You, Too, Can Phone Wobbly Republicans And Tell Them To Say No To Beggars Wages In Missouri

“So-called “Right to Work” laws are an attempt by CEOs and multinational corporations to eliminate unions and stack the deck even more in their favor. It’s a power grab by the same people who ship our jobs overseas and offshore their profits—and it would hurt all working people in Missouri.”

Missouri AFL-CIO

First it was Grover Norquist sticking his icky head in Missouri politics. Now comes FreedomWorks, the reactionary Tea Party group first funded by a Koch Bro, brazenly attempting to alter lives here in the Show-Me State. Extremists Going 'All In' to Make Missouri the Most Anti-Worker State in the U.S. We Can Change That

In Missouri FreedomWorks is targeting those it considers to be wobbly Republican House members, those few right-wingers in our Republican-dominated state house who may not yet be ready to decimate labor unions by voting for Right-to-Beg legislation.

“Right-to-Work protects Missouri workers from oppressive union tactics and cuts off funding to Big Government politicians,” says a post on FreedomWorks’ website. “It’s simple. No one should be forced to pay dues to a union.” No, it’s simple: People who lie should be ashamed of themselves.

Right-to-Beg laws actually don’t do anything except undermine the one thing that serves to protect workers, which is a union-negotiated and union-enforced contract. By allowing workers to get union benefits without paying for union representation, such laws threaten the very existence of the union and—the real point of such laws—do away with the voice of the worker in the workplace. That is why the efforts to pass such laws here in Missouri and elsewhere are supported by business interests, who enjoy the fact that they can pay their employees thousands of dollars a year less in Right-to-Beg states.

freedomworksWhen FreedomWorks or any other right-winging group or individual says that “No one should be forced to pay dues to a union,” they are purposely ignoring the fact that employees covered by a union contract aren’t forced, cannot in fact be forced, to join the union and pay union dues. What they can be required to pay is their share of the union’s cost of representing employees in that bargaining unit, including those employees who don’t want to join the union. Federal law mandates that unions represent all bargaining unit employees whether they pay union dues or not, and it is simply common sense that says if you get something from the union you should have to pay for it. If you don’t want to be represented by a union then you don’t have to go to work at a place where workers are represented by a union. But if you do take such work, then you should have to pay your fair share of the costs of providing you with and policing an employment contract.

In any case, the Republican targets of the FreedomWorks campaign in the Missouri House are listed below. If you want, you can counter the right-wing attempt to destroy unions and lower wages in Missouri by phoning them and urging them to oppose HB 1770:

Rep. Wanda Brown…Office Phone: (573) 751-3971

Rep. Sue Entlicher…Office Phone: (573) 751-1347

Rep. Chuck Gatchenberger…Office Phone: (573) 751-3572

Rep. Ron Hicks…Office Phone: (573) 751-1470

Rep. Bart Korman…Office Phone: (573) 751-2689

Rep. Jim Neely…Office Phone: (573) 751-0246

Rep. Donna Pfautsch…Office Phone: (573) 751-9766

Rep. Bryan Spencer…Office Phone (573) 751-1460

Rep. Kathy Swan…Office Phone (573) 751-1443

Celebrate The Income Tax By Buying 2.41 Big Macs

Over the weekend, USA Today marked the anniversary of the income tax by publishing an article by Al Neuharth (“How income tax has changed in 100 years”), which was followed by a “Feedback” section. Since apparently no media organization can discuss taxes without interjecting the reactionary opinion of Grover Norquist, here is what the paper included with Neuharth’s story:

“All consumed income should be taxed once at one low, flat, internationally competitive rate. High marginal tax rates and redundant taxes on savings retard economic growth and make us poorer.”

— Grover Norquist, President Americans for Tax Reform

What Norquist means by “consumed income” is that part of one’s income that will be spent on goods and services and not saved. For many working class folks, this means almost all of their income, since these days they have to spend most or all of it just to get by.

Many conservatives believe that such a wealthy-friendly, “low, flat” tax rate as Norquist proposes would make us more “internationally competitive.” What does that mean?

Perhaps we can get a glimpse into what conservatives mean by saying that America needs to become more globally competitive by looking at what happened on Bill O’Reilly’s Reactionary Review on Friday night.

Laura Ingraham, subbing for O’Reilly, took a swipe at unions, when it was suggested by Demos think-tanker David Callahan that unions would help mitigate the enormous transfer of America’s wealth into the hands of the 1 percent:

INGRAHAM: Stronger labor unions? How do we compete with China, Vietnam, South Korea, India, when we are going to have stronger labor unions that insure that we have more work place regulations, more ways that business has to pay more money to make ends meet? The two things don’t add up.

Ahh. That’s what they mean by making us more internationally competitive: competing with low-wage economies like China, Vietnam, and India. I get it now. Even if it doesn’t add up for Ingraham, it’s starting to add up for me:

1. Conservatives believe that we need to keep taxes low on the wealthy in order to make us more internationally competitive.

2. And they believe we have to keep wages low for workers to make us, uh, more internationally competitive.

Now we can add it all up: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, all in a race to the bottom for most Americans.

Speaking of competing with low-wage countries, Princeton professor of economics, Orley Ashenfelter, published a study last year famously using a “Big Mac Index,” which was an attempt to compare wages across the world by measuring “the number of minutes it takes for a McDonald’s worker to earn enough money to buy a Big Mac sandwich.”

Let’s look at what the professor found (red highlight mine):

Big mac index

Laura Ingraham asked, “How do we compete with China, Vietnam, South Korea, India“? How, indeed. In the U.S. the “McWage” is $7.33 an hour and will buy almost two and a half Big Macs. In China the McWage is 81 cents an hour and will barely buy half a sandwich. In India the McWage is even lower (45 cents) and will buy one-third of a Big Mac.

So, in order for us to “compete” with such countries we will definitely need to lose our affinity for Big Macs and then win the race to the bottom that people like Norquist and Ingraham and other conservatives would have us run.

Finally, I do want to include another quote from the Feedback section of that USA Today tax article, this one from someone who gets it:

“Our tax system’s evolution has produced a middle-class nation that takes care of our elderly, educates our children, protects our environment, etc., etc. These blessings are well worth the price.”

— Robert S. McIntyre, Director Citizens for Tax Justice

The Critical Few

I describe budgets as a tapestry: When it’s woven together, the picture amounts to our hopes and dreams of a nation.”

—Jack Lew, Obama’s chief of staff and reportedly his choice to be Treasury secretary

If Jack Lew becomes the next Secretary of the Treasury, he will have to deal directly with a Republican Party that, by all appearances, seems ready to do nasty things to the country.

But I have some doubts as to whether there is unanimity among Republicans in Congress to threaten the fiscal health of the country with a protracted battle over the budget. And it would take near-unanimity to pull off the caper of ruining the economy.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but if one thinks about it, there are now 55 members of the Democratic Conference in the Senate and only five Republicans would have to join them to stop any history-making attempt to wreck the country. Are there five GOP senators who care more about today’s America than tomorrow’s Grover Norquist?

Geeze, I hope so.

In the House, Democrats hold 201 seats. Only a handful of Republicans (and there are 15 of them who were elected in a district also won by President Obama in November) would be needed to stop the insanity. Are there seventeen or so Republican House members politically sane enough to vote with Democrats should it come to that? God only knows. And God only knows if Speaker Boehner would even let such a vote happen.

But these numbers indicate to me that Democrats can stand strong and not compromise away a jot or tittle of the integrity of what Ed Schultz calls “the big three,” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And besides hoping that there are a handful of Republicans who will refuse to become economic saboteurs, I am also hoping that Jack Lew—a veteran Democrat who first learned the ways of Washington under the sainted Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill—will be the kind of man that former Republican Senator and Budget Committee chairman Judd Gregg says he is:

He’s like a labor-union negotiator. He’s not going to give you an inch if he doesn’t have to. He’s a true believer in the causes. 

It may take a Democratic true believer to convince true-believing Republicans that he will let them, if they insist on fiscal chaos, go down the road to lasting infamy. And we can only hope that such a prospect will send chills down at least a critical few right-wing spines.

A Short-Term Win For Democrats, A Long-Term Loss For Democrats?

We’re making permanent tax policies Republicans originally crafted.”

—Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans, at least those not completely ravaged by ideological stupidity, have finally been willing to embrace their substantial victory over Democrats, a victory represented by the last-minute deal to make the once-infamous Bush tax cuts permanent.

Early on New Year’s Day, Senate Republicans saw the light and accepted a Biden-engineered but Obama-blessed “compromise,” and later on New Year’s Day House Republicans—those 85 or so who for one reason or another realized they have won the tax debate—did the same.

All the while, most Senate and House Democrats couldn’t wait to get in line to vote to accept the deal (only 3 voted “no” in the Senate and only 16 voted “no” in the House), which, among other things, makes the Bush tax cuts, I’ll say it again, permanent.

Perhaps we should stop here and get Merriam-Webster‘s definition of the word permanent:

continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.

That’s a lot of what happened on New Year’s Day.

I watched Grover Norquist, yes, Grover Bleeping Norquist, right in front of CNN, GOP Jesus, and everyone, bless his fellow Republicans as they were about to vote to do what conservatives a decade ago only dreamed of doing: making the Bush tax rate cuts permanent for 99.3% of taxpayers.*

Did you get that? Conservatives in 2001 and 2003 couldn’t even pull that off. When right-wingers passed the original Bush tax cuts, they were only for ten years. Obama extended them for two years just before they were due to expire at the end of 2010—under Republican threats to ruin the economic recovery—and now they have been made a part of the Democratic Party canon. Bragging rights for tax cuts now belong to Democrats, which they may eventually regret.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to extending the tax cuts for most Americans. We can’t afford to jeopardize the fragile economic recovery by removing almost $200 billion a year—that’s roughly the cost of extending the cuts for the 99.3%—from the mix.

But we also can’t afford to extend the full rate cuts for that entire 99.3% permanently—at a cost of $1.9 trillion over 10 years—as doing so will serve to support the “starve the beast” tactic that radical conservatives like Grover Norquist have employed as part of their strategy to turn the country into a 19th-century small-government, rich-man’s paradise.

As I see it, Democrats may have inadvertently aided the Norquistas in their quest to some day drown government, at least part of it, in Grover’s bathtub.

There are, of course, many good things in the package passed, including a five-year extension of the 2009 stimulus expansion of tax credits for the working poor and other tax credits for the needy, including families trying to get their kids in college.

Those on long-term unemployment will get an extension for another year; doctors who accept Medicare won’t get screwed in the next year; tax breaks for wind energy and corporate research are continuing for at least another year; the Alternative Minimum Tax will be permanently indexed to inflation; the Republican-stalled farm bill will get unstalled for nine months—enjoy your cheaper milk.

Most of what Democrats got they got without having to offer significant spending cuts, which would have hurt the economic recovery. All good.

But besides the permanence of the Bush tax cuts, there are other bad things in the deal. The estate tax, which beginning on January 1 returned to Clinton-era rates (estates valued at $1 million were exempted and estate transfers over that amount were taxed at 55%), is now permanently Republican-friendly: a $5 million ($10 million for a couple) estate exemption (indexed to inflation) and a top tax rate of 40%, which, as Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) said, is a “sweetheart giveaway to the wealthiest 7,200 estates in the country.”

Capital gains taxes, which enabled the Mitt Romneys of the world to enjoy millions of dollars in income and pay only 15% in taxes on it, will rise to a mere 20% (23.8% if Obamacare taxes are figured in) for those couples making more than $450,000 ($400,000 for individuals). So, if you are Mitt Romney, you will have to find a way to live without that extra dough. Somehow I think he’ll cope.

But he may not even have to worry about coping. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the following about the increased capital gains tax in the new bill:

Many households with incomes above $500,000 won’t face the higher rates at all, because deductions are subtracted from gross income before the rates are assessed.

Finally, the deal Joe Biden brokered with Mitch McConnell does nothing but delay a fight over the sequester and over the dreaded and fast-approaching fight over the debt ceiling that Republicans have pledged to use as a tool to force Democrats to cut entitlements. We are guaranteed to go through all this nonsense again, though this time it would threaten an economic crisis that would dwarf the one we just averted.

President Obama, in his statement after the House vote on Tuesday night, said this:

Now, one last point I want to make — while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.

Even though the President went to some trouble to explain that he will not negotiate with Congress over yet another stalemate over the debt ceiling, it is hard to see how he can avoid it, especially since Obama’s press secretary took the “constitution option” off the table recently:

This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period.

Section 4 of that amendment says,

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Now, it is true that the President himself has not actually ruled out such a thing, saying this summer only that,

I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.

That statement, obviously, assumes court involvement. But any judiciary action—and some smart people believe the courts would not even get involved in this political matter—would require time. And Mr. Obama may conclude that by educating the public on the dire consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and given the extreme unpopularity of Republicans in Congress, that he will have plenty of latitude to do what needs to be do.

Additionally—and this may be the saving grace of this deal for Democrats—Obama said on Monday:

…if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we’re just going to try to shove…spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera — if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming.  That’s not how it’s going to work.  We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way.

That rather strong statement suggests that Obama has a definite strategy in mind for dealing with Republican threats to wreck the economy in order to get what they want.  If he does, and if his strategy is successful, the bad things in the fiscal cliff deal will not look so bad.

And let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

_____________________________

*For those couples earning between $250,000 and $450,000, less generous Clinton-era tax exemptions and deductions will return, which will increase their tax liability and likely satisfy President Obama’s insistence of tax increases for the “top 2 percent”; but the tax rate cuts themselves are permanent for those couples making under $450,000, which is less than 1% of taxpayers.

Keep The Creep?

Okay, we all know Grover Norquist is a creep. We all know that. But dammit, this is ridiculous:

Obama will be on a very short leash, fiscally speaking, over the next four years. He’s not going to have any fun at all, he may just have to go blow up small countries he can’t pronounce because it won’t be any fun to be here, because he won’t be able to spend the kind of cash he was hoping to.

That quote was from his appearance on C-SPAN, and Politico reported further:

Norquist outlined tactics at the GOP’s disposal for challenging Obama and the Democrats.cspan norquist

“Republicans have three tools,” he said. “One: the sequester. The Democrats fear sequester more than Republicans because it actually reins in spending.”

Next, he said, is the upcoming debt ceiling vote.

“It will have to come up every month or so as Obama keeps hitting that ceiling,” Norquist said of the nation’s borrowing limit. “Republicans can raise it a little or a lot, or for a month or for six months. That gives them discipline as it did in 2011 to require spending restraint.”

Norquist cited other budget fights from earlier in this legislative session, as examples of how Republicans have fended off spending increases — the third tool the GOP can use.

“Because the Senate doesn’t do its job, because Harry Reid plays politics instead of governing, they haven’t got a budget,” he said. ‘They do a continuing resolution … they still have to vote to allow that money to be spent, which means the House of Representatives has to agree to continue the budget. What they did in 2011, for about a month or two, they said, ‘We’ll extend the continuing resolution for a few weeks if you save four billion dollars.’

“We’ve got lots of things Obama claims to be for and we will make — we, the Republicans in the House and Senate — will make him actually make those spending restraints in order to get the continuing resolution out a week, two weeks, a month,” Norquist added.

So, the Republican strategy going forward is the same strategy it used to lose seats in the House and Senate in November, as well as the presidency: obstruction. If they keep this up, in a couple of more elections they’ll all be gone!

So, come to think of it, I guess we need to wish the creepy Grover Norquist well.

“Four Cents On The Dollar”

Missouri’s Claire McCaskill said on Meet the Press on Sunday:

I feel almost sorry for John Boehner. There is incredible pressure on him from a base of his party that is unreasonable about this. And he’s got to decide, is his speakership more important or is the country more important? And in some ways, he has got to deal with this base of the Republican Party, who Grover Norquist represents. And, you know, everybody’s elevated Grover—I mean, I met him for the first time this morning—nice to meet him—but, you know, who is he? Why is he this guy that is—has—has captured so much attention in this?

Indeed, wherefore Grover Norquist? Who is he?

In a reasonable world, in a world not dominated by corporate media’s need to keep a controversy blazing, Grover Norquist would be enjoying retirement today, perhaps rubbing bronzing lotion on Mitt Romney’s money, somewhere in a tropical paradise, instead of appearing on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Republicans, you see, particularly Republicans spouting Tea Party nonsense, got the left foot of fellowship from the American people on November 6, and it was partly—though not completely—a 2010 gerrymandering bonanza that kept several right-wing House zealots in their seats, Democrats having received a majority of all House election votes.

And the one issue that clearly separated Democrats from Republicans was the issue of tax increases on the wealthiest two percent of Americans. The voters, as we all know but are starting to forget, chose the Democratic view.

As it is, though, even if Grover Norquist wanted to go to a beach far, far away, he can’t. Journalists keep pretending that he is relevant to the conversation about the fiscal cliff, which is quickly turning into a conversation about how much austerity will be foisted on the American economy in the shortest time possible without hurting rich people.

And nobody speaks for the rich like Grover Norquist:

Tea Party II is going to dwarf Tea Party I,  if Obama pushes us off the cliff. Let’s not pretend who’s pushing us over the cliff.

No, let’s not pretend. Let’s not pretend that, if there is a cliff for us to go over in the short-term, it will be because Norquist and his friends in Congress are willing to push the country that way in service to their wealthy constituents. In fact, Claire McCaskill said so on Sunday:

There has to be a realization that if we do nothing, the Republicans are going to have to live with the fact that they were willing to stop a deal all over a tax rate for the top two percent of this country.

Yes, Republicans—and Republicans only—will have to live with that realization. Nothing—absolutely nothing—could be clearer, despite Norquist’s bluster, which is really a last-ditch effort to save his relevance as a Washington insider.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee and one of the smartest Democrats around these days, was also on with Grover Norquist:

Well, what’s happened now is that the president has put forward a plan. It’s transparent. It’s on the internet…Let’s be really clear on what the President has said. He wants to extend tax relief for hundred percent of American families and small businesses on their first 250 thousand dollars of income.

And what Republicans are saying is, nobody gets that tax relief unless folks over 250 thousand get the extra four cents on the dollar that they were getting compared to the Clinton tax rates. And I just don’t believe that the American people are going to accept the Republican position when we need to extend middle class tax cuts and get serious about our long-term deficit reduction.

Four cents on the dollar. That’s what most of this argument is about, my friends. Four cents on the dollar for folks who are doing quite well, thank you.

And thanks to mainstream journalism, thanks to the producers of shows like Meet the Press, we still have a whiny titmouse of a man named Grover Norquist on television doing his best to make sure, even if it fiscally imperils the country, those folks don’t have to pay that extra four cents on the dollar for every dollar they make over $250,000.

If Democrats can’t win this argument, either with Republicans or ultimately with the American people, then the country is going to hell anyway, fiscal cliff or not.

Word To Democrats: Be Careful On Entitlement Reform

A few Republicans are publicly divorcing themselves from Grover Norquist, which is a good sign. But not enough Republicans are yet ready to absorb fully the meaning of the GOP’s defeat on November 6.

As President Obama has said several times now, if the last election had one clear message, it was that the wealthiest Americans, those who have been doing pretty well despite a sluggish economic recovery, need to “pay a little more” in taxes and thus get things started in terms of fixing our long-term fiscal problems.

On Sunday, John McCain’s lap dog, Sen. Lindsey Graham, clearly abandoned Grover Norquist and his infernal tax pledge. I have heard replayed numerous times the following excerpt from Graham’s appearance on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

In context, though, Graham was not endorsing an increase in marginal tax rates (“I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates,” he said), but only an increase in revenues by other means, like capping deductions for wealthy families (“If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue,” he claimed). But, so be it. In whatever form, it is clear that some Republicans, feeling the heat of November 6, are starting to warm up to an increase in federal revenues and it seems likely that more, perhaps enough to get a deal done, will follow.

Now comes the “if Democrats will do entitlement reform” part.

Appearing with Lindsey Graham on ABC’s This Week was Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who signed onto the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

He said a couple of things that illustrate the problems for President Obama and the Democrats, in terms of getting a deal that Democrats like me can support. First, Durbin suggested that Social Security shouldn’t be part of a larger budget deal since it is funded separately and “does not add one penny to our debt.” It’s pretty clear that most Democrats feel the same way. They believe that the relatively simple fixes for Social Security don’t belong in the discussion going on now. So, leave that program out of it.

Then we have this:

DURBIN: Medicare is another story. Only 12 years of solvency lie ahead if we do nothing. So those who say, “Don’t touch it, don’t change it,” are ignoring the obvious. We want Medicare to be there for today’s seniors and tomorrow’s, as well. We don’t want to go the Paul Ryan route of voucherizing it, privatizing it, but we can make meaningful reforms in Medicare and Medicaid without compromising the integrity of the program, making sure that the beneficiaries are not paying the price for it, except perhaps the high-income beneficiaries. That to me is a reasonable approach…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that include raising the age for Medicare eligibility?

DURBIN: Here’s my concern about that, George. What happens to the early retiree who needs health insurance before that person’s eligible for Medicare? I had it happen in my family, and I’ll bet a lot of your viewers did, as well. We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American. My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a fair point, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Not really. I don’t think you can look at entitlement reform without adjusting the age for retirement, like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan did. It goes to 66, 67 here pretty soon for Social Security. Let it float up another year or so over the next 30 years, adjust Medicare from 65 to 67 over the next 30 years, means test benefits for people in our income level. I don’t expect the Democrats to go for premium support or a voucher plan, but I do expect them to adjust these entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and run out of money themselves. So age adjustment and means testing for both Social Security, Medicare I think is eminently reasonable. And all those who’ve looked at this problem have done that over time.

Democrats would, of course, agree to means-testing entitlements. No doubt about that. But raising the eligibility age for retirement and old-age health care? Not so fast.

Paul Krugman, a leftish economist, is definitely opposed to the idea, as he indicates in this short post, his generalized objection based primarily on the differences in life expectancy between economic classes (folks with lower earnings don’t tend to live as long as those with higher earnings, thus raising the eligibility age would have a disproportionately harmful effect on lower wage earners).

There have been more specific objections to raising the age, including these:

  • folks with physically demanding jobs would likely be forced to hang on another few years to keep their insurance;
  • cost-shifting to retirees who won’t have adequate income to absorb the increase;
  • an increase in the number of uninsured Americans (especially among low-income groups, including African-Americans and Hispanics);
  • the obvious increase in the cost to those employers who offer health care benefits to retirees (the employer plan would become the primary payer), which would, among other things, discourage employers from offering such retirement plans.

Now, an astute reader might suggest that some of these objections could be answered by provisions already in place in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, I heard a commentator this weekend suggest that raising the eligibility age for Medicare was no big deal since ObamaCare will provide coverage for those seniors who can’t afford it.

Well, that turns out to be partially true, at least according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which looked at raising the age in the context of the Affordable Care Act (it assumed an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 that would go into effect in 2014, just for simplicity). I suggest all those interested in this topic read that study, but its conclusion was as follows (highlights mine):

Previous studies conducted prior to the enactment of the 2010 health reform law concluded that raising the age of Medicare eligibility would produce significant federal savings, but would also increase the number of uninsured older adults and shift risk and additional cost onto retirees who lack health insurance and onto employers that offer retiree health plans. Our analysis, which takes into account the coverage expansions and subsidies in the ACA, finds that net federal savings to the federal government would be considerably lower than previously estimated because the federal government would incur new costs associated with expanded coverage for 65- and 66-year olds under Medicaid and premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance for lower-income individuals in the new health insurance Exchange.

We estimate that nearly one-third of the 65- and 66-year-old adult population who would be affected by an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility [about 5 million people]—those with low incomes who would qualify for Medicaid or generous premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance through the Exchange—would face lower out-of-pocket costs than they would have paid under Medicare in 2014 as a result of this policy change –generally those with incomes below 300 percent of the FPL [federal poverty level]. However, two-thirds would face higher out of-pocket costs, on average, due to higher premium contributions for employer-sponsored coverage and for coverage in the Exchange. The shift of adults ages 65 and 66 from Medicare to the Exchange is also projected to increase premiums that would be paid by adults younger than age 65 in the Exchange, as older adults enter the Exchange risk pool. In addition, Part B premiums paid by the elderly (ages 67 and over) and by disabled Medicare beneficiaries would be expected to increase, as the healthiest and lowest-cost segment of the Medicare population is removed from the Part B risk pool and shifted to the Exchange or to employer-sponsored plans. States and employers are also expected to see increased costs.

The study warns:

Given the magnitude of the changes that we estimate would occur by raising the Medicare eligibility age, this analysis underscores the importance of carefully assessing the distributional effects of various Medicare reforms and savings proposals to understand the likely impact on beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

It’s just not as simple as Republicans, like Lindsey Graham above, make it. And Democrats need to be careful about getting giddy over a possible Republican retreat on raising revenues and under the influence of such giddiness make a bad agreement on entitlements.

In short, Democrats need to remember who their constituents are.

“Very Good” Report, But It Takes A While To Clean Up After Republicans

I was watching CNN this morning when the new—and “very good“— jobs numbers (as Mark Zandi characterized them later on MSNBC) came out. Guess who CNN, the network that tries hard at times to be a watered down version of Fox “News,” had on to comment on the numbers? No, come on, guess.

Oh, I knew you couldn’t guess. It was, uh, Grover Norquist. I’ll spare you what Grover had to say (that is something you could guess), but the point is there was no one on the panel of guests to counter the nonsense he spouted. I guess all the good guys were busy congratulating those conspirators at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for another job well done making Obama look good.

In any case, the numbers for October signal a continuing improvement. There were 184,000 private sector jobs added—32 months of consecutive growth—which represents the largest gain in eight months (government jobs continue to decline, as 13,000 more were lost, split fairly evenly between federal and state).  Because of the increased number of folks entering the job market (always a good sign), the unemployment rate rose to 7.9, from last month’s 7.8 (which, of course, the right-wing labeled a conspiracy).

What often gets lost in the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly report are the revised numbers for the last two months:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for August was revised from +142,000 to +192,000, and the change for September was revised from +114,000 to +148,000.

That revision represents 84,000 more jobs added over the previous two months than previously reported.

So, although there is still a lot of Republican economics to fix, things are, indisputably, getting better and better.

Before I go, let’s play the guessing game again. What would you guess Fox “News” was doing after these “very good” numbers came out at around 7:30 C.S.T.?

Oh, I know, this one was easy, given what Fox has been doing for the past three weeks:

You gotta hand it to those guys. They are not ashamed of what they do.

By the way, in case you can’t quite figure out what that graphic in the right hand corner says, here is a better look:

Obama is one bad cat. One cover up isn’t good enough for him, he has to have two, or, who knows, possibly more. Perhaps next week’s Fox graphic will be a trifecta of intrigue: “Cover-up of the Cover-up of the Cover-up.”

The GOP’s Preteen Philosophy: “Cut Taxes, Regardless Of The Question”

Suppose a man published a very popular and profitable how-to book on the best way to manage a company. And suppose that man and his ideas were actually used to manage a real company. Then suppose that the company the man and his ideas were responsible for managing ended up going bankrupt and had to be bailed out.

Now suppose that same man who ran the company into bankruptcy published another, second book on how to manage a company. A weary reader would rightly be skeptical of such a man and his new book. After all, he failed the first time, why should anyone listen to him now? Why would anyone buy his book?

It may be that a weary reader could be persuaded to purchase the latest book on the possibility and hope that the man’s second offering was chock-full of wisdom from his first experience, that he had learned what he did wrong and where his philosophy went off track.  Perhaps, one might trust, the author had a new and improved strategy to run a company.

But what if the man’s second book was a reprint of the first book! What if the new book had no new insights, no new strategies? Nothing but the same old ideas that failed when put into practice the first time.  A publisher would be foolish to publish such a man’s book and a reader would be foolish to purchase it or to follow its advice, right?

But we all know such a man and such a publisher. The only question is, what will the weary reader do?

It’s no surprise that the man in this scenario, Grover Norquist, still sits on the de facto board of directors of the publisher, the Republican Party. But it is one of the marvels of modern American life that Norquist—who like a jealous spouse monitors the no-tax pledges that almost all Republican federal (and a disturbing number of state) office holders have made—still  manages to command respect for his discredited ideas, ideas that have failed and failed miserably.

On Sunday I saw Norquist on C-SPAN promoting his latest book (co-authored with John R. Lott, Jr.) titled, Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth and What We Can Do Now To Regain Our Future.  This program was shown more than once on the network.

Norquist’s arguments against Obama amounted to the same old stuff, as did his prescription to solve our troubles. Want to guess what a couple components of his “regain our future” program was? Yep. Tax cuts and less regulation.  You know, the same flapdoodle that George W. Bush pushed as a candidate in 2000 and made reality as President Bush.

Obama and, more important, the country are still living with the unfortunate legacy of tax cuts and turn-your-head regulation that Grover Norquist and others championed during the 80s, 90s, and 00s. And they are still trying to sell the same ideas today. In fact, Mitt Romney is the newest member of Norquist’s sales department.

I did a search for Norquist on C-SPAN. Guess what? He has appeared there at least 132 times since 1992 (not counting repeats), including 14 times last year and 4 times so far this year (again, not counting repeat broadcasts).

When I was listening to a younger Grover Norquist talk his creepy tax talk on C-SPAN, I heard him say creepy things like this (from July of 2001):

All tax cuts are good tax cuts. Even bad tax cuts are good tax cuts…

A year ago the Bush campaign said, “The economy’s doing very well, it’s time to cut taxes.” Then the economy slowed last year. They said, “The economy’s slowing, it’s time to cut taxes.” Which is sort of a Jeopardy game where the answers are always the same: Cut taxes, regardless of the question.

That kind of fanaticism, akin to religious devotion, has been in the brain of Norquist for a long time. As Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes put it in a piece:

Norquist claims he got the idea to brand the Republican Party as the party that would never raise your taxes, when he was just 12 years old and volunteering for the Nixon campaign. He says it came to him one day while he was riding home on the school bus.

Twelve years old? On a school bus?

For all the rhetoric we have heard and will hear this election year, the election comes down to this: Should we once again turn the country over to a party that is essentially controlled by an anti-government zealot whose preteen fantasies serve as its guiding economic and political philosophy?

That I even have to ask that question—after all the evidence of tax-cutting and non-regulating failure—is itself a sad commentary on the state of the American electorate.

“Both Sides” Are Not To Blame

The worst thing about the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement is not their failure to reach an agreement but the failure of the media to emphasize just why the effort failed: Republican intransigence on the tax issue, particularly their refusal to raise taxes even a teensy-weensy bit on America’s wealthy elite.

The kind of misleadingly even-handed reporting associated with this issue will simply lead to more gridlock and dysfunction. (Let’s forget about Fox “News,” which for the most part blames Democrats for the failure.)

Oh, I know you think you have heard the truth about Republicans’ intransigence reported in the mainstream press, but it is almost always accompanied by something like this: Democrats have refused to budge on entitlements. That sort of negates the first point, doesn’t it? It’s the media’s reflexive “both sides are guilty” reporting. It’s the failure of generic “Washington” or the failure of a bipartisan “Congress” to come to an agreement, not the failure of the GOP to break its pledge to Grover Norquist.

I heard on Morning Joe this morning a man disguised as a Democrat—former congressman Harold Ford, Jr.—say this, as the opening shot on the segment discussing the failure:

This is two times since August, since summer, that Congress was presented with a chance to do its job and it failed—both parties.

“Both parties.” That’s the media mantra.

Here, read this paragraph from a CNN story on the failure:

Democrats have blasted Republicans for not being more receptive to higher taxes on the wealthy, while Republicans insist Democrats are unwilling to make necessary spending cuts to popular domestic programs.

That’s pretty much the way the thing has been reported, even though President Obama and the Democrats did offer significant entitlement cuts in the ambitious “grand bargain” the President was negotiating with Speaker John Boehner this summer.  Republicans just wouldn’t budge on tax increases for the super-rich. But the mess gets reported as a they-said, they-said story. 

Television news, especially cable news, is particularly eager to report on the propaganda wars between spinners in the two parties. It’s the easiest and cheapest kind of journalism to do: get a couple reps from each party and let them do their thing on camera.

What makes this kind of journalism so worrisome is that reporting on the propaganda wars between the two sides rather than putting out the facts that led to the failure will lead to even more of the same kind of failure after next election. People who don’t pay all that much attention need to be informed, or they will continue to vote blindly.

On Saturday, as the supercommittee failure was eminent, Dana Milbank was on MSNBC saying things like this:

The public is gonna blame everybody.

To the extent that’s true, it’s because Beltway commentators like Dana Milbank don’t make it absolutely clear every time they move their lips in front of a television camera that it is not “everybody’s” fault.  Milbank said on Saturday something I have heard much too often on cable news:

Hopefully, somebody at some point will grow up around here.

Except that it’s been clear to those of us paying close attention just who the grownups have been in this process. But instead of placing the blame where it belongs, we are treated to things like this:

Here’s a message to Washington politicians: duck.

Your failure is now complete. You were faced with a generational challenge to save Americans from the type of collapse European countries are now facing and you blinked. Actually, you did worse…

Watching them all trot their tired lines out on the Sunday talk shows made me sick. Democrats were blabbing on about hiking taxes and Republicans were prattling on about slashing spending. Both were accusing the other side of intransigence while standing in a block of ideological cement.

That was an excerpt from an op-ed piece in Politico written by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and read on Morning Joe this morning. And that sentiment pretty much represents the disgust many people feel.  But think about it for a minute: even if Democrats were “standing in a block of ideological cement” in protecting the working class and the poor from severe budget austerity, is that on a moral par with Republicans’ ideological devotion to keeping taxes low on the wealthiest Americans, who have been thriving for the past thirty years? Huh?

Do Democrats, even in the worst case scenario, deserve to be painted with the same moral brush as no-tax-increase ideologues in the Republican Party?

Yet Scarborough, a conservative Republican working inside that fortress of liberalism, MSNBC, wrote:

Our leaders are unworthy of our trust. They have no moral authority to lead. The President is weak and not up to the task of running the White House. Congress is even worse, with an approval rating mired in single digits. If the cavalry is coming, it better ride in from the west quick. We’re in a hell of a mess and thanks to Washington’s bumbling, I fear it is all going to get much worse.

Neither side, in Scarborough’s estimation, has the moral authority to lead. You see? That’s how it works these days in the “news” business. Both sides are to blame, both sides are equally guilty, both sides deserve our condemnation.

Scarborough is right about one thing. With that kind of sentiment permeating the airwaves, things will get much worse because too many ignorant people will keep voting for conservative Republicans.

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