Currently viewing the tag: “Reform”

From the Associated Press:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has officially taken away nearly all collective bargaining rights from the vast majority of the state’s public employees.

Walker signed the bill to do so privately Friday morning. He planned an afternoon news conference in the Capitol.

The explosive measure passed the Assembly on Thursday following more than three weeks of protests that drew tens of thousands of people to the Capitol in opposition. The Senate cleared the way for passage with a surprise move Wednesday that allowed them to vote on the bill without 14 Democratic senators present.

Walker has said if the bill didn’t pass up to 1,500 state workers could be laid off. He rescinded the layoff notices Friday morning.

Original article here.

Big Government

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With John Boehner fighting the Democrats’ offer to put entitlements and taxes on the table — “that’s what the next budget process is for,” he said — it’s worth stepping back to look at what this continuing resoution fight is about.

It’s not about reducing the deficit. If it was, then the tax deal wouldn’t have passed in December, entitlements would’ve been in the mix from the beginning, tax expenditures and defense spending would be on the table, etc. It’s not about cutting spending. if it was, then the cuts wouldn’t be limited to 12 percent of the budget. Rather, it’s about cutting non-defense discretionary spending — and only non-defense discretionary spending. Boehner frequently says that “the American people want us to cut spending,” but he never says that “the American people want us to cut non-defense discretionary spending.” And that’s because they don’t: poll after poll has found Americans resistant to the sort of cuts you find in the non-defense discretionary bucket, which include cuts to education, worker retraining, nutrition programs, heating-oil subsidies, etc. They’d much prefer tax increases on the rich, or cuts to defense spending.

But Republicans wouldn’t prefer tax increases on the rich, or cuts to defense spending. And they know that if entitlements get opened up, tax increases will immediately be on the table — one of the easiest and most popular ways to cut Social Security’s shortfall is to lift the cap on payroll taxes. But for Republicans at this moment in time, that’s unthinkable. The beauty of focusing on non-defense discretionary spending is that it’s spending they don’t really like and that’s totally disconnected from any sort of tax — the same can’t be said for Medicare or Social Security. And that gets to what this debate is really about: not cutting spending or reducing the deficit, but cutting spending Republicans don’t like while avoiding any and all tax increases — even if that means the country has higher deficits and the middle- and working-class bear more of the burden. The difficulty for Republicans is they’ve not wanted to clearly explain that philosophy to the American people, and so now they’re in the odd position of arguing against Democratic efforts to do more for the deficit and do more to cut spending but not really being able to say why they oppose those efforts.

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Congress will likely pass another three-week funding extension, reports Carl Hulse: “With little hope of a budget deal being reached before the end of next week, House Republicans are preparing another short-term spending measure to give the House and Senate a chance to come to agreement over a broader plan to keep the government operating through Sept. 30. Lawmakers and top aides on Thursday said stopgap legislation to be considered next week would most likely cover three weeks and include an additional $ 6 billion in cuts, possibly drawn from spending reductions offered by Democrats and the White House in earlier budget talks. The current two-week law expires next Friday and carries $ 4 billion in cuts. Movement toward another short-term solution came after the Senate on Wednesday rejected competing Republican and Democratic budget measures.”

House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t want to debate entitlements just yet, reports Simmi Aujla: “House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats on Thursday of trying to ‘muddle’ the budget debate with their calls for reforms to entitlement programs. Boehner told reporters that Democrats who want to include a debate about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and tax increases are getting way ahead of themselves. ‘The American people want us to cut spending. Because they know that cutting spending will in fact create a better environment for job creation,’ he said. ‘To try to muddle the current issue with entitlement programs, tax increases — that’s what the next budget process is for. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to talk about that,’ he said.”

Wisconsin’s anti-union bill passed the legislature, reports Karen Tumulty: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won his drive to strip the state’s government workers of nearly all of their collective-bargaining rights Thursday, after a three-week standoff that brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol. The new legislation represents a major setback for organized labor, but the political battle over public employees and their rights to bargain is likely to continue – not only in Madison. The state Assembly passed Walker’s proposal a day after Republican senators outmaneuvered the 14 Democratic senators who had fled Wisconsin to deny a quorum needed for passing a budget measure. By stripping the bill of its spending language, they were able to pass it with only Republicans present.”

Guitar heroics interlude: Television plays “Marquee Moon” live.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come: The House voted to cut a foreclosure prevention program; the CBO says repealing the individual mandate would increase the ranks of the uninsured, but cut the deficit; Obama is pushing for a government reorganization plan; Obama will address higher gas prices today; and the world’s fastest popcorn popper.


The House voted to cut a foreclosure prevention program, reports Felicia Sonmez: “The House on Thursday voted to end the Federal Housing Administration Refinance Program, one of two federal foreclosure-assistance programs on the chopping block this week. The measure, H.R. 830, passed on a 256-to-171 vote, with 18 Democrats breaking ranks to join Republicans in backing it. One Republican, Rep. Joe Heck (Nev.), joined Democrats in opposing the proposal; Heck represents Nevada’s third district, which was the district hardest-hit by foreclosure in 2010…The program has used only $ 50 million of the more than $ 8 billion that has been set aside for it, leading to criticism from Republicans that it ought to be terminated and the money used to pay down the federal deficit. The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill, however, and the White House earlier this week issued a veto threat.”

Banks are saying that principal write-down will “slow the recovery,” report Nick Timiraos and Dan Fitzpatrick: “Bankers are ratcheting up their rhetoric as they fight a mortgage-servicing settlement proposal, predicting lasting damage to the U.S. economy in an effort to force regulators to soften terms of any penalties. On Thursday, Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive John Stumpf said extensive loan principal reduction would increase the U.S. deficit if taxpayers are forced to pay for write-downs of loans held by government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. ‘It’s important to the country so that whatever happens does not slow down the recovery,’ Mr. Stumpf said. Bank of America executives issued similar warnings on Tuesday, calling principal reductions ‘no panacea’ and questioning the fairness of the approach.”

The Federal Housing Administration’s head is leaving:

A study suggests the SEC needs a bigger budget, reports David Hilzenrath: “The Securities and Exchange Commission needs more money to meet its expanding responsibilities, but it hasn’t made the most of the funds it already has, according to a study of the agency ordered by Congress last year. The consultant’s report, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Post, mentioned other issues that may be undermining the effectiveness of the agency responsible for policing Wall Street. Those include low morale, few staff members with experience working in financial markets, and a slowdown in reviews of money managers and brokerage firms. The study, performed by Boston Consulting Group, is due to be submitted to Congress by March 14.”

February’s deficit was the biggest in American history:

Obama is allowing Republicans to dumb down the deficit debate, writes Paul Krugman: “As the national debate over fiscal policy descends ever deeper into penny-pinching, future-killing absurdity, one voice is curiously muted — that of President Obama. The president and his aides know that the G.O.P. approach to the budget is wrongheaded and destructive. But they’ve stopped making the case for an alternative approach; instead, they’ve positioned themselves as know-nothings lite, accepting the notion that spending must be slashed immediately — just not as much as Republicans want. Mr. Obama’s political advisers clearly believe that this strategy of protective camouflage offers the president his best chance at re-election — and they may be right. But that doesn’t change the fact that the White House is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of our deficit debate.”

Businesses want smart investment from state governments, not lower taxes, writes Delaware Gov. Jack Markell:

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are playing an effective game of “bad cop, worse cop”, writes Keith Hennessey: “Rather than good cop, bad cop, Republican Leaders are playing bad cop, worse cop with their Members. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell are together the bad cop. On both substance and tone they have positioned themselves with the aggressive spending cutters in their party. At the same time, they can privately tell the Democratic negotiators, ‘You think we’re bad? You should see our freshman. They’re nuts. We’re not sure we can deliver them for anything short of the House-passed bill.’ While Boehner and McConnell are the bad cop, the freshman / Tea Party / conservative rank-and-file Republicans are the worse cop…The Republican Leaders’ weakness at delivering votes for a weak bill becomes negotiating strength.”

Time lapse interlude: Grapes shriveling into raisins, sped up from 3 months to 30 seconds.

Health Care

The CBO found that repealing the individual mandate would increase the ranks of the uninsured, but cut the deficit, reports Derek Thompson: “The CBO finds that repealing the mandate would increase the number of people without health insurance by 16 million people in 2021. From the CBO: ‘About 4 million fewer people would have employment-based coverage; about 6 million fewer people would obtain coverage in the individual market; and about 6 million fewer people would have coverage under Medicaid or CHIP.’ CBO also estimates that striking the mandate would increase premiums for policies in the individual market by ’15 percent to 20 percent.’…The upshot is that repealing the health insurance mandate would trim our deficit at the cost of more uninsured people and higher health care premiums.”

The insured don’t currently pay for the uninsured’s health care, write John Cogan, Glenn Hubbard, and Daniel Kessler:

Two House Democrats want to undo Medicare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, reports Julian Pecquet: “Two House Democrats have signed onto a Republican bill to repeal a health reform provision that the Obama administration has touted as a central tool to keep health costs under control. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) became a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Medicare payment board on Wednesday, one week after Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.). A spokesman for the congresswoman said she remains committed to the law’s cost-cutting goals but wants Congress to be in charge…The Independent Payment Advisory Board fast-tracks cuts to Medicare payments when spending reaches a pre-determined target. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would save $ 28 billion through 2019.”

Domestic Policy

Obama wants a government reorganization plan within 90 days, reports Ed O’Keefe: “President Obama is giving aides 90 days to find ways to overhaul federal trade and export agencies, according to senior administration officials familiar with his plans. The president is expected to sign a memorandum Friday formally launching a reorganization plan he announced during his State of the Union address that is set to focus first on revamping 12 trade and export agencies and may later shift to other government operations. The process will be led by Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey D. Zients and Obama’s former staff secretary, Lisa Brown. Other top officials from across the government are expected to join the discussions, according to the aides, who were not authorized to speak on the record.”

The just-passed Wisconsin bill allows the firing of striking workers:

Republican budget plans include big cuts for Head Start, reports Jennifer Steinhauer: “The difficulty Senate Republicans faced voting this week for a bill full of spending cuts is best illustrated on the home page for the Alaska Head Start program’s Web site. On the bottom of the page is a picture of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, receiving an award for her long support for Head Start, the preschool program for poor children. At the top of the page is a note imploring Alaskans to call Ms. Murkowski’s office and beg her not to vote for a Republican bill that would cut the program’s budget by $ 2 billion, or nearly a quarter of President Obama’s 2011 budget request of $ 8.2 billion. The current level is $ 7.2 billion. On Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Murkowski did so anyway… Research on the program has shown that children who complete it do better socially and academically than children not enrolled in the program.”

New York and other states should do away with “last in, first out” teacher layoffs, writes Michelle Rhee: “With looming budget cuts, New York’s governor and legislature must act quickly to save our best teachers. It is abundantly clear from the research that the most important school factor in determining a child’s success is the quality of the teacher at the front of the classroom. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that state leaders completely eliminate the ‘last in, first out’ policy, which mandates that the last teachers hired must be the first fired, regardless of how good they are. This policy makes absolutely no sense. Why sacrifice our children’s future when we can enact laws that save great teachers while ridding the system of those we know are less effective?”

Street vendor interlude: A vendor in Shanghai gives new meaning to “instant popcorn.”


Obama will use a press conference to address higher gas prices today, reports Laura Meckler: “President Barack Obama will address rising energy prices at a news conference on Friday, but he is not expected to call for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has driven up gasoline and heating oil prices in the United States. Republicans in Congress have raised the volume on their criticism of Mr. Obama’s energy policies, and some Democrats have called for Mr. Obama to release oil from the strategic reserves in an attempt to moderate prices by increasing supply. White House officials would not say what steps Mr. Obama would put forward, if any, during his press conference. But an administration official said Thursday evening not to expect an announcement on drawing oil from the strategic reserve.”

High gas prices are improving GOP environmental legislation’s chances in the Senate:

A House bill to strip the EPA of its climate-regulating power is moving forward, reports John Broder: “House subcommittee voted on Thursday to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases, chipping away at a central pillar of the Obama administration’s evolving climate and energy strategy. The sharply partisan vote was preordained by the Republican takeover of the House. Republicans and their industry allies accuse the administration of levying taxes on traditional energy sources through costly environmental regulations, threatening the economic recovery and driving jobs overseas…A parallel bill has been introduced in the Senate, although passage remains uncertain. President Obama has vowed to veto such legislation.”

GOP Rep. Joe Barton argues that cutting oil subsidies will lead Exxon Mobil to go out of business:

Some House Democrats have introduced a bill to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reports Andrew Restuccia: “A group of House Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to tap the country’s oil reserves in response to rising prices. ‘This is the time to deploy a responsible amount of reserves before it is too late,’ Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the author of the new bill, told reporters. Markey’s bill represents the latest effort by Democrats to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a 727-million-barrel emergency stockpile of oil. But the proposal faces opposition from Republicans and at least one senior House Democrat. The legislation would require that over the next six months at least 30 million barrels of oil be released from the SPR. President Obama ultimately has the authority to release oil from the SPR.”

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.

Ezra Klein

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From the Associated Press:

Wisconsin lawmakers voted Thursday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from the state’s public workers, ending a heated standoff over labor rights and delivering a key victory to Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending nationwide.

The state’s Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker’s explosive proposal 53-42 without any Democratic support and four no votes from the GOP. Protesters in the gallery erupted into screams of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as Republican lawmakers filed out of the chamber and into the speaker’s office.

The state’s Senate used a procedural move to bypass missing Democrats and move the measure forward Wednesday night, meaning the plan that delivers one of the strongest blows to union power in years now requires only Walker’s signature to take effect.

He says he’ll sign the measure, which he introduced to plug a $ 137 million budget shortfall, as quickly as possible—which could be as early as Thursday.

“We were willing to talk, we were willing to work, but in the end at some point the public wants us to move forward,” Walker said before the Assembly’s vote.

Walker’s plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio’s Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.

In Wisconsin, the proposal has drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol for weeks of demonstrations and led 14 Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois to prevent that chamber from having enough members present to pass a plan containing spending provisions.

But a special committee of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly voted Wednesday to take all spending measures out of the legislation and the full Senate approved it minutes later, setting up Thursday’s vote in the Assembly.

Read the whole thing here.

Big Government

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I think I’m pretty cynical about the way American politicians approach policy questions, and so there’s little I love more than an opportunity to argue against excessive cynicism. So thank you, Jonathan Bernstein:

I think opposition to any sort of government-initiated universal health care is the most natural movement conservative position. Yes, conservative politicians (not just Mitt!) have in the past supported things that looked like Obama’s health care plan, but I think in almost all cases that was just about playing defense in a situation in which the true movement conservative position (that is, it’s not the government’s concern) is wildly unpopular.

I disagree. I think health-care policy is not a priority for most Republicans, so when they’re in office, it’s not the thing they naturally choose to spend political capital on. But that doesn’t mean that, all else being equal, they wouldn’t be glad to pass one of their policies on the subject and say they were the folks who solved the country’s health-care problem. You saw that impulse in Mitt Romney, in George W. Bush’s campaign to pass the Medicare prescription drug benefit (though that had a lot to do with winning Florida in 2004), in Bob Bennett’s decision to co-sponsor a comprehensive reform bill alongside Ron Wyden.

The problem is, the thing that really is a priority for most Republicans is defeating Democratic presidents. And Democratic presidents often attempt health-care reform, because they care about it a lot, and they often appropriate Republican ideas, because they overestimate how much Republicans are interested in health-care policy and underestimate how much Republicans really want to make them fail. And then the policy they’re pushing becomes their policy, not a policy the Republicans originally offered up, and the process of polarization begins.

I believe as strongly now as I did a year ago that President Mitt Romney or President John McCain could’ve offered a bill quite similar to the Affordable Care Act and gotten a lot more than zero Senate Republicans to vote for it, though I think it’s an open question whether they would’ve bothered to do anything about health-care reform at all. But I don’t think Republicans have strong and consistent views against health-care reform. I think they have strong and consistent views against Democratic presidents.

Ezra Klein

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Washington (CNN) – A U.S. appeals court has been asked by the Justice Department to speed up consideration of the sweeping health care reform law’s constitutionality.

The request followed a ruling by a federal judge in Florida in January declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be legally invalid.

CNN Political Ticker

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Ezra Klein passes along Salmon Khan’s TED talk, which he summarizes:

Salmon Khan makes the argument for “for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do ‘homework’ in the classroom with the teacher available to help.” He’s got a good case: In particular, the power to rewind seems like a legitimate gamechanger.

Here’s the talk:

Here’s why I’m skeptical-aside from the fact that Khan is in the business of selling educational videos via his Khan Academy.

First, it further reinforces the huge advantage that kids with engaged parents and stable home lives have over those less fortunate. Leaving aside that some portion of kids don’t live in homes with easy access to video equipment, a lot have home environments much less conducive to contemplative viewing than others.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it further robs kids of their childhood. Young kids, especially, already spend a ridiculous amount of time doing homework, taking away time when they should be playing with their friends and otherwise exploring the world around them. For older kids, it makes it even harder for them to hold after-school jobs and earn some pocket money.

It’s bad enough that the Information Age has turned most white collar jobs into 24/7/365 connectivity to work. Let’s not do that with the kids. There’s plenty of time to compete with the Chinese later in life.

Outside the Beltway

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Harry Reid says he “prefers” the House’s approach of paying for 1099 repeal through higher IRS penalties on working- and middle-class Americans to the Senate’s earlier effort to pay for it by rescinding unobligated funds. That’s bad news, for reasons I explained here.

It is, however, worth noting the irony — or perhaps the hypocrisy — of Republicans who are simultaneously planning to cut the IRS’s budget to keep it from enforcing the Affordable Care Act and pay for their preferred policies by asking the IRS to enforce increased penalties in the Affordable Care Act. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and all that.

Ezra Klein

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"With such a strong bloc of these young people voting Democratic [in presidential elections], Republican leaders in some key swing states are looking to even the playing field coming up in 2012," MSNBC's Thomas Roberts insisted as he introduced Heather Smith of Rock the Vote (RTV) in a segment devoted to that group's fears about "voter suppression" — see RTV screen capture below the page break — in states such as New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri.

Those are four states where Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and are pushing reform laws aimed at voter ID requirements, tightening up residency requirements that largely impact college kids, and/or repealing last-minute voter registration at the polls.

"Heather, this has been called the war on voting, whether it's requiring an ID or proof of citizenship at the polls. Explain this for us," Roberts prompted at the beginning of his interview.

At no point did Roberts question any of Smith's or RTV's claims, nor did he provide a follow-up segment with an advocate of such laws, although he did note that proponents of voter ID requirements "point to voter fraud, or say voter fraud is a major problem here."

Roberts failed to explore whether or not RTV's claims are hyperbolic and/or misleading, although there is much to question on the group's website.

For example, a form letter Rock the Vote urges Wisconsin residents to send their state legislators laments that:

According to a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study, 36 percent of young people, including more than 70 percent of African-Americans ages 18 to 24, do not have a driver's license. An estimated 23 percent of people ages 65 and older do not have a Wisconsin driver's license or other photo ID. Under this bill, student IDs, even those issued by a state university, wouldn't be accepted at the polls. Voting is a fundamental, constitutional right that shouldn't be subject to one's ability to get to the DMV or pay for a passport…

Yet under the state Senate bill that RTV opposes that would require voter ID, there are provisions for those who cannot afford a state-issued ID. From the bill's plain-English "Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau" (emphases mine):

The bill also permits an elector who is eligible to obtain a Wisconsin identification card to obtain the card from DOT free of charge, if the elector specifically requests not to be charged.

There's even provisions for those who for religious reasons do not wish to be photographed:

The bill permits an applicant to receive a Wisconsin identification card without a photograph being taken, as currently required, if the applicant provides an affidavit stating that he or she has sincerely held religious beliefs against being photographed, that he or she is a member of a religious organization or identifies with the tenets of a religious organization and names that organization, that the religious tenets of that organization prohibit such photographing, and that he or she requests the identification card for the purpose of voting.

And as for RTV's complaint about the elderly being disenfranchised (emphasis mine), there are exemptions for invalids and residents of nursing homes or retirement communities:

Under the bill, any person who applies for an absentee ballot, except a military or overseas elector, as defined by federal law, or a person whose address is confidential as a result of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, must also provide a copy of the license or identification card, unless: 1) the person has already provided a copy of his or her license or identification card in connection with an absentee ballot cast at a previous election and has not changed his or her name or address since that election; 2) the person has been required by a law enforcement officer to surrender his or her license (see below); 3) the person is indefinitely confined, in which case the person may submit a statement signed by the person who witnesses his or her absentee ballot verifying his or her identity; or 4) the person is an occupant of any nursing home, or is an occupant of a community−based residential facility, retirement home, adult family home, or residential care apartment complex where a municipality sends special voting deputies, in which case the person may submit a statement signed by the deputies verifying his or her identity.

What's more, no person in Wisconsin will be kept from voting on Election Day for lack of a voter ID. Persons without ID may vote with a provisional ballot. If they want the vote to count they must come back the following day with proof of identification:

Under the bill, if a person who votes at a polling place fails to provide a license or identification card, the person may vote provisionally. If a person votes by absentee ballot and fails to provide a copy of the license or identification card, unless exempted from the requirement, the ballot is treated as a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is marked by the poll workers, who immediately contact the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners. The person may then provide the required identification either at the polling place before the closing hour or at the office of the clerk or board. If the person does not provide the required identification to the clerk or board by 4 p.m. on the day following the election, the person’s vote is not counted.

"Let's just keep everybody involved in the political process. Eighteen and older go vote," Roberts exhorted viewers at the end of his interview segment as he thanked Smith for appearing via satellite for the interview.

Of course, no one's disputing that college-aged kids have a right to vote. At issue is proving residency and identity of the voter so that the process is safeguarded from malfeasance or fraud. It's a question each state is free to resolve in its own legislature and which numerous states are doing now.

It's a debate worth having. It's just a shame MSNBC is unwilling to give equal time to both sides. blogs

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I’m getting some worried e-mails from Hill staffers who think Senate Democrats might rubberstamp a policy House Republicans passed to undermine the Affordable Care Act. It’s the sort of policy decision that won’t get much attention but could have some very big, and very bad, effects, so let’s take a moment and go through it.

If you’ve been paying attention to the debate over the Affordable Care Act, you’ve probably heard about the 1099 provision. Essentially, small businesses manage to avoid paying taxes on a lot of small transactions. The 1099 provision would’ve forced them to report those transactions, raising about $ 20 billion over 10 years. But it would’ve require a lot of paperwork. So much paperwork, in fact, that Democrats agreed to repeal it.

When the Senate repealed the provision, they paid for it by canceling other spending that Congress had authorized, but that hadn’t yet been put to a particular purpose. House Republicans took a different approach. They’re trying to sharply increase the amount of subsidies that families will have to pay back if their income increases during the course of a year. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a longer explanation of how this would work, but here’s the short version:

Under their proposed policy, a family with income at 225 percent of the poverty line who needed subsidies for the first half of the year but canceled them mid-year when the husband got a better job could get a bill for more than $ 4,500 at the end of the year.

A more worrying example goes the other way: Imagine a family where the breadwinner makes much more than 400 percent of poverty, but loses his job late in the year. He tries to apply for subsidies so the family can keep getting health insurance but is told that he shouldn’t bother — because his total income that year will still be above 400 percent of poverty, he’ll get a bill at the end of the year forcing him to pay back the money.

The Affordable Care Act, unfortunately, already includes a “payback” policy along these lines — the House Republicans are just proposing to make it much, much worse. This will do two things: make people hate the Affordable Care Act for bait-and-switching them, and keep people from entering the exchanges because they’ve heard horror stories of huge bills. It’s clear why the GOP wouldn’t mind that outcome, but there’s no reason for Democrats to accept it. The Senate should stick with the 1099 repeal that the Senate has passed.

Ezra Klein

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It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Republicans. They managed to make it through the health-care debate without offering serious solutions of their own, and — perhaps more impressive — through the election by promising to tell us their solutions after they’d won. But the jig is up. They need a health-care plan — and quickly.

The GOP knew this day would come. In May 2009, Republican message-maestro Frank Luntz released a polling memo warning that “if the dynamic becomes ‘President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,’ then the battle is lost.” Repeal, Luntz argued, wouldn’t be good enough. It would have to be “repeal and replace.” And so it was.

That, however, is easier said than done.

To understand the trouble the Republicans find themselves in, you need to understand the party’s history with health-care reform. For much of the 20th century, Democrats fought for a single-payer system, and Republicans countered with calls for an employer-based system. In February 1974, President Richard Nixon made it official. “Comprehensive health insurance is an idea whose time has come in America,” he said, announcing a plan in which “every employer would be required to offer all full-time employees the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan.”

In a moment of historically bad judgment — Ted Kennedy later called it his greatest political regret — Democrats turned him down. They thought they could still get single payer. They were wrong.

By the 1990s, they had learned from their mistake. Bill Clinton took office and, after a wrenching year of negotiations, announced legislation similar to Nixon’s.

”Under this health-care security plan,” Clinton said, “every employer and every individual will be asked to contribute something to health care.”

But Republicans again balked, calling instead for a system of “individual responsibility.” Senate Republicans quickly offered two bills — the horribly named Health Equity and Access Reform Act and the Consumer Choice Health Security Act — based on the idea that every person who has the means to buy health insurance should have to do so. We now call that concept “the individual mandate.”

Both bills attracted 20 or more co-sponsors. Neither passed, as Republicans yanked their compromise legislation the moment Democrats became desperate enough to consider it. The individual mandate, however, didn’t go away. It kicked around conservative health-care policy circles, racking up endorsements from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the libertarian magazine Reason. A year later, the mandate showed up in a law that then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed in Massachusetts. And then it was in the bipartisan proposal that Utah Republican Bob Bennett and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden introduced in the Senate. And next, it was the centerpiece of the Democrats’ health-care reform push. Consensus, it seemed, was at hand.

Or not. Republicans turned on the individual mandate again. Senators who’d had their names on a bill that included an individual mandate — Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Bob Bennett, Mike Crapo, Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, Olympia Snowe and Kit Bond, to name a few — voted to object, calling the policy “unconstitutional.” Romney had to explain away his signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts. And Republicans found themselves without a fallback.

The party’s current mood on health-care policy is perhaps best expressed by the efforts that Michael Cannon, an influential health-care wonk at the libertarian Cato Institute, has made to enlist members in his “anti-universal coverage club.”

Enter Wyden-Brown, an Affordable Care Act amendment that the White House has made a big show of endorsing: It says that any state that can produce a credible plan to cover as many people, with as comprehensive insurance, at as low a cost as the Affordable Care Act can wriggle out of all the law’s mandates but still receive all the law’s money. Vermont’s governor, for one, is stoked: He wants to try a single-payer proposal.

Most conservatives have been actively hostile. They make some fair technical points. The law envisions the secretary of Health and Human Services handing out the waivers, while the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler would prefer to see a bipartisan commission in charge. But most take aim at the proposal’s basic goals: that care has to be as universal, as good and as cheap.

Cannon, for instance, frets that there’s no conservative policy that “would cover as many people as a law that forces them to buy coverage under penalty of law.” Butler worries that it “locks the states into guaranteeing a generous and costly level of benefits.”

But as the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn points out, under the Affordable Care Act, a family of four could shell out $ 12,500 out of pocket for medical costs. How much stingier should the insurance be?

And Cannon is right that conservatives don’t have solutions to provide coverage as universal as what the Affordable Care Act would. But whose fault is that?

Conservatives once offered solutions competitive with what the Democrats were proposing, but over the past 30 years, they’ve abandoned each and every one of them to stymie Democratic presidents. Confronted with a challenge to provide broader access to better health care at a lower cost, they’re reduced to complaining that those aren’t the right goals for health-care reform. But we’ve yet to see how “less comprehensive insurance for fewer people” would play in Peoria. My hunch is it wouldn’t play very well.

For decades, Republicans have chosen stopping Democratic presidents over reforming the American health-care system. Now that reform has passed, the solution for members of the GOP is to press the rewind button. They’re about to find out that it’s not enough.

On that much, Luntz and I agree: If the public comes to see the GOP as opposed to reform, “the battle is lost” — at least if you believe “the battle” is to beat the Democrats rather than provide quality health insurance to every American.

Ezra Klein

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I’ve been listening to the conservative arguments against public-employee unions for the last few weeks, and it’s left me with one big question: Why aren’t more conservatives ferocious supporters of serious campaign-finance reform?

As David Brooks puts it, the problem with public-sector unions is that they “help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.” Then they negotiate with these same leaders — or representatives of these same leaders — for pay, pensions, etc.

But the same goes for corporations. The income of many corporations — Boeing is a good example — depend on government contracts. Tax policy is also important when it comes to setting take-home pay. Then there are rules, regulations, bailouts, backstops, and all the other ways that the government helps structure and shape the economy. And “through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout,” corporations “have enormous influence over who gets to bargain with them.” And in the aggregate, of course, the business community spends much more than the unions — in 2010, business groups spent $ 1.3 billion, while unions spent $ 93 million.

Given that disparity, it’s not at all clear to me why I should worry more about the money unions spend on elections than the money corporations spend on elections. But more to the point, I’d like to reduce both: The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party joined forces against the DISCLOSE Act. But the DISCLOSE Act was a good bill! And the Fair Elections Now Act is a better one. It’s curious that the alarm conservatives feel when they look at the nexus of moneyed interests and government power doesn’t translate into support for the sort of laws that might weaken that link.

Ezra Klein

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I’ve been listening to the conservative arguments against public-employee unions for the last few weeks, and it’s left me with one big question: Why aren’t more conservatives ferocious supporters of serious campaign-finance reform?

As David Brooks puts it, the problem with public-sector unions is that they “help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.” Then they negotiate with these same leaders — or representatives of these same leaders — for pay, pensions, etc.

But the same goes for corporations. The income of many corporations — Boeing is a good example — depend on government contracts. Tax policy is also important when it comes to setting take-home pay. Then there are rules, regulations, bailouts, backstops, and all the other ways that the government helps structure and shape the economy. And “through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout,” corporations “have enormous influence over who gets to bargain with them.” And in the aggregate, of course, the business community spends much more than the unions — in 2010, business groups spent $ 1.3 billion, while unions spent $ 93 million.

Given that disparity, it’s not at all clear to me why I should worry more about the money unions spend on elections than the money corporations spend on elections. But more to the point, I’d like to reduce both: The AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party joined forces against the DISCLOSE Act. But the DISCLOSE Act was a good bill! And the Fair Elections Now Act is a better one. It’s curious that the alarm conservatives feel when they look at the nexus of moneyed interests and government power doesn’t translate into support for the sort of laws that might weaken that link.

Ezra Klein

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Retrans reform group says scales need to be better…
B&C – Breaking News

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The Bridgeport election controversy and the paid sick leave battle will be featured this Sunday on “The Real Story” on Fox CT.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill – the former House majority leader from Storrs – will speak about the lessons learned from the voting-day chaos in Bridgeport, which tipped the balance in favor of Democrat Dannel Malloy. She will be interviewed by host Laurie Perez in the first segment.

In addition, Kia Murrell of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association will talk about the controversy over paid sick leave in the show’s second segment. The controversial bill, which would require paid sick leave for all businesses with more than 50 employees, passed this week in the labor committee on a 6 to 5 vote. The measure still requires approval by the full House of Representatives and the Senate.

Capitol Watch

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Shep Smith: putting the liberal balance into Fox News Channel's fair-and-balanced reporting . . .

On Fox Report this evening, Shep sneered at Gov. Walker's budget-repair bill, referring to it as "so-called" reform, sarcastically adding that as far as union members facing layoffs are concerned, "it's no repair to them."

Later, interviewing FNC's White House correspondent Mike Emanuel, a nervous Smith sought reassurance that Florida wasn't heading down Walker's Wisconsin path.

View video after the jump.

I'll be back with a transcript but in the meantime watch Shep make clear his sympathies aren't with Scott Walker.

SHEP SMITH: First to Wisconsin, where the governor, Scott Walker, is making good on his threat to start sending out lay-off notices if the Senate didn't passed his so-called budget-repair bill by today.  One of the "repairs" it would make is to end most collective-bargaining rights for most government workers: that's no repair to them.

And a bit later . . .

SMITH [to Mike Emanuel]: So what about the debate about unions in Florida, it's a right-to-work state.  We're not expecting a Wisconsin-style thing, are we?

MIKE EMANUEL: Well, some people believe there may be that problem because there is a budget-crunch in the State of Florida. blogs

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