Congress is back — and the House has an ambitious plan for the year ahead. OK, an ambitious plan to cement its place in history as the Do-Nothingest Congress of all time.
The House has scheduled all of 97 days in session before the November elections, with many of them being half days or pro forma ones. And Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s memo to his troops outlining the plan for the year ahead made it clear that there is at most a bare-bones agenda, focused like a laser, yet again, on repealing or further sullying and delegitimizing Obamacare. The only possible good news coming out of that is that the obsessive focus on killing Obamacare may provide the excuse for House leaders to extend the debt ceiling without blackmail this time, by convincing their rank-and-file that it is the best way to avoid distractions and keep the focus on the health insurance law.
The obsession with Obamacare, and the near-universal belief among Republican lawmakers and conservative spinmeisters that the law will collapse spectacularly of its own weight, is fascinating.
Remember that when Sen. Ted Cruz incited the shutdown last year over the demand to defund Obamacare, his argument was that this was the last chance before the law was implemented in January — after which it would be impossible to stop it, because so many Americans would be delighted with its benefits. Cruz told Sean Hannity last July, “If we don’t do it [defund Obamacare] now, in all likelihood, Obamacare will never, ever be repealed. Why is that? Because on January 1, the exchanges kick in, the subsidies kick in; … their plan is to get the American people addicted to the sugar, addicted to the subsidies, and once that happens, in all likelihood, it never gets “¦”
At which point Hannity agreed, saying, “It’s over — it never gets repealed.”
The awful and bumpy rollout of the plan changed all that; now, for Cruz, Hannity, and everyone else in the right-wing echo chamber, there won’t be any highs ahead, or at least the highs and sugar addictions will be overwhelmed by bad drugs and overdoses.
Which view is right? We don’t know for sure, but there is some interesting evidence in the rollout of the Medicare Part D plan in 2005, via an excellent analysis by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reform. The report makes clear that there are many parallels between Part D and Obamacare.
First, both plans passed with substantial partisan tension, which tarnished the initial public views of them. Second, both plans created much confusion in the public, with small proportions of Americans having even a basic understanding of what was in the plans and how they would work. Third, both plans had a lot of time after passage and before they actually took effect to prepare for a massive rollout. Fourth, neither had its website ready to roll when the deadline hit, and both had crashes and long delays to gain access. Fifth, even after the websites became more reliable, other problems persisted, including inadequate call centers and inexperienced navigators at the local level who were unprepared with full or sophisticated answers to questions posed by those trying to sign up. Sixth, supporters of the laws issued cautions when they were first unveiled, warning of glitches ahead and asking the public for understanding and help at ameliorating the problems.
Now for the differences. While Medicare Part D was the subject of serious partisan chicanery — the infamous three-hour vote in the House; the conference committee that barred key Senate Democrats from participating, including Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle; the “bait and switch” that in the end took out all the parts of the bill that had made Ted Kennedy an initial partner of the Bush administration — once it was law, most Democrats worked hard to make the plan accessible and workable for seniors, as did Democratic governors and state legislatures.
Of course, the opposite is true of Obamacare. Despite yeoman efforts to make the bill bipartisan — months and months of negotiation by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus with Chuck Grassley and other Senate Republicans, starting from a framework devised and endorsed by Grassley — it got not a single GOP vote. But after passage, it has received nothing but yeoman efforts to sabotage it, including from a slew of Republican governors denying insurance to the most needy of their constituents simply to stymie the law’s implementation. And whenever a Republican talks about how to make the law work better, instead of blowing it up (Jack Kingston of Georgia comes to mind), he or she is vilified by partisans and their media acolytes.
Second, the mainstream media reported on the glitches in the Medicare Part D plan but did not jump all over them with front-page or highlighted stories, or repeated and lengthy inquests on Sunday talk shows. The opposite has been true of Obamacare, with an added twist that reflects the new economic and political realities for media, as reported in a piece by Maggie Mahar at healthinsurance.org. Mahar investigated a ballyhooed article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram titled “Obamacare Stirs Anxiety for Thousands.” The cases of those who were purportedly shafted by Obamacare proved to be false or exaggerated, and three of the four cases cited were tea-party adherents who strongly opposed the law, two of whom had never even checked for prices on the exchanges. After a lengthy stonewall by the paper’s editors, it became clear that no one had fact-checked the piece, which was written by a reporter with no expertise in health policy, under a tight time frame, assigned by an editor who only wanted bad news, not any stories of those who had been helped by the new law. This is more a case of underresourced news outlets eager to report bad news than bias, but it reflects the tougher climate for a law that affects far more people in far more ways than Part D did.
Eight years after its rocky rollout and deep public skepticism, the Medicare Part D plan is widely popular. I have no idea if that will be the case with Obamacare — and if achieving popularity takes any length of time, the political damage, in this November election and maybe even in 2016, will already have been done. What I do know is that there are going to be a whole lot of winners under the Affordable Care Act, and a smaller number, but still a significant one, of losers or those caught up in the inevitable upheaval to the health care system.
And I know if your only legislative or policy plan for 2014, in the face of a sluggish economy, a crisis of long-term unemployment, and a host of other short and long-term problems facing the country, is to bet on the spectacular failure of the health care plan, you deserve the public contempt your Congress is receiving.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."