Weekly Pulse: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: What Will The GOP Cut?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans won control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate in the midterm election on nebulous promises to slash spending and reduce the size of the federal government.  House Speaker John Boehner has pledged to reduce spending to 2008 levels, as per the GOP’s campaign manifesto, known as the “Pledge to America.”

But as Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones, while the Pledge calls for a 21.7% reduction in spending on non-security discretionary programs, it doesn’t commit to any specific cuts. Medicare and Social Security are safe from this round of cuts because they are not discretionary.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities tried to give a glimpse of what the federal government might look like if all eligible agencies took a 21.7% budget cut across the board. As Kroll notes, it’s more likely that some programs will be spared, some trimmed, and some eliminated entirely.

However, the CBPP’s analysis gives a stark picture of the magnitude of the proposed cuts, Kroll writes:

What it found was grim, with middle class Americans set to lose the most.

K-12 education funding, the CBPP found, would drop by $8.7 billion, and food stamps for at-risk pregnant women, infants, and young children would lose $1.6 billion in funding. State- and local-run housing programs would lose $6.9 billion, and children and family social services would lose nearly $2.2 billion.

Already pinched state budgets would take massive hits as well, losing out on $31.6 billion in federal funding.

Cuts to state budgets mean even deeper cuts to education and social services that benefit working families. Starving the states is also a strategy to force state governments to default on their pension obligations to unionized public sector workers.

But the magnitude of these cuts might be giving the GOP cold feet. In January, Speaker Boehner told Brian Williams at NBC that he couldn’t name a single program that he planned to cut.

Inequality is personal

Paul Buchheit points out on AlterNet that if middle- and upper middle-class families had the same share of the economic pie that they did in the 1980s, they would be making $12,500 more per year. In other words, the economy has become vastly more productive over the last 30 years, but the extra wealth has become overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of the very richest Americans at the expense of working families.

U.S. GDP quintupled since the 1980s, but most of the extra wealth has gone to the top 1% of earners. Nobody begrudges entrepreneurs a healthy return on their capital, but what about the 99% of earners who provided the labor. Where’s the return on their investment?

With looming government spending cuts to domestic programs, the middle- and upper-middle classes will face an even bigger hit to their real standard of living. Local and state governments are cutting back on services while hiking taxes and fees.

The richest 1% won’t feel these cuts as acutely as middle class families. If you have your own private swimming pool, you may not notice that the public pool is closed because the city can’t afford lifeguards. If you send your kids to private universities, you won’t be biting your nails over potential tuition hikes at public universities.

MLK’s legacy

The nation honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday. Roger Bybee of Working In These Times points out that, while King is remembered as a civil rights leader, he was also deeply committed to economic justice for all Americans. The politicians who praised King’s legacy on Monday should remember that Dr. King’s last great crusade was on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis, public employees struggling for a decent standard of living.

Beck sets sights on 78-year-old CUNY prof

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Frances Fox Piven, a 78-year-old distinguished professor of political science at the City University of New York, who may be the first person to inadvertently spark prime time conspiracy theory in the pages of a Media Consortium outlet. Right wing talk host Glenn Beck has identified Piven as the co-author of a violent blueprint to crash capitalism itself.

As Piven explains to Goodman, the bile stems from the suggestion made by her and her co-author Richard Cloward in a 1966 article in The Nation that social activists should help poor people access the benefits they were already legally entitled to. At that time, Piven recalls, the welfare system denied benefits to more than half of its eligible recipients. She and Cloward believed that the poor would become a more politically powerful and visible part of society if society suddenly had to make good on its promises of aid.

In July, Richard Kim of The Nation explained how an obscure 40-year-old article was recast as the “Rosetta Stone” of lefty politics, the blueprint to usher in an economic crisis which the left could exploit to bring about socialism.

Since Beck seized on Piven’s work and labeled her a violent revolutionary, she has been the target of death threats by commenters on Beck’s website. Political operatives posing as students came to her home to interview her. The interview later showed up on Andrew Breitbart’s conservative website.

Piven seems both concerned and bemused that her brief for reforming the welfare system of the 1960s has been labeled as a blueprint for destroying the capitalist system.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria. The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: GOP Plays Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is calling for a “big showdown” over the upcoming vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion from $13.9 trillion. The debt ceiling is simply the maximum amount the government can borrow.

Congress routinely raises the debt ceiling every year. It’s common sense: Since the government has already pledged to increase spending, Congress must authorize additional borrowing. (Remember that the government is now forced to borrow billions of extra dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, which Republicans insisted on.) If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will be forced to default on its debts, with catastrophic consequences.

Why would default be catastrophic? The principle is the same for countries and consumers alike: If you have a good track record of paying your bills, lenders will lend you money at lower interest rates. If you don’t pay your bills on time, or default on your obligations altogether, lenders will demand higher interest rates.

Congressional Republicans say they oppose raising the debt ceiling because they favor fiscal responsibility. This kind of rhetoric is the height of recklessness. The interest on our debts is a big part of government spending. Even idle talk about defaults could spook some creditors into raising interest rates on U.S. debt and cost taxpayers dearly.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly quotes Austan Goolsbee, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, who says that congressional GOP members are flirting with the “the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”

Making work pay (for real)

An astonishing 80% of full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford the necessities of life, according to new research by labor economist Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the Political Economy Research Institute, featured on the Real News Network.

Wicks-Lim argues for a two-part solution to the crisis of working poverty in America: i) raising the federal minimum wage to $12.30/hr from $7.50/hr; ii) Increasing the earned income tax credit to 40% of income. She estimates that these two policy changes would raise the income of a minimum wage worker from $15,000 to about $36,000 at a manageable cost to employers and taxpayers.

Her proposal is a revamp of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to “reform” welfare by cutting social service benefits and shifting government spending to tax credits. Currently, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a subsidy for the working poor that is designed to “make work pay”–i.e., if workers aren’t making enough in wages to secure a decent standard of living, the government provides an income subsidy to reward them for working.

However, if a decent standard of living remains out of reach for 80% of full-time minimum wage workers, Wicks-Lim argues that the minimum wage is too low and the subsidies are too modest to achieve the stated goal of making work pay.

Colorado minimum wage inches up

Speaking of minimum wage issues, Scot Kersgaard of the Colorado Independent reports that the minimum wage in the state ticked up from $7.25 an hour to $7.36 on January 1. The modest increase represents the annual adjustment for inflation. Every bit counts, but Colorado families are falling further behind. According to a new report by the Denver-based Bell Policy Center, 8.3% of working families in Colorado live below the federal poverty line, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Fully one-fourth of Colorado families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, which requires an income approximately twice the FPL, according to the report.

Colorado is one of only 10 states that automatically adjust their minimum wages for inflation.

Wage theft epidemic

Unscrupulous employers are stealing untold millions of dollars from hardworking Americans, Dick Meister reports in AlterNet:

The cheating bosses don’t take the money directly from their employees. No, nothing as obvious as that. The employers practice their thievery by underpaying workers, sometimes by paying them less than the legal minimum wage. Or they fail to pay employees extra for overtime work, or even force them to work for nothing before or after their regular work shifts or at other times. Some employers make illegal deductions from employee wages. And some withhold the final paycheck due employees who quit.

In New York City alone, an estimated $18 million worth of wages is stolen every week. Workers in the restaurant, construction, and retail sectors are at increased risk of wage theft. Wage thieves disproportionately target undocumented workers because they assume that these employees will be less likely to report the crime.

Debt collection from beyond the grave

The dead don’t tell tales, but they have been known to sign debt collection papers, Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones. Martha Kunkle died in 1995, but her printed name and signature appear on paperwork filed by the debt collection agency Portfolio Recovery Associates as late as 2006 and 2007. The ruse was discovered and PRA, facing a fraud lawsuit, agreed in 2008 that the “Kunkle’s” documents couldn’t be used in court. That didn’t stop the agency from trying to use them again in 2009.

The attorney general of Missouri has announced that he will investigate whether any of Kunkle’s handiwork was used to support debt collection in his state. The attorney general of Minnesota is already investigating whether debt collectors have used fraudulent paperwork in court.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Audit: Millions of Americans Could Lose Unemployment Benefits

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to official statistics, nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. Between 2 and 4 million of them are expected to exhaust their state unemployment insurance benefits between now and May. Historically, during times of high unemployment, Congress provides extra cash to extend the benefits. Congress has never failed to do so when unemployment is above 7.2%. Today’s unemployment rate is above 9% and the lame duck session of Congress has so far failed to extend the benefits.

Congress has until November 30 to renew two federal programs to extend unemployment benefits, as David Moberg reports for Working In These Times. Last week, a bill to extend benefits for an additional three months failed to garner the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the House. The House will probably take up the issue again this session, possibly for a one-year extension, but as Moberg notes, it’s unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. The implications are dire, as Moberg notes:

The result? Not just huge personal and familial hardships that scars the lives of young and old both economically and psychologically for years to come.  But failure to renew extended benefits would also slow the recovery, raise unemployment, and deepen the fiscal crises of state and federal governments.

But wait! There’s more:

  • The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week, as Denise DiStephan reports in The Nation. The bill would have updated the 1963 Equal Pay Act to close loopholes and protect employees against employer retaliation for discussing wages. All Republican senators and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson voted not to bring the bill to the floor, killing the legislation for this session of Congress. The House already passed its version of the bill in 2009 and President Barack Obama had pledged to sign it.
  • Economist Dean Baker talks with Laura Flanders of GritTV about quantitative easing (a.k.a. the Fed printing more money) and the draft proposal from the co-chairs of the deficit commission. Baker argues that we’re facing an unemployment crisis, not a deficit crisis.
  • Charles Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” is a must-see, according to Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive. An examination of how Wall Street devastated the U.S. economy, the film details the reckless speculation in housing derivatives, enabled by crooked credit rating schemes, that brought the entire financial system to the brink of collapse. The film is narrated by Brad Pitt and features appearances by former Governor and anti-Wall Street corruption crusader Eliot Spitzer, financier George Soros, and Prof. Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted the collapse of the housing bubble.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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