Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Hey, Alison Grimes, why not mention THIS? Ah … because it would require a sentence or two of substantive explanation.

Given the exceedingly favorable atmosphere for Republicans this fall, McConnell’s direction on Obamacare has been closely watched as he both battles for reelection against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and as the GOP prepares for Senate control for the first time since 2006.

McConnell’s office said there are multiple avenues that a GOP Senate would have to attack Obamacare — particularly through budget reconciliation, a parliamentary maneuver that would require only 51 votes but would not be equivalent to the standalone repeal votes that have frequented the House.

Reconciliation was omitted during the Tuesday Fox News hit, but has not been dropped from McConnell’s game plan, particularly given that individual mandate was ruled by the Supreme Court to be a tax and could be reversed by a majority vote.

McConnell reassures GOP on Obamacare opposition, Burgess Everett, Politico, today

Awesome!  Out of the mouths of babes.  (One babe, anyway, albeit not a very cute one.)

Might Bill or Hillary Clinton be willing to cut an ad or web video pointing out what this means?  As in: Hey, all you Kentuckians who now have healthcare insurance through Kynect or the Medicaid expansion won’t, come 2016, if McConnell succeeds in his plan?

And, all you folks in, say, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and Alaska: How do you think that that shutting-down-the-government thing will work out for ya next year?

Grimes has absolutely nothing to lose by making these points herself this weekend.  And the DSCC doesn’t, either; it’s committed money for the last few days of the campaign—something it probably now regrets.  But Kentucky apparently doesn’t have early voting, so it’s still theoretically possible for these last few days to make a difference in the election’s outcome.

The silver lining in a Grimes loss will be the end of the idea, finally, that if you’re a Democrat running in a red state, you shouldn’t run as, y’know, a Democrat.  But of course a surprise win for Grimes as a result of a very late campaign posture as a Democrat would not undermine that lesson.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes vs. The Kentucky Newspaper Editorial Boards That Endorsed Her Today

Two major Kentucky newspapers have endorsed Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate over incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader both ran editorials Sunday in support of the Democrat, who currently serves as Kentucky’s Secretary of State.

In its endorsement, the Courier-Journal’s editorial board praised Grimes’ stance on issues like the minimum wage and early childhood education, while accusing McConnell of “lacking a vision for Kentucky.”

“[McConnell] lost his way to the point where he now is identified largely as the master of obstruction and gridlock in Washington,” reads the endorsement. “Kentucky needs a U.S. senator who sees a higher calling than personal ambition and a greater goal than self-aggrandizement.” …

The Lexington Herald-Leader‘s endorsement strongly rebukes McConnell, who the editorial board says has “repeatedly hurt the country to advance his political strategy.”

“The Senate may never recover from the bitter paralysis McConnell has inflicted through record filibusters that allow his minority to rule by obstruction,” reads the editorial. “He poses as a champion of the right to criticize the government, but it’s really his rich buddies’ right to buy the government that he champions.”

Kentucky Newspapers Endorse Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mollie Reilly, Huffington Post, this morning

Two weeks ago, the big political story out of Kentucky was that Grimes refused to answer when a televised-debate monitor asked her whether she had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  So important was this, politically, that Chuck Todd reacted to it by saying (in)famously that Grimes had disqualified herself, and McConnell immediately began featuring Todd’s comment in an ad, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee ended its ad buys in the state.

At the same debate, though, McConnell said that Kynect, Kentucky’s ACA-funded healthcare insurance exchange—through which Kentuckians can purchase independent-market policies that comply with the statute and apply the statute’s tax credits toward premium payments—actually is just a website that lists healthcare policies and allows sign-ups but has no financial benefit to purchasers of the insurance plans.  This, too, was reported nationally and highlighted, apparently, in local news recaps of the debate, but it was presumed, I guess, that it wouldn’t matter.  Although McConnell had made a vaguer but substantively similar statement earlier in the campaign, and although it was reported by national and Kentucky newspapers, its significance apparently hadn’t penetrated to much of the electorate, mainly because Grimes was perfectly happy to have Kentuckians think that the popular Kynect had nothing to do with the hated Obamacare—much less with Obama himself.

And, although by then consistently down by several points in the polls, and appearing to lose ground as the election neared, she didn’t blink in this.  Asked about McConnell’s brazenly false claim about the nature and effect of Kynect, a spokeswoman for Grimes’ campaign responded with something like, “Alison Grimes will always choose Kentucky over Washington.”  That’s right; Alison Grimes will vote to remove federal financial support for the website and, especially, end the federal tax subsidies for purchase of the policies.

It was a day or two later that the DSCC announces its removal of financial support for Grimes’ campaign.  But then something apparently completely unexpected happened: A Bluegrass Poll showed Grimes suddenly trailing McConnell by a single point.  And then last week Grimes, who dismayingly had failed to highlight in ads or appearances a video that surfaced a couple of weeks earlier showing McConnell outlining to a Koch brothers’ group his exciting plans as Senate Majority Leader, suddenly began running an ad showing a clip of the video.  A day or two later, the DSCC restored its financial ad-buy support for Grimes’ campaign.  Asked why, a spokesperson for the DSCC said that polls were showing that undecideds were moving toward Grimes.

And so they must be, because a day or two ago it as reported that McConnell had just committed $1.8 million of his own money for the campaign.

The problem with Grimes’ campaign—and with candidates like Grimes herself—can be seen in a  nutshell in an article by Richard Eskow published on Huffington Post on Friday, discussing the specifics of McConnell’s comments to that Koch brothers crowd in August, captured on that video.  McConnell promises not only to defund Obamacare but also the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to force a repeal not only of the CFPB but of the entire Dodd-Frank law that created that agency and that includes the financial-industry regulations enacted in the wake of 2008 economic collapse. But, of course, no one knows of the existence of the CFPC and no one knows that the Senate Republicans and candidates are pledging to repeal the post-2008 financial-industry regulations.  Just as no one knows, or at least no one remembers—because the Democratic candidates apparently won’t be caught dead mentioning it—that among the new regulations enacted by the Democratic-controlled Congress during the first two years of the Obama presidency (and pushed entirely by Democrats such as Dick Durbin)—are ones ending the banking-industry practice of exorbitant overdraft fees for small, sometimes-momentary checking-account overdrafts, and the so-called “Durbin Amendment” that prohibits disproportionately high payments by retailers (including small ones) to Visa and Mastercard for customer purchases using those cards.

Look.  If you want to run a Washington-vs.-our-state campaign as a Democrat, you need to make that campaign about the issue of who it is that determines specific Washington policy—in other words, about whether it’s the Kochs who effectively write legislation and dictate what legislation is filibustered or never brought to a vote, or instead small-business owners or ordinary individuals who play some meaningful role in this process.  A campaign for Congress by a Democrat that amounts to a generic ideological “Washington vs. our state” is a campaign that is incoherent. Grimes’ campaign is Exhibit A, but it’s certainly not the only current Exhibit.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, in its endorsement editorial, points out that Grimes supports such policies as a raise in the federal minimum wage and federally sponsored universal access to preschool.  But these are federal programs; she’s running for the United States Senate, not the Kentucky Senate. “Washington vs. our state” as a generic ideological precept precludes these. If Grimes’ ideology is really the same as Joni Ernst’s, then she should switch parties.  If it’s not, then she should make that clear, and make clear why it’s not.

And if Grimes wins, it will be precisely because of why it’s not—and because McConnell, not Grimes, finally made that clear to Kentucky’s voters.

And next time someone like Ashley Judd wants to run for Senate in a state like Kentucky, the Democratic Establishment should not insist that she not run because, after all, a “centrist” would have a better chance.  Judd would win this election comfortably, I’d bet.

Finally, though, the spot-on eloquence of the Courier-Journal’s and (especially) the Herald-Leader’s editorials should be noted for their courage, their emphatic directness and their specificity.

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NOTE TO COLORADANS: You can get virtually identical insurance on your state’s Exchange—and continue to receive the same subsidies to pay the premiums that you received THIS year. Really.

More than 22,000 Coloradans were informed in the past month that their health coverage will be canceled at the end of the year, state insurance authorities disclosed this week, a spike in cancellations already roiling the state’s fierce campaigns for the Senate and governor’s seat.

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who’s running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, pounced on the news as evidence that Obamacare is disrupting coverage for Coloradans and that Udall, who voted for the law, shares in the blame.

It’s unclear, though, if Obamacare is the reason for the latest wave of canceled plans. The cancellations are nearly all the result of a decision by Humana, a major national insurance company, to cancel offerings for people who buy health insurance on their own. About 3,800 were the result of financial instability at a smaller insurer, SeeChange, which offered plans to small businesses.

The sudden surge, however, comes at an inopportune time for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, both of whom are fighting for their political lives and have been staunch defenders of the health law. Hickenlooper was one of just more than a dozen governors to build a state-run Obamacare exchange last year.

It’s unclear why Humana canceled policies that covered nearly 18,000 people, but the company is participating in Colorado’s exchange this year, offering plans to consumers who live in Colorado Springs and Denver. Although many insurers have canceled plans that fail to meet the minimum standards of Obamacare, Colorado insurance officials noted that Humana had the opportunity to continue its offerings through 2015. Plans may be canceled for many reasons besides failure to comply with Obamacare, too, they noted.

Health cancellations ripple in Colorado, Kyle Cheney, Politico, today

Hmm.  I no longer expect any Democratic candidate for anything–okay, I can think of three, but only three, exceptions: Gary Peters and Mark Schauer in Michigan, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina–to actually respond clearly and directly on-point to this kind of stuff.  But Udall and Hickenlooper could, theoretically, surprise me by pointing out, first, that almost certainly a high percentage of beneficiaries have been able to afford that policy because of the federal subsidies courtesy of the ACA, and, second, that every single one of these folks will be able to get a similar policy, through the Exchange–and receive the same financial assistance via the ACA that they received this year.

Udall and Hickenlooper won’t, of course, point out these things.  Nor, I guess, will the political-news media, which also could, theoretically.  But I thought I’d mention these theoretical possibilities, anyway.

Aaaaargh.

UPDATE: I just thought of a fourth one: Bruce Braley of Iowa.

SECOND UPDATE: And Rick Weiland of South Dakota!  He’s running aggressively as a liberal.

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Sooo …. which of Obama’s economic policies do you want to repeal or defeat, Repubs?? And replace those policies with whose–I mean, what–economic policies, exactly? Do tell!

Barack Obama wanted to galvanize Democrats when he insisted this week that his economic policies are on the ballot in November. Instead, the soundbite has already become the centerpiece of new Republican attack ads.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell uses the clip in a new commercial, shared first with POLITICO. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts turned his own ad earlier Friday morning. And New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown is using the clip in a web video against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“Alison Grimes says this election is not about her support for Barack Obama and his failed policies,” a narrator says over footage of a Grimes commercial that showed her shooting a gun. “But Obama himself says a vote for Alison is a vote for his policies.”

Obama’s comments Thursday came in front of a supportive crowd in Illinois during a speech billed as an attempt to refocus the national discourse on his economic agenda.

“I am not on the ballot this fall … But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” he said.

GOP ads pounce on Obama’s economy comments, James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney, Politico, today

The article goes on to say that Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and New Hampshire Repub. Senate nominee Scott Brown will run similar ads in their respective states.

To which I say: Please do.  It is, after all, Obama himself, not Obama’s actual economic policies—which most people have no clue about—that creates the problem for the Democrats.  Much less is the problem for the Dems the Senate Democrats’ proposed economic policies— which most people have no clue about.  The economic policies that the Senate Republicans are blocking.

Obama prefaced those comments with some actual specifics about the results thus far of one set of his policies, Obamacare. Justic Sink of The Hill reported yesterday (H/T Paul Waldman):

“There’s a reason fewer [Republicans] are running against ObamaCare — because while good, affordable healthcare might still be a fanged threat to freedom on Fox News, it’s working pretty well in the real world,” the president said.

The day after the anniversary of rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, Obama argued that a “dramatic slowdown in the rising cost of healthcare” had led to more individuals being covered and prices staying lower.

“If we hadn’t taken this on, and premiums had kept growing at the rate they did in the last decade, the average premium for family coverage today would be $1,800 higher than they are,” Obama said. “That’s $1,800 you don’t have to pay out of our pocket or see vanish from your paycheck. That’s like an $1,800 tax cut.”

And, Obama said, the cost of government healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid are decreasing alongside the costs of private insurance.

“Healthcare has long been the single biggest driver of America’s future deficits,” Obama said. “Healthcare is now the single biggest factor driving those deficits down.” …

“In just the last year, we’ve reduced the share of uninsured Americans by 26 percent,” Obama said. “That means 1 in 4 uninsured Americans — about 10 million people — have gained the financial security of health insurance in less than one year.”

The president also argued that the availability of insurance through ObamaCare meant young entrepreneurs were freed “to strike out on your own and chase that new idea,” rather than remaining in jobs that provided medical coverage.

It’s great that Obama finally deigned to speak publicly about the specifics—including specific results—of one of his policies, Obamacare.  He generally doesn’t do speaking publicly about the specifics (and certainly not specific results) of his policies, or, regarding most of his and the congressional Dems’ economic policies, even the existence of their policies and policy proposals.  Which may be why no one knows the specifics, or even the generalities.

But, the press being the press, and the political punditry being the political punditry, what matters is that Obama said the words, “I am not on the ballot this fall … But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”  “These policies” could mean … well … it doesn’t matter.

As it happens, a majority of the public, even in “red” states, aren’t all that keen on the prospect of the Koch brothers’ policies becoming Congress’s blatant policies.  So the new Republican ads about Obama’s policies being on the ballot should be countered not only with a demand to know which specific economic, fiscal and regulatory policies these candidates want to repeal but also with reminders that the Koch brothers’ policies are on the ballot, too.

Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

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Repeal LyndonJohnsonCare?

While I was reading an article on the web this morning from my phone, up popped one of those incessant anti-Obama/anti-Obamacare “take-a-survey” ads—one of those little square red-and-white-bordered things with a goofy-looking picture of Obama on it.  My laptop software blocks these things, so I was lucky enough to have not seen one of those in a while.

This one (I guess) is new.  In any event, it’s all ready to go for 2016.  The picture is of the inside of a hospital operating room.  Obama, of course, is in the picture, but he’s not alone.  He and Hillary Clinton are standing in the forefront, next to each other and looking at each other.  Both are wearing surgical scrubs and surgical gloves.  The title above the picture asks: “Repeal Obamacare?” Below the picture is an invitation to click to take the survey.

I assume that by now, most people know that Obamacare works entirely through private-sector medical providers, mostly—unlike Medicare—via private-sector insurers.  I also assume that most people know by now that there are millions of Americans, including millions who have fulltime jobs, who, because of a preexisting medical condition or because of insurance premium costs, actually had no access at all to operating rooms until January 1, 2014 but do have that access now.  So this particular ad seems unlikely to be effectual.

But still, I’d like to see Dem ads whose title asks: Repeal LyndonJohnsonCare?

And also ones that ask: Repeal FDRPensionPlan?  I especially recommend that one to Bruce Braley. With a tag line about chickens coming home to roost.

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Hillary Clinton (Obviously) Reads Angry Bear! Or at least she did yesterday.

Hillary Clinton will headline a fundraising dinner for Florida Democratic gubernatorial Charlie Crist next month, putting her in a key presidential state in the midterms battle, according to an invitation.

Crist, a Republican turned Democrat running for his old job, is in one of the toughest gubernatorial races in the country. He is facing incumbent Republican Rick Scott.

Clinton will headline a dinner Oct. 2 in Miami, according to an invitation.

She is holding a book-signing the same day in the state.

Hillary Clinton to campaign for Charlie Crist, Maggie Haberman, Politico, yesterday at 7:56 p.m.

Yesterday, as all you AB readers know, I posted this rant, I mean post, that was highly critical of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  About Clinton, I noted (among other things) the unseemliness of her current banalities in her public appearances, and said that because of the media attention she garners every time she opens her mouth, she actually could win elections for certain Dem candidates for senator or governor if she filled a six-year-long public-education-and-correction-of-misinformation void by Obama and actually educated the public about such things as that healthcare costs and healthcare premium rate increases have declined rather than increased since the beginning of the year.  I mentioned that in Florida, a TV ad is running claiming that the ACA has increased healthcare costs, taking money out “your” pocket, and that therefore “you” should vote to reelect Rick Scott as governor. Scott’s opponent, Charlie Crist, the ad points out repeatedly, has said the ACA is working well.

I posted that post at 3:34 p.m., about four hours before someone on Clinton’s staff—I’m not sure why she has a personal staff, other than that having a personal staff is what she does—announced that as long as Clinton was going to be in Florida for a book-signing event next month anyway, she might as well headline a fundraising dinner in the state.  You never know, after all; there might be some Miami-area donors who haven’t yet bought her book.  Not to mention a few members of the wait staff who will pay $30 (or whatever) to get a handwritten personal message from Hillary Clinton to show their grandkids one day.

But the idea hadn’t occurred to her until she read Angry Bear yesterday afternoon, which obviously she did, notwithstanding the very busy day she had yesterday.

The good news is that by then she will be a grandparent rather than an expectant grandparent, so, along with the giggly thinking-about-running-for-president entendres, she will regale the audience with new-grandparent stories.

The bad news is that she won’t actually correct any misinformation about the ACA and its effects, or about anything else, since that would require her to have had a staff member actually obtain statistics and such, and would necessitate her own preparation for the speech by reading a several-paragraph memo from that staffer that recites the information.  Sure, she’d be preaching directly to the choir, but she’d be preaching indirectly, and virally if videotaped, to undecided voters in Florida and beyond.*

She won’t, though.  Unless, of course, she reads Angry Bear again today.  Nah, even if she does, she won’t.  I’m tempted to say that Clinton’s fundraising and campaigning is only ostensibly for others but actually for herself.  But actually I don’t think she’s planning to run for president I think she’s just milking all this for the book sales and the fawning attention. In fact, I think that one reason she’s constantly talking about her impending grandparenthood—other than that she has to talk about something at these appearances—is that she wants eventually to invoke this new, exciting chapter in her life as her reason for deciding not to run for president.

And, if I’m right that she is not planning to run, that may actually be part of her reason.  In November 2016, Clinton will be 69 years old.  Most people are not looking, at that age, to undertake something all-encompassing like the presidency.

But also, I think that she and her husband want most of all to not have to deal with questions about their finances.  Hillary Clinton has achieved what she sought to achieve: extraordinary wealth and extraordinary fame and (in some quarters) adoration.  And running for president again would require her this time around to stay overnight at hotels in Waterloo, Davenport, and (even worse) Sioux City, rather than campaigning mostly in the Des Moines area during caucus season–as, I read recently, she did in 2008 in order to have sufficiently comfortable hotel accommodations.

The article in which I read about that Iowa-hotels-in-2008 thing contained an assurance from someone in her orbit—“orbit”; what an apt journalistic euphemism—that she wouldn’t make that mistake again and open herself up to charges of unapproachability.** But that’s just too much of a compromise, I suspect, and reason enough in and of itself for her to decide not to run.  Some members of her orbit may soon have to find another sun.

—-

*This paragraph and the following one were edited slightly for clarity after posting.  9/23 at 8:22 p.m.

**Sentence edited for clarity in light of confusion by a commenter about whether this was a true anacdote or instead facetious. It was reported as a true anacdote.  9/23 at 10:29 p.m.

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Browncare. Go for it, New Hampshirites! It’s BETTER!

In a new radio interview, [Massachusetts senator-cum-New Hampshire senate candidate Scott] Brown professes support for protecting people with preexisting conditions and other general goals of the law. But he reiterates his support for repealing Obamacare, claiming its goals should only be accomplished by states:

“I believe states can do it better. They can certainly cover preexisting conditions, cover kids to X age, whatever you want — catastrophic care, covering those who need additional coverages…other states have addressed these issues.”

But when asked whether, under Brown’s vision, states could decline to offer protections for preexisting conditions, Brown replied:

“I have to respectfully disagree. It’s something that’s very important for our state and its citizens. It’s something that more than likely would be covered in any type of plan that we offered…that is one thing that is important to me. I’ve already voted on something like that. And I would continue to support that.”

That appears to be a reference to Brown’s previous support for Romneycare in Massachusetts.

— Morning Plum: Scott Brown calls for replacing Obamacare with Romneycare, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

I, too, believe states can do it better.  If, say, they wanted to.  Which, since there was nothing to stop from doing better, or even from doing as well as, Obamacare, before 2010, and in fact there still is not—and since only one state, Massachusetts, did in fact do better. (Romneycare’s coverage of everyone who needed subsidies did not depend upon whether the person’s county agreed to accept payments from the state for people whose income is between the poverty level and 133% of the poverty level, after all, which for those who fell into that category, was, y’know, better.)

Since Obamacare is, in essence, Romneycare on a national level, with the exception that (to my knowledge) Romneycare had no distinction between in the way the subsidies worked, on the one hand, for people whose income under Obamacare means that they have no coverage at all if their state has not adopted the Medicaid expansion, and people whose income entitles them to federal subsidies under Obamacare irrespective of whether or not that their state has not adopted the Medicaid expansion.  And with the exception that, well, under Romneycare, the total cost of the subsidies was paid by the state of Massachusetts.  Rather than, y’know, the federal government.

So, take note, New Hampshirites: Scott Brown wants your state to pay the healthcare insurance subsidies for New Hampshire residents who now receive federal subsidies under Obamacare or who apparently are about to receive coverage paid virtually entirely by the federal government once New Hampshire adopts the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, as it reportedly is about to do.

Well, okay, he doesn’t want New Hampshire to actually provide subsidies to everyone who needs subsidies in order to afford healthcare insurance, as Romneycare did.  No, he wants those subsidies to go only to a certain segment of people who can’t otherwise afford healthcare insurance and who, until this year via Obamacare didn’t have insurance.  Because, y’see, it’s better—his word—to have a substantially higher percentage of New Hampshirites uninsured because they lack access to subsidies to help them afford it.

And he also thinks it’s better—his word—to have insurance premiums skyrocket because, under Browncare would, like Romneycare and Obamacare, prohibit insurance companies from declining coverage to people with preexisting conditions or charging them higher premiums, but unlike Romneycare and Obamacare, would not require anyone to purchase healthcare insurance before, say, they needed major medical care.

Unfortunately, though, Brown is not a candidate for governor or even for the state legislature.  So, as popular as Browncare is likely to be in New Hampshire, electing him to the U.S. Senate won’t cause New Hampshire to take over healthcare subsidies for some state’s residents who now receive federal subsidies under Obamacare, and to return many others to their pre-2014 uninsured status.  And electing him to the U.S. Senate won’t even cause healthcare coverage premiums to price many (most?) individual-market policyholders out of the individual market.

Well, at least not within the following two years, anyway–since Obama will remain president until Jan. 2016.  Or, if Obama is impeached and convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors, Joe Biden will be president for the remainder of the current presidential term.  If Brown is elected, this will be very frustrating for everyone who voted for him, as the continued presence of a Democrat in the White House will prevent New Hampshire from making it’s healthcare coverage system worse, er, I mean better.

Of course, there’s always the option of a coup.

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Arkansas Republican Senate Candidate Tom Cotton Wants to Require Employers to Provide Employees With Multiple Healthcare Insurance Choices. Seriously.

[T]here is probably no one more gung ho for Obamacare repeal than [Senate Republican nominee] Tom Cotton. He talks about it all the time. So he obviously would roll back the Arkansas version of the state’s Medicaid expansion, right?

Well, he has consistently refused to say. And in a new interview this week, Cotton was pressed on this question, and he served up pure gibberish:

REPORTER: What happens to those people who enrolled either on Obamacare or on the private option in Arkansas? They gonna be stranded?

COTTON: We’ll see what we can do in terms of reforming it, and potentially protecting some of the people who have already received some of the benefits. But what we want to do is ensure people have control over their own health care choices…that’s why we start over in health care reform, broadly speaking, not just with Obamacare, and get those decisions out of the hands of Washington.

Greg Sargent, Washington Post, yesterday

Yup. Formerly-uninsured Arkansans, whether because they couldn’t afford insurance or had a preexisting medical condition and were categorically precluded from purchasing it, who now have healthcare insurance thanks to Obamacare, are demanding a return to the control they had over their own health care options: deciding which hospital emergency room they should visit, and then own several thousand dollars to, because they had no other access to medical care.

But, okay, let’s given Cotton his due. While some, mostly large, employers do give their employers some control over their own health care choices, by giving them two or more insurance-coverage options, many, many employers that provide coverage as part of their employee compensation offer only a single carrier’s policies. So it’s nice that what he wants to do is ensure that people—presumably, including people whose coverage is employer-based; after all, they fit the definition of “people”–have control over their own health care choices.

But I’m not sure the Chamber of Commerce agrees that employers should be required to return to their employees the control they had over their own health care options—unless, of course, that proposal is taken literally; the control most employees had over their own health care options is the same as the control employees now have.

But if Cotton is proposing some actual change, something that would ensure (his word, remember) that people, including the ones whose healthcare insurance is employer-based, have control over their own health care choices, I’m not sure how he proposes to accomplish this by getting those decisions out of the hands of Washington.

I hope Sen. Mark Pryor, his opponent, asks him, and passes along the answer. But, apparently, he’s not kidding when he says he’s proposing that we start over in health care reform, broadly speaking, not just with Obamacare.

This is broadly speaking, alright.

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First-Reaction Thoughts About Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn

I haven’t read the opinions, concurrence, or dissents in either Hobby Lobby or Harris v. Quinn, so these comments are based on news summaries and quick commentaries by others.  But the biggest surprise in Hobby Lobby, I think, is the express approval, in the opinion and in Kennedy’s concurrence, of HHS’s on-the-fly setup devised in (I think) 2012 as a workaround to allow nonprofit religious organizations (e.g., Catholic colleges) to avoid directly providing the insurance coverage while still enabling the employees to receive the coverage.

The 5-4 outcome of the case apparently relied on this; it was not dictum. Kennedy’ concurrence makes that clear.  (Which is itself a surprise, given Kennedy’s virulent dissent two years ago to Roberts’ opinion upholding much of the ACA itself.)

This is really important, not just as it applies to the contraception issue but also because the HHS-devised workaround has, of course, been attacked by the right as exceeding the authority of the ACA.  As have the other several HHS-promulgated tweaks to the substance of the statute and to its implementation (for example, delays in requiring certain mandates). The Hobby Lobby opinion effectively accepts as legally permissible these substantive and timing HHS-created modifications by HHS to the ACA.

The other thing that strikes me is that, although one commentator writing a few minutes after the release of the opinion thinks otherwise, the opinion does, I think, open the door to diminished corporate-veil protections.

The opinion did not address the First Amendment free-exercise-of-religion clause.  Instead, it interpreted a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration ACT (RFRA) as protecting closely held for-profit corporations.  The statute provides that “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”  The opinion holds that corporations are “persons” within the meaning of the statute.

The commentator–one of the SCOTUSblog folks writing on their live blog as the Court was in session this morning; I can’t remember who, though–pointed out in answer to a question that the opinion interprets a federal statute and that corporate-structure/corporate-veil statutes are state statutes. The opinion doesn’t alter those state statutes.

But it does, I would think, enable and even invite other incursions through the corporate veil, via federal or state statute or state-court interpretation of rights of potential litigants.

The opinion also apparently tacitly acknowledges, without actually deciding, that First Amendment rights of corporations are solely derivative of their owners’ First Amendment rights, and therefore cannot be treated as though delegated to the personal choices of the CEO.  Thus, the ruling in Hobby Lobby is limited to very-closely-held for-profit corporations.  This obviously is a concession to the dismay expressed by many, many people (certainly myself included, here at AB) at Citizens United’s cavalier delegation of individual publicly-held-corporate shareholders’ First Amendment speech rights to the corporation’s CEO for purposes of donating corporate money to political campaigns. Corporate shareholders, including pension funds, are now entitled to sue to block corporate political donations.

Although Alito wrote the majority opinion in both Hobby Lobby and the other case decided today, Harris v. Quinn, neither opinion reflects what he had hoped for.  Harris, like Hobby Lobby, was decided on as narrow grounds as possible–on grounds that avoid constitutional interpretation and that are decided on other grounds limited in scope to, really, the specific facts in the case.

In my post yesterday on Harris, I suggested the possibility (albeit remote, I thought) that Harris could follow somewhat in the footsteps of an opinion in a case called Bond v. United States, decided on June 2.

The majority voted to hear Bond, intending to use it to make a sweeping Conservative-Movement-cause constitutional pronouncement and overrule a longstanding Supreme Court precedent.  But instead, somewhere along the way after the case was argued and John Roberts had assigned himself to write the opinion, one of the five Republicans–I suspect that it was Roberts himself–had a change of heart. Roberts’s opinion has vestiges of the original draft, but decides the case on other (liberal, actually) grounds.  What was intended initially as a major federalism (i.e., states’ rights to violate federal constitutional rights that the political right don’t care about) ruling based upon the alleged structure of the Constitution ended up as a blow to rampant abuse of prosecutorial discretion.  Hooray.

In Harris, the Conservative-movement cause was not neo-federalism but instead the decimation of labor unions, especially of public-employee ones.  The mechanism was to be the First Amendment speech clause, and Alito, who openly coveted the assignment to write the opinion–earlier, in another case, he said he wanted to overrule a 1977 Court opinion, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that was the foundation of the relevant aspect of current labor law–had indicated at the argument in January that he thinks the very existence of public-employee unions violate the First Amendment.

But the best-laid plans went somewhat awry again, and this time apparently it was Scalia (of all people) who threw the first wrench. Scalia reportedly made it known at the argument that the First Amendment speech challenge to the “agency fee” concept in union representation of non-union employees in “union shops”  just doesn’t make sense, in his opinion, even if the union is a public-employee one.

My guess is that Scalia originally agreed only with the bare outcome, but on the limited grounds on which Alito’s opinion ultimately rests: that under the specific Illinois law at issue, the 1977 opinion that approved the “agency fees” didn’t apply to the employees at issue in Harris–home healthcare employees paid by the state’s Medicaid system–because they are employees partially of the state and partially of the customer. My guess also is that somewhere along the way, Alito lost another vote for what was to be his four-justice plurality opinion; one of the four jumped ship and joined Scalia. Alito then was compelled to effectively adopt Scalia’s concurrence as the bottom line–the ruling–in his opinion, but was not compelled to remove the reams of dictum from it that Kagan, in her dissent reportedly mocks at length.*

If my speculation is correct, the substance of the Harris opinion bearing Alito’s name was dictated, literally, by Scalia. In any event, this wasn’t quite the day of victory for Alito & Friends that they had envisioned.  Really, it wasn’t even close to that.

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*Typo in sentence corrected, 7/1 at 1:34 p.m. 

UPDATE: Most of what I wrote in this post based on the early summaries and analyses of the opinions, but before I had read the opinions themselves, holds up surprisingly well, I think.  I don’t think you can read the opinion in Harris without recognizing the real likelihood that most of Alito’s opinion was written as one overturning Abood, maybe as a plurality or maybe as a majority opinion, and then one or two of the justices who had signed on to overturning Abood changed his mind.

I hope to write an update post later today, though. 7/1 at 1:37 p.m.

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Scott Brown says no one should work at a minimum-wage job in the U.S. forever. Instead they should move to Canada. Or Germany. Or France. Or …

I’m encouraged any time government functions. We’re a very philanthropic society. We always want people to have safety nets. Medicaid is meant to be a temporary measure to provide benefits for people who are in difficult circumstances. It’s not meant to be going on forever.

— Scott Brown, when Politico reporter Kyle Cheney asked him whether he supports New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion.

So if he’s elected to the Senate he’ll propose a really large increase in the minimum wage. Expect Walmart and McDonald’s to make sizable donations to Jeanne Shaheen’s reelection campaign committee.  Luckily for us Dems, they’re people and can do that.

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