House Republican leaders have assured the public, more than once, that they're eager to present a conservative alternative to the Affordable Care Act. It's been in the works for nearly five years and it's going to be awesome -- any minute now.
Yesterday, however, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Bloomberg News that the plan is being delayed "at least a month." Of course, there was no target date in mind for its introduction, so no one has any idea what a one-month delay actually means in practical terms. For those of us who suspect the GOP plan will always remain just around the corner, yesterday's news simply meant adding "at least a month" to "never."
Regardless, from a Republican perspective, what seems to be the trouble? Sahil Kapur talked to a "congressional GOP health aide" who described the intra-party challenges.
He said devising an alternative is fraught with the difficulty of crafting a new benefits structure that doesn't look like the Affordable Care Act.
"If you want to say the further and further this gets down the road, the harder and harder it gets to repeal, that's absolutely true," the aide said. "As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act.... To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA."
Peter Baker makes the case today that Lyndon Johnson's legacy "looms large" over the Obama presidency -- two Democratic presidents with ambitious agendas, each eager to leave their mark on history with sweeping progressive successes.
Baker notes, however, that Johnson's "level of legislative success" -- the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act, immigration, education, gun control, and the environment -- "represented the high-water mark" that Obama and his supporters can only reflect on with envy.
Two days before joining other presidents in Texas to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, President Obama tackled enduring inequality himself on Tuesday, in this case economic disparity based on gender.
His action? Signing an executive order barring federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay and a memo seeking statistics on contractor salaries.
If the photo-friendly ceremony in the East Room was not exactly the stuff of Mount Rushmore, it did reflect a broader question about the state of the presidency a half-century after Lyndon B. Johnson enacted monumental change in American society: Is it even possible for a president to do big things anymore?
The article added that the Obama presidency has "become a symbol of liberal frustration over his inability to use government to bring about change."
I can appreciate where analyses like these come from, but I also continue to believe the "can presidents still do big things" question reflects a misunderstanding about institutional limits under the American system.
Following last week's announcement from the Obama administration, the number most closely associated with the Affordable Care Act is 7.1 million -- the number of consumers who enrolled in exchange marketplaces during the open-enrollment period. Republicans, in a conspiratorial state of mind, quickly accused the White House of "cooking the books," certain that the 7.1 million figure just couldn't be correct.
And in a way, opponents of "Obamacare" may have been half right: the 7.1 million wasn't entirely right because it understated the system's success. Michael Hiltzik highlighted a new independent analysis that's likely to make those rooting against the ACA even more discouraged.
The long-awaited Rand Corp. study of Obamacare's effect on health insurance coverage was released Tuesday and confirmed the numbers that had been telegraphed for more than a week: At least 9.3 million more Americans have health insurance now than in September 2013, virtually all of them as a result of the law.
That's a net figure, accommodating all those who lost their individual health insurance because of cancellations. The Rand study confirms other surveys that placed the number of people who lost their old insurance and did not or could not replace it -- the focus of an enormous volume of anti-Obamacare rhetoric -- at less than 1 million.
The entirety of the Rand study is online here (pdf).
The report comes with important caveats, most notably the fact that it's based largely on survey data, which necessarily comes with a margin of error. But some of the caveats actually lean in the ACA's favor -- Rand concedes that the study likely missed some of the 11th-hour rush when enrollment totals soared.
To put it mildly, these aren't the figures Republicans were hoping for. On the contrary, it leaves their #1 talking point in tatters.
With the Senate easily approving a bipartisan compromise on extended unemployment benefits on Monday, the focus now shifts to House Republicans, who've struggled at times to come up with a compelling rationale to cut off millions of struggling, jobless Americans.
To date, arguably the worst argument was floated two weeks ago by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who said, "The extended unemployment benefits by the administration were to be in place until unemployment came down. Unemployment is down."
In other words, though it's been generations since Congress allowed jobless aid to lapse with an unemployment rate this high, Price is satisfied that the economy is now fine -- so unemployment benefits no longer matter.
"I don't think there is a great sense of pressure on our members," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a House deputy whip. "The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren't adequate pay-fors and it's time for this program to come to an end."
Putting aside the fact that the "pay-fors" are perfectly adequate and earned the support of several Senate Republicans, Cole's quote is a great example of why congressional policymaking is such a mess.
The unemployment rate is still too high. The Senate just passed a bipartisan bill to help millions of jobless Americans with a bill that the CBO believes will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But because the unemployed lack political capital and House Republicans aren't especially concerned with the policy merits of legislation, GOP lawmakers don't feel any real "pressure" to act.
On a certain level, I can at least appreciate Cole's candor -- he's effectively admitting that he and his Republican colleagues just don't give a darn unless they feel "a great sense of pressure" -- but that's cold comfort to those facing personal economic crises.
That said, the bill may not be completely dead just yet.
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Even the most patient of people can become exasperated by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). One of Congress' more colorful and bewildering personalities, the far-right Texan has an unsettling habit of making truly ridiculous comments, out loud and on purpose, for reasons few even try to understand.
Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, appears to have no patience left for Gohmert, as was evident in a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.
While being questioned about the Justice Department's reluctance to hand over documents related to the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based Islamic charity that was shut down by the government for funding Hamas, Gohmert brought up how the House held Holder in contempt of Congress two years ago over the Fast and Furious gun running scandal.
Gohmert said "contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general," to which the Attorney General responded, "You don't want to go there buddy, all right? You don't want to go there, OK?"
After some additional back and forth, Holder tried to explain to Gohmert, "You should not assume that this is not a big deal to me. I think that it was inappropriate. I think it was unjust. But never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that."