The Bad Part Of The Supreme Court’s ObamaCare Ruling And How Republicans May Use It To Screw The Needy

In my post on the health care law ruling yesterday I mentioned I would save for another day what I meant by this:

judging by this decision, I see only two consistent “liberals” on this court, Ginsburg and Sotomayor.

What I meant was their just refusal to join the other seven justices—including the usually sensible Steven Breyer and the ideologically suspect Obama appointee, Elena Kagan*—in ruling unconstitutional (it’s complicated, so see here) any attempt by the feds to terminate existing Medicaid money to states (almost all Republican-controlled states, of course) who might refuse to go along with the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, an expansion that would enable millions of needy folks to get health insurance.

But, as usual, the needy just don’t have quite enough friends in powerful places.

For those who don’t know, Medicaid, created along with Medicare in 1965, is a federal-state effort designed to provide medical and health benefits to poorer folks, including children, who would otherwise go without all but emergency health care at hospitals. It is funded by both state and federal sources, the funding formula based on per capita income in the various states, with no state going without at least 50% federal funding (the average the feds pay is 57 percent).

The ability to withdraw all Medicaid funding, not just that associated with the expansion, was seen as a big stick in getting reluctant (red) states to do the right thing.  And the Supreme Court—again, including two justices appointed by Democrats—held that the federal government cannot coerce states or penalize them in such a manner, even if it is to do the right thing. Paul Clement, who argued the case for the bad guys, characterized this part of the decision as “really quite significant.”

Yes, it is. Here’s how USA Today summarized it:

The court struck down a portion of the law that would have forced states to accept a major expansion of Medicaid to all Americans earning up to $30,733 for a family of four or risk losing all federal funds under the program.

Roberts called that part of the Affordable Care Act “a gun to the head” by threatening as much as 10% of states’ budgets.

By removing the “gun to the head,” the Court has made it voluntary for the states to  provide expanded health insurance for its neediest citizens, to folks with incomes at 133 percent of the national poverty line.

And even though the federal government is picking up nearly all of the tab for the expansion, inevitably there will be Republican opposition, since that political party is long on hatred for Obama and short on love for the neediest among us.

Don’t believe me? How about this headline and story from the AP:

Top Mo. Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Top Missouri Republicans say they have no intention of expanding Medicaid eligibility as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the federal health care law.

The story relates that Missouri House Majority Leader Tim Jones will not consider the expansion, and the stripper-lovin’ Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder falsely called it a “break-the-bank provision.”  Obviously, these unkind gentlemen don’t give a damn about the Missourians who would be helped, including doctors who treat patients who can’t pay, nor do they appear to give a damn about Missouri hospitals, most of whom have to absorb themselves or pass on to others the cost of uninsured patients they are required by law to treat.

Reportedly, the White House believes that all of the states will go for the expansion, since they all participate in Medicaid now with considerably less federal funding help than the new law provides.  But as a student of bullheaded Tea Party extremism, I can tell you that I suspect more than a few red states will opt out of providing more health services to those folks—many of whom are ongoing victims of Republican economics—who can’t afford them otherwise.

____________________________

* I had my doubts about Kagan’s appointment two years ago; I was for Diane Wood as Obama’s pick to replace John Paul Stevens.

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Democrat, My Ass

Among the misbegotten Democrats who voted with my own right-wing congressman, Ozark Billy Long, and other extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives to, without precedent, hold Attorney General Eric Holder in “contempt,” was none other than Dan Boren, who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, which is just west of Joplin.

Since Boren, who is a board member of the NRA (which “scored” the vote on Holder in order to intimidate pusillanimous politicians), has decided to retire from the House to take a job with the Chickasaw Nation (fittingly as its “president of corporate development”), this will likely be the last time I can salute him for the absolute phony Democrat he is.

If Boren were on fire, I wouldn’t pucker up and piss on him. He voted with Republicans almost all the time, and was a more reliable vote for John Boehner than some Republicans. Oh, I forgot. Boren voted with Tea Party Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act in January of 2011, after having voted against it at its birth.

It’s one thing to represent yourself as a “moderate” Democrat, which in Eastern Oklahoma—the poorest area in a godforsaken blood-red state— is about as much as a majority of those folks can tolerate. It’s another to represent yourself as a moderate Democrat when really you are a conservative, corporate Republican.

No Apologies Necessary, Bill

Bill O’Reilly told the world he would “apologize for being an idiot” if ‪the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.  Nah, Bill. Being an idiot means never having to say you’re sorry:

It’s Official: We Can Now Call It OBAMACARE

From UPWORTHY:

The Light And Dark Of Conservatism

I chose to listen to the immediate reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling today on Fox “News” Channel. And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed. The spin began immediately, particularly the idea that this is really a win for Romney, who will find his base newly “energized,” just like in the 2010 election.

Well, that may be right, but what struck me about the right’s reaction to the ruling is just how far conservatism, as a philosophy, has strayed from its parenting.

If political conservatism has any legitimacy at all, that legitimacy is found in conservatism’s traditional  respect for, and interest in maintaining, social stability. This implies a resistance to radicalism and opposition to those who would seek to disrupt an otherwise stable social order.

That traditional stance of conservatism is what originally attracted me to it, way back when I called myself one. And it is that centuries-old conservative posture that radicals and extremists like Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Rush Limbaugh have undermined, if not completely eradicated. In short, what we see from the right these days would shock conservatism’s father, Edmund Burke.

I say all that to say that it turns out that the real conservative, among those on the Supreme Court who generally are called conservative, turns out to be John Roberts.

Justice Roberts joined the four “liberal” justices (more about that another day; judging by this decision, I see only two consistent “liberals” on this court, Ginsburg and Sotomayor) in the decision to uphold the constitutionality of the insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Granted, Roberts found the constitutionality of the mandate by essentially not interpreting it as a mandate at all, but as a tax levied on those who choose not to buy health insurance. And it is in that interpretation that Roberts actually exercised the restraint that conservatives are famous for advocating, but infamous for failing to honor when it goes against their political preferences.

Roberts wrote of the ACA:

We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.

That, my friends, is the stance of a conservative jurist, one who is willing to honor his principles even if it means offending his own politics, or his own party. Cited in the majority opinion today was Hooper v. California, which included this language:

…every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality…

Again, that is how a conservative should look at his job of interpreting a law passed by the people’s representatives, the Congress. That is the opposite of a Scalia, who pretends to adhere to some lofty principle of originalist interpretation, but who really is a radical who refuses to find any construction of a statute that would save it from unconstitutionality—if he doesn’t like the statute in question. And we knew he didn’t like it from the oral arguments, during which he absolutely embarrassed himself as a jurist.

It would have been remarkable, and a small step towards getting extremists like Rush Limbaugh to sober up a little bit, if Scalia—one of Limbaugh’s intellectual heroes—had railed against the law all he wanted, but found, as Roberts did, a legitimate constitutional hook—and the taxing power of the federal government is legitimate and constitutional—to hang the ACA on.

But, no, the heavy lifting was left to John Roberts, who in his conservative reading of the Constitution rejected (wrongly, in my view) the government’s first rationale for the mandate (the Commerce Clause) and its second rationale for the mandate (the Necessary and Proper Clause), but found merit in its third rationale for the mandate, the taxing power of the government.

In other words, Roberts gave deference to the Constitution itself, which prioritizes the will of the people as expressed through the people’s Congress, instead of his own policy inclinations and judgments.

If that kind of conservatism were the kind dominating the Republican Party today, this country would be a much better place to live, and would have a much greater hope of maintaining a stable—and ultimately just—social order.

Alas, as Fox “News” and Mitt Romney and the right-wing punditry make clear, as they drone on about this dark day, conservatism itself is in a very dark place.

Call It “ClaireCare” If You Want, McCaskill Should Say

I will take Claire McCaskill at her word that she is not skipping the Democratic National Convention because she is afraid to cavort with Mr. Obamacare himself and other Democrats who don’t enjoy overwhelming popularity here in Missouri.

She told Morning Joe:

I’ve never gone when I’ve had a contested race. You’ve got to say to people at home, which is more important: Going to a place with a bunch of party honchos and having cocktail parties, or being at home talking to them? So this has never been a hard call for me. Everybody is trying to make this a big deal and narrative. It’s just stupid.

All of the chatter about McCaskill’s reasons for not going to North Carolina later this summer, along with the  expectation that the Supremes will rule on the Affordable Care Act tomorrow, has me wondering just why it is that here in Missouri, as elsewhere, the concept of “ObamaCare” is relatively unpopular, even while its constituent parts are not. My conclusion is that such dissonance is attributable to a failure to properly—and constantly—educate an inattentive public.

Which, of course, made me wonder, for instance, what Ms. McCaskill has said about the ACA and how she has tried to educate Missourians on the virtues of the law.

Well, she did make an effort to do so in March, sort of. Here is how TPM began a story about it:

Grilled about her support for the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told a home state radio interviewer that the law’s core structure is “exactly” like the House GOP Medicare privatization plan that conservatives support and liberals detest.

Hmm. That’s not exactly a good way of selling ObamaCare to liberals, now is it? She went on:

“The irony of this situation is that these are private insurance companies people will shop to buy their insurance. It’s not the government,” she told KMOX of St. Louis on Wednesday. “It’s exactly what Paul Ryan wants to do for Medicare.”

“It’s subsidized by the government — premium subsidies — which is exactly, this is the irony,” continued McCaskill, who faces a tough reelection battle this fall. “You think what Paul Ryan wants to do for seniors, you think it’s terrific. But when we want to provide private health insurance for people who don’t have insurance with subsidies from the government, you think it’s terrible.”

Her point here is, of course, unassailable. There is a lot of Republican hypocrisy associated with the debate over health care reform, particularly since almost the entire scheme that is now called ObamaCare is made up of ideas that once were dreamed up in the minds of right-wingers.

But that doesn’t let Claire off the hook, in terms of her responsibility to educate folks about the law. I looked on her campaign website and I found the following under “Healthcare“:

Claire has fought for expanded health insurance for all Missourians, from children to seniors. In her first term, Claire helped protect children with pre-existing conditions from being refused insurance and saved seniors from paying too much for prescription drugs by helping to close the Medicare Part D “donut hole.” Claire strongly believes that affordable health care is necessary in a successful economy and will continue to fight to make sure all Missourians have access to it, while also fighting to ensure those who chose not to be insured don’t pass along their medical costs to other Missourians.

This paragraph constitutes a summary of the details that follow on the page, but what we see here is essentially an explanation of the Affordable Care Act, of ObamaCare, but without the name attached. Now, while it is understandable that she would want to stay away from terms that Republicans and their moneyed funders have tainted via their propaganda campaign against “ObamaCare” and the ACA, what McCaskill is doing is essentially furthering the public’s misunderstanding of what is the health care reform law that goes by those names.

I can’t help but wonder what public opinion about the ACA might be today, if folks like McCaskill would not only consistently tout the parts of the law that people like, but aggressively defend the idea behind the one part they don’t like, the dreaded mandate.

Something like the following would be in order, coming from the moderate Missouri Democrat who voted for the ACA and who gets constantly attacked for doing so:

You’re damned right I voted for ObamaCare. And I’m proud of that vote. Hell, I wish they’d call it ClaireCare, so proud I am to have voted for it.

You know why?

Because it helps protect Missourians with pre-existing conditions from getting screwed by insurance companies;

Because it protects Missourians who get sick from getting booted off the insurance they had before they got sick;

Because it provides insurance for Missourians who can’t afford it and who would otherwise go without it and get sick and die or who would end up in an emergency room with a horrible and horribly expensive disease that we’d all end up paying for;

Because it allows about 40,000 Missouri kids to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26;

Because it has already “saved 111,815 Missouri seniors on Medicare an average of $627 per person on their prescription drugs by closing the Medicare Part D ‘donut hole‘” (quote from her website);

And because it has already “provided 431,945 Missouri women with free mammograms, bone density scans, and cervical cancer screenings with no co-pay” (quote from her website);

As I said, you’re damned right I voted for what you derisively try to call “ObamaCare,” and I couldn’t be prouder. Tell me, my critics, which one of the above “becauses” would you like to repeal? Huh?

And I’m even proud of the fact that I voted for the hated mandate because it was at least an attempt to get folks to stop gaming the system and help pay their own way. Aren’t you tired of some people trying to get something for nothing?

Any bleeping questions?

Will It Take A President Romney To Ultimately Fix America?

One might feel better about inequality if there were a grain of truth in trickle-down economics.”

—Joseph Stiglitz

 recent poll found that about 60% of all Americans think (falsely) that no matter who sits in the White’s House next January 21st, it won’t matter a whit to the economy or unemployment.

While it clearly will matter whether Romney-Ryan budget thinking prevails in November, perhaps there is at least a partially rational explanation for such public despair. Economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote, in a piece disturbingly titled, “America is no longer a land of opportunity,” the following:

US inequality is at its highest point for nearly a century. Those at the top – no matter how you slice it – are enjoying a larger share of the national pie; the number below the poverty level is growing. The gap between those with the median income and those at the top is growing, too. The US used to think of itself as a middle-class country – but this is no longer true.

Now, admittedly, I have been saying such things for years, but I don’t have a Nobel Prize in Economics. Stiglitz does and he adds:

…the median income of Americans today is lower than it was a decade and a half ago; and the median income of a full-time male worker is lower than it was more than four decades ago. Meanwhile, those at the top have never had it so good.

Here’s how it all happened:

Markets are shaped by the rules of the game. Our political system has written rules that benefit the rich at the expense of others. Financial regulations allow predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices that transfer money from the bottom to the top. So do bankruptcy laws that provide priority for derivatives. The rules of globalisation – where capital is freely mobile but workers are not – enhance an already large asymmetry of bargaining: businesses threaten to leave the country unless workers make strong concessions.

Stiglitz points out that the conservative argument that “increased inequality is an inevitable byproduct of the market” is demonstrably false:

Textbooks teach us that we can have a more egalitarian society only if we give up growth or efficiency. However, closer analysis shows that we are paying a high price for inequality: it contributes to social, economic and political instability, and to lower growth. Western countries with the healthiest economies (for example those in Scandinavia) are also the countries with the highest degree of equality.

The US grew far faster in the decades after the second world war, when inequality was lower, than it did after 1980, since when the gains have gone disproportionately to the top. There is growing evidence looking across countries over time that suggests a link between equality, growth and stability.

Mentioning that there is a real difference between Obama and Romney, in terms of whether America will “once again become a land of opportunity,” Stiglitz ends with a theme I find fascinating and have thought about frequently these days:

The country will have to make a choice: if it continues as it has in recent decades, the lack of opportunity will mean a more divided society, marked by lower growth and higher social, political and economic instability. Or it can recognise that the economy has lost its balance. The gilded age led to the progressive era, the excesses of the Roaring Twenties led to the Depression, which in turn led to the New Deal. Each time, the country saw the extremes to which it was going and pulled back. The question is, will it do so once again?

Are we yet to the point where a “new progressive” era or a “new New Deal era” can be born? Or will it be a President Mitt Romney—a genuine Gilded Ager— who finally impregnates America with enough despair and disgust and determination to produce one?

The State Of Scalia’s Mind Tells The Score

Even as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer attempted to paint a rosy picture of the Supreme Court’s decision to negate most of SB 1070—she clumsily argued that the Court upheld (possibly only temporarily) the “heart” of the law (the “papers please” provision)—pundits were debating just who came out ahead politically, the President or his adversaries.

Well, there are two good ways, in matters like this, to figure out who won. One way is to listen to the President:

I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.

And the other way is to listen to President Obama’s most prominent adversary on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia. The conservative justice does not like judicial activism, except when he uses it himself, and in his dissent today he certainly took note of Mr. Obama’s executive activism via Homeland Security’s recently announced program to exempt some folks from immigration law enforcement:

The President said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administra­tion’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the  Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law [sic] by enforc­ing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.

Now, whenever Justice Scalia has his mind boggled, that is a win for the good guys, I don’t care what Jan Brewer says.  And when Scalia writes stuff in dissent like the following, the good guys have reason to celebrate:

…the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the  Nation’s immigration laws? A good way of answering that question is to ask: Would the States conceivably have entered into the Union if the Constitution itself contained the Court’s holding? Today’s judgment surely fails that test…

Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty—not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it. The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively. If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State. I dissent.

The reason these words from Scalia are so sweet, and filled with irony, is because of another decision today by the Court, one that hasn’t received that much attention:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a plea to revisit its 2-year-old campaign finance decision in the Citizens United case and instead struck down a Montana law limiting corporate campaign spending.

In case you don’t remember, this case centered on whether the state of Montana could keep enforcing a 1912 law that placed political campaign spending limits on corporations. One would think that a purist-jurist like Scalia, who fretted so much over “state sovereignty” in the Arizona SB 1070 case, would give the benefit of the doubt to Montana.

Nope. And that is part of the reason why Scalia’s pissed-off prose over Arizona’s plight is so damned telling.

The World Economy: A Sickness Unto Death?

The fundamentals of the world economy aren’t, in themselves, all that scary; it’s the almost universal abdication of responsibility that fills me, and many other economists, with a growing sense of dread.”

—Paul Krugman

here has long been a great divide among those who seek to explain both the cause and the duration of the Great Depression. What side you are on almost always says something about your politics: liberals have one view, conservatives tend to have another.

Brad DeLong and Barry Eichengreen have written an interesting new preface to the 40-year anniversary edition of Charles Kindleberger’s The World in Depression 1929-1939. The  book, as Wikipedia deftly summarizes it,

advances an idiosyncratic, internationalist view of the causes and nature of the Great Depression. Blaming the peculiar length and depth of the Depression on the hesitancy of the US in taking over leadership of the world economy when Britain was no longer up to the role after WWI, he concludes that ‘for the world economy to be stabilized, there has to be a stabilizer—one stabilizer’, by which, in the context of the interwar years at least, he means the United States.

In a column yesterday, Paul Krugman—whose latest book is titled, End This Depression Now!—worries that policy makers both in Europe and here in the U.S. are repeating past mistakes and failing to act decisively to rescue the world’s economy from the mess that financial recklessness created.

He took a swipe at the European leaders, who have failed to take meaningful action to bail out Spanish banks (“Forget about Greece, which is pretty much a lost cause; Spain is where the fate of Europe will be decided“), and he jabbed domestic Republicans, “who often seem as if they are deliberately trying to sabotage the economy.”

But since Krugman, like all of us should be, is most concerned about the crippling effects of long-term unemployment, he directed his latest attack squarely at the Federal Reserve:

The Fed has a so-called dual mandate: it’s supposed to seek both price stability and full employment. And last week the Fed released its latest set of economic projections, showing that it expects to fail on both parts of its mandate, with inflation below target and unemployment far above target for years to come.

This is a terrible prospect, and the Fed knows it. Ben Bernanke, the Fed’s chairman, has warned in particular about the damage being done to America by the unprecedented level of long-term unemployment.

So what does the Fed propose doing about the situation? Almost nothing. True, last week the Fed announced some actions that would supposedly boost the economy. But I think it’s fair to say that everyone at all familiar with the situation regards these actions as pathetically inadequate — the bare minimum the Fed could do to deflect accusations that it is doing nothing at all.

Why won’t the Fed act? My guess is that it’s intimidated by those Congressional Republicans, that it’s afraid to do anything that might be seen as providing political aid to President Obama, that is, anything that might help the economy.

That’s a fairly serious charge, but recall that GOP candidate for president Rick Perry said this about Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve:

If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.

That stupidity and attempt at intimidation was endorsed by the likes of Tea Party spokesman Sarah Palin and represents the sentiments of many right-wingers. But no one on that side seems to be concerned at all about the Fed’s lack of aggressiveness in addressing unemployment (not to mention the failure of conservatives in Congress to do anything at all), particularly long-term unemployment.

Look at this graph Krugman has previously presented:

We ignore this at our peril, both here and in Europe. The world economy is sick and trying to heal it with budget austerity is making it sicker. That is the equivalent of prescribing lots of calisthenics for a bedridden patient, and it may, as Krugman and others continue to argue, prove economically lethal.

Disturbed And Disturbing Democrats

There is always some correlation between what pollsters call “engagement” with an upcoming election and the eventual electoral turnout on election day. Just how well prior engagement and turnout correlate is a matter of debate, but the news from the latest in-depth Pew Research survey is not good news for Democrats in terms of a voter interest gap in the November election.

While it is true that more Democrats are juiced about their candidate than Republicans are juiced about Etch-A-Romney, this bothers me a lot:

Republicans hold the edge on several turnout measures, in contrast to 2008 when Democrats had leads – some quite substantial – on nearly every indicator. More Republican voters than Democratic voters are giving quite a lot of thought to the election (73% of Republicans vs. 66% of Democrats) and paying very close attention to election news (45% vs. 37%). In 2008, Democrats held leads on both interest measures, the first time that had occurred in campaigns dating to 1992.

Moreover, GOP voters are more likely than Democrats to say it really matters who wins the 2012 election (72% vs. 65%). Four years ago, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say it really mattered who prevailed.

How can it be that only about two-thirds of the Democrats polled believe it “really matters” who wins? What narcotic, legal or illegal, is being ingested by the one-third of Democrats who don’t think it really matters? Whatever it is, Democratic leaders had better figure out how to pound reality into the heads of these disturbed and disturbing Democrats in the next four months or all of us will need narcotics to endure the reality of a Romney administration.

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