What Dave Camp’s Tax Reform Proposal Tells Us About Our Political System

Most people, until a few days ago, hadn’t heard of Dave Camp, the Republican chairman in charge of the House Committee on Ways and Means. That powerful committee has, among other things, jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare, unemployment bennies, food stamps (TANF), and federal tax policies.

And regarding those tax policies, the committee chairman has been working on tax reform for a long time. This week, to the chagrin of many Republicans in the House and elsewhere, Dave Camp, who will soon be term-limited out of his continuing chairmanship of the committee, released his work product, the Tax Reform Act of 2014. And, somewhat surprisingly, some on the left are taking it seriously, even if it is revenue neutral and has other flaws. But not so surprisingly, partly because some on the left can take the proposal seriously, is that the usual money-holding suspects on the right are pooh-poohing it.

You can see the details of the proposal all over the place (here is a relatively thoughtful conservative critique), but liberal commentator Jonathan Chait began his short analysis of the plan by saying that Camp’s tax-reform proposal,

does something remarkable: It actually reforms the tax code. It doesn’t use the pretense of reform to shift the tax burden off the rich, as Republican “tax reform” plans usually do, and it does not use hand-waving to gesture in the direction of reform without following through. Camp has actually plunged his hands into the guts of the tax code and pulled out item after item. It may be the most impressive and ambitious domestic policy proposal crafted by a major Republican in a generation.

Chait notes how folks like the writers of The Wall Street Journal editorial page have “spent decades building a shrine to the spectacular wrongness of supply-side economics,” and then he gives Camp credit for not championing that spectacular wrongness:

The evidence suggests that cutting tax rates, financed by deficits, does little or nothing to spur economic growth. But Camp’s plan doesn’t do that. It instead reduces tax rates by eliminating preferences in the tax code. Subsidies for home mortgage debt and employer-sponsored insurance, among others, would be radically scaled back. And eliminating these kinds of favoritism encourages workers and businesses to instead follow market signals, and likely to make more market-friendly decisions.

Of course, Chait, as a liberal, notices all kinds of things wrong with Camp’s plan. Camp, after all, is a Republican, so it is no surprise that no new revenues will be raised if his plan were to become law, or that “oil drillers” are taken care of while “green energy” suffers. But Chait also points out something in Camp’s plan that has pissed off Wall Street banksters:

His plan would impose a new fee on large banks (which enjoy an implicit subsidy by virtue of being so large they’re apt to receive a bailout if they fail) and caps the value of tax deductions, both goals embraced by Obama. It eliminates the carried interest loophole. It sets the top tax rate at 35 percent, not the fantastical 25 percent rate proposed by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans. Camp is actually committed to the goal of reforming the tax code in a way that maintains (rather than reduces) revenue levels, and holds the relative burden on the rich and poor constant.

The reaction to this part of Camp’s legislation is at once predictable and disturbing. Just look at this headline from Politico yesterday:

Wall Street threatens GOP on bank tax

First line: “Wall Street is warning Washington Republicans: The money spigot is turning off.”

Then: “Rep. Dave Camp’s tax proposal — which jacked up taxes on banks and threatens the bottom line of big bankerssome major private equity players in New York — has infuriated donors in high finance.”

As I say, that reaction is not surprising. But it ought to disturb all Americans, including Tea Party Republicans, whose 2009 movement began, at least ostensibly, as a populist reaction to the bailout of the financial industry, a group of greedy folks who helped wreck the economy. None of us should put up with the kind of extortion suggested by that Politico headline. None of us should tolerate the idea that people with lots of money can buy our politicians like they were buying shares in a widget company. None of us. This is our democracy we are talking about, for God’s sake.

The Politico article continues:

Lobbyists for Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan and others are meeting privately with lawmakers to explain what the bank tax would cost and how it would function.

Big banks want to turn Republicans against the bank tax. The situation puts the party at risk of seeing a reliable source of campaign cash dry up right in the middle of a critical election year.

And:

Without Wall Street, Republicans risk their coffers emptying. The securities and investment industry is the largest contributor — besides candidate committees — to the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle, directing $3.5 million to the party committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2012 election cycle, the financial services industry ponied up nearly $9.9 million.

Let’s be clear: Democrats, most of whom favor campaign finance reform, also take money from rich people. They have to, if they are to survive in this money-driven, anti-democratic system. But all of us, even the most rabid Tea Party “patriot” out there, ought to get angry over what money has done and is doing to our political system. An earnest Republican comes along with some ideas that are not completely based on phony trickle-down economics, and he, or rather his proposal, is shot dead on the spot by people whose guns don’t shoot bullets but big bucks.

Let me leave you to contemplate what Roll Call’s David Hawkings said about what the new reform proposal, not even considering its policy ideas, will do:

The Camp bill may be properly cited as The Tax Lobbyists’ Full Employment and Economic Stimulus Act of 2014.

Even though the measure is highly unlikely to make it onto the House floor — and will struggle to get a majority from the roster of 23 Republicans and 16 Democrats during its not-going-to-be-scheduled-anytime-soon markup at Ways and Means — law firms and K Street shops will generate countless billable hours just by parsing the bill’s language and coming up with strategies for preserving all the niche deductions, exclusions and exemptions that have only theoretically been placed in jeopardy.

If those lobbyists didn’t have connections to moneyed interests who give tons of dough to our politicians, and if our politicians worked in a system where they didn’t depend on rich people giving them tons of dough to get elected, then our politicians perhaps would properly weigh the input of those lobbyists, rather than give them all the influence that money can buy.

And shame on us—all of us—for putting up with it.

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“If My Love Could Have Saved Him, He Would Have Lived Forever”

In this strange existence, in a world where people are trying to live as best they can and pursue happiness in countless ways, sometimes our—my—obsession with politics yields to a different kind of reality.

Chris Price, a man you never heard of, lived in Wales.

He met a girl named Ceri when both were teenagers. Nothing significant came of their meeting until January of 2012, when both were older, he in his mid-twenties and she almost thirty. They moved in together. Then Chris found out he had esophageal cancer three months later. Because the cancer had spread, doctors operated and removed a portion of his stomach. All was good until a year later. The cancer had spread further into his liver and lungs. No cure available.

Not wanting to waste a moment, Chris proposed to Ceri, who had four kids, including a set of triplets. “He loved me and took me on with four children as if they were his own,” Ceri said. “They loved him so much too.” She explained:

It was as if Chris wanted to spend his last days making me as happy as he could. We did such a lot in those last six months. He was so positive he never talked about dying, he just wanted to see me and the children happy in the time he had left.

Chris took Ceri and her four children to Disneyland Paris. A couple of weeks later the couple went to New York to see the sights and to shop. He bought her fancy boots and a high-dollar handbag she had wanted. He planned to take her to Las Vegas for her birthday.

Except, as Emily Dickinson told us, because Chris could not stop for death, death kindly stopped for him. Before the trip to Las Vegas with the love of his life. “His illness made him live completely in the moment and he taught me to do the same,” Ceri told us. “My heart is broken losing him and I still spray his Aramis aftershave and wear his clothes to feel close to him. He died in my arms and I felt his last breath.”

Last breath. The fate of us all.

The grieving woman, speaking of the compressed moments of happiness they had together, and expressing the mournful reality of this fragile and fleeting existence we, we the living, all share, said in stunning simplicity:

If my love could have saved him, he would have lived forever.

Some of us hope that a force, we may call it love or something else, will have the last word over death. As we think about this profound mystery, as we wish for something that will conquer all our fears of drawing our last earthly breath, let us hope against hope that the words of the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich are true:

Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our period of history. But death is given no power over love. Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes everything. It is at work where the power of death is strongest, in war and persecution and homelessness and hunger and physical death itself. It is omnipresent and here and there, in the smallest and most hidden ways as in the greatest and most visible ones, it rescues life from death. It rescues each of us, for love is stronger than death.

“When It Is In Your Power To Act”

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—
when you already have it with you.”

—Proverbs 3:27-28

medicaid expansion is not yet a reality here in Missouri, if it ever will be. But it is also struggling in Virginia and Arkansas (which already has a privatized version of it that needs reauthorized in order to continue). Expansion is struggling in those states even though both, like Missouri, have Democratic governors and even though a majority of people in both states favor expanding the program:56 to 38 in Virginia, including 55% support among Republicans, and 47.5 to 32.5 in Arkansas. (And there is good evidence that Missourians favor expansion too).

The Washington Post editorial page a couple of days ago featured this explanation of what is going on in Virginia, part of which I highlight for your contemplation:

In Richmond, House GOP lawmakers have made it clear they are not interested in compromise, nor do they wish to be bothered much with the facts. Mr. McAuliffe (D), in office barely a month, has tried schmoozing and executive mansion hospitality; he is nothing if not a deal-maker. The Republicans have responded with derision and fighting words. For them, it is enough to demonize Medicaid expansion as a function of Obamacare, and hope the resulting slogans carry the day — no matter what the cost to hundreds of thousands of struggling state residents who have no health insurance.

Demonizing Obamacare, the only thing Republicans can do effectively these days, has become, of course, a way of demonizing Obama. And it works in some places. In fact, it is working very well in Arkansas, as Seth Millstein points out (which I also highlight for your contemplation):

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questionsArkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Sad, no? And what is sadder is the fact that the only clear demonstration of competence on the part of Republican officeholders and their mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox TV is their skill in transforming Obama into Satan in so many supposedly God-fearing places.

And speaking of God-fearing places, look at this graphic based on polling done by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

medicaid expansion in the south

Hell, where the Bible says eternal torment awaits “all liars,” will freeze over before Republican politicians in the Jesus-loving states listed above pay any attention to such polling. Because lying about President Obama, in the strange and dark religion of conservative politics, covers a multitude of sins, especially the sin of ignoring the basic needs of so many disadvantaged Americans.

From Jailbait To Hate

Well I don’t care if you’re just thirteen,
You look too good to be true
I just know that you’re probably clean
There’s one lil’ thing I got to do to you

—Ted Nugent, “Jailbait

I spent the morning thinking about writing something on Ted Nugent’s stupid and racist comments. I mean it isn’t that often that a Republican will confirm for us the racism we are pretty sure flows, mostly in subterranean channels, through the party.

So, when news got out that Nugent recently labeled President Obama, among other things, a “subhuman mongrel” and “chimpanzee,” and when important Republicans were quite reluctant to put a lot of distance between themselves and the elderly rocker, it was tempting to write another piece about how far the Republican Party has fallen, not only in moral terms, but as an intellectual force in our national politics.

But then what’s the point? The dissipation of the GOP is sort of becoming boring.

Wendy Davis, the Texas Democrat running for governor against the state’s attorney general—who invited Ted Nugent to Texas to campaign for him—released this statement about Nugent’s remarks:

Greg Abbott’s embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan — every man, woman, husband, and father. If this is Greg Abbott’s idea of values, it’s repulsive.

Would to God that “every Texan” was insulted by Ted Nugent or Greg Abbott’s embrace of him. But it ain’t so. Even though outside of Texas most people know that Ted Nugent is nuts, that he’s a hate-sick cat, that he is a racist freak, inside the state he is something of a folk hero for palin and nugenta disturbing number of people. But then in the Lone Star State it isn’t a good day unless some Republican legislator, state or federal, talks about impeaching President Obama or questions his citizenship or doubts his allegiance to the country. And that is when they are being Sunday Christian nice.

The party of family values in Texas and elsewhere has essentially embraced Nugent, a man who has said many vile and unprintable things about Democrats, a man who has written a song about having sex with 13-year-old girls—heck, a man who has admitted he had sex with underage girls—a man who has a pathological hatred for Barack Obama. It isn’t therefore strange that the man who wants to be the next Republican governor of Texas refuses to strongly and unequivocally condemn Nugent or his comments. And the sad part of all of this is that Greg Abbott is politically smart not to do so.

I suppose, as monotonous as all this is getting to be, that tells you all you need to know about how sick the Republican Party is, especially in Texas.

In case you haven’t seen the transcript of Nugent’s remarks, here is what he said during an interview on January 17 given to Guns.com:

NUGENT: I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago, communist raised, communist educated, communist nurtured, subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America. I am heartbroken but I am not giving up. I think America will be America again when Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Michael Bloomberg and all of the liberal Democrats are in jail facing the just due punishment that their treasonous acts are clearly apparent.

So a lot of people would call that inflammatory speech. Well I would call it inflammatory speech when it’s your job to protect Americans and you look into the television camera and say what difference does it make that I failed in my job to provide security and we have four dead Americans. What difference does that make? Not to a chimpanzee or Hillary Clinton, I guess it doesn’t matter.

I will end this sad post by telling you that those words were spoken during the interview after Nugent talked about “the gifts God gave me.” Yes. He talked about God blessing him with gifts. All I can say to that is this: If God is handing out those kinds of gifts, then faithful tithers should demand all their money back because God has obviously been misspending the collection plate booty on booze and behavior-altering pharmaceuticals. If gifting Ted Nugent with the ability to call the African-American President of the United States a subhuman mongrel and chimpanzee is the best God can do these days, then folks should spend their tithing dough more productively, like, say, giving it to the Democratic Party.

Why The Republican Party Is What It Is

“A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society.”

Wikipedia

I often use the term “reactionaries” to describe those folks on the right who have a problem living in the 21st century, a problem coming to grips with present reality. I sometimes differentiate between reactionaries and conservatives because conservatism doesn’t necessarily involve reactionary politics, though it often does, especially as we watch conservative behavior today. Most of the conservatives we see dominating the Republican Party these days are—without the slightest doubt—reactionaries.

As most of you know, I was born and raised in Kansas. I lived there until I was about 30 years old. I worked there. I played there. I became a conservative there. I was baptized into an evangelical faith there. The political Kansas I knew was mostly a right-of-center place, with pockets of leftish resistance here and there, and for the most part its politics was not radical or reactionary. Today, though, like a lot of red states Kansas has been radicalized and has turned into one of the most reactionary places in the country.

Nothing could better demonstrate the change from a mild, if not moldy, conservatism into a radical and fiery reactionaryism than what emerged in Kansas recently. Last week, as nearly everyone knows by now, the Kansas House passed a bill that, according to Time,

would permit businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious principles. 

That Jim Crowish bill, which has been condemned far and wide by progressives, passed 72-49 and is now being considered by the state senate, which is expected to either water it down significantly or kill it. Apparently there are some Kansas Republicans left who haven’t been completely radicalized by religious zealots in the state. But the fact that such a reactionary piece of legislation passed one side of the legislature in 2014—2014 for God’s sake—says a lot about not only about the Republican Party, but it speaks to why it is that our national government is so profoundly, if not dangerously, divided.

At the heart of this ascendance of a rabid reactionary politics in Kansas and elsewhere—there is an anti-gay bill in Idaho that is even worse than the one in Kansas—is the anxiety that (mostly but not entirely white) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians feel deep in their bones over the loss of cultural dominance they and their Iron Age theology once enjoyed. Most of the theological angst started with the Supreme Court ruling in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) that government-composed prayers could not be used in public schools, then just after that blow came atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s victorious lawsuit in 1963 (consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the Supreme Court put the kibosh on the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in government schools.

If I heard it once, I heard it a gazillion times from the conservative church folk I knew back home: “They kicked God out of the schools! Why do you think things are so bad!”

So, it started with those two court rulings, but other rulings followed that were specifically related to Bible-based anxiety over a rapidly changing culture. There was Griswold v. Connecticut (which found that because of the Constitution’s now strangely controversial “right to privacy” states could not prohibit the use of contraceptives by married people; later this freedom was extended to all couples via Eisenstadt. V. Baird; and now we are fighting over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate). Skipping over the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade case (which isn’t necessarily—even though it has mostly become—a case involving evangelical theology), we come to Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case that effectively struck down all sodomy laws in the country and paved the way for the eventual legitimation of same-sex marriage, which is now driving right-wing Christians into convulsions not seen since the Gadarene Demoniac.

Along with—perhaps partly because of—these culturally significant court cases, public opinion has evolved in the direction of progress and against the forces of Bible-inspired conservatism. Holy Book-believing Christians have essentially lost the fight over whether the Bible or a secular Constitution will be the ultimate law of the land. This has led to a backlash, a serious and divisive backlash, among folks who take the Bible seriously and who genuinely—I repeat: genuinely— believe that America is going straight to hell because it has turned its back on God and his Word.

More important, though, than all the talk of cultural anxiety and ancient theology is what these Bible-believing folks have been up to lately. In order to turn their biblical notions and reactionary tendencies into public policies like the one proposed last week in Kansas, they have increasingly and fanatically turned to grassroots politics.

These religious reactionaries have educated themselves and essentially taken over the Republican Party’s organizational structure. One such reactionary lives right here in Southwest Missouri. I used to go to the same evangelical church he did and used to believe a lot of the same things he believes. His name is John Putnam. He’s from Carthage and he is the Chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party.

Mr. Putnam has essentially written his own bible on how to take over and transform the Republican Party from the ground up. He notes that there are some “183,000 precincts in the 50 states” and he outlines how the system works:

putnam's patriotsThe voters of each precinct, according to their state’s laws, can elect or appoint one man and one woman to represent the people of that precinct in their political party’s organizational structure (sometimes called the party “machine”).  The precinct chairs/executives become members of their county committee and elect their county committee’s Chair and Vice-Chair who, in turn, help elect their Party’s State Committee; plus, they largely influence which candidates will run (and most likely be elected) in their party’s primary election and who, subsequently, will carry their party’s banner in the November General Elections. 

All of this represents the nuts and bolts of party organization. It is how a political party can be commandeered by a zealous minority and how such zealotry can come to represent the face of the party. It it why the Republican Party is so schizophrenic. It is why its national leaders are so afraid to actually lead. It is why Washington is suffering from legislative paralysis. You think I am exaggerating? Putnam goes on to point out that,

Nationwide, half of these positions sit empty and most voters no longer even know they exist.  If Constitutional conservatives will fulfill the precinct leader’s role and elect Constitutional conservative chairs and vice-chairs to their county committees, we can cleanse our representative form of government in very short order.  This is assuming the men and women who fill the precinct position have the wisdom of  Cleon Skousen gleaned from The Five Thousand Year Leap and the virtue of George Washington (see Glenn Beck’s Being George Washington).

If that stuff about cleansing doesn’t scare you, then you don’t know who Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck are. Perhaps now you can see why the Republican Party looks the way it does. This kind of tactical action is going on, has been going on, all over the country. Mr. Putnam provides local zealots everywhere, those who have a biblical ax to grind, with essential knowledge of how to go about that grinding. Become “party officials” at the local level, he says. Why? Because:

…party officials have a strong influence on who wins the Primary because of their influence in recruiting and endorsing candidates. They also influence whether the Party stays philosophically true to its platform. There is no reason why YOU cannot become a Precinct Patriot and be one who influences these decisions. 

If you ever wondered why a disturbed and disturbing man named Todd Akin became the Missouri GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2012, now you know why. Even after Akin was disgraced, even after his horrific views on women and rape were revealed, even after the Republican establishment abandoned him, John Putnam came to his defense and supported him. And even with that robust defense of a man clearly out of touch with reality, perhaps because of that robust defense, John Putnam remains in charge—in charge!—of the Jasper County Republican Party.

That tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with the GOP. At the ground level, where it often matters most, the reactionaries are running the asylum.

Watch It Again. And Again. And Again.

I know we have talked about income and wealth inequality a lot on this blog. And I know that many of you, like me, have already seen the video posted below. But every time I watch it I am amazed. And every time I watch it I am encouraged that if enough of us pay attention, close attention, to the message presented, and if enough of us make ourselves and others aware of what is happening to the country in terms of the lopsided (and dangerous) distribution of income and wealth, then maybe we can (eventually, alas) change our political system enough to make real reform possible.

Last week, mocking those who dare to champion the cause of people who don’t earn but a tiny share of the nation’s income and who don’t have but an atom-thick slice of our national wealth, Chris Christie, whose demagoguery has not been slowed down by all the scandals whirling around him, claimed that Americans don’t want “income equality” and that Democrats and liberals do. Lying through his scandal-plagued teeth, he said people on the left want everyone to “have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Well, of course no one wants that, and no one wants the government to enforce some kind of standard of income equality. What we want, besides the obvious equality of opportunity for those willing to seize it—and besides a strong safety net for those who can’t work or who have fallen or will fall through the cultural cracks—is an economic system that rewards hard work with at least enough money to pursue some Founders-ordained happiness, including a decent place to live, healthful food, and access to affordable health care.

And we want a tax system that attempts to mitigate the damage being done to the country by an over-concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority of Americans, as demonstrated so well by this video (h/t to : Jo Ann Brown):

Would Jesus Expand Medicaid In Missouri? I’ll Let Him Tell You (UPDATED)

“Missouri’s low income and vulnerable citizens will have access to excellent health care in order to maximize their quality of life and independence.”

—The “vision” statement of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet Division

I swear the following story is in your Bible:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jefferson City to Joplin, when he found out his job was being outsourced to China. All in one moment he lost his income and along with it his health insurance, which he needed because his wife had a serious health condition. A Religious Right preacher happened to be going down the same road on his way to vote for a Republican, and when he saw the uninsured man on the side of the road in much distress, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Teapartier, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side, as he was also on his way to vote for a Republican.

But a Samaritan, a man who believed in the social safety net, came by where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and told him not to worry. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure that he and his wife had affordable health insurance, whether he had a job or not. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure his unemployment benefits wouldn’t dry up before he had a fair chance to get another job. Then he put the man in his car, registered him to vote, and brought him to the polling place. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who lost his job and his health insurance?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here in Missouri, Republicans have blocked the expansion of Medicaid, which would have been fully paid for by the federal government for the next three years. After that the state would eventually pay no more than 10% of the cost, as the program is fully phased in by 2020. The point is that it wouldn’t cost the state a dime—not a dime—until 2017, and even then it wouldn’t cost much. It is estimated that in 2015 Missouri would receive $1.7 billion to help expand the program and bring insurance to more people who can’t now afford it, which could be somewhere between 260,000 and 310,000 Missourians.

Here is a look at just who would benefit if the program were expanded today, again at no cost to the state:

medicaid expansion in missouri

Right now, without Medicaid expansion in this Jesus-loving state, if you are a parent or parents in a family of four and can’t afford private health insurance but have an income over $4,475 a year (19% of the 2013 Federal Poverty Level), you aren’t eligible for Medicaid. Yes, you read that right. If you preside over a family of four and make over $4,475 a year (a bleeping year!) but don’t make enough to buy health insurance, as a parent you are not eligible for Medicaid in Missouri. If you’re wondering, that cutoff for eligibility is the lowest allowed under the federal law that initially established the national program.

Under expansion, your family situation wouldn’t matter. Neither would your disability status. If you were parenting a family of four and earned up to $31,322 a year (based on 133% of the federal poverty level for 2013), you would be eligible for help if you didn’t otherwise have health insurance. If you were a single adult, you could earn up to $15,282 a year and qualify for health insurance under Medicaid. And as a comprehensive study indicated, the expansion is not only good for the entire state (it would actually bring in more dough to the treasury), but it is especially good for folks who live in places like where I live here in the southwest corner:

medicaid expansion map

See that? Just in our part of the state more than 60,000 of our New Testament-toting neighbors would get health insurance. Hallelujah!

Except that here in this Jesus-loving town of Joplin, here in God-fearing Southwest Missouri, lives the Majority Floor Leader of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard. I don’t know if he loves Jesus or not, but I do know he is opposed to Medicaid expansion and voted against it last week, as did every single Republican in the Senate. Here are the duties of his august position:

The Majority Floor Leader sets the schedule of bills up for consideration by the full chamber, the time spent on floor debate for legislation, and the meeting times and dates of the Missouri Senate, among other duties.

As you can see, Ron Richard is a powerful man. He can change the dynamics of the debate on the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri in less time than it would take a House Republican to say, “Impeach the socialist in the White’s House!” Below are ways to contact him:

Jefferson City Office, Pattie: 573-751-2173

Joplin Office, Gwen: 417-623-0022

Or send him a message:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/D32WebApps/Contact.aspx
http://ronrichardmosenate.com/contact.php

You can use one or all of the above methods in order to a) ask him if he loves Jesus, or b) ask him if he wants to treat his fellow Missourians like a good neighbor, or c) do what I did and send him a message like this:

ron richard websiteI respectfully ask that Sen. Richard lead the charge on expanding Medicaid in Missouri and bring some relief to hundreds of thousands of Missourians who need health insurance. We are leaving billions of dollars on the table, money that is needed here in our state to care for our own. Do the right thing, please.

_________________________________

UPDATE: Here is the email response I received from Sen. Richard. Based on this response, it wouldn’t hurt for all of you who are interested in this issue to let him know where you stand:

Thank you for your email. This was brought up on the Senate Floor for debate. This was just the first discussion on the floor and I believe there will be a lot more before we have a chance to vote on the bill. I will keep your thoughts and comments in mind as this bill becomes perfected and we vote on the measure.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Ron Richard
Senator District 32

Roy Blunt’s Moocher Talk And What’s Wrong With It

Not only has the Affordable Care Act been attacked by Republicans for being a government takeover of the healthcare system or for creating death panels that will kill your grandparents in their sleep or for busting the federal budget and your own or for limiting your choice of policies and doctors, now the GOP has a new line of attack: ObamaCare is creating more moochers!

Even though that whole moocher thing didn’t work so well in the 2012 presidential election, it is so much a part of the right-wing’s dogma about Democrats and Democratic constituencies that they simply can’t let it go.

Roy Blunt, my own senator, appeared on this week’s Fox “News” Sunday. And, of course, he followed the newest ObamaCare’s-a-moocher-maker script on what Republicans should say in response to the release of the CBO’s analysis of some of the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s labor supply.blunt on fox

Before we get to what Blunt said, let’s look at the question Chris Wallace asked him and the way that question was set up for him and the way the reactionaries want us all to understand the issue. Wallace played a cherry-picked clip of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf’s testimony before the House Budget Committee last Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of the clip Wallace played:

DOUG ELMENDORF, CBO DIRECTOR: By providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work, relative to what would have been the case in the absence of that act.

Wallace stopped the clip there. What Fox viewers (and Roy Blunt) didn’t hear was what Elmendorf said next:

Now these subsidies, of course, makes those lower income people better off.

Yes. He said that. Right after he talked about the disincentive to work. He said that these folks would be better off. And he continued to explain:

This is an implicit tax, not the sort of tax we normally think about where if the government raises our taxes, we are worse off and face the disincentive to work more. Providing a subsidy, people are better off but they do have less of an incentive to work and I think they would respond to that by working somewhat less.

As you can see, the whole idea that folks would stop working or reduce the time they spend working is essentially based on what economists “think they would respond to” in terms of being better off because of the ACA. And it turns out that the CBO’s number-crunchers were influenced by the work of a conservative economist, as Jonathan Chait (“How Obamacare Became the New Welfare”) notes:

The Congressional Budget Office’s budget update last week surprisingly adapted an analysis, advocated by conservative economist Casey Mulligan, that Obamacare would induce the equivalent of two million full-time jobs in reduced labor. Now, in addition to its previously recited horrors, Obamacare was taking money from hard-working Americans to finance indolence.

Mr. Mulligan has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act from the start. Last October he criticized it for—sound familiar?—creating “a reduction in the reward for working” and suggested that its full implementation this year might cause “a recessionary double-dip.” So, he’s not a fan of the law, and it is unclear why the CBO embraced some of his thinking as to the effects it will have on the labor supply.

politics 1984 IS HEREBut such thinking is part of the long-time conservative critique of Democrats and their fondness for safety-net programs. On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked former-intellectual-turned-Fox-commentator George Will: “is giving people a cheaper way to get health insurance without working so much — is that a good thing or a bad thing?” As he always does, as he is no doubt required to do to get his big paycheck from Fox, Will took aim at liberals:

People forget Social Security was advocated, Chris, in the 1930s, as a way of getting people to quit working, because they thought we were confined to a permanent scarcity of jobs in this country. Second, it is the point of progressivism to put in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptation to dependency on government. In order to change social norms and eventually national character, the president said, “I want to fundamentally change America,” and these disincentives to work are part of it.

Of course! President Obama and the Democratic Party want people to be dependent on government. They want people to stay in what Paul Ryan called the “poverty trap.” They want all Americans to quit working and become moochers. Makes perfect sense, right? That idea, which Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio personalities have aggressively pushed for more than two decades now, is what Republicans want voters to now specifically associate with “ObamaCare.”

But what about that idea? What about that poverty trap? You might be surprised. Jonathan Chait writes:

What’s more, as Jared Bernstein and Edwin Park point out, by lifting the threshold for who gets subsidized insurance, Obamacare actually reduces this poverty trap. Before Obamacare expanded it, Medicaid had extremely low income thresholds. It varies state by state, but the average state cut off Medicaid to people earning just 61 percent of the poverty line, a pitifully low sum. If you’re a single parent in Texas, you lose your Mediciad if you earn more than $3,600 a year. A family of two in Alabama loses its Medicaid once its income, after deductions, hits the lofty sum of $2,832 a year. That’s a severe incentive to keep poor people from obtaining full-time work.

Of course, Texas is boycotting Obamcare’s Medcaid expansion, and is thus keeping in place this strong incentive for its poorest citizens to stay out of the workforce. (If conservatives are worried about fostering a culture of dependency in these Obamacare-boycotting red states, they are keeping their fears very, very quiet.) The states choosing to expand Medicaid are correspondingly increasing the incentive for the very poor to enter the workforce.

As the above-cited economist Jared Bernstein makes clear:

During a hearing today on the latest CBO report, Rep. Paul Ryan declared the health care law to be “a poverty trap.”  He’s way off base.  In fact, he’s got it backwards…

None of this is to deny the CBO’s point that some people with incomes above the poverty level will choose to work less to avoid reductions in their premium subsidy.  But those choices are not the ones faced by the poor who live in states where the ACA is the law of the land.  In those states, the law has thoroughly reversed the poverty trap.  Rep. Ryan should know that and correct the misimpression he’s created.

Of course Paul Ryan, Roy Blunt, or any Republican for that matter, will not correct any of the misimpressions, not to say lies, they have created. And many mainstream journalists will continue to promote a false equivalence by reporting Republican misinformation and Democratic attempts to correct it as if both are morally equal and just part of the game of politics. Thus, if Democratic politicians want to keep their jobs and keep health insurance reform alive, it is up to them to get very aggressive in their defense of the ACA, especially with people like Roy Blunt running around and making mischief on television.

Which leads me finally to Blunt’s appearance on Fox yesterday. Chris Wallace, after playing the partial Elmendorf clip, asked Blunt this question:

WALLACE: Now, Republicans say this proves that ObamaCare is a job killer. Democrats say it means that fewer people will be locked into jobs. Senator Blunt, what is wrong with that, the idea of fewer people locked into jobs?

Now, of course Wallace knows that ObamaCare is not “a job killer.” The CBO report made clear and Elmendorf testified that the law would actually create jobs not kill them. But Wallace chose to set the question up by contrasting a Republican “job-killer” lie with a Democratic truth, to wit: the law allows some people to opt out of jobs they are locked into because of their need for employer-provided health insurance. And Blunt took the bait and further muddied the waters:

SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-MO.: Well, I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?

This number is about three times as big as the number that was on the table when people that voted for the president’s health care bill voted for it in 2009 and ’10 when the estimate was it would cost the equivalent of 800,000 full time jobs. Now, they’re saying 2.3 million, and the best face can you put on that is that means people that don’t want to work don’t have to work. Surely, that’s not what we want to encourage. And that’s what this law does encourage.

Let’s start with his first declaration: “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea.” Oh, yeah? The Social Security law discourages people from working. Lots and lots of them. And lots of them are Republicans. Is Social Security a bad idea, Senator Blunt? Is Medicare a bad idea because it also discourages people from working? Apparently, Blunt thinks that making it possible for people who have worked all their lives and simply want to exit the labor force into retirement is a bad thing. No wonder he supported the infamous Paul Ryan Medicare-mutilating budget plan. I guess people should just work until their dead.

But more than that, notice how Blunt, like all Republicans are now doing and will continue to do until election day this November, focuses on those alleged 2.3 million” people who “don’t want to work” or “don’t have to work.” That is essentially the argument that was made more generally during the 2012 election. Paul Ryan said the following at a fundraiser in June of that election year:

Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers?

The only difference now, in this election year, is that Republicans are targeting a specific effort by Democrats, embodied in the Affordable Care Act, to help low-income folks get affordable health insurance. And they think they have the CBO on their side this time.

elmendorfBut what about that CBO report and Director Elmendorf’s seemingly common-sense claim “that by providing a somewhat smaller incentive to work, somewhat fewer people would work”? Nobody argues that there won’t be some number of people who will do exactly what Elmendorf suggests they will do. As Jonathan Chait makes clear:

It is true that any means-tested government benefit will discourage some class of people from working. If a subsidy is available only for people below a certain income level, then people whose income approaches that income level will lose some incentive to earn more.

By its very nature, the concept of means-testing—which Republicans themselves have always embraced—involves people calculating whether working more actually makes them better off. People do that all the time when, for instance, they reach retirement age. The issue here is how many people will do what Elmendorf suggests. And relative to that issue Suzy Khimm (who used to be with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog) makes an excellent point:

It’s also worth taking the CBO’s findings with a grain of salt. The office had previously forecast that Obamacare would reduce the total hours worked by the equivalent of 800,000 workers, then updated its forecast based on more recent research. But one new study that CBO cited in its report actually “found no significant effect of Medicaid on employment or earnings” when Oregon expanded the program in 2008.

Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute, says such evidence makes him skeptical that Obamacare’s effect on the labor market will be as large as the CBO predicts. “I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of reductions in labor supply that Elmendorf is talking bout today,” says Nichols. “We have also evidence from Massachusetts that doesn’t show a large impact.”

Paul Krugman wrote that the “reduced labor supply” noted by the CBO and exploited by dishonest Republicans does in fact add to “the true cost of health reform.” But he demonstrates, through what he calls “some pretty prosaic economics,” that the effects are fairly modest. He ends:

Should you care how much other people work? Yes, a little – but not so much that it should change anyone’s views about health reform.

The truth is that at this point nobody really knows, with any degree of legitimate certainty, what direct and indirect effects the Affordable Care Act will have not only on the labor supply, but on other areas of the economy. As I have said many times, the ACA is an experiment. Much more time and evidence is needed to figure out whether the law will work as designed, whether it will need significant changes, or whether it should be scrapped altogether. But we have one political party that does not want it to work, will not lift a finger to fix any problems with it, and wants only to kill it before it has had a chance to prove or disprove itself.

Unfortunately for Missourians—especially for those Missourians who could get health insurance were it not for Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion—Roy Blunt is part of that one political party.

John Boehner Finally Tells The Truth About His Party

John Boehner may not realize it, but he exposed his party for what it is.

This morning the Speaker of the House made this joke about his inability to get House Republicans to pass a debt ceiling increase:

You know, Mother Teresa is a saint now, but if Congress wanted to make her a saint, and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn’t get 218 votes for it.

Funny, right? Except not really. It’s kind of sad and pathetic. Here is the leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, the people’s house, essentially saying that his party is so irresponsible that they aren’t fit to govern. And that is their leader talking.

In the Senate, word comes today that for the third time, Republicans, including Missouri’s Roy Blunt, have blocked passage of a bill that would have extended federal unemployment benefits to almost 2 million Americans. This time there were four Republicans joining the Democrats, but in the anti-democratic, filibuster-ruled Senate, 60 votes are needed to pass anything. One more Republican was needed to get the bill through, although even if it were to pass, there’s not much hope of getting it through the Tea Party-controlled House.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to yes.” He added later:

And every week [Republicans] delay, another 73,000 Americans lose these crucial benefits — benefits that help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads while they search for a job.

It should come as no surprise that Republican Party Christians—who one of their own leaders just said would reject sainthood for Mother Theresa—don’t really give a damn about food on the table and a roof over the heads of desperate Americans.

ObamaCare May Work!

When I retired five years ago, I did not “lose” my job. Nobody fired me or laid me off or put me on furlough. I simply stopped working because I wanted to. I withdrew my contribution to the total supply of labor in the country.

However, in the minds of Republicans and other right-wingers exploiting the latest Congressional Budget Office report that discusses the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market, my decision not to work is actually a job loss. Hooey.

Although there is plenty of lying—yes, lying—and misinforming going on in terms of what the CBO report said, I chose this headline from a Fox “News” article on the matter to represent the lies and misinformation:

ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says

More hooey. That CBO report, which is titled, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” did not—I repeat: did not—say that the ACA could lead to “nearly 2.3 million” job losses. And although it is nice to see that conservatives, after years of bashing the CBO’s reports, are now embracing the nerds’ number-crunching skills, those cherry-picking right-wingers should actually read the report.

First of all, it should be noted that the portion of the CBO’s budget analysis that deals with the future labor effects of the ACA is, like the rest of the projections in the document, an “estimate.” And it is not just an estimate, it is an estimate essentially (but certainly not entirely) of what real people, including many low-income people or people approaching retirement age, will do in the face of getting help from the government to purchase health insurance. Thus, that CBO estimate is based on suppositions about human psychology. Keep that in mind when you hear the hysteria coming from Republicans (or when you hear the good news below).

Secondly, we are not talking about a reduction in the demand for labor, but a reduction in the supply of labor. You know, sort of like when I reduced the supply of labor by retiring five years ago. There elmendorfwas still a demand for my (excellent) services, but I chose not to supply them. As I said, that’s not the same thing as a job loss. By the way, I just heard Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, say the same thing in testimony before the House Budget Committee.*

There are already a lot of great articles out there that explain what is going on (here and here and here and here, for instance). The following is an excerpt from an excellent report on the subject from the Los Angeles Times:

The CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There’s a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.

As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps “older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.”

Democrats should continue to aggressively counter the right-wing messaging on this latest CBO report (we can’t count on journalists to get the story straight, what with their “they said, they said” reporting in which telling a lie is on an equal footing with telling the truth). And Democrats, following economist Dean Baker, should enthusiastically embrace the fact that what may happen (remember: it is an estimate) is that the ACA will actually do what it was designed to do. Just before President Obama signed the ACA into law in March of 2010, he said,

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Basic security. Yes! The kind that may allow Dean Baker’s “older worker”—who has a serious health condition and needs health insurance provided by an employer—to opt out of the work force, or Baker’s “young mother” to stay at home and take care of her children. What family-values-hawking Republican could be against that?

Judging by their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, apparently every one of them.

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* UPDATE: Here is what Elmendorf said:

If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says, ‘I’ve decided to retire,’ or ‘I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,’ or ‘I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby’ –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job.

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