“We have compromised enough, and we are not going to compromise on any kind of trigger game,” Woolsey said she told Emanuel. “People clapped all over the place. We mean it, and not just progressives.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said Emanuel reassured him that he “doesn’t stand by that trigger.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairman of the 77-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, fired off a letter to President Obama today, stating: “I want to be crystal clear that any such trigger for a strong public plan option is a non-starter with a majority of the Members of the Progressive Caucus.”
Rested and invigorated from their Fourth of July recess, Senate Republicans unleashed a new line of attack against the CBO’s score of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) health care bill. After initially claiming that the preliminary CBO estimate of the bill was too high, today during markup, Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) argued that the new score — which for the first time included an employer mandate and brought the cost of the bill to around $600 billion — included a tax on hard-working American families and businesses.
Enzi and Hatch argued that the penalty levied on employers who fail to obtain coverage for their workers and individuals was “a new tax” that undermined “President Obama’s own commitment to not raise taxes on 95% of Americans.”
Watch a compilation:
But to characterize the employer and individual mandates as new taxes is highly disingenuous. Health reform builds on the principle of “shared responsibility,” an approach that envisions “joint contributions by the public sector, individuals and employers.” While individuals are responsible for purchasing health insurance coverage — with a waiver for those who cannot afford to do so — “firms that do not directly provide health care to their employees” would be required to pay into a public pool to help finance their employees’ coverage.
Both policies are part of a larger strategy designed to lower health care costs. The bill exempts small businesses from the mandate, offers a tax credit to help them afford coverage, subsidizes insurance for middle class Americans, and allows the lowest income Americans to enroll in the Medicaid program. All this is designed to slow the growth of health care premiums. After all, only if you have everyone in the system, can you really invest in preventive care, reduce expensive chronic disease treatments, and eliminate the cost shift from the uninsured.
Moreover, as UC Berkeley Labor Center chair Ken Jacobs and Berkeley professor Jacob Hacker explain, an employer mandate enhances the existing system of employer-based coverage, levels the playing field between employers “that provide insurance and those competing with them that do not,” reduces “crowd-out of private coverage by new public programs,” and preserves the employer contribution — an important source of funding for health care reform. And while Republicans charge that an employer mandate to provide coverage would lead to fewer jobs or mass layoffs, especially for low-wage workers, Hacker contends that “these concerns are overstated when it comes to the play-or-pay proposals currently under consideration, with their relatively modest employer requirements.”
A study of the impact of the Hawaii health care mandate, for instance, “found no evidence of reduced employment.” In Massachusetts, where employers with more than 10 employees are required to provide coverage or pay a fine, “few firms reported making changes as a result of health reform.” Moreover, “it is also important to keep in mind that health reforms with employer requirements promise new benefits for firms and workers as well as new costs,” Hacker explained in testimony to the House Education and Labor Committee. “All firms would benefit from the reduction in unpaid medical bills incurred by the uninsured. Firms would further benefit from any savings due to a reduced rate of health-care cost growth,” Hacker said.
On the whole, the consequences of failing to reform health care reform far outweigh any penalty levied on the individual or the employer. As economist Uwe Reindhardt points out, the “cost” of the health care reform bill is a small fraction of the $40 trillion we’re projected to spend on health care in the next ten years. Should we fail to reform the health care system, the cost of health insurance for a family of four “will stand at $18,000 by 2010″ or $36,000 per typical nonelderly family of four by 2020. “Millions upon millions of middle-class families will see themselves pushed into the ranks of the uninsured — and possibly into bankruptcy — unless someone helps them financially.” Currently, too many Republicans are simply standing in the way.
Today, the anti-immigrant group, Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), re-posted an article that was featured in yesterday’s Examiner in which “reporter” Jim Kouri warned against the infinite dangers of “illegal alien voter fraud,” suggesting that the phenomenon might have played a role in the election of Minnesota’s new senator, Al Franken:
“Just last month, in an extremely close race in Minnesota between incumbent Senator Norm Coleman and comedian Al Franken, Franken was finally declared a winner months after the actual election. While the recount battle raged, no one within the government or within the news media gave a thought to investigating whether or not illegal aliens or legal immigrants voted in the Minnesota for that contested senate seat.”
Kouri also suggests that “illegal aliens” may have cost Al Gore the state of Florida during the 2000 presidential race. He goes as far to include a nasty quote from New Jersey GOP strategist Janice Martin who seems to pose her own conspiracy theory:
“Americans would be shocked to discover that hundreds of thousands of general election voters are illegal aliens, green-card immigrants, and criminals who’ve murdered, raped and robbed US citizens. And guess which political party benefits the most from their votes? The one that’s pushing for amnesty and a bag full of free goodies.“
Kouri relies on a 2008 Heritage Report which uses anecdotal “research” and self-contradicting arguments to fan the flames of paranoia and convince right-wingers that they’ve acquired more dirt on the immigrant population. The report repeatedly contradicts itself, first claiming that “thousands of non-citizens are registered to vote in some states, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in total may be present on the voter rolls nationwide,” and then later admitting “there is no reliable method to determine the number of non-citizens registered or actually voting.”
If a reliable method did exist, chances are it would make Kouri and the Heritage Foundation blush. NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice goes as far to claim that one is more likely to be struck by lightening than to come across a case of case of widespread voter fraud. The Brennan Center explains that many accusations of voter fraud, such as those put forth by Kouri and the Heritage Foundation, are actually due to database errors. The report ultimately states:
“Many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire…These claims of voter fraud are frequently used to justify policies that do not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters. Overly restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls — which address a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning — is only the most prominent example.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has “ordered Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.” Roll Call reports:
According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans. …
“This was discussed in the weekly Democratic leadership meeting,” one Democratic source confirmed Tuesday afternoon. “These concerns were relayed to [Baucus] later on.” … “The longer Baucus takes, the trickier it gets,” the senior Democratic Senate aide said.
If Baucus’s attempts to secure Republican support delay the process any further, the “planned merger” of the Finance Committee’s health reform proposal with that of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee could be “scrapped in favor of allowing each one to move to the floor on its own.” The lack of a public option is a deal-killer for some Democratic Senators because, as Igor Volsky explains, it is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the cost of health care, while ensuring affordable coverage for all.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has a new study out that, if true, throws a serious wrench into the Obama administration’s plan for preventing foreclosures. The Obama plan hinges on the notion that it is more expensive for a lender to put a homeowner through foreclosure than to modify that homeowner’s loan. However, the Boston Fed found that this may not be the case:
[W]hat is the explanation for why lenders do not renegotiate with delinquent borrowers more often? We argue for a very mundane explanation: lenders expect to recover more from foreclosure than from a modified loan. This may seem surprising, given the large losses lenders typically incur in foreclosure, which include both the difference between the value of the loan and the collateral, and the substantial legal expenses associated with the conveyance. The problem is that renegotiation exposes lenders to two types of risks that can dramatically increase its cost.
The banks supposedly think that borrowers will either redefault on their modified loan or fix their financial problems all by themselves, either of which would make a modification not worth it. Now, the Boston Fed only looked at subprime loans, so applying its findings to current foreclosures (which are increasingly in prime loans) isn’t exact. However, it’s undeniable that the loan modification effort has been slow in getting off the ground, and right now, there’s nothing in the administration’s housing plan that incentivizes lenders to make more modifications.
As Tim Fernholz reported, Treasury doesn’t seem interested in changing the modification program just yet, but if the number of foreclosures keeps rising and banks keep refusing to quicken the pace of modifications, its hand might be forced. So what other stick can be implemented to encourage lenders to modify loans? Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker has been advocating for giving foreclosed-upon homeowners the right to rent their homes at market value for a specified period of time:
This “right to rent” proposal would immediately give homeowners security in their home, so that if they liked the home, the schools, and the neighborhood, they would have the option to stay there for a substantial period of time. This temporary change in foreclosure rules would also give lenders a strong incentive to renegotiate mortgage terms to allow homeowners to stay in their homes as owners, since few lenders will want to become landlords.
As the recession continues, more and more borrowers are going to find themselves facing foreclosure, and it’s imperative that the administration find a way to prevent as many as it can.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) today defended Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s recent removal from office by the Honduran military. In the course of defending the military coup, DeMint attacked President Obama for having what he called an “ad hoc and personalized foreign policy that seems less about supporting the rule of law than it is about supporting particular rulers.” Zelaya’s “removal from office was no more a coup than was Gerald Ford’s ascendence to the Oval Office or our newest colleague Al Franken’s election to the Senate,” DeMint claimed. Watch it:
DeMint seems to have missed the part where Franken was sworn in to office after a lengthy court battle that involved neither the “illegal military intervention” nor forced deportation. Further, despite Zelaya’s faults, his undemocratic removal from office has been roundly denounced by the international community and President Obama has said that the coup threatens to establish a “terrible precedent” for the future of Latin American democracy.
Nelson Schwartz writes in the New York Times that French stimulus funds are flowing more rapidly than in the United States. Part of the issue is that a higher proportion of French projects seem explicitly designed to maximize employment rather than serve top-tier policy priorities. This stuff, for example, is more reminiscent of WPA-style projects than of ARRA:
Besides Fontainebleau, about 50 French chateaus are to receive a facelift, including the palace of Versailles. Also receiving funds are some 75 cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris. A museum devoted to Lalique glass is being created in Strasbourg, while Marseilles is to be the home of a new 10 million euro center for Mediterranean culture.
Basically, if you had tried to do this in the United States it would have been derided as pork. Or else you would have needed to set up a centrally administered slush fund that wouldn’t have played well in the press. It seems to me, though, that the larger issue simply relates to the much larger state sector in the French economy which is naturally going to be more insulated from a sharp downturn. The argument against it would be that this recession is forcing us into some kind of awesome structural adjustments that will pay off in the form of post-crash growth, while France’s insulation from the current “destruction” will hurt them during the “creative” upswing.
Nothing occupies global warming deniers more than trying to prove the U.S. temperature record — a tiny portion of the global temperature record — is not reliable. Now NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center has issued an excellent Q&A, “Is the U.S. Temperature Record Reliable?” that should settle that question for any objective observer.
The NCDC paper proves we should all be delighted that deniers like Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre spend so much time on this: It is clearly a fruitless effort that consumes time which they might otherwise spend spinning out more potent disinformation.
Consider this definitive NCDC graph comparing the U.S. temperature record since 1950 “using 1221 stations in NOAA’s Historical Climatology Network (USHCN)” [red line] with “the 70 stations that surfacestations.org classified as good or best” [purple line].
No discernible difference!
Imagine all the effort by Watts and his cohorts at surfacestations.org and WattsUpWithThat have expended examining some 70% of the 1221 stations around the country — and all they ended up proving is that the best stations give the exact same output as all the rest of the stations!
Conservatives have chosen a strange leader to spearhead their charge against Judge Sotomayor — Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). With only days remaining until Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings begin, Sessions has focused his attacks on Sotomayor’s past service on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF), a leading civil rights organization that Sessions calls “extreme” because it “brought several race discrimination lawsuits for minorities” while Sotomayor sat on its board.
Setting aside the facial absurdity of this attack — race discrimination is illegal, a fact which apparently also bothers Sessions — it’s puzzling that conservatives would let Sessions be their public face of opposition against the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court, especially in light of his own checkered history with race.
In 1986, Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench was rejected by the Senate because of Sessions’ deep-seated hostility to the very notion of civil rights. In comments that are strikingly similar to his recent attacks on PRLDEF, Sessions attacked the NAACP as an “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” organization that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” When confronted about these statements at his confirmation hearing, Sessions reluctantly conceded that they “probably w[ere] wrong.” Watch:
Nor were Sessions’ attacks on the NAACP an isolated incident. As a federal prosecutor, Sessions conducted a tenuous criminal investigation into voting rights advocates that registered African-Americans to vote, an investigation that culminated in an unsuccessful prosecution against a former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Additionally, an African-American attorney who once worked for Sessions testified at his hearings that Sessions said that he “used to think [the KKK] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” The same attorney also recalled being called “boy” by Sessions and being told to “be careful what you say to white folks” after Sessions overheard him chastising a white secretary.
So Sessions’ attacks on PRLDEF fit into a much larger pattern; they are just the most recent phase of Sessions’ crusade against civil rights and the organizations that promote them. America has changed a lot since 1986, but Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III remains exactly the same.