A Peep Inside The Strange Minds Of Two Missouri Legislators

Jeffrey Messenger was elected in 2012 as a Republican in Missouri’s House of Representatives. He represents the 130th legislative district, about 50 miles east of Joplin. He lives in the town of Republic.

Thanks to his last campaign bio page, we learned that Messenger is a hard working guy with roots firmly planted in rural America. We also learned he owns a business that makes prosthetic limbs for those unfortunate folks who need them, and we found out he “is in the process of building another full time facility in Joplin, Missouri.” Good for him.

And we also learned that Messenger claimed his experience in the prosthetic limb business would somehow make him a better legislator:

Since being involved in Kessler Heasley Artificial Limb Co. Jeff has been able to increase his knowledge in the benefits as well as the pitfalls of Medicare, Medicaid, and Private Insurance, and understands the frustration for individuals when it comes to insurance coverage…

Jeff decided several years ago he wanted to get involved in politics. He feels he has the experience and the know how it will take in Jefferson City to get the job done.

Experience and know-how.  He can get the job done, he said. He “understands the frustration for individuals when it comes to insurance coverage,” he claimed.

Wednesday evening in Springfield, at a town hall with other Missouri legislators, Jeffrey Messenger, the man who understands people’s frustrations “when it comes to insurance coverage,” explained to those gathered why he is opposed to Missouri expanding insurance coverage under ObamaCare.

As reported by the Springfield News-Leader:

Messenger pointed out what he views as potential problems with expansion.

Messenger said that larger businesses will be penalized under the Affordable Care Act if they fail to provide health insurance to employees working 30 hours or more. To avoid the penalty, companies will cut employee hours down to under 30, he said.

These workers, because they work fewer hours and make less, will be more likely to qualify for an expanded Medicaid, and this will add an unanticipated strain to the system, Messenger said. He described it as a kind of loop.

“It just keeps growing and growing and growing,” Messenger said.

You get it? Businesses will screw their employees out of hours so they don’t have to provide them with health coverage, which will in turn make those employees candidates to get health insurance under Medicaid expansion, and therefore we shouldn’t expand Medicaid to help them. It’s all very simple, really. And very cruel.

Messenger not only “understands the frustration for individuals when it comes to insurance coverage,” he is willing to ignore that frustration, or really, to exacerbate it. Oh, by the way, Messenger’s campaign web page informs us that Jeff is “Pro-Life 100%.” Thank God.

As grievous as Messenger’s message to Missourians was during Wednesday night’s town hall, by far the dumbest and most offensive comment made about Medicaid expansion in Missouri was made by another Republican legislator, Lyndall Fraker, who represents folks east of Springfield and lives in Marshfield.lyndall fraker

But before we get to his dumb and offensive comment, Fraker’s campaign bio indicates that he proudly managed the Walmart store in Marshfield, which is interesting since Walmart is planning on taking cynical advantage of ObamaCare by excluding workers who work less than 30 hours a week from its health insurance plans.

Now, Fraker is not responsible for what Walmart honchos do, but he did say his Walmart experience made him realize “what a passion he had to serve others.” Goody, goody, now we’re ready for his comment on Medicaid expansion.

Here is the News-Leader’s account:

Fraker said it would be hard to roll back expansion once it’s happened.

“It’s hard to take candy away from a baby,” Fraker said. He used the metaphor of him and his wife buying a refrigerator. He said if his family couldn’t afford it, their approach would be to wait and see.

Candy from a baby. I can see where health insurance is like candy, can’t you? Sure it is. And people who need health insurance but can’t afford it are like babies. I can see that. And by God we can’t give those babies candy because it will be hard if we have to take it back. They’ll whine and cry and stuff.

And I can see where health insurance is like buying a new refrigerator, can’t you? Absolutely it is. If you can’t afford a new fridge, just wait and see what happens. And if you don’t have a fridge that works, you could store your food in an ice chest. Just don’t count on a Republican legislator to provide you with the ice. And if you don’t have a refrigerator and don’t have any ice, you can just stop eating. Eventually you won’t have to worry about the fridge or the ice.

The News-Leader reported that someone in the town hall “took offense to Fraker’s characterization, and he apologized.”

For what? Why did Lyndall Fraker apologize? For revealing how his mind works? How he really thinks about this issue?

We all should write him and thank him, and Jeff Messenger, for a moment of honesty. This is who these people are, my friends, this is who they are.

Free Pot For Everyone, And Other Budget Fantasies

Many liberals are criticizing Paul Ryan for essentially ignoring last November’s election results, as he released his third very dark, very Randian, budget resolution.

But it’s not that Ryan is acting as if the last national election didn’t happen. It’s that he is acting like he and Mittens actually won the damned election. In what can only be considered flat-out delusion (or that he intends to win a GOP primary in 2016), he offers the country a budget proposal that wouldn’t even become reality if Romney and Ryan had successfully duped a majority of Americans last November.

This monster would: repeal ObamaCare, slash Medicaid and food stamps, kill traditional Medicare, cut Pell grants, create lower tax rates for the rich—yet again. There is apparently no allowance for emergency spending on disasters, or the recognition that our infrastructure is crumbling and we need more not less money to fix it. Tax reform is part of the proposal, but we don’t know what the reforms are. The economic growth assumptions are also shrouded in mystery worthy of the ongoing papal conclave.

Not to mention the blinding hypocrisy of supposedly balancing the budget in ten years by using the $716 billion in Medicare cuts (used to help fund ObamaCare), cuts that Ryan and his fellow Republicans so famously campaigned against in both 2010 and 2012.

And not to mention the breathtaking dishonesty of using the $600 billion in revenue generated by Obama’s insistence on the restoration of the Clinton-era tax rates on high-income earners, which settled the fiscal-cliff nonsense this year.

This is not a serious proposal and Democrats in the Senate, who have now released details of their own budget, should revise their proposal in response to Ryan and the Republicans by including a series of people-pleasing goodies like: free health care, a free college education, forty acres and a Ford for all, a chicken in every pot, and some pot in every pipe.

Democrats can then start budget negotiations from there.

Missouri Medicaid Expansion: A Matter Of Life And Death

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was here in Joplin on Wednesday.

Susan Redden of the Joplin Globe reported that Nixon was in town “to assert that Medicaid expansion would be a good business decision for the state.” From the story:

With officials of area hospitals and health care providers standing behind him, Nixon told a Joplin crowd that rejecting the Medicaid expansion available under the Affordable Care Act would send tax dollars collected in Missouri to other states where the coverage has been expanded.

“The question is narrow: Will we bring back those federal tax dollars to help the state or not?” the governor said in a presentation at the Robert W. Plaster School of Business at Missouri Southern State University. “If we don’t, other states will get the help, and we’ll pay the bill.”

The article notes that some 300,000 Missourians will benefit from the expansion of Medicaid, and in the words of Governor Nixon,

the people it will help are working folks who otherwise are going to end up in the emergency room.

Naturally, since the expansion will help “working folks,” many Republicans are against it, including leadership in our right-wing-dominated legislature. But the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and some local chambers, but not yet including Joplin, are on board because they recognize the foolishness of rejecting the expansion, just to spit in the eye of Barack Obama.

Expanding Medicaid happens to be good for business and employment:

Nixon cited a study by the University of Missouri suggesting that the additional funding for health care would create 24,000 new jobs in Missouri the first full year of the expansion. And, he said, states that don’t expand coverage could be put at a competitive disadvantage when small businesses are looking to add jobs, which often start on the lower end of the wage scale.

“If businesses are paying the same wage, and workers are getting health coverage in one state and not another, it could make a difference,” he said.

Medicaid expansion is projected to bring back to the state $1.8 billion in the first full year of coverage, and $5.7 billion over three years, Nixon said. “If we take a pass, Missouri residents pay that money in taxes, but it goes to other states,” he said.

As most of us know, the Supreme Court, in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, ruled that the provisions in the law that required states to expand Medicaid coverage to folks earning below 138 percent of the federal poverty level went too far. The Court’s decision allowed states to opt out of the expansion, even while staying in the Medicaid program.

Some Republicans claim our state can’t afford to expand Medicaid. But the entire cost of the expansion is covered by the federal government from 2014 through 2016. Then, until 2020 the states have to cover 5% of the annual cost, and after 2020, the states have to cover 10%. And that’s it.  Providing health insurance to 300,000 working folks in Missouri is a damn good deal.

And it’s a good deal for hospitals and other health care providers, who clearly recognize the foolishness of keeping poor people from getting health insurance. Those poor folks often seek care—expensive care—at emergency rooms, and much of that care—mandated by EMTALA—is uncompensated.

The federal government, through Disproportionate Share Hospital allotments, provides support to hospitals (“safety-net hospitals“) that treat the uninsured who can’t pay. In 2011, that support amounted to $11.3 billion, a little more than one-fourth of the estimated cost ($41.1 billion) to hospitals for providing care to those who can’t afford it.

The Affordable Care Act, because its purpose was to insure people and reduce uncompensated care, lowers federal payments to hospitals that treat those who can’t pay. But because the Supreme Court made the expansion voluntary and because many Republican governors and legislatures hate Obama and ObamaCare, the states who opt out are burdening the hospitals in their states with extra costs.

That’s why here in Joplin Governor Nixon met with local hospital leaders, who have given him their blessing. One of those leaders, Paula Baker, president of Freeman Health System, said,

He didn’t need to sell us on it.

But beyond the finances of the Medicaid expansion, there is the human element. Consider this from The Incidental Economist, a blog dedicated to studying America’s health care system:

First of all, Medicaid is good for health. Let’s start with a simple truth: having health insurance is better than not having health insurance. Not only is health insurance good for health, but it actually saves lives. Medicaid is, of course, health insurance. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that studies show Medicaid improves health. Now some people have garnered a lot of attention by claiming that Medicaid actually hurts people. They’re citing studies that show correlation, not causation. Medicaid doesn’t cause bad health; people who qualify for Medicaid are more likely to have bad health for other reasons. There’s a huge randomized controlled trial of Medicaid going on in Oregon right now, and that’s the kind of study you’d do to prove causation. It’s showing that Medicaid is good for health.

Expanding Medicaid is not only a good thing to do in terms of finances, it is “good for health.” It is good public policy. It is the right thing to do. And it does save lives, as was suggested in the Globe article. A woman named Patricia Bailey was visiting a local Joplin clinic that serves a significant number of folks on Medicaid:

Bailey, 61, of Joplin, said she has been on Medicaid for the past four years. Without it, she said, she wouldn’t have sought treatment that included three hospitalizations.

“I couldn’t have afforded it. I think I’d probably be dead,” she said.

More than the money, more than anything else, as Missourians, as Americans, we should expand Medicaid coverage because for some folks, it is a matter of life and death.

“Seriously, Goodness Gracious,” Said Ozark Billy

The American Conservative Union—the folks who bring us the yearly circus known as CPAC—didn’t have to tell me that my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, was “the most conservative of the Missouri delegation in 2011.” I could have guessed that.

And I could have guessed that in accepting the praise of such an august group of conservative lobbyists Ozark Billy would say this:

Families in Missouri’s Seventh District expect me to protect their freedoms and our Constitution. As their advocate in Washington, I will continue to fight for common sense ideas and legislation to support a limited federal government and defend the values we hold close to our hearts.

Billy, as our “advocate in Washington,” will fight for “common sense ideas,” he says. Keep that in mind. And as much as I could have guessed he would appreciate the endorsement from right-wing extremists, what I couldn’t have guessed was that I would see his distinctive mug on my TV last night in the company of Congressman Mike Kelly, who told the world on Wednesday:

I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7th, that’s Pearl Harbour. The other is September 11th, and that’s the day of the terrorist attack. I want you to remember August the 1st, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.

The occasion for this blithering idiocy was implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance companies offer contraception coverage to women.  Yes, that is what Congressman Kelly likened to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

But Kelly wasn’t alone in his walk down Bat Crap Crazy Avenue. Along with him was our own Ozark Billy, who had this “common sense idea“:

America, 2012. Land of the free and home of the brave. Are we still the land of the free and the home of the brave? Let’s examine that for just a minute. I know we’re the home of the brave because as we walk off that house floor five days a week, three or four days there’ll be a wounded warrior settin’ there just like the one that was there yesterday.

He had no right arm. He had no left arm except for an artificial arm and an artificial hand. He was proud to shake my hand with his artificial hand to show me how it worked. He had no legs below the thighs. His wife was standing next to him with less than a one-year-old child in her hands. You don’t have to worry about the brave. We’re still the home of the brave.

But we’re not the land of the free anymore and we need to get that straight. If we’re not free to practice religious freedom in this country, what in the world have we come to? Seriously, goodness gracious.

This hysteria, as Jim Lee at Busplunge points out, may be designed to take “the heat off his gambling habits.”  Randy Turner on Monday published a piece on the many trips Long has taken to Las Vegas this year, presumably to represent the 7th district in Sin City, which given our low per-capita income probably doesn’t see many folks from Southwest Missouri these days.

I for one an confident that while Ozark Billy—our “advocate in Washington“— was at the Sheldon Adelson-owned Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas on July 5—which just happened to be hosting a no-limit poker tournament that day— he was having numerous common-sense discussions on just how this isn’t the land of the free anymore and how terrible it is that women can now—thanks to the Affordable Care Act—get these preventive and diagnostic benefits:

  • well-woman visits;
  • screening for gestational diabetes;
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling.

Seriously, goodness gracious, ” said Billy Long on Wednesday. Okay, seriously, our congressman not only stood with a man who equated the implementation of health benefits for women with the two worst days in the history of our country, he said that we need to get it straight that we are no longer free because women have access to contraception.

And what will be the price he pays for such nitwittedness? Nothing. A majority of women in these parts will run not walk to the polls to vote for him in November.

With Apologies To The Titmouse

As the weak job numbers came in this morning, I thought about just how successful Republicans have been in preventing the economy from increasing employment.

Economists know what would increase job growth in the short term, most Republican legislators know it, almost all Democrats know it, and President Obama is certain of it.

But yet we are still treading water, and almost 13 million folks who want jobs don’t have them, and millions more are working only part-time, against their wishes. And worst of all, millions are in the dreaded category of the long-term unemployed.

Mitt Romney, basking in the partisan glow of anemic job growth—only 84,000 private sector jobs added in June, for a running total of 4.4 million over the last 28 months—said this morning:

American families are struggling. There is a lot of misery in America today.

Indeed there is. And, to the extent Republican politicians can summon a whit’s worth of concern about that misery, the solutions they offer are, as President Obama said yesterday (and again this morning) just the same old trickle-down economics, which he called a “coherent theory”:

You can see it on their websites.  They don’t make a secret about what they’re planning to do.  The only problem is we tried it — we tried it for about 10 years right before I was elected as President of the United States, and it didn’t work. It didn’t make the middle class stronger.  Job growth was sluggish.  Your wages and your incomes did not go up. It didn’t grow our economy the way it needed to.  And it culminated in the worst financial crisis we’ve had since the Great Depression.  So their theory was tried.

Well, Mr. Obama may give the other side too much credit for having a theory of middle-class-aiding economics, coherent or otherwise. His opponents’ twin operating theories alternate between a strategy that can deliver an electoral knockout punch to what they perceive to be the economic glass jaw of the President, and the need to protect the moneyed class that supports their lamentable lust for power.

If the poor, the children, the elderly, the working  and middle classes, and the country in general suffer because of these alternating theories, then so be it.

Other than Mitt Romney, who has traded what political decency he may have had for a mess of pottage cooked up by contemptuous and contemptible conservatives, the person who to me most represents the right’s unseemly appetite for power and unreserved advocacy for the wealthiest Americans, is Mitch McConnell.

On Fox “News” Sunday, Chris Wallace tried to pin down the electorally lustful McConnell several times on just how he and the Republican Party, after killing the Affordable Care Act, would “extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured.”

Obviously stunned by a Fox host practicing real journalism, McConnell finally managed to say:

That’s not the issue…

WALLACE: You don’t think the 30 million people that are uninsured is an issue?

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what we’re not gonna do: we’re not gonna turn the American health care system into a Western European system. That’s  exactly what is at the heart of ObamaCare. They want to have the federal government take over all of American health care…

So, the short answer is, nope, Mitch McConnell doesn’t think that a tenth of the country going without health insurance is an issue, at least an issue more important than the country going another election cycle without him as the Senate Majority Leader.

All of which leads me to a story on Politico.

President Obama was speaking Thursday in Sandusky, Ohio, when he met a woman named Stephanie Miller, who was crying when they talked. Here are a couple of photos of the moment:

Here is the account from Politico:

“I thanked him for the getting the Affordable Health Act passed,” Miller said, referring to the health care overhaul the Supreme Court upheld last week.

Miller said her sister passed away from colon cancer four years ago — partly because she could not purchase health insurance.

“Even after she was diagnosed with cancer, she was told her income was too high for Medicaid,” Miller said.

I don’t know why the Republican Party has devolved into a shelter for repugnant reactionaries, who by their politics and selfish political theories suggest that Stephanie Miller’s sister isn’t worth discussing with a host on Fox “News,” or, more important, with the American people.

But I do know if more Americans are forced to confront the harsh reality lived by people like Stephanie Miller’s late sister, if they are obliged to acknowledge that millions upon millions of folks are not enjoying the bliss of American exceptionalism, and if they find out that Republicans offer nothing to change that reality other than a Randian economics that has previously shipwrecked the economy, then Mitt Romney will never hold the office he has corrupted himself to get.

And Mitch McConnell will remain a tiny titmouse of a man whining his crestfallen song before an increasingly irrelevant minority in the United States Senate.

Forty Percent Of Americans Are In A Fog

I want to share with you a couple of encouraging results from a Kaiser Health poll regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, along with a really discouraging result.

First, as we all knew, the public is divided on the law, although the numbers are much closer than Republicans, who want to kill it, would have folks believe. Forty-seven percent approve of the decision and 43% disapprove, with so-called independents about equally split:

Next we have some encouraging news about Democrats: There has been a 16 point “surge” in enthusiasm. It’s anybody’s guess as to why it has taken this long for Democrats to warm up to a law that, although is far from perfect, does establish health care as a fundamental right.

Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn called it at the time of its passage, “the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century,” and one would think after more than two years Democratic leaders would have found a way to make that clear to their own voters. In any case, here is the good news:

Now for the bad news. Look at this pie chart:

Notice that four in ten of the Americans you know—four in bleeping ten!—were “unaware” of the Court’s “final ruling” on the health care law, a ruling that was anticipated as much or more than any ruling in the television age.

Is it any wonder, when folks won’t pay attention to the important stuff going on around them, that millionaires and billionaires can buy our democracy with almost no opposition from the demos?

The “Free Riders” Now Have A Political Party To Defend Them

All weekend long, I heard Republicans and right-wing pundits essentially suggest what Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed last Thursday:

From Limbaugh’s monologue:

What has been upheld here is fraud, and the Internal Revenue Service has just become Barack Obama’s domestic army.  That is what we face now.  We were deceived.  Obamacare was a lie.  It was a stealth tax on all Americans, and nobody knew it until today.  Not officially.  Obama told George Stephanopoulos it wasn’t a tax.  And Stephanopoulos was trouble-making for trying to suggest otherwise.

Get it? The Supreme Court held that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate “was a stealth tax on all Americans.” On all Americans. That’s the way Republicans are spinning the ruling, as they once again smear Democrats as incorrigible taxers, particularly taxers of the middle class.

And many journalists let them get away with it, including George Stephanopolous, who has been on the receiving end of a lot of right-wing attacks for being in the tank for Democrats. Watching him do his journalism is sometimes painful. It’s as if he is trying to avoid any criticism at all from conservatives.

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Stephanopolous grilled White House chief of staff Jack Lew over what to call failure to comply with the ACA’s health care mandate. Lew wanted to call it a penalty, which it is, and Stephanopolous insisted that Lew acknowledge it was in fact a tax. Stephanopolous was so proud of his aggressiveness against a White House staffer that he posted this blog:

Good for Stephanopolous that he tried to pin down a spokesman for President Obama on something the journalist thought important: whether failure to comply with the ACA’s mandate engenders a tax or a penalty. But by doing so, Stephanopolous was aiding the obvious Republican effort to falsely attack Democrats for raising taxes on the working and middle class, an effort given new and possibly everlasting life by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday.

But why didn’t Stephanopolous’ aggressiveness work both ways on this issue? GOP budget guru Paul Ryan appeared on the same program and our fearless journalist was, uh, suddenly not that interested in whether the mandate is a penalty or a tax. Here is the part of their exchange in which Ryan brings up the mandate:

RYAN: No. Look — look at the hypocrisy. The president on your show said this is not a tax. Then he sent his solicitor general to the Supreme Court to argue that it is a tax in order to get this past the Supreme Court.

The broken promises and the hypocrisy are becoming breathtaking from the president who says one thing to get this past Congress and then another thing to get it past the Supreme Court. Look, I was here fighting this bill, George, in the last session of Congress. Believe me, if this was brought to the public as a tax, there’s no way this law would have passed into law in the first place. That’s what’s so frustrating and disappointing with this law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you may be right about that…

That, my friends, is what happens to journalists who are afraid they will get charged with friendliness toward the president or Democrats in general. Why didn’t Stephanopolous attempt to pin Ryan down on what he would call failure to comply with the mandate? Is it a tax or is it a penalty, Mr. Ryan?

Since Ryan said he agreed “with the dissenting judges” in the case—who were emphatic about calling it a penalty—why didn’t he get asked if he in fact thought it was a penalty? Or whether he agreed with Mitch McConnell when he said,

Well, the Supreme Court has spoken. This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception.

Is it really a tax, Mr. Ryan? Why didn’t Stephanopolous make him contradict McConnell by acknowledging he doesn’t believe it is a tax?

Or why didn’t Stephanopolous ask Ryan—who may be Romney’s VP—what the same mandate was called in Massachusetts, when Mittens was selling it to the folks there? While governor, Romney did not call the mandate—designed to get something out of those he called “free riders“—a tax, as Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom admitted to Chuck Todd on MSNBC this morning, as Todd pressed him on the point:

TODD: What did you call it in Massachusetts? Were you guys calling it a tax or penalty?

FEHRNSTROM: A penalty.

Fehnrnstrom said a bit later:

The governor has consistently described the mandate in Masschusetts as a penalty.

Then Todd pressed on:

TODD: What you just said is that Governor Romney agrees it is not a tax. You guys called it a penalty.

FEHRNSTROM: The governor disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent that was written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax.

TODD: So, I think we’re talking around each other. The governor does not believe the mandate is a tax? That’s what you’re saying?

FEHRNSTROM: The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty and he disagrees with the Court’s ruling that the mandate was a tax.

TODD: So, he agrees with the President that you shouldn’t call the tax penalty a tax, you should call it a penalty or fee or fine?

FEHRNSTROM: That’s correct…

Republicans, of course, want to have it both ways. They want to embrace Justice Scalia and the dissenters in the ACA case—who claim that John Roberts simply rewrote the statute, “imposing a tax through judicial legislation” that “inverts the constitutional scheme”—while they campaign against Obama and Democrats as imposing a new “tax” on the American people.

The truth is that whatever one wants to call the mandate—how about a Scab Tax?—Romney and Republicans know that one-percent or less of the American people will ever pay it. And those folks, “free riders” as Romney has so famously called them, who want to have something for nothing, now have a champion in Rush, Romney, and the Republican Party.

Don’t Worry, Be (Somewhat) Happy ACA Fans

With all the defeatist talk out there about how it is over for the individual mandate and likely over for the Affordable Care act, I want to offer a word of comfort: It’s not.

Famously now, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst, said after oral arguments on Tuesday:

This was a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it’s going to be struck down.

After hearing that and after hearing similar remarks coming from several talking heads on the TV box, I waited until 1:00pm Central time and listened to the arguments myself. Better yet, I followed the transcript as I listened, stopping when necessary to analyze the arguments being made (much easier than yesterday) and the questions being asked.

What I found was that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did get off to a horrible start. A really horrible start. He soon got help from Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan and by the end he had pretty much righted himself.

As expected, the conservative justices (except for Clarence Thomas who was likely texting Rush Limbaugh during the proceedings) executed an attack on the law, but nothing we hadn’t heard before and nothing that couldn’t be refuted.

Justice Scalia, who gets a lot of credit for being such an unassailable thinker, was not particularly good in his remarks* and it appears he will find a reason to vote against the law no matter how far he has gone in the past to justify an expansion of the government’s powers (when the government’s position happens to correspond with his own position on, say, the legality of medical marijuana) under the Commerce Clause. It appears to me that Scalia and the conservatives want to find a “limiting principle” on the government’s power under the Commerce Clause only when it is convenient.

Obviously, everyone was listening for clues from Justice Kennedy. Was he hostile to the government’s case? Hardly. He asked some tough questions, expressed some doubts, but in the end he also pressed former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued most of the case for the other side. At one point Kennedy said:

The government tells us … the insurance market is unique. And in the next case, it’ll say the next market is unique. But I think it is true that … the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries. That’s my concern in the case.

This should be seen as a good sign because those conservative judges who have upheld the mandate have said that the healthcare market is not like buying broccoli or cell phones (to mention a couple of examples used by the conservative justices during oral arguments). Everyone will eventually participate, either accidentally or on purpose, and the cost-shifting involved (because most hospitals are mandated to provide treatment) is unique.

There is not only a good possibility that Justice Kennedy will find a way to uphold the individual mandate, there has been some speculation that Justice Roberts might follow him. I was particularly surprised that Roberts stepped in to restate the government’s argument, when he thought the other side had miscast it, but that is a rather thin string to hang a hope that Roberts might make it 6-3 to uphold the law.

Finally, Paul Clement did do a very good job of presenting his case, but he knows that oral arguments are not necessarily the decisive part of a complicated case like this:

I’m a big believer that oral argument makes a difference, but I’m also a big believer that comparably the briefs make even more of a difference.

We shall see. Prediction: 6-3 to keep the Affordable Care Act whole.

__________________________

*Here is one silly offering from Scalia:

Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.

Or how about this one:

Necessary does not mean essential, just reasonably adapted. But in addition to being necessary, it has to be proper. And we’ve held in two cases that something that was reasonably adapted was not proper because it violated the sovereignty of the States, which was implicit in the constitutional structure. The argument here is that this also is — may be necessary, but it’s not proper because it violates an equally evident principle in the Constitution, which is that the Federal Government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers; that it’s supposed to be a government of limited powers.

Necessary does not mean essential, just reasonably adapted“? Huh? Necessary means “of an inevitable nature.” And essential means “absolutely necessary.” You see how easy it is to bend words to fit your ends?

And although Scalia worries about violating the “sovereignty of the States” these days, he did not worry much about that in 2005, when he found it necessary to stomp all over California’s right to allow its citizens to grow marijuana for their own medicinal use:

As we implicitly acknowledged in Lopez, however, Congress’s authority to enact laws necessary and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce is not limited to laws directed against economic activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Though the conduct in Lopez was not economic, the Court nevertheless recognized that it could be regulated as “an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated.” … This statement referred to those cases permitting the regulation of intrastate activities “which in a substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power.” … As the Court put it in Wrightwood Dairy, where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, “it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

CBO: The Affordable Care Act Will Save Even More Money Than We Thought

I wanted to write today about the ongoing Republican assault on women’s rights in places like Arizona (employers may have the right to grill women about why they need contraceptives and possibly fire them for giving the wrong answer) and Pennsylvania (the GOP gov’nor “says he supports forcing women to have an ultrasound before an abortion because they can just close their eyes”) and Texas (GOP lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from state funding, which means the Federal money for the state’s Women’s Health Program will dry up, too).

But something else has bothered me since I heard it earlier this week:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is gonna cost twice what he told us.

I knew when I heard this newly-minted meme that it would, true or not, generate a lot of heat among heat-seeking right-wingers. Limbaugh went to great lengths to explain what he doesn’t understand, which is actually the format of his show, by the way.

What Limbaugh was trying to explain that he doesn’t understand was the “Updated Estimates For The Insurance Coverage Provision Of The Affordable Care Act,” released on Tuesday (The 8 1/2 page text is here and the blog post summary is here). The CBO was doing its job of getting us up-to-date on the “budgetary effects” of the coverage provisions of the ACA.

If Limbaugh—and others who ought to know better—had actually read the CBO report (as Rick Ungar of Forbes noted it is “available in very readable English“), they would have noticed that the CBO actually estimates the net cost of the ACA will be around $50 billion less than its estimate from last year!  Get that? $50 billion less, which means the new law will save taxpayers more money then the CBO originally estimated!

As I think about it, it is obvious that these Republican folks actually did read the report and found it necessary to lie about what it meant because otherwise their campaign to repeal it would lose a little steam, if word got out that it isn’t the budget-buster they’ve been saying it is.

I won’t bother to go over the nuances of the report, since good explanations are available, including here and here and here, but I will quote from each source listed:

As it says right in the title, this is just a look at “the insurance coverage provisions” of the Affordable Care Act. That is to say, it’s a look at the spending side of the bill. So it doesn’t include the Medicare cuts, or many of the tax increases, that pay for the legislation. It’s like reading only the “outlays” side of the budget and ignoring the “revenues” part. Of course that would make the deficit look huge. (Ezra Klein)

..not only is the GOP pitch a gross distortion of the truth, this is one of those all too rare moments where I get to actually prove the meme to be nothing more than another effort to confuse Americans. (Rick Ungar)

Yes, you read that right: The real news of the CBO estimate is that, according to its models, health care reform is going to save even more taxpayer dollars than previously thought. (Jonathan Cohn)

To be fair, Cohn does mention “one finding that give us at least a little pause“:

CBO now projects the number of people with employer-sponsored insurance will drop by 4 million people, on net. It’s still a small effect, representing less than 2 percent of the total population with employer-sponsored coverage. That’s well within the margin of error of these models. It’s also difficult to tell why CBO thinks this will happen—whether it’s fewer employers offering insurance, fewer employees accepting coverage, or workers moving into firms that are less likely to provide benefits. Any of those would be consistent with lower economic growth, as CBO now expects. Still, the issue merits attention.

Cohn also points out—for those Republicans who cry crocodile tears over the estimate that 4 million folks will lose their employer-sponsored insurance—”if they had their way, health care reform would reach even fewer people and provide less protection.”

And who can doubt that?

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