The Supreme Court’s five conservatives appeared openly hostile to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last week, with Justice Scalia referring to the law that ended Jim Crow voter disenfranchisement as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Outside of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing and a handful of state elected officials, however, there does not appear to be much of a constituency for striking down this landmark law. Indeed, in an email to MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) took a very different position that the conservative justices: “I do believe this is a legislative matter where the action of the congress should take priority and does not raise constitutional issues that justify judicial action superseding the legislative branch’s role.”
Reauthorization of the act received overwhelming bipartisan support in 2006, with the House voting 390-33 in favor and the Senate voting 98-0. In his now-infamous “racial entitlement” statement, Scalia suggested that this lopsided vote actually makes the law more suspect than if there had been significant opposition, because he thinks this means legislators were to scared to vote against it. In reality, however, there is no evidence that elected officials who oppose voting rights are afraid to take action against the law — six state attorneys general filed a brief in the Supreme Court arguing that the law should be struck down in order to make it easier for their states to enact voter suppression laws. The more likely explanation for the lopsided vote is that few people who don’t sit on the Supreme Court believe the law’s longstanding protections for minority voting rights are a bad idea.
Judd Gregg admits that the failure of the Affordable Care Act’s long-term health care program CLASS won’t unravel the entire health care law in this morning’s interview with the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff, but the former Republican senator offers some rather surprising explanations of why he included an amendment in the law that requires the program to remain solvent for 75 years. Last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited Gregg’s provision as a reason for why the government has stopped implementing CLASS. From the interview:
SK: Tell me more about why you decided to offer that amendment.
JG: I knew we weren’t going to kill the CLASS Act because it was Sen. Ted Kennedy’s proposal, and he was very sick, and most of us were very sensitive to the fact he was sick. This was his last hurrah, legislatively. I knew we were going to implement it, although I didn’t think the concept was sound. Conceptually, it makes sense to prefund long-term care insurance…. but what this bill did was just the opposite. It was totally unsound. [...]
SK: Does the end of the CLASS Act say anything about the rest of the health law? Or is this an isolated incident?
JG: This was a sidecar. This was not a core element of the overall bill. It was put in as a courtesy to Sen. Kennedy. I do happen to think the overall bill is going to massively fail on the fiscal side and probably fail on the substantive side too. But you can separate off the CLASS act as not having an effect on the underlying bill, even though the underlying bill will also fail.
This won’t read well to the people who had worked by Kennedy’s side for years trying to build a program that would provide some very basic health care services to people who need help taking care of themselves. Nor should it. Gregg knows full well that the program could work if one were to include a mandate or tinker with the eligibility and premiums to ensure that it attracts enough healthy enrollees to keep it sustainable over the long term. To say that CLASS is a pipe dream included in the law to appease a dying senator is not only offensive but also very untrue.
Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee have made a lot of noise about finding ways to defund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new regulatory agency created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Incoming Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) has said that he wants to, at the very least, subject the Bureau to the annual Congressional appropriations process (whereas the Dodd-Frank law stipulates that the Bureau receive an independent stream of funding from the Federal Reserve).
Republicans will “try to take a look at some of this stuff such as the consumer agency for example, making it at least at a minimum subject to appropriation oversight so it’s not a totally independent relative stream of revenue,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, a retiring New Hampshire Republican who serves on the Banking Committee. Gregg said such a move should be popular since lawmakers would prefer having more oversight power. “It shouldn’t be very difficult at all, because why wouldn’t the Congress want oversight of an agency that important?” he said.
Of course, Congress already does have an oversight function when it comes to the Bureau: it has to confirm the Bureau’s director. Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren — who is currently heading the agency as it gets off the ground, under the umbrella of the Treasury Department — is reportedly searching for the person who will become the first official director, and who will have to come before the Senate.
But oversight is very different from politicizing the agency, which could occur if the Bureau were subjected to the annual appropriations process. The rationale for giving the Bureau an independent stream of funding is to prevent appropriators from pushing a political agenda through the agency by threatening funding cuts. The Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission have independent budgets for the same reason.
There are plenty of other ways in which a regulatory agency can still be rendered useless: the Bush administration, for instance, simply appointed regulators, like former SEC Chairman Chris Cox, who didn’t have any interest in actually regulating. But an independent source of funding at least ensures that an agency doesn’t have to agree to whatever policy prescriptions will please Congress and enable it to keep the lights on.
Worried that “there is something catastrophic” that will happen to the economy within years, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) pleaded for action on the budget deficit in a Fox News interview today, using incipient climate disasters in a forceful metaphor. Gregg sharply criticized those who would “do nothing” about a metaphorical “force-five hurricane in five years”:
I genuinely believe there is something catastrophic, I can’t tell you that it’ll happen within the next 2 years. I can tell you within the next five years it will happen. If there’s a force five hurricane in five years, and you know it’s going to hit your shoreline in five years, do you do nothing about it?
In March 2009, Gregg slammed Obama’s proposed climate action outline, calling it a “non-starter.” A month later, Gregg voted repeatedly to preserve the filibuster for green economy legislation, even if “the Senate finds that public health, the economy and national security of the United States are jeopardized by inaction on global warming.”
After the House passed major legislation to reduce the threat of climate disasters, Gregg again stood up to do nothing. “I think cap and trade has a long road here obviously,”, Gregg said in February 2010, opposing the work by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to draft climate policy. “I think it’s more logical to focus on those things we can do in the short term.”
As debate in Washington begins to focus on ways to reduce the deficit, Republican lawmakers — notoriously unable to actually specify any significant spending cuts they would like to make — often give repeal of the President Obama’s health care law as one of their best ideas to reduce federal spending. But there’s one small problem with this plan — repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually increase the deficit, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, to the tune of $143 billion over ten years.
Asked about how he would save money on Fox News yesterday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who is one of the few GOP lawmakers to oppose a full repeal, nonetheless claimed the law will cause a massive amount of new spending. He dismissed the CBO’s estimates out of hand, without any explanation, and found the concept of listening to the CBO so “absurd on its face” that he laughed when host Shannon Bream mentioned the office’s findings, saying, “if you believe that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you”:
GREGG: The health care plan alone will add $2.5 trillion in new spending to the federal government over the next ten years. [...]
BREAM: Okay, you point to $2.5 trillion in increased costs because of health care, but Democrats are going to point to figures from the CBO estimates and other economists saying that it is actually going to save us money. Where is the disconnect on the math?
GREGG: [Laughs] Hey, if you believe that, Shannon, I’m going to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn. I mean, that’s just absurd on its face.
Watch it (beginning 2:40):
While Gregg is quick to dismiss the CBO — or anyone else — who disagrees with the disinformation he is trying to push, the senator has been happy to heap praise on the office when its findings do comport with his narrative. While discussing health care in 2009, Gregg said, “the nail was hit on the head by Doug Elmendorf, who’s head of CBO — and who is, by the way, appointed by the Democratic leadership of the House and the Senate.”
In March, on Fox News, Gregg urged viewers to “go to CBO” if they didn’t trust a figure he had mentioned on Medicare. “[T]hey are the independent score keeper,” he explained. But just hours later on CNN, Gregg was back to attacking the office, saying, “of course” he didn’t believe the office’s calculations on the Affordable Care Act. Rehashing his familiar talking point, he joked, “If you believe those numbers, I will sell you a bridge in Brooklyn and probably two in Oakland.”
Perhaps Gregg should take some sage advice from a senior U.S. senator: “We can solve this problem if we would just simply listen to what the CBO proposed and proceed on a plan of addressing the problem rather than addressing the politics.” That senator? Judd Gregg, just over a year ago.
I’ve debunked Sen. Judd Gregg’s (R-NH) entire Halloween-themed health care editorial here‘ before, but since he’s now expanding on his claims about the causes of rising health insurance premiums, it’s important to give his comments some more play — if only to highlight how far off the ledge he’s fallen.
Last night, Gregg told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, “You’re seeing a massive increase in premium costs, some driven by the cost of health care generally, but a lot driven by the cost of the regulations in this new program.” The deliberate use of “some” and “a lot” suggests that the health care law is driving up premiums faster than health care inflation — an argument that’s so unbelievably false that even the health insurance lobbyists are unwilling to make it:
Robert Zirkelbach of the insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans concedes that, despite what some have claimed, the law isn’t the major driver of premium increases for next year. “In fact, the evidence is very clear that the rise in medical costs is a key factor in driving up health insurance premiums,” he says.
But, Zirkelbach says, in some cases, premiums could rise significantly because of new benefits the law requires.
“Many people already have the new benefits that are required in the law as part of their current benefit packages,” he says. “So they’re not going to see [nearly as much of] an impact as people who have chosen less comprehensive policies in exchange for a lower monthly premium.”
On the other hand, Zirkelbach says, “for those people who have less comprehensive benefit packages today, they’re going to see a much larger impact in their premium as a result of health care reform.”
In other words — in a rare glimmer of truth that Zirkelbach’s boss AHIP President and CEO seemed unwilling to concede last month — premiums are increasing for the exact opposite reason than Gregg is suggesting. The new consumer protections in the health care law are at most responsible for one to two percent of the increases; the rest is due to health care inflation and the poor economy. And this is something Gregg has actually admitted before. During an appearance on Fox Business last week, Gregg said, ”Premiums went up by an average of eight to nine percent, it’s estimated that one to two percent of that is directly a result of the health care bill.”
So there you have it. The GOP final health care talking points are so extreme, they have to be reigned in by the very health insurance lobbyists who helped them spin these arguments in the first place.
Outgoing Republican Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) has penned a Halloween-themed editorial advancing some new myths about the Affordable Care Act, all the while implicitly conceding that Republicans will not be able to repeal the law. “Caught in a cobweb of false promises, the American people were fed a story about how health care reform would insure everyone, allow people to keep their own insurance policies and reduce health care spending while improving quality,” Gregg writes. “Sadly, these were fantasies masquerading as fact. The scary tale that follows needs no skeletons or vampires; statistics alone can frighten you.”
Some of Gregg’s ‘scary tale’ has already been debunked by Saturday’s very prescient New York Times editorial and, as it turns out, Gregg’s own TV appearances:
MYTH — HIGHER PREMIUMS: “President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats promised us that the new law would lower premiums. It has not. Premiums in 2011 will rise more than 12 percent for employer-sponsored coverage, according to a recent Hewitt Associates study.”
FACT: That Hewitt study actually found that the new consumer protections in the health care law are at most responsible for 1% to 2% of the 12% increase that’s due to health care inflation and adverse selection, a point Gregg conceded during an appearance on Fox Business last week.”Premiums went up by an average of 8 to 9 percent, it’s estimated that 1 to 2% of that is directly a result of the health care bill,” Gregg told Neil Cavuto.
MYTH — LOSS OF EXISTING COVERAGE: “We were promised that, if we liked our coverage, we could keep it. But we were misled. The Obama administration recently revealed that employees of nearly 70 percent of U.S. businesses, who get coverage through their job, may lose their current health care plan because of the new regulations.”
FACT: Insurers and self insured employers make policy adjustments all the time and over the last few years they’ve been slowly shifting the risks and costs of coverage to the individual. Regulations in the Affordable Care Act will discourage employers and insurers from stiffing beneficiaries with very high costs and insufficient benefits and shield consumers from drastic benefit cuts or cost shifts. If Republicans are successful in repealing these requirements, insurers and employers will be able to avoid abiding by the popular consumer protections, no matter how dramatically they cut benefits, raise co-pays, or lower employer contributions.
MYTH — MCDONALD’S DROPPING COVERAGE: “These workers may lose access to their current benefits because the government will prohibit their employers from offering a plan that is affordable and provides substantive benefits for working families.”
FACT: As the New York Times explained on Saturday, “The administration has granted some 30 waivers for one year (Rush Limbaugh promptly accused the administration of allowing these employers to “break the law”) and has signaled willingness to smooth out other bumps on the road toward full reform.” Republicans, however, are intent on criticizing the administration for addressing this problem.
MYTH — SENIORS AT RISK: “Even seniors are at risk. The Obama administration announced that nearly one million seniors will lose their current Medicare Advantage plans next year.”
FACT: CMS actually projects that 99.7% of seniors will continue to have access to a Medicare Advantage plan and that only a small number of fee-for-service plans will leave the market. This is because of a 2008 bipartisan bill that required issuers to establish provider networks, not the Affordable Care Act. The bill was vetoed by President Bush, but passed again the Senate with a two-thirds majority. Gregg did not support the legislation.
MYTH — INCREASES HEALTH COSTS: “Even the Obama administration’s own actuaries found that health care spending will increase under the new law, consuming an even larger share of our nation’s fragile economy. ”
FACT: This is not what “the Obama administration’s own actuaries found.” They concluded that beginning in 2014, as 30 million+ individuals begin receiving health care coverage and visiting doctors, health care expenditures will naturally increase. Costs will continue to grow higher than current law until around 2015, at which point the Medicare savings, the excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, and the Medicare payment board will cause costs to “decelerate.” Moreover, the actuaries predict that as a result of these savings, Medicare spending will decline $86.4 billion from previous projections due to reforms. “Specifically, average annual Medicare spending growth is anticipated to be 1.4 percentage points slower for 2012–19 than we projected in February 2010. By 2019, it is projected to grow 7.7 percent—0.9 percentage point more slowly than we projected in February 2010,” the report concludes.
MYTH — INCREASES THE DEBT: “The current pace of government expansion and federal spending is unaffordable and unsustainable. The national debt will double in five years and triple in 10 under the Democrats’ spending plans.”
FACT: The CBO estimates that the law will produce “$143 billion in net budgetary savings over the 2010-2019 period” and reported that repealing the law would increase the debt by that amount.
Significantly, Gregg does not call for repealing the law, as he has in months past. He merely writes, “It is my hope that the next Congress consists of members who will pass reforms that responsibly address our health care needs while improving the economy.” The language is part of an ongoing GOP campaign to temper expectations for repeal.
Republicans have made repealing the Affordable Care Act a central part of their governing agenda, including it in their “Pledge to America,” while Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has demanded “blood oath” that the law will be “ripped out completely, lock, stock and barrel – root and branch – no vestige left behind, not a DNA particle of Obamacare retained.”
In a new interview with Newsmax, far-right tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) — who vowed to make the defeat of health care reform President Obama’s “Waterloo” — echoed King, placing such importance on repealing the law that he said, “if we give up on repealing the health care bill, I think we’re giving up on our country”:
HOST: Do you think they’ll actually rescind the health care bill or stop the funding?
DEMINT: Well, I’ve to believe we can. If we give up on repealing the health care bill, I think we’re giving up on our country. I really believe this will destroy our health care system, I think it’ll bankrupt our country.
But despite claims of unity, not everyone in the GOP is on board. Outgoing Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) led the fight against the Affordable Care Act in the Senate, but during an appearance on Fox Business last night, Gregg — who has proposed a health bill that’s similar to what Democrats passed in March — said, “I don’t think starving or repeal is probably the best approach here.” He endorsed some Medicare cuts in the law and conceded that repealing it could allow insurers to continue increasing premiums:
CAVUTO: Would you repeal it or as John Boehner has indicated, starve it?
GREGG: I don’t think starving or repeal is probably the best approach here.
Watch DeMint’s and Gregg’s comments:
As The Hill notes, this statement is a shift for Gregg, who has previously supported the GOP’s repeal and replace strategy. “Our view is, you repeal and replace this bill,” Gregg said on CNN in March. “You replace it with better law and better approaches towards healthcare.” He also said on CNBC as recently as last month that using the budget reconciliation process to repeal major parts of healthcare reform would be an option, too.
But there seems to be a growing recognition among more moderate GOP lawmakers and candidates that repealing the entire law, especially popular parts that have already gone into effect, such as letting children stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26, is a bad idea politically and substantively. For example, during a debate Friday, Ohio GOP House candidate Steve Stivers said the Affordable Care Act does “some things right” and should not be repealed, but rather “fixed.” Even tea party-backed House candidate Allen West said there are parts that are “good and I agree with.” Meanwhile, as ThinkProgress has noted, 7 of the GOP’s health care ideas in their “Pledge to America” are actually already included in the Affordable Care Act.
Outgoing Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) led the fight against the Affordable Care Act in the Senate, but during an appearance on Fox Business last night, Gregg — who has proposed a health bill that’s similar to what Democrats passed in March — disagreed with the Republican strategy of repealing and replacing the law. “Giving the Democrats another shot at health care is like giving an axe murderer another shot with an ax,” Gregg began before endorsing some of the Medicare cuts in the bill and conceding that repealing the law could allow insurers to continue increasing premiums:
CAVUTO: Well, do you worry senator that your party is going to make things worse or maybe provide an opportunity for insurance companies to keep raising premiums because you want to stave the law or delay some of its implementation? And in that gap insurance companies can continue hike, hike, hike, hike!
GREGG: Well, that would be unfortunate if that happened and I’m not going to say that you wouldn’t end up with some gaming of the system that way. But the simple fact is that the plan as structured today isn’t going to work except to push push us into a situation where the government gets expand by 2.5 trillion dollars — 2.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years.
CAVUTO: Would you repeal it or as John Boehner has indicated, starve it?
GREGG: I don’t think starving or repeal is probably the best approach here.
CAVUTO: What would you do?
GREGG: You basically go in and you restructure it. What we did in this proposal, which actually made some sense, was that we restructured the Medicare system in a way that saved half trillion to a trillion dollars for Medicare, out of Medicare. But we took all of that money and we created a brand new entitlement which we under-funded.
As The Hill notes, Gregg has previously supported the GOP’s repeal and replace strategy. “Our view is, you repeal and replace this bill,” Gregg said on CNN in March. “You replace it with better law and better approaches towards healthcare.” He also said on CNBC as recently as last month that using the budget reconciliation process to repeal major parts of healthcare reform were an option, too.
In recent weeks, a growing number of Republican lawmakers and candidates have voiced support for the idea of shutting down the government if they win control of the House next year. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Steve King (R-IA), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), and Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller have openly called for a shutdown, while Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has given a tacit endorsement. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was the architect of the first shutdown in 1995, has already devised a scheme to repeat the failed tactic.
However, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is apparently oblivious to the words of his own party’s candidates, or intentionally trying to ignore them, as he said today on Fox News that he hadn’t heard of “any candidates” calling for a government shutdown. He then quickly pivoted away to irrelevant GOP talking points, without ever denying that he or his party support the idea of a shutdown:
HOST: What about this idea of shutting down the government? … Have you heard any candidates out there saying that that’s what they want to do? That that’s what they’re going to do once they get to Washington?
STEELE: I have not heard any candidates say that. But I know for a fact that, and I can tell you that again, I’ve been saying this for a year now, that the class of 2010 that comes to the Congress in January 2011 to elect a new speaker is going to be very different from anything we’ve seen or heard before.
Even if Steele is somehow unfamiliar with King, Miller, and the others, he should at least be acquainted with his own statements, as he plainly left the door open for a government shutdown less than three weeks ago. Asked about the “possibility of a government shutdown if Republicans get control of Congress,” Steele replied: “Well, anything can happen.” “We’ll see who the leadership is, how big the margins are, what the numbers in the new Congress look like.”
Gingrich’s shutdown — actually two back-to-back shutdowns — were an unmitigated disaster. The closure ended up costing taxpayers over $800 million in losses for salaries paid to furloughed employees, while it delayed enrollment for 400,000 newly eligible Medicare participants, and 112,000 Social Security applicants. Meanwhile, federal law enforcement were hampered by significant case backlogs (and the delayed hiring of new border guards), the Center for Disease Control’s disease tracking system shutdown, clean up work stopped at 609 toxic waste sites, tens of thousands of visa and passport applications were delayed, and 2 million visitors were turned away from National Parks. Perhaps most disturbingly, veterans were hit with a “[m]ajor curtailment in services,” including health services, a Congressional Research Service report found.
But just in case Steele forgot all this, he can just ask Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (NH), the ranking GOP member on the Senate Budget Committee, who said this morning on CNBC that the 1995 shutdown “was a serious mistake, tactically and substantively.” Gregg added that “government shutdowns don’t work”:
HOST: What was so bad about ’94? [...]
GREGG: The government shutdown was probably a serious mistake, tactically and substantively. … No, government shutdowns don’t work. You know, I mean, you can’t — I mean, we’d all like to do it in theory, but as a practical matter, there things this government has to do. It does them reasonably well, such as national defense. And you’ve got to do it. … You cannot, for example, if you put the government on automatic pilot by shutting it down, you do nothing about the welfare, and the healthcare, and the entitlement issues which are driving the deficit and the debt.
And even if Steele — who has repeatedly said “I don’t do policy” — is unconvinced by the substantive problems with a shutdown, he should be able to understand the political fallout. The 1995 shutdown was extremely unpopular among the public, especially after Gingrich suggested to a room full of reporters that the shutdown was aimed to punish President Clinton for “rudely” making Gingrich and then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole sit in the back of Air Force One. “The end result was that the public blamed the GOP for the impasse, and Clinton’s approval ratings went back up and he was re-elected easily,” TPM noted.