group with the largest share of fast-food workers who earn minimum wage or near-minimum wage jobs is 25 to 54 year-olds, who make up 36 percent of such low-wage workers, according to a Center for Economic and Policy Research studyconducted this summer. This is also the population most likely to be primary caretakers of children and families. And while not all workers earn exactly minimum wage, a wage hike would increase overall wages, positively affecting those hovering just above minimum wage at between $7.26 and $10.09 an hour.
Meanwhile, other studies have shown that raising the minimum wage simply has no effecton job loss, even when the unemployment rate is high. What’s more, “taxpayers are better off because they have to bear fewer of the negative externalities from low-road employers—such as the costs of food stamps and Medicaid.”
If the minimum wage had been indexed to inflation during its peak in the 1960s, it would now be over $10 an hour. President Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed increasing the minimum wage, but Republicans remain staunchly opposed.
Read Kevin Drum’s post—and note how the GOP made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate drug prices. That GOP! Always up to something!
From the link:
And here’s the most ironic part: Avastin continues to be widely used for cancer treatment, where it’s extraordinarily costly and of only modest benefit, but isn’t used for AMD, where it’s quite cheap and works well. This is lovely for Genentech, but not so much for the rest of us. Isn’t American health care great?
Juan Cole has an excellent post at Informed Comment: http://www.juancole.com/2013/12/feinstein-reason-spying.html
Senator Diane Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers took to the airwaves on Sunday to warn that Americans are less safe than two years ago and that al-Qaeda is growing and spreading and that the US is menaced by bombs that can’t be detected by metal detectors.
Call me cynical, but those two have been among the biggest detractors of the American citizen’s fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure of personal effects and papers. I think their attempt to resurrect Usama Bin Laden is out of the National Security Agency internal playbook, which specifically instructs spokesmen to play up the terrorist threat when explaining why they need to know who all 310 million Americans are calling on our phones every day.
Now, obviously there are violent extremists in the world and the US like all other societies is likely to fall victim to further attacks by terrorists. But if they could not inflict significant damage on us with 9/11 (and economically and in every other way except the horrible death toll, they could not), then it is a little unlikely that this kind of threat is existential.
In fact the number of terrorist attacks in the US has vastly declined since the 1970s (as has violent crime over-all), as WaPo’s chart shows:
>> and now WordPress is refusing to upload media, but DO look at that chart: amazing that the US is still frightened of terrorists to the point where we give up our rights – LG <<
Read the whole thing.
And Natasha Lennard in Salon discusses the same issue: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/02/intelligence_committee_chairs_want_you_scared_you_should_be_angry/
You’ve been flippant, America. You forgot to be scared. Or, perhaps, you’ve been scared about your communications being swept into NSA spy dragnets. But you forgot to be scared of terrorists, silly America. You wanted Constitutional protections? Well, that’s because you’re not scared enough. But listen up, America, the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence committees have something to say: be afraid, be very afraid.
So went the playbook of intelligence committee chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers in their Sunday morning talkshow appearances. Relying on undefined and overly broad definitions of terrorism, the pair worked to de facto defend the invasive and problematic work of U.S. intelligence agencies, invoking the reliable boogeyman of terrorism-on-the-rise.
“I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs. Trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups than ever. And there is huge malevolence out there.” You hear that, kids? Huge Malevolence! Bombs! Death! Oh My! And you wanted privacy? In the face of unnamed malevolence existentially threatening your nation, your home, your kids and your puppies and — don’t forget — your freedom. Malevolence hates your freedom.
What Feinstein and Rogers did not note, however, was that statistics showing an uptick in terrorism tell a more nuanced geopolitical story than their non-specific fear-mongering. For example, as Mike Masnick pointed out in TechDirt, “nearly all of the “terrorist” attacks in that original report that Feinstein is obviously relying on, appear to take place in areas that are considered war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And, um, I hate to bring this part up, but part of the reason why those are war zones is because, you know, the U.S. invaded both places.”
Feinstein and Rogers did not mention that anti-U.S. sentiment has been stoked in drone-struck Yemen and Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. Last year, when Yemeni youth and human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke to Congress about Yemenis responding to civilian deaths by U.S. drone fire, he said “What does the U.S. mean to these people now? A blasted car, and gruesome footage of dead families?” But in describing rage at the U.S. as “malevolence,” Feinstein tacitly rejects that the anger and radicalization may be grounded in responses to U.S. violence. It was Feinstein, after all, who erroneously claimed that civilian deaths by U.S. drone strikes each year were “typically been in the single digits.”
Feinstein and Rogers said nothing, either, about reports of U.S. special forces carrying out warcrimes — civilian murders and disappearances — in beleaguered Afghanistan. They didn’t bring up recent news of a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province which, according to locals, killed 14 civilians, most of them relatives. “There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Miya Jan, a 28-year-old farmer.
Similarly, the intelligence chairs did not point out the terror attacks on U.S. soil have not seen an uptick in the wake of 9/11. Unless you follow the bogus logic of the government’s greenscare, which labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “terrorists” for attacks on property which not once hurt a person nor an animal.
“We’re not safer today,” said Rogers. Whatever truth resides in his remark owes much to the U.S.-led War on Terror. But it will — or at least should — take more than empty fear-mongering and threats of general “huge malevolence” to defend shadowy and vast surveillance operations and the government’s preemptive treatment of millions of Americans as potential terror threats. Feinstein and Rogers want you scared, America. It seems more appropriate to be furious.
An interesting analysis by Jeremy Peters in the NY Times:
Within hours of each other, two federal appeals courts handed down separate decisions that affirmed sharp new limits on abortion and birth control. One on Oct. 31 forced abortion clinics across Texas to close. The other, on Nov. 1, compared contraception to “a grave moral wrong” and sided with businesses that refused to provide it in health care coverage.
“These are the kinds of decisions we are going to have to live with,” a blunt Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, warned his caucus later as it weighed whether to make historic changes to Senate rules. Those changes would break a Republican filibuster of President Obama’s nominees and end the minority party’s ability to block a president’s choices to executive branch posts and federal courts except the Supreme Court.
The moment represented a turning point in what had been, until then, a cautious approach by Democrats to push back against Republicans who were preventing the White House from appointing liberal judges. All the more glaring, Democrats believed, was that they had allowed confirmation of the conservative judges now ruling in the abortion cases. Republicans were blocking any more appointments to the court of appeals in Washington, which issued the contraception decision.
Faced with the possibility that they might never be able to seat judges that they hoped would act as a counterweight to more conservative appointees confirmed when George W. Bush was president, all but three of the 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus sided with Mr. Reid. The decision represented a recognition by Democrats that they had to risk a backlash in the Senate to head off what they saw as a far greater long-term threat to their priorities in the form of a judiciary tilted to the right.
“The final tipping point was this month, when the minority launched a campaign to block President Obama from appointing anyone, regardless of experience and character, to three vacancies on the D.C. circuit court,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and one of the leading proponents of filibuster limits. “This constituted an attack on the balance and integrity of our courts.” . . .
Don Peck explains. Note particularly the third reason.
Kevin Drum explores some interesting alternatives.
So, the filibuster. Did Harry Reid do the right thing getting rid of it for judicial and executive branch nominees?
I’d say so. And yet, I think Republicans missed a bet here. I’ve never personally been a fan of the idea that the Senate’s raison d’être is to be the slowest, most deliberative, and most obstructive branch of government. Hell, legislation already has to pass two housesand get signed by a president and be approved by the Supreme Court before it becomes law. Do we really need even more obstacles in the way of routine legislating?
Still, I’ll concede that my own feelings aside, the Senate really was designed with just that in mind. It wasn’t designed to be an automatic veto point for minority parties, but it wasdesigned to slow things down and keep the red-hot passions of the mob at bay. So here’s what I wonder: why weren’t Republicans ever willing to negotiate a reform of the filibuster that might have kept it within the spirit of the original founding intent of the Senate?
What I have in mind is a reform that would have allowed the minority party to slow things down, but would have forced them to pay a price when they did it. Because the real problem with the filibuster as it stands now is that it’s basically cost-free. All it takes to start a filibuster is a nod from any member of the Senate, which means that every bill, every judge, every nominee is filibustered. The minority party has the untrammeled power to stop everything, and these days they do.
But what if filibusters came at a cost of some sort? . . .
Kevin Drum has it. The weakness, of course, is that someone will propose a bill to cover those 8 million that the GOP is so concerned about it, and then we can enjoy once more the spectacle of the GOP fighting its own measure.
Previous episodes include the intense GOP battle against the GOP idea cap-and-trade, the hatred the GOP has for the GOP-designed (and adopted) healthcare model (the Heritage Foundation proposed it, the Republican governor of Massachusetts implemented it), and even Mitch McConnell filibustering his own bill in the Senate.
Gotta say this: they’re consistent. In an odd sort of way.
This is good news. As Ezra Klein points out in the Washington Post (in an article in which he lists 9 reasons this is a big deal):
The practical end of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold is not plunging the chamber into new and uncharted territories. It’s the omnipresence of the filibuster in recent decades that plunged the chamber into new and uncharted territories. At the founding of the Republic, the filibuster didn’t exist. Prior to the 1970s, filibusters — which required 67 votes to break for most of the 20th century — were incredibly rare.
5. As Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist who researches the filibuster, told me: “Over the last 50 years, we have added a new veto point in American politics. It used to be the House, the Senate and the president, and now it’s the House, the president, the Senate majority and the Senate minority. Now you need to get past four veto points to pass legislation. That’s a huge change of constitutional priorities. But it’s been done, almost unintentionally, through procedural strategies of party leaders.” . . .
Businesses have one objective where government is concerned: make sure laws and regulations are passed that increase profits. Businesses have no interest at all in the common welfare. McDonald’s and WalMart advise their employees on things like getting food stamps (since those businesses refuse to pay employees a living wage. Adam Peck has a good post at ThinkProgress. From that post:
McDonald’s McResource Line, a dedicated website run by the world’s largest fast-food chain to provide its 1.8 million employees with financial and health-related tips, offers a full page of advice for “Digging Out From Holiday Debt.” Among their helpful holiday tips: “Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”
Elsewhere on the site, McDonald’s encourages its employees to break apart food when they eat meals, as “breaking food into pieces often results in eating less and still feeling full.” And if they are struggling to stock their shelves with food in the first place, the company offers assistance for workers applying for food stamps.
And IBM and Microsoft just killed software patent reform, as reported by Tim Lee in the Washington Post:
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation aimed at reining in abusive patent litigation. But one of the bill’s most important provisions, designed to make it easier to nix low-quality software patents, will be left on the cutting room floor. That provision was the victim of an aggressive lobbying campaign by patent-rich software companies such as IBM and Microsoft.
The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He unveiled a new version of his bill last month, touting it as a cure for the problem of patent trolls. One provision would have expanded what’s known as the “covered business method” (CBM) program, which provides an expedited process for the Patent Office to get rid of low-quality software patents. That change would aid in the fight against patent trolls because low-quality software patents are trolls’ weapon of choice.
But the change could affect the bottom lines of companies with large software patent portfolios. And few firms have larger software patent portfolios than Microsoft and IBM. These companies, which also happen to have two of the software industry’s largest lobbying budgets, have been leading voices against the expansion of the CBM program.
The CBM program provides a quick and cost-effective way for a defendant to challenge the validity of a plaintiff’s patent. Under the program, litigation over the patent is put on hold while the Patent Office considers a patent’s validity. That’s important because the high cost of patent litigation is a big source of leverage for patent trolls.
The original CBM program, which was created by the 2011 America Invents Act, was limited to a relatively narrow class of financial patents. The Goodlatte bill would have codified a recent decision opening the program up to more types of patents. And advocates hoped that change would be a steppingstone to eventually subjecting all software patents to greater scrutiny.
But large software companies had other ideas. . .
Businesses imply are not interested in the general good of the country. Not their department. But they sure as hell can do a lot to undermine the general good (cf. mining companies).
Kevin Drum points out how we have come to this. From the (quite good) post at the link, he points out that the GOP seems to believe that only Republicans be nominated to Federal posts (including the judiciary). That is, they simply oppose anyone nominated by a Democratic president. Nominations, in their view, are strictly reserved for Republican presidents. This is insane.
At various points over the past year, Republicans have refused to confirm any nominees to the NLRB so that it would lose its quorum and be unable to pass new rules; they have refused to confirm any chairman of the CFPB in order to prevent it from functioning at all; they have threatened to destroy America’s credit unless Obamacare was defunded; and now they’re refusing to confirm any nominees to the DC circuit court in order to preserve its conservative tilt. Reid eventually managed to cut deals on the NLRB, the CFPB, and Obamacare, but as Feinstein says, “We left with a very good feeling there would be a new day. Well, the new day lasted maybe for a week.”
Add all this up—the NLRB, the CFPB, the debt ceiling extortion, and the DC court filibusters—and it’s now clear that Republicans have no intention of allowing Obama to govern normally. Instead, they have adopted a routine strategy of trying to nullify legislation they don’t like via procedural abuse.
The GOP is a bad-faith party.
Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel-prize-winning economist. He writes in the NY Times:
American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.
So it’s almost too absurd to believe that House Republicans are asking for a farm bill that would make all of these problems worse. For the putative purpose of balancing the country’s books, the measures that the House Republican caucus is pushing for in negotiations with the Senate, as Congress attempts to pass a long-stalled extension of the farm bill, would cut back the meager aid to our country’s most vulnerable and use the proceeds to continue fattening up a small number of wealthy American farmers.
The House has proposed cutting food stamp benefits by $40 billion over 10 years — that’s on top of $5 billion in cuts that already came into effect this month with the expiration of increases to the food stamp program that were included in the 2009 stimulus law. Meanwhile, House Republicans appear satisfied to allow farm subsidies, which totaled some $14.9 billion last year, to continue apace. Republican proposals would shift government assistance from direct payments — paid at a set rate to farmers every year to encourage them to keep growing particular crops, regardless of market fluctuations — to crop insurance premium subsidies. But this is unlikely to be any cheaper. Worse, unlike direct payments, the insurance premium subsidies carry no income limit for the farmers who would receive this form of largess.
The proposal is a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size. Small, powerful interests — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality.
The nonsensical arrangement being proposed in the House Republicans’ farm bill is an especially egregious version of this process. It takes real money, money that is necessary for bare survival, from the poorest Americans, and gives it to a small group of the undeserving rich, in return for their campaign contributions and political support. There is no economic justification: The bill actually distorts our economy by promoting the kind of production we don’t need and shrinking the consumption of those with the smallest incomes. There is no moral justification either: It actually increases misery and precariousness of daily life for millions of Americans.FARM subsidies were much more sensible when they began eight decades ago, in 1933, at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. Farm incomes had fallen by about a half in the first three years of the Great Depression. In that context, the subsidies were an anti-poverty program.
Now, though, the farm subsidies serve a quite different purpose. . .
Continue reading. It’s lengthy, and as you read, the facts of our food policy become ever more shocking, senseless, and immoral.
Extremely interesting datapoint: A Louisiana Republican backing Obamacare defeats his rival who ran against Obamacare
Josh Israel writes at ThinkProgress:
Louisiana voters elected Republican Vance McAllister in a runoff to fill the state’s vacant Fifth District U.S. House seat on Saturday. McAllister, a businessman who embraced the expansion of Medicaid available to the state under the Affordable Care Act, defeated a Republican party favorite who called for full Obamacare repeal.
In a district won by Mitt Romney with 61 percent of the vote in 2012, two Republicans were the top vote-getters in a 14-candidate October primary. McAllister, who received nearly 60 percent of the vote in Saturday’s special election, criticized much of the Affordable Care Act, but also criticized Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) decision to dismantle charity hospitals in the state, and to reject its Medicaid expansion, which would expand the qualifications for Medicaid recipients and extend healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Louisianans. “Our governor and Sen. Riser right here have gutted [heath care] to the core and privatized it.”
McAllister’s top opponent, State Senator Neil Riser (R), received support from House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), three of the four other Louisiana Republican Congressmen, the National Rifle Association, FreedomWorks and, more tacitly, Gov. Jindal. Riser ran ads saying that he would go to Washington to balance the budget and stop Obamacare — not make friends — andslammed McAllister for ” attempting to redefine himself and stand with President Obama.”
According to President Obama, 265,000 Lousianans would benefit from the Medicaid expansion. According to Jindal’s own Department of Health and Hospitals, the billions of dollars in federal payments available to the state would allow about 272,000 of the roughly 633,000 uninsured adults in the state to get subsidized health insurance on the exchange. But citing potential future costs, Jindal has rejected the expansion, saying “We will not allow President Obama to bully Louisiana into accepting an expansion of Obamacare.”
Washington DC: “The gayest place in America?” asks the NY Times.
It immediately hit me that this is an unusual and yet highly effective (and highly ethical) way of lobbying: find a job working for Congress. The more our Representatives and Senators get to know LGBT people, the more they realize that they’re people, and some turn out to be friends in time—and even more often, end up working together (as an aide to a Representative or Senator, for example).
This sort of experience typically undermines homophobia in most people. Once, they actually encounter, get to know, and befriend some, the whole issue stops being abstract and starts being about people you know and like. Some legislation starts to look kind of ugly, in fact. Laws start to be changed.
So I like the entire approach: education is the best form of lobbying. No money should change hands.
Steve Benen writes at MSNBC:
For reporters covering Capitol Hill, there are two phrases that should immediately raise red flags when put in the same sentence: “partial transcript” and “House Oversight Committee.”
Republicans on this committee got into quite a bit of trouble in this area during the Clinton era, and now that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) holds the gavel, reporters have been fed half-truths through “partial transcripts” over and over again.
And yet, some keep falling for the same trick. Last night, it was CBS News.
CBS News has learned that the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security…. The project manager testified to congressional investigators behind closed doors, but CBS News has obtained the first look at a partial transcript of his testimony.
Henry Chao, HealthCare.gov’s chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), gave nine hours of closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee in advance of this week’s hearing. In excerpts CBS News has obtained, Chao was asked about a memo that outlined important security risks discovered in the insurance system.
Based on the “partial transcript” from Issa’s committee, Chao didn’t know about a Sept. 3 memo on website problems identified by another official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Confronted with the document, the partial transcript shows Chao saying, “I just want to say that I haven’t seen this before.”
The CBS report sounds troubling, right? Probably, at least until one picks up the phone to ask Democrats on the committee whether the CBS report is accurate
I talked to a Democratic staffer this morning about the partial transcript and the aide said Issa’s staff “basically sandbagged this witness with a document he had never seen before and then failed to inform him that it has nothing to do with parts of the website that launched on October 1. In fact, it relates to a function of the website that is not currently active and won’t be until the spring of 2014. Rather than seeking out the truth, this press release tries to scare the public by capitalizing on confusion caused by the Chairman’s own staff.”
Oh. So, when Republicans and CBS suggest the project manager in charge of building the federal health care website was apparently kept in the dark about serious failures in the website’s security, they’re leaving out pretty much every relevant detail that points in a more accurate direction.
The Democratic staffer added that even when this part of the website is active, it “will not submit or share personally identifiable information,” but rather, will only include “insurance information plan data.”
Let’s say this again: beware of partial transcripts from Issa’s office. They keep pulling this trick; there’s no reason anyone should keep falling for it.
The report does not say whether the gullible CBS reporter was Lara Logan or not.