Tag Archives: Senate

The Closer You Look, The Meaner It Is

If your eyes glaze over at the prospect of getting down “in the weeds” of the Senate healthcare bill, Josh Marshall’s summary really tells you everything you need to know:

It has always been crystal clear for numerous reasons that the Senate health care repeal bill would be the like the House bill, both versions, just as it will be like the final bill that emerges from a conference committee. McConnell and Ryan knew that ball hiding about scores and legislative language would prevent reporters from saying this: Around 24 million Americans will lose their coverage, everyone will go back to the era of pre-existing conditions restrictions and lifetime limits. The freed up money will go to a big tax cut for the very wealthy. You didn’t need to see the legislative language to know this. It’s been a failure of journalism to pretend otherwise.

If, however, you want several specific compelling reasons to oppose this travesty, there are any number of reports and commentaries that can help. For example, we learn about several “buried” provisions from an article in the LA Times, in a column that describes the bill as a “poorly-disguised massive tax cut for the wealthy, paid for by cutting Medicaid — which serves the middle class and the poor — to the bone.” Then there’s this:

States will have more authority to reimpose lifetime and annual benefit caps and eliminate essential health benefits. This may be the most insidious provision of the repeal bill, and certainly is the most deeply hidden.

As several Governors–including Republican Governors– have noted, this grant of authority to the states will almost certainly be used, because the deep cuts in Medicaid and other federal funding will leave the states no choice.

The Affordable Care Act also had state waivers designed to allow for innovations, especially in state Medicaid programs. But under the ACA, those waivers could not  lead to fewer people being insured, or to the imposition of higher out-of-pocket expenses. The Senate bill repeals those limitations.

Under the measure, the secretary “must” approve a waiver request as long as it won’t increase the federal deficit. As a result, states would be able to eliminate the essential health benefits that all health plans must provide under the ACA — including hospitalization, prescription coverage, maternity care and substance abuse and mental health treatment. Since only essential health benefits are subject to the ban on lifetime and annual benefit limits, high-cost patients such as cancer victims and sufferers from chronic diseases could permanently lose their benefits in the course of their treatment.

And then there’s pre-existing conditions. As the Times reports,

Protection for people with preexisting conditions is destroyed. Senate Republicans claim in their talking points that the measure protects people with preexisting conditions from being denied coverage or priced out of the market. Don’t believe them…The Senate bill will open the door to states forcing people with preexisting conditions into segregated markets that will lead them to pay far, far higher costs than everyone else….This bill will bring the country back to a system in which insurance only works for the healthy, and the sick can’t afford the coverage they need.

There’s lots more. Older Americans will get hosed; under this bill as currently drafted, older Americans could be charged five times what younger, healthier Americans will pay. Meanwhile, the biggest tax cut for the rich is retroactive; a millionaire who already had booked a $1-million gain on a stock sale, for example, would collect a $38,000 benefit.(Even the Wall Street Journal was aghast at that one.)

And most despicable of all:

In fact, all the measure’s tax cuts taken together, valued at about $700 billion over 10 years, would be almost entirely paid for by the bill’s elimination of Medicaid expansion in the 30 states and the District of Columbia that accepted it.

The bill defunds Planned Parenthood. It cuts Medicaid so drastically that hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans will no longer be able to go to nursing homes, and rural hospitals that depend upon Medicaid will close. It will strip coverage from more than twenty million people, and take us back to the days when people had no choice but to use emergency rooms for primary care. The medical cost curve, which had been coming down under the ACA will once again rise more rapidly than the rate of inflation.

And why? To further enrich the already wealthy–and not so incidentally, to destroy the legacy of America’s first black President.

 

When You Take the Crazy Train….

A recent New York Times column by Linda Greenhouse follows the latest evolution of the Right’s attack on America’s judiciary.

Her introduction is arresting, to put it mildly.

Do you hold Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. responsible for the ascendancy of Donald Trump? The thought never crossed your mind? Then you probably haven’t been reading the conservative blogosphere, where Chief Justice Roberts, target of bitter criticism for his failure to vote to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, is now being blamed in some quarters for Donald Trump as well.

Evidently, the Chief Justice’s refusal to rule against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was a “sucker punch,” that robbed the Tea Party of a victory it “expected and deserved.” This defeat on an issue of constitutional interpretation meant–in the twisted “logic” of Tea Partiers–that there is no point relying on the courts.

Greenhouse says the lesson they internalized was “if you want to beat Obama you have to get your own strongman.” Guess who?

Even before the Trump-focused blame game started, Chief Justice Roberts was well on his way to becoming the political right’s favorite punching bag. In a rambling speech on the Senate floor last month, Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Judiciary Committee, defended the Republican refusal to move forward with President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland to fill the Supreme Court’s vacant seat. Playing off an observation the chief justice had made shortly before Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death, to the effect that the Senate confirmation process had become unfortunately divisive and political, Senator Grassley said it was the Roberts court itself that was political. “Physician, heal thyself,” he said, and then offered this observation:

Justices appointed by Republicans are generally committed to following the law. There are justices who frequently vote in a conservative way. But some of the justices appointed by Republicans often don’t vote in a way that advances conservative policy.

This is a reprise of an old song: if the Courts don’t rule the way I want them to–if they reach decisions incompatible with my preferences–they are “activist” and illegitimate and we are entitled to undermine both the individuals serving on them and the concept of separation of powers that is at the heart of our system of government.

Most lawyers I know would classify the Chief Justice as pretty conservative; his instincts seem to be to support institutional power, whether corporate or governmental. I have disagreed with several of his decisions, and with his articulation of a judicial philosophy. That said, he is clearly a brilliant lawyer whose jurisprudence falls within a longstanding American legal tradition.

The problem is that much of our current political leadership is unfamiliar with that tradition, ignorant of the role assigned to the Courts, and child-like in the belief that whenever a court renders a decision they don’t like, it must be illegitimate.

The problem is also larger than a bizarre attack on John Roberts. It is even larger than the profoundly damaging attack on the Supreme Court by Senate Republicans who are refusing to allow that body to discharge its constitutional duty of advice and consent.

The problem is, America is currently governed by  petty, uninformed, ahistorical and (in several cases) deranged individuals who have commandeered the Crazy Train and are taking the rest of us with them.

Off the Rails

Excuse this rant, but I’ve had it.

According to my husband, his father hated FDR. But when some of the people watching newsreels in a theater booed the President, he was appalled, because “back in the day,” whatever your opinion of the person, Americans believed in showing respect for the office.

People serving in Congress in times past were undoubtedly just as political, just as self-dealing, as those who are there now, but for most of American history, it was understood that disagreements with the Commander-in-Chief stopped at the water’s edge.

What we are seeing during the Obama Presidency isn’t “loyal opposition.” We are seeing shameful, childish and above all, profoundly unAmerican behavior.

Various commenters have suggested that the disrespect and hostility shown to this president are little different than the partisan attacks on Clinton and Bush. That simply isn’t true: while both of those individuals aroused intense feelings (and often boorish behaviors), the animus pales in comparison to what Obama has faced. Furthermore, much of the opposition those Presidents faced was triggered by their own actions; in Clinton’s case, his inability to keep his pants zipped, and in Bush’s, his decision to engage in a costly war of choice.

Obama has faced implacable hatred from Day One.

Political Animal listed just a few of the ongoing, unprecedented expressions of disdain for this President:

* Shouting “You lie!” in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress,
* Refusing to accept the date for a speech about job creation to a Joint Session of Congress.
* Negotiating a speech to Congress from a foreign head of state behind the President’s back.
* Seeking to undermine U.S. negotiations with a foreign country by writing a letter to their head of state. (This, in my view, was close to treasonous.)
* Refusing to even hold a hearing on the President’s proposed budget.
* Tossing the President’s proposal to shut down Guantanamo Bay Prison in the trash (and videotaping the process).
* Refusing to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee before the President has even named one.

Yesterday, a couple of commenters suggested that the refusal to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was no different from previous posturing by Democrats–just “politics as usual.” But verbal posturing by a couple of Senators who subsequently discharged their constitutional duty is significantly different from the united refusal of GOP Senators to uphold the Constitution and do their jobs.

At Political Animal, Nancy LeTourneau posted a sentiment with which I entirely agree:

As Josh Marshall says about the latest example of refusing to hold hearings on the President’s Supreme Court nominee, it is “a culmination of Republican efforts not simply to block Obama’s policies but to delegitimize, degrade and denigrate his presidency and the man himself.” That was essentially my reaction when I first heard of their plans.

Throughout Obama’s presidency, Congressional Republicans have adamantly refused to support programs that would have been uncontroversial during any other administration–including initiatives that they themselves originally developed–simply because this President proposed them.

David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, represents the Republican party I once knew–a party that no longer exists. He recently wrote that despite disagreements with the President, he would miss him: 

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

To that, I would add dignity and grace in the face of constant efforts to diminish and degrade him.

One final point before I conclude this rant: to those who deny that racism motivates much of this despicable treatment of the President, who insist it’s just partisan politics as usual, I suggest you open your eyes and ears. Obama has been demonized as “other” since he took office. Birthers have questioned his citizenship, and anti-Muslim Republicans still insist he’s Muslim.  The current crop of GOP Presidential candidates has channeled the racism and xenophobia, enthusiastically accepting endorsements from white supremacists and unapologetic racists. A recent New York Times Poll found that 20% of Trump supporters believe that Lincoln should never have freed the slaves.

The GOP is off the rails, and its behavior is inexcusable, racist and detrimental to America.

 

This is a Test

Whatever your position on the watered-down background check measure that failed yesterday for lack of a super-majority, you should be appalled by the ability of a  minority to block action desired by an overwhelming majority of the American public, and a clear majority of their representatives.

If this were an isolated case, we could shrug it off, attribute it to the messiness that is the democratic process. But yesterday was simply another episode in the soap opera called Your Broken Government. The story line is familiar: the Party of No refuses to engage in anything resembling good-faith negotiation or legislative compromise, the Party of Wimps shakes its head and throws up its hands–and nothing happens. Problems aren’t solved. Jobs aren’t created. Petty politics replaces lawmaking. Statesmanship is a word in the dictionary.

This soap opera features a dysfunctional family, where the GOP is the bratty child who has tantrums and refuses to do his chores and the Democrats are the enabling parent who substitutes ineffectual remonstrances for real discipline.

Actually, television offers an even better analogy. In the original Star Trek series, the Enterprise came across a planet where warfare was conducted entirely by computer; rather than use weapons that would devastate cities, the computer would simulate battles and send messages to the losers–who would then obediently report to death chambers. In the United States Senate, a group of Senators sends Harry Reid a message, telling him of its intent to filibuster, and suddenly, sixty votes are required rather than a simple majority. No real war–not even a requirement that the objecting minority actually stand and talk. Just servile acquiescence.

Yesterday, those elected to represent us spit in the faces of the ninety percent of Americans who wanted background checks. Representative democracy did not work. Again.

The question is, what will the American public do about our broken government?

 

 

A Lot to Cheer About

Indiana proved to be an outlier. Except for the (predicted) victory by Mike Pence–and the fact that Republican extremists will have pretty much total control of Indiana government for at least the next two years–last night was satisfying. And even here, there were bright spots: Mourdock proved that even in Indiana, crazy doesn’t sell. (He should have taken a page from Pence’s book and refused to talk until after the election). Glenda Ritz defeated Tony Bennett, who never learned to play nice with other children. IPS got three new Commissioners who are likely to take the job of improving the schools seriously–and who are unlikely to rubber-stamp Eugene White’s decisions.

The best news was national. I’m still sifting through results, but I’m no longer waiting to exhale. The President won comfortably–a blowout in the electoral vote and a comfortable margin in the popular vote. The Democrats actually increased their margin in the Senate–something that really shouldn’t have happened, given the seats that were in play. And for the first time ever, marriage equality measures won at the ballot box.

It will be a few days until all the details are available, but Republican strategists should have listened to whoever it was who said “demography is destiny.” Or as Lindsay Graham put it a couple of months ago, there aren’t enough old white men to keep the Republican party afloat.