Archive for the ‘GOP’ Category
Paul Krugman patiently deals with the GOP’s benighted worldview yet again:
Six years have passed since the United States economy entered the Great Recession, four and a half since it officially began to recover, but long-term unemployment remains disastrously high. And Republicans have a theory about why this is happening. Their theory is, as it happens, completely wrong. But they’re sticking to it — and as a result, 1.3 million American workers, many of them in desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December.
Now, the G.O.P.’s desire to punish the unemployed doesn’t arise solely from bad economics; it’s part of a general pattern of afflicting the afflicted while comforting the comfortable (no to food stamps, yes to farm subsidies). But ideas do matter — as John Maynard Keynes famously wrote, they are “dangerous for good or evil.” And the case of unemployment benefits is an especially clear example of superficially plausible but wrong economic ideas being dangerous for evil.
Here’s the world as many Republicans see it: Unemployment insurance, which generally pays eligible workers between 40 and 50 percent of their previous pay, reduces the incentive to search for a new job. As a result, the story goes, workers stay unemployed longer. In particular, it’s claimed that the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which lets workers collect benefits beyond the usual limit of 26 weeks, explains why there are four million long-term unemployed workers in America today, up from just one million in 2007.
Correspondingly, the G.O.P. answer to the problem of long-term unemployment is to increase the pain of the long-term unemployed: Cut off their benefits, and they’ll go out and find jobs. How, exactly, will they find jobs when there are three times as many job-seekers as job vacancies? Details, details.
Proponents of this story like to cite academic research — some of it from Democratic-leaning economists — that seemingly confirms the idea that unemployment insurance causes unemployment. They’re not equally fond of pointing out that this research is two or more decades old, has not stood the test of time, and is irrelevant in any case given our current economic situation.
The view of most labor economists now is that unemployment benefits have only a modest negative effect on job search — and in today’s economy have no negative effect at all on overall employment. On the contrary, unemployment benefits help create jobs, and cutting those benefits would depress the economy as a whole.
Ask yourself how, exactly, ending unemployment benefits would create more jobs. It’s true that some of the currently unemployed, finding themselves even more desperate than before, might manage to snatch jobs away from those who currently have them. But what would give businesses a reason to employ more workers as opposed to replacing existing workers?
You might be tempted to argue that more intense competition among workers would lead to lower wages, and that cheap labor would encourage hiring. But that argument involves a fallacy of composition. Cut the wages of some workers relative to those of other workers, and those accepting the wage cuts may gain a competitive edge. Cut everyone’s wages, however, and nobody gains an edge. All that happens is a general fall in income — which, among other things, increases the burden of household debt, and is therefore a net negative for overall employment.
The point is that employment in today’s American economy is limited by demand, not supply. Businesses aren’t failing to hire because they can’t find willing workers; they’re failing to hire because they can’t find enough customers. And slashing unemployment benefits — which would have the side effect of reducing incomes and hence consumer spending — would just make the situation worse.
Still, don’t expect prominent Republicans to change their views, except maybe to come up with additional reasons to punish the unemployed. For example, Senator Rand Paul recently cited research suggesting that the long-term unemployed have a hard time re-entering the work force as a reason to, you guessed it, cut off long-term unemployment benefits. You see, those benefits are actually a “disservice” to the unemployed. . .
Continue reading. The GOP consistently claims that it helps those who need help if you don’t give them any help. They become much better off as a result. I don’t get it. When someone needs help, they need help. It’s not hard to understand.
Harold Pollack has an interesting column in the Washington Post:
Healthcare.gov’s troubled rollout brings new attention to competing proposals to alter health coverage for low-income Americans. One group of Republican analysts would largely replace Medicaid with some combination of primary care supports and catastrophic coverage. Others wouldn’t go that far but would make greater use of patient cost-sharing to provide incentives for disciplined use of medical services.
Ross Douthat has put the argument well in some thoughtful columns.
[C]omprehensive health insurance is, at its heart, a deeply wasteful use of resources: Modern people, and especially modern Americans, are much more likely to overconsume health care than to underconsume it… This doesn’t mean that social insurance shouldn’t protect people against adverse medical outcomes and unaffordable medical bills, but it suggests that there are better ways to allocate our resources than comprehensive coverage, and that most people would be better off if public policy didn’t push so much money into that direction.
Economic intuition suggests that Harold Pollack and Ross Douthat alike would use care more efficiently if we had more skin in the game, if we were less comprehensively insured. Sure enough, non-poor participants in the RAND Health Insurance Experimentused roughly one-third less care when they were enrolled in something akin to a catastrophic plan than did their counterparts who were enrolled in more generous plans. Despite their reduced service use, participants in the catastrophic plan also appeared, on average, to be just as healthy. Such findings provide a powerful argument for catastrophic plans. (Recent results from the Oregon Medicaid experiment are another matter.)
The cracks in this argument become more noticeable when one shifts attention from the typical insured person to the typical insurance dollar spent for patient care, particularly when one considers the vulnerable populations overrepresented among public insurance recipients.
Most people are light users of medical care. As Aaron Carroll regularly emphasizes, expenditures are concentrated within a group of costly patients with complex conditions, many of whom would hit any reasonable catastrophic coverage cap and who are poorly placed to manage the practicalities and financial risks associated with their medical care.
Although I’m curious to see how healthy, affluent professionals would purchase (say) knee and hip replacements if they faced the full costs, this won’t save much money. Most people in a position to make such choices don’t consume much health care. The real money is spent on patients like my relative who is recovering from a nasty stroke. For all sorts of reasons, giving him something other than comprehensive coverage seems unwise.
These distributional realities hold especially true among poor people. Figure 1 shows 2012 data for Illinois’s 3.2 million Medicaid recipients, ranked by percentile from lowest to highest expenditure. The top line shows cumulative Medicaid spending. The bottom bars show average annual expenditures in dollars. (If you look closely, you’ll notice straight lines where I interpolated between available data points.)
The bottom 72 percent of Illinois Medicaid recipients account for 10 percent of total program spending. Average annual expenditures in this group were about $564, virtually invisible on the chart. We can’t save much money through any incentive system aimed at the typical Medicaid recipient. We spend too little on the bottom 80 percent to get much back from that. We probably spend too little on most of these people, anyway. For the bulk of Medicaid beneficiaries, cost control is less important than improved prevention, health maintenance and access to basic medical and dental services.
The real financial action unfolds on the right side of the graph, where expenditures are concentrated within a small and incredibly complicated patient group. The top 3.2 percent of recipients account for half of total Medicaid spending, with average expenditures exceeding $30,000 annually.
Many of these men and women face life-ending or life-threatening illnesses, as well as cognitive or psychiatric limitations. These patients cannot cover co-payments or assume financial risk. In theory, one might impose patient cost-sharing with some complicated risk-adjustment system. In practice, that is far beyond current technologies and administrative capabilities. Even if such a system were available, we couldn’t push the burden of medical case management onto these patients or their families.
The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid-expansion population won’t include traditional dual-eligible and nursing home patients who make up much of that 3.2 percent. The new group will still include a mix of basically healthy adults alongside more costly recipients with complicated problems who will account for the bulk of actual spending.
In my view, the best way to improve Medicaid is to tackle three inter-related challenges.
First, . . .
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.
Kevin Drum calls it like it is. Some Republican states seem desperate to prevent the poor from getting any help whatsoever. A friend in a red state who is a rabid Republican (and former Methodist minister) explained that they don’t want the poor to get such help because it will foster “dependency”. By preventing the poor from getting (for example) healthcare, they are actually helping the poor. Jesus wept.
And do read the article linked in Drum’s post:
Under Obamacare, if your income is less than 100 percent of the poverty line, you don’t qualify to buy subsidized insurance on the exchanges but you do qualify for Medicaid. Unless, that is, your state has refused to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. In that case you don’t qualify for anything.
Dylan Scott has a piece at TPM about health care navigators who have to break this news to people. Here’s the saddest passage:
In some cases, those being left out seem to understand, having been left out of the health insurance complex for a while, said Cynthia Rahming, who is heading the Houston, Texas, navigator program. She did agree, though, that her team is “often” coming across people who are part of the Medicaid gap in that state.
“They were excited. They were trying to see what’s available to them,” she said. “But they’re still okay. They know it’s just a chance.”
These are poor people. They mostly represent families making less than $20,000 per year. And yet in many cases, they greet the news that they’re completely excluded from access to health care with weary acceptance. They probably never really believed that anything good might come their way in the first place. In the meantime, multi-millionaires can virtually bring the government of the United States to a screeching halt over the prospect of a 2 percent increase in the marginal rate they pay in income taxes.
The refusal of Republican states to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion surely ranks as one of the most sordid acts in recent American history. The cost to the states is tiny, and the help it would bring to the poor is immense. It’s paid for by taxes that residents of these states are going to pay regardless of whether they receive any of the benefits. And yet, merely because it has Obama’s name attached to it, they’ve decided that immiserating millions of poor people is worth it. It’s hard to imagine a decision more depraved.
Conservatives hate it when you accuse them of simply not caring about the poor. Sometimes they have point. This is not one of those times.
Basically, the GOP thinks that employers should not have to meet a minimum wage, no matter how small. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and others have called for an end to the minimum wage—and pretty clearly believe that without it, employers would happily pay even lower wages.
I find this attitude astonishing. Obviously, not all conservatives think this way: rather than very low minimum wages combined with lots of government assistance, some are proposing a higher minimum wage—one that people could live on. Government assistance programs then would cost less and demand would also increase, helping the economy. And having a livable minimum wage does not, as it turns out, reduce employment.
Look at these posts (and charts): it’s an important issue because when companies like Walmat and McDonald’s pay their employees so poorly that the companies recommend that employees apply for food stamps and get food contributions for the holidays, they are obviously not paying enough. For some in the GOP to say that there should be no minimum wage at all is staggering. But: Joe Barton…
Why should there be a law defining the minimum wage? The same reason as for most laws: there are some very bad people out there, which is why we need laws against robbery and rape and also why we need a law setting a minimum to legal wages. The same reason for all these laws: stop bad actors or, if they go ahead, provide a means to punish them.
Everyone seems to love Nelson Mandela now, though at the time the US and South Africa and others considered him little more than a terrorist. Juan Cole points out that the US and Israel strongly supported Apartheid (possibly because both nations have an underclass (African-Americans for the US, Palestinians for Israel) and thus aligned themselves with the white overlords of South Africa):
The attempt to make Nelson Mandela respectable is an ongoing effort of Western government spokesmen and the Western media.
He wasn’t respectable in the business circles of twentieth-century New York or Atlanta, or inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. He wasn’t respectable for many of the allies of the United States in the Cold War, including Britain and Israel.
I visited Soweto in 2012 and went to Mandela’s old house. It was a moving experience. I don’t want him to be reduced to a commercialized icon on this day of all days.
We should remember that for much of the West in the Cold War, South Africa’s thriving capitalist economy was what was important. Its resources were important. Its government, solely staffed by Afrikaners and solely for Afrikaners, was seen as a counter-weight to Soviet and Communist influence in Africa. Washington in the 1980s obsessed about Cuba’s relationship to Angola (yes).
That the Afrikaners treated black Africans like dirt and discriminated against them viciously, denying them the franchise or any hint of equality, was considered in Western capitals at most an unfortunate idiosyncrasy that could not be allowed to interfere with the West’s dependence on Pretoria in fighting the international Left.
The African National Congress had attempted nonviolent protest in the 1950s, but the white Afrikaaner government outlawed all those techniques and replied with deadly force. In the early 1960s when Nelson Mandela turned to sabotage, the United States was a nakedly capitalist country engaged in an attempt to ensure that peasants and workers did not come to power. It was a deeply racist society that practiced Apartheid, a.k.a. Jim Crow in its own South.
The US considered the African National Congress to be a form of Communism, and sided with the racist Prime Ministers Hendrik Verwoerd and P.W. Botha against Mandela.
Decades later, in the 1980s, the United States was still supporting the white Apartheid government of South Africa, where a tiny minority of Afrikaaners dominated the economy and refused to allow black Africans to shop in their shops or fraternize with them, though they were happy to employ them in the mines. Ronald Reagan declared Nelson Mandela, then still in jail, a terrorist, and the US did not get around to removing him from the list until 2008! Reagan, while delivering pro forma denunciations of Apartheid or enforced black separation and subjugation, nevertheless opposed sanctions with teeth on Pretoria. Reagan let the racist authoritarian P.W. Botha come to Washington and met with him.
Likewise British PM Margaret Thatcher befriended Botha and castigated Mandela’s ANC as terrorists. As if the Afrikaners weren’t terrorizing the black majority! She may have suggested to Botha that he release Mandela for PR purposes, but there is not any doubt on whose side she stood.
The Israeli government had extremely warm relations with Apartheid South Africa, to the point where Tel Aviv offered the Afrikaners a nuclear weapon (presumably for brandishing at the leftist states of black Africa). That the Israelis accuse Iran of being a nuclear proliferator is actually hilarious if you know the history. Iran doesn’t appear ever to have attempted to construct a nuclear weapon, whereas Israel has hundreds and seems entirely willing to share.
In the US, the vehemently anti-Palestinian Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco spied on American anti-Apartheid activists on behalf of the Apartheid state. If the ADL ever calls you a racist, you can revel in the irony.
Ronald Reagan imagined that there were “moderates” in the Botha government. There weren’t. He wanted “constructive engagement” with them. It failed. The Afrikaners imposed martial law. Reagan tried to veto Congressional sanctions on Pretoria in 1986 but Congress over-rode him.
Nelson Mandela was a socialist who believed in the ideal of economic equality or at least of a decent life for everyone in society. He was also a believer in parliamentary government. So, he was a democratic socialist.
The current Republican Party . . .
In Salon Joan Walsh also points to the weirdness of the current GOP’s praise for Mandela, when the GOP basically opposes everything Mandela stood for:
I tried to honor Nelson Mandela on the day of his death, and love my political enemies. But the white-washing of Mandela’s legacy, as well as the role of the United States in supporting both apartheid and Mandela’s long imprisonment, has to be rebutted.
It began on Mandela’s 95th birthday in July, when House Speaker John Boehner had the audacity to declare in a tribute “At times it can almost feel like we are talking about an old friend.”
It got much worse when Sen. Ted Cruz announced Thursday night: “Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe.”
But Cruz’s political heroes opposed Mandela as a terrorist and a communist, and there’s little doubt the red-baiting Texas senator would have done the same had he been in Congress back then. (The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart and Foreign Policy’s Sam Kleiner(from July) have the two best pieces about “apartheid amnesia” I’ve read.)
It’s shocking how little American leaders of both parties did to oppose the rise and consolidation of the brutal apartheid regime in the ‘50s and ’60s, but it was Richard Nixon who developed closer ties. The anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and ’80s – where Barack Obama got his political start; I covered the University of Wisconsin’s successful divestment movement with the Daily Cardinal in 1978 — was demonized as the far left at the time. Moderates proposed alternatives like the Sullivan Principles, named after Rev. Leon Sullivan, a General Motors board member, which tried (and failed) to impose a code of conduct on companies doing business in South Africa (Sullivan eventually agreed they weren’t enough).
Ronald Reagan made it a priority to fight domestic and international divestment efforts — efforts that, in the end, helped pressure the South African government to enter negotiations and free Nelson Mandela. Reagan vetoed an amazingly (if belatedly) bipartisan bill to impose tough sanctions on the apartheid regime. Of course then-Congressman Dick Cheney had voted against the sanctions in 1986, and he defended his position while running for vice president in 2000, telling ABC: ”The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization. … I don’t have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.”
The Heritage Foundation was a clubhouse for apartheid backers; as late as 1990, when Mandela had been freed from prison and traveled to the U.S., Heritage suggested he was a terrorist, “not a freedom fighter.” Grover Norquist advised pro-apartheid South African student groups and declared that the issue “is the one foreign policy debate that the Left can get involved in and feel that they have the moral high ground,” while insisting that it was a “complicated situation.” It was not.
As late as 2003, the National Review attacked Mandela for opposing the Iraq war. His “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise,” NR wrote, “given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.”
It’s also disrespecting Mandela to leave his radicalism out of his tributes. For a time he believed ending apartheid would require armed resistance, and although he eventually renounced violence, he refused to do so as a condition of being released from prison. He was a revolutionary who believed in a radical redistribution of wealth, and a global warrior against poverty, to the end. Yes, it’s important to remember his legacy of reconciliation, and love, toward white South Africans who had brutalized him. But it’s equally important to remember the commitment to equality that let him endure prison, and adopt reconciliation as the best strategy to achieve freedom and justice.
So I’m not dwelling on the hypocrisy of the right at this point, but I can’t ignore it either. . .
Though some GOP arguments certainly seem like wrecks of one sort or another. Kevin Drum tries to set the record straight at Mother Jones:
Here’s the astonishing statement that started this kerfuffle:
Kevin Drum responds:
One of the most maddening aspects of the debate over Obamacare isn’t simply the fact that conservatives dislike it, but the fact that they seem unable even to understand what the point is. Via Ed Kilgore, here is Georgia state insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens—surely a guy who should understand what insurance is and how it works—comparing pre-existing condition requirements to having a car wreck:
A pre-existing condition would be then you calling up your insurance agent and saying, “I’d like to get collision insurance coverage on my car.” And your insurance agent says, “You’ve never had that before, why would you want it now?” And you say, “Well I just had a wreck, it was my fault, and I want the insurance company to pay for the repairs to my car.” And that’s the exact same thing on pre-existing insurance.
Well, sure, it’s the exact same thing except for the fact that it has nothing in common whatsoever. In fact, this is basically a defense of the individual mandate, though Hudgens doesn’t seem to understand that either.
People with pre-existing conditions aren’t folks trying to scam the system. They’re just people who got sick. And Republicans simply have no realistic plan for allowing them access to affordable health care. This is a problem for the GOP, because unlike the $100-a-plate crowd that tittered at Hudgens’ story, most people understand that pre-existing conditions can happen to anyone. That’s why Obamacare’s requirement for community rating—i.e., for insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions at the same price as anyone else—is so popular. What most people don’t quite understand is that this is what produces the rest of Obamacare too. If insurance companies have to cover people with pre-existing conditions, they’ll go out of business unless they cover everyone else too. That way the entire insurance pool covers the small number who get seriously sick in any given year. So you have to have an individual mandate. But lots of people can’t afford insurance. So if you have an individual mandate, you have to have subsidies for low-income workers. And with that, you have community rating, the individual mandate, and subsidies. And that’s about 90 percent of what Obamacare is.
It’s one thing to oppose Obamacare. But Republicans have no realistic alternative. They can blather away about tort reform and HSAs forever, but even low-information voters dimly understand that it’s just blather. Either you’re going to cover sick people or you aren’t. And if you do, you’re going to end up with something that has most of the same features of Obamacare. Smarter Republicans understand this perfectly well, which is why they dance around the issue so manically. They know that their plans don’t actually provide health coverage for much of anyone at all. Dimmer Republicans like Hudgens don’t have a clue, so they just tell dumb stories to well-heeled crowds. I’m not really sure which is worse.
The big GOP fear seems to be that helping people will hurt them by making them become “dependent.” (So far as I know, they cite no studies by simply base their conclusions on how they would behave if they themselves received help.) Paul Rosenberg in Salon writes about a study that shows reduction in dependency:
Hilary Hoynes is a University of California at Berkeley economist who wrote a particularly notable paper last year. Instead of increasing dependency, as conservative critics have repeatedly claimed, Hoyen’s paper showed that, for women at least, food stamp use during pregnancy and early childhood has exactly the opposite impact of what conservatives allege: It actually increases economic self-sufficiency when children grow up, in the next generation.
That was just one of two main results reported in “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” which Hoynes co-authored with Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond. As stated in the paper’s abstract, access to food stamps for women leads to “increases in economic self-sufficiency (increases in educational attainment, earnings, and income, and decreases in welfare participation).” Hoynes and her colleagues took advantage of the fact that food stamp programs were established county-by-county over a period of years, creating a sort of “natural experiment” beginning half a century in the past.
“Hoynes’ work has been timely, innovative and revealing,” said Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which has highlighted Hoynes’ work this year as food stamps and the SNAP program have become a major subject of controversy. “Hoynes and her collaborators have really broadened our understanding of how programs like food stamps not only relieve hardship in the moment but can trigger long-lasting gains in participating children’s later health and education. The implications of the research are considerable. In this long view, such assistance is not only helping struggling families to scrape by, it’s a good investment in the next generation of citizens and workers.”
Hoynes herself said, “This work indicates that there are important benefits of the safety net that to date have been ignored. They predict that a more generous safety net can reduce health disparities. More generally, the emerging evidence points to an important role for investments in early life — and those investments generate important returns in terms of better health and economic outcomes in adulthood.”
It’s a startling result in light of the onslaught of conservative claims to the contrary, but it’s somewhat less startling — though still quite illuminating — in light of what’s actually known about the impacts of hunger on childhood development back in the “reality based community,” where population-based studies of hunger impacts date back to the 1970s, when researchers first began reporting on the long-term, adult impacts on children born during and shortly after the so-called Dutch “Hunger Winter,” a period from November 1944 through May 1945, when a large part of the Netherlands was subjected to drastically reduced rations under Nazi occupation.
But to really appreciate the significance of this research, one must also appreciate two other aspects of Hoynes’ recent research, which combine to provide a three-pronged counterattack on the right’s “culture of dependency” narrative. First, she has done previous research establishing short-term benefits — not just for food stamps, but also the for the earned income tax credit — specifically, a reduction in low-birthweight babies, a significant indicator of well-being. This research alone is sufficient to show that safety net programs are achieving the goals of bettering people’s lives, adding more weight to the already well-established statistics on poverty reduction. Second, she has done research into safety net program utilization over the course of economic recession and recovery, research that shows that the current levels of food stamp and other program use are in line with past history, and not a sign of any alleged “explosion” in a “culture of dependency” under Obama, as the right-wing noise machine would have it.
Thus, Hoynes’ work provides powerful evidence for a three-pronged counterattack against this conservative narrative, which has come to play a dominant role in Republican politics in the post-Bush/Obama/Tea Party era: 1) The safety net works in the short term, producing measurable improvements in newborn health; 2) it works in the long term, improving health for both men and women, and reducing dependency among women in the next generation; and 3) it works currently in much the same manner as it has worked in the past. The long-term effects findings are clearly the most remarkable, which is why they’re worth looking into more closely. But it’s the overall combination of evidence — along with the work of others working on other aspects of the safety net — that provides a robust picture of what the real-world safety net actually does to build better lives, pushing back against the onslaught of right-wing lies.
In July, for example, when House Republicans were first threatening massive food stamp cuts, the CBPP released a report, “SNAP Enrollment Remains High Because the Job Market Remains Weak.” It’s common sense, of course. As the report stated in its very first sentence, . . .
This amounts to fraud. Read and think about what this reveals about the GOP. And let’s wait for the news stories that will be coming out just about this time next year, when every heart-tugging talk show segment in the land will feature stories of 20-somethings whose lives have been ruined because they were convinced not to get health insurance, that going uninsured would be a good idea. “And now, here I am…” <breaks down in sobs>
Talk shows won’t be able to resist because those stories will resonate with the audience, particularly with those able to pat themselves on the back for being smart enough to have healthcare insurance.
But read at the link. Unfortunately, believable.
Interesting article by R.J. Eskow in Salon:
You don’t have to be an unqualified fan of the Affordable Care Act to recognize the lunacy of most Republican objections to it. From “death panels” to “a loss of liberty,” there’s only one consistent through-line to most of their objections: They come from Republicans, they’re directed at a Democratic president, and they’re irrational.
The president’s self-imposed deadline for fixing the website has arrived and, while it’s still far from perfect, the complaints are likely to become broader once again. The Republicans may not realize it, but that way lies danger.
More than once, Democrats have made the mistake of taking victory laps for a plan with very real problems. But the Republicans are setting traps for themselves – traps they may find it difficult to escape, especially if Democrats are shrewd enough to take advantage of them.
This shortsightedness already wounded them once, in the 2012 election, when candidate Mitt Romney was forced to attack a program that was nearly identical to the one thatGov. Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts. It looked absurd – because it was. Romney’s campaign was probably always a lost cause, but that didn’t help.
For the Republicans, there’s more where that came from.
The trouble starts with their gleeful rubbing of hands over the Healthcare.gov rollout. Gloating about the website is unwise for a couple of reasons. First, the website’s design and implementation was conducted by a private government contractor, CGI Global, not by government employees. There are many lessons to be learned from the website’s problems, but one of them clearly seems to be this: The privatization of government services, a key goal for the Republican Party, can work very poorly.
Accounts of the Obamacare implementation read like a how-to manual in inept contracting with outside corporations, and the administration deserves to take a hit for that. But the problem isn’t that government created the website. A larger part of the problem lies in the fact that it used a private contractor to do the job.
Worse, the administration chose to use a company whose specialty was not healthcare administration but “government contracting.” The fact that this is now an industry of its own, and one with enormous growth, shows just how far the privatization trend has come on the federal level.
That’s a problem. Professional government contractors know how to game the government procurement system for maximum profits, and those profit margins are added to the cost for taxpayers.
CGI Global, the all-purpose government contractor that handled the website, is a case in point. Even though the Obama administration has made a point of saying government should end no-bid contracts, this project – the most important of Obama’s presidency – was offered on a no-bid contract.
As someone who once led a company that contracted with government agencies, I can tell you that somebody “worked the system” extremely well on this one. Unfortunately, the “system” works much better for the contractors than it does for the public. Every time Republicans crow about the website’s problems, another thought should be implanting itself in the public’s mind: privatizing government services is a very bad idea.
The challenge for Republicans runs even deeper than that. They’ve been mocking the very concept behind the Obamacare exchanges. It’s a concept that made the rollout extremely difficult. The idea was that government would create an electronic “marketplace” where people could comparison-shop for health insurance. This, we were told, would keep costs down by employing market forces and competition.
This also happens to be an excellent way to describe the Republicans’ plan for Medicare. The description is still up at Rep. Paul Ryan’s website:
Beginning in 2024, for those workers born in 1959 or later, Medicare would offer them a choice of private plans competing alongside traditional fee-for-service option(sic) on a newly created Medicare Exchange (emphasis ours) … The Medicare Exchange would provide all seniors with a competitive marketplace where they could chose a plan the same way members of Congress do.
Every time the Republicans tell horror stories or make fun of the ACA’s exchange, they’re telling people that their own plan for Medicare is going to turn the most popular, cost-effective and successful health plan in the country into a tragedy – or a joke.
They’re also sabotaging their own arguments for privatizing Social Security. The plan that George W. Bush proposed in 2005 called upon the government to administer a portfolio of private investment plans on behalf of retirees. There’s still talk of reviving this GOP proposal. Rep. Paul Ryan, leading House Republican and 2012 vice-presidential candidate, continues to push a privatization scheme that even the Bush administration described as “irresponsible.”
As Obamacare goes, so goes the Social Security privatization plan.
There’s a reason why their negative characterizations of Obamacare match their own proposals so closely. As many people know, the Affordable Care Act began its life as a right-wing proposal meant to blunt the drive toward healthcare reform during the Clinton administration. Republicans loved the idea back then. They loved it when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed something similar in California. And they loved it when future presidential candidate Mitt Romney implemented it in Massachusetts.
That’s why they’re in such a trap now. Their attacks have already trashed the credibility of the Heritage Foundation, which was a principal architect of the plan back in the Clinton years. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Moffit brought ridicule on himself and his organization when he wrote that the ACA’s individual mandate was “an Unconstitutional Violation of Personal Liberty” that “Strikes at the Heart of American Federalism,” adding that “It is an assertion of federal power that is inherently at odds with the original vision of the Framers.”
In fact, most experts agree that the idea of the individual mandate originated with the Heritage Foundation itself in a 1989 paper that proposed that the government “mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance.” The paper by Stuart M. Butler argues that:
Many states now require passengers to wear seatbelts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious injury or illness.
The paper continues, “Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.” And in case there is still any doubt about whose plan contains this individual mandate proposal, the section of the document containing these words is titled “The Heritage Plan.”
Then there’s the issue on which Republicans have scored most heavily . . .
Julia Ioffe writes in The New Republic:
On a Thursday evening at the end of August, a respectable, older crowd waited in the ballroom of the Double Tree in Wilmington, Delaware, to hear Jim DeMint speak. The dashing former South Carolina senator and Tea Party icon had been flying around the country on a private jet to stump for the cause of defunding Obamacare, and Wilmington was the last stop on his nine-city tour. In Dallas, he was joined by his protégé Ted Cruz, but most of the time it was just DeMint and his barker, Michael Needham.
In that Delaware ballroom, Needham, a dark-haired, square-jawed young man, dressed in a sensibly checkered button-down shirt and pleated khaki pants, was warming up the crowd. He strutted around the makeshift stage with the kind of robustness that masks a certain Washington stiffness. “Can we, in the month of September, achieve defunding Obamacare?” he boomed. “Yes, we can!” yelled the crowd.
Needham is the 31-year-old CEO of Heritage Action, the relatively new activist branch of the Heritage Foundation, the storied Washington think tank that was one of the leaders of the conservative war of ideas ever since it provided the blueprint for Ronald Reagan’s first term. Although DeMint is Heritage’s president, it was Needham who had designed much of the defund Obamacare strategy. Beginning in 2010, when Heritage Action was founded, Needham pushed the GOP to use Congress’s power of the purse to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. He formed a grassroots army, which he used to keep congressional Republicans in line. “They make six hundred phone calls and have a member of Congress in the fetal position,” says one GOP congressional staffer.
After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.
Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”
But the wrath is not solely reserved for Needham; his employer now inspires plenty of disgust among conservatives, too. Increasingly in Washington, “Heritage” has come to denote not the foundation or the think tank, but Heritage Action, Needham’s sharp-elbowed operation. Instead of fleshing out conservative positions, says one Republican Senate staffer, “now they’re running around trying to get Republicans voted out of office. It’s a purely ideological crusade that’s utterly divorced from the research side.” (“If Nancy Pelosi could write an anonymous check to Heritage Action,” adds the House aide bitterly, “she would.”)As a result, the Heritage Foundation has gone from august conservative think tank revered by Washington’s Republicans to the party’s loathed ideological commissar. “It’s sad, actually,” says one Republican strategist. “Everybody forgets that Heritage was always considered the gold standard of conservative, forward-looking thought. The emergence of Heritage Action has really transformed the brand into a more political organization.”
Needham’s strategy has also sparked a war inside the halls of the foundation itself, where many feel duped by the stealthy yet brutal way the Heritage Action takeover went down. Some now wonder whether the foundation can ever recover its reputation as a font of ideas. “I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. Looking at the organization he helped to create, Edwards finds it unrecognizable. “Going out there and trying to defeat people who don’t agree with us never occurred to us,” said Edwards. “It’s alien.” . . .
Salon’s Alex Pareene has a good comment on Ioffe’s article:
. . . Since Needham and Chapman and DeMint have been in charge, a number of scholars and academic think tank types have left the organization, presumably distressed by the new regime’s management methods. Those methods do sound quite annoying, though:
DeMint also shared another bond with the two men: unlike the Heritage ruling class of yore, none of them had Ph.D.s. All three, however, had MBAs. Their preference for incentivizing behavior on the Hill with scorecards and primary challenges was “a very MBA approach to politics,” the former scholar noted ruefully. “There’s really no room there for deliberation or argument.”
Once he took the helm, DeMint set about reorganizing the business. Under Feulner, the Heritage Foundation ran as a decentralized confederation of so-called research silos—health care, national security, education—whose staffers each focused on a specific area. DeMint instituted a system of multidisciplinary teams that sprung up depending on the issue of the day that Heritage happened to be pushing. Moreover, now a Heritage staffer’s career trajectory was tied to the success or failure of that team.
You mean … compensation and advancement were tied to performance? That sounds like standard corporate management best-practices to me. It also sounds like somethingHeritage has spent years trying to implement in public schools.
Yes, what happened to Heritage — what has old Heritage hands appalled and quitting or talking to liberal New Republic reporters — is what Heritage has long argued should happen to basically all large American institutions, from the schools to the government to corporations. They are gutting the place and remaking it according to business school rules divined from decades of corporate consulting and leveraged buyouts. The overpaid, underperforming old-timers obviously don’t like it, but the new Heritage is more efficient without them.
It’s just interesting how so many of them object to being at the mercy of some business school assholes with no respect for credentials or experience, though. I mean, take it from this inspiring Heritage Foundation ode to the wonderful work of private equity firms, which “make something busted luster again,” mostly by firing everyone: “Whatever the problems, if under the flaws remains something of real value, then with the right tools, that value can be brought to the surface again.” Your think tank just had to be destroyed in order to find what was of real value, which turned out to be, I guess, your email list.
And his reasons make sense, even in the conservative worldview:
Using what he sees as conservative principles to advocate a policy long championed by the left, Mr. Unz argues that significantly raising the minimum wage would help curb government spending on social services, strengthen the economy and make more jobs attractive to American-born workers.
“There are so many very low-wage workers, and we pay for huge social welfare programs for them,” he said in an interview. “This would save something on the order of tens of billions of dollars. Doesn’t it make more sense for employers to pay their workers than the government?”
Don Peck explains. Note particularly the third reason.
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.
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.”
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.
The essence of fairness is reciprocity: the same rules apply to either side. The GOP either does not grasp this or simply is uninterested in fairness. For example, I blogged earlier about how GOP Senators who strongly condemned filibustering a judicial nomination now are filibustering judicial nominations, the difference being simply that the shoe is on the other foot. But take a look at the rule they laid down earlier, from a post by Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress. All of these plan to vote in favor of a filibuster of judicial nominees:
- Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA): “Every judge nominated by this president or any president deserves an up-or-down vote. It’s the responsibility of the Senate. The Constitution requires it.”
- Tom Coburn (R-OK): “If you look at the Constitution, it says the president is to nominate these people, and the Senate is to advise and consent. That means you got to have a vote if they come out of committee. And that happened for 200 years.”
- John Cornyn (R-TX): “We have a Democratic leader defeated, in part, as I said, because I believe he was identified with this obstructionist practice, this unconstitutional use of the filibuster to deny the president his judicial nominations.
- Mike Crapo (R-ID): “Until this Congress, not one of the President’s nominees has been successfully filibustered in the Senate of the United States because of the understanding of the fact that the Constitution gives the President the right to a vote.”
- Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it’s unconstitutional”
- Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “It would be a real constitutional crisis if we up the confirmation of judges from 51 to 60, and that’s essentially what we’d be doing if the Democrats were going to filibuster.”
- Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.”
- Jeff Sessions (R- AL): “[The Constitution] says the Senate shall advise and consent on treaties by a two-thirds vote, and simply ‘shall advise and consent’ on nominations…. I think there is no doubt the Founders understood that to mean … confirmation of a judicial nomination requires only a simple majority vote.”
- Richard Shelby (R-AL): “Why not allow the President to do his job of selecting judicial nominees and let us do our job in confirming or denying them? Principles of fairness call for it and the Constitution requires it.”
- John Thune (SD): Filibustering judicial nominees “is contrary to our Constitution …. It was the Founders’ intention that the Senate dispose of them with a simple majority vote.”
All of these statements were made when George W. Bush was president. But that should not matter because, as Sen. Cornyn said at the time, “we need to treat all nominees exactly the same, regardless of whether they’re nominated by a Democrat or a Republican president.”
This fails the basic test of fairness, a virtue considerably less important to the conservative mind than, for example, loyalty (the virtue that leads a military officer to protect a rapist under his command). And the GOP attitude toward fairness—i.e., toward not changing one’s position based on the political party involved, is also evident in campaign contributions. Josh Israel notes at ThinkProgress:
Tuesday, as he conceded defeat in the Virginia governor’s race, Ken Cuccinelli II (R) told supporters that he had come closer than polls had indicated “despite being outspent by an unprecedented $15 million.” But while he and his conservative supporters now lament that money cost them the victory they felt they deserved, they have long been the defenders of the system of campaign finance non-regulation in Virginia and nationally.
Conservative groups like the Center for Competitive Politics have long argued that “money doesn’t buy elections.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), whose own political action committee gave $5,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign, has for years advocated for an end to limits on campaign contributions, believing “money is speech.” While the 2010 Citizens Unitedruling weakened federal contribution limits, Virginia has long been one of a handful of stateswith no limits whatsoever. The only restriction Cuccinelli supported over his time in the state senate was on contributions from foreign nationals.
Because of the Old Dominion’s anything goes system, candidates can accept millions of dollars from any individual or corporation seeking to ensure their victory. While Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe raised over $32 million, Cuccinelli himself reported at least $19 million in donations — including hundreds of thousands from fossil fuel companies who preferred a climate-change denier to a candidate focused on green energy.
Leading up to the election, the Cuccinelli campaign repeatedly highlighted the money gap, attacking McAuliffe for as being “bought and paid for,” “exclusively driven by big money,” and “willing to sell his out Virginia families to the highest bidder.” When McAuliffe embraced campaign finance reform in an April interview, agreeing that “there’s just way too much money in politics,” Cuccinelli’s campaign pooh-poohed the idea as “hypocrisy.” “McAuliffe complaining about money in politics is the equivalent of Bobby Knight criticizing cursing among college basketball coaches,” they answered.
In campaign post-mortems, conservatives from Linda Chavez to Ralph Reedboth echoed the candidate’s concession and blamed Cuccinelli’s loss on money. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots,lamented that the pro-corporate U.S. Chamber of Commerce went from making seven-figure investments in the 2009 campaign for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) but spent nothing on Cuccinelli. “Just think what would have happened if the business and donor classes of the Republican Party would have helped.” Ben Domenech blamed the “donor class” as “sore losers” who threw a “temper tantrum” by not opening up their wallets for a more conservative nominee.
As Zack Beauchamp noted Thursday, Cuccinelli got “killed in the fundraising race,” in large part because business leaders did not care for his anti-corporatist stances against a tax increase to increase transportation funding and corporate welfare. Cuccinelli embraced anti-government populist ideas — as well as socially conservative ones — but not the priorities of some business interests. Had Cuccinelli embraced their agenda, as McDonnell did in 2009, others in the business community might well have supported him as enthusiastically as the energy sector did.
In an October press release called “Big Money,” the Cuccinelli campaign highlighted a fundraising appeal, sent by the chairman of the University of Virginia Council of Foundations to a hedge fund manager, explaining that he hoped to enlist a large number of UVA alums to support McAuliffe. “The more influential names we have associated with our shared voice the more likely we are going to have the future Governor’s ear,” he wrote.
Therein lies the problem. If money really is the determining factor in who wins elections, candidates who agree with powerful moneyed interests like the Chamber will always have the upper hand over those who do not. And as Virginia saw with McDonnell’s Star Scientific scandal, those wealthy benefactors will be the ones with the freest access to the politicians they bankroll. And if states are the laboratories of democracy, as the late Justice Louis Brandeis suggested, the experiment of unlimited money in Virginia might be a warning sign to conservatives nationally that “anything goes” campaign finance laws may not always work out in their favor.
There’s a lot to be said for drawing up rules that apply to a situation without knowing on which side you’ll be: the rules then are apt to be more fair. In this case, the GOP loved a rule that allowed them to spend any amount of money they wanted on a campaign until they encountered a campaign in which they were heavily outspent, and now they don’t like the rule. Well, then perhaps the rule should be redrawn to limit campaign spending for all parties—and public financing of elections is the way to go.