Wednesday, July 31, 2013






To Be Clear: Unpatriotic

It's almost an unwritten agreement.  Republicans accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic; Republicans accuse Democrats of lacking compassion. Republicans accuse Democrats of spending other peoples' money; Democrats accuse Republicans of intolerance toward minorities.  There are, of course, exceptions such as Rush Limbaugh, who accuses Democrats of everything and anything.

There is a method to the madness.  It's hard, for an independent, somewhat unfocused voter to believe Republicans want to boost the deficit (though, evidence demonstrates, they do) or that Democrats don't like blacks, Hispanics, Asians,or American Indians/native Americans/indigenous peoples.  Nor are they likely to believe Democrats lack compassion or Republicans lack patriotism. But the last, at least with three, they do.

Congressional Republicans stood (or sat) as one against  the Affordable Care Act.  But then, they oppose anything recommended by the President and the legislation is obviously imperfect.  Politics, it was commonly stated decades ago, stops at the water's edge, and health care is a domestic matter.   Similarly, the 40-plus votes taken by House Republicans to repeal the ACA can be understood as an extension of their opposition to health care reform or as posturing to assure the popular base that they're on their side.  In either case, the GOP is the loyal opposition and the congressional party may legitimately (though, in this case, not justifiably) block legislation proposed by the majority party.

Americans have not been fully informed about Obamacare.  In May, reported the NYT's Jackie Calmes, New York Representative Steve Israel lamented "there's clearly some concern" among Democrats that their constituents don't have all the facts on how health care reform will work.   In April, the Kaiser Foundation had found that 41% of the public was unsure whether the ACA remained the law of the land or believed either the Supreme Court or Congress had overturned it.

So as Israel, also head of the House Democrats' campaign committee, recommended, the Administration started the process of getting the word out about the rights of Americans under the ACA.   The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn remarked approximately six weeks ago

Last week, as word spread that the Obama Administration had approached professional sports leagues about forging a similar partnership, GOP leaders warned the leagues to stay away. “It is difficult for us to remember another occasion when [a] major sports league took public sides in such a highly polarized public debate,” Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the highest ranking Republicans in the Senate, wrote in a letter on Friday. Among other things, they noted, Democrats had used “legislative gimmicks” to enact the law—an apparent reference to the Democrats’ use of budget reconciliation process in order to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

The letter came one day after Congressman Steve Scalise, head of the Republican Study Committee, sent a similar letter of his own. That missive, sent to the NBA and NFL, predicted that Obamacare would have a “devastating impact on your fans and business partners across the country” and warned the leagues not to do the administration’s “dirty work for them.”

Apparently, the GOP assault had the desired effect.  Soon afterward, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail "We have responded to the letters we received from members of Congress to inform them we currently have no plans to engage in this area and have had no substantive contact with the administration about [the health-care law’s] implementation."

"Substantive contact" sounds a little like "it depends on what the meaning of  'is' is.   In June, according to this report, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen had Sebelius told reporters "We're having active discussions right now with a variety of sports affiliates" about paid advertising and partnerships to increase enrollment in the exchanges.

In May, NFL analyst Mike Florio had written

From Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who derailed the effort to upgrade Sun Life Stadium, to Arizona Senator John McCain, who wants to outlaw blackouts at publicly-funded stadium, and now to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who wants to remove the NFL’s tax-exempt status, a trio of Republican politicians have been putting the screws to pro football.

The NFL was apparently intimidated.  But while Weatherford, McCain, and Coburn are acting legitimately in their attempt as legislators to influence policy. McConnell, Cornyn, and Scalise are not.   The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act is not a proposal made by the President nor primarily a campaign issue.  It is the law of the land, having been passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by a duly elected (or re-elected) President Obama. Members of Congress are all too anxious to tout the benefits to their constituents as a whole of their legislative initiatives, or to named individuals of special efforts made in their behalf.   Keeping their constituents informed of the progress of Obamacare and purging their ignorance of the law's provisions is a prime responsibility of federal legislators.

Blocking the attempt by the Obama Administration to keep American citizens informed is, well, unpatriotic.   Before the NFL's decision, Cohn noted

I know: Republican opposition to the law hardly qualifies as news and neither does the effort to undermine it. But the language of the letters reveals a great deal about GOP values. When did publicizing insurance options become “dirty work”? How is helping people to access public services “politically charged”? And if it sounds na├»ve to expect more cooperation from an opposition party, contrast this Republican behavior with the way Democrats responded to the Medicare drug benefiit as the Bush Administration prepared for its launch eight years ago.

Like today's Repubicans, Democrats had strong and genuine objections about the substance of what became known as Part D. Democrats had wanted the government to run the drug program directly, just like it administers doctor and hospital insurance. Instead, Bush and his allies had crafted a program that relied exclusively on private insurers to deliver the benefits, while preventing the government from using its purchasing power to reduce prices. Part D was also pure deficit spending: Neither the Bush Administration nor its congressional allies made even a pretense of trying to pay for it with revenue or offsetting cuts. Note the contrast with the Affordable Care Act—which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is actually reducing the deficit. 

As for legislative tactics, Republicans today are angry that Democrats used the budget reconciliation process. But there's nothing illegitimate about using the reconciliation process for a bill that reduces the deficit, particularly if it's necessary to stop a determined minority from blocking a majority vote. You can't offer similar justifications for what the architects of Part D did in 2003, as they were trying to craft and pass their bill. At one point, a senior Bush Administration official actuallythreatened to fire a government actuary, because the actuary had delivered an unfavorable cost estimate. An inspector general later concluded the Bush official could have been subject to disciplinary action, if only that official hadn't already left office to become a lobbyist.

The final vote on Part D was equally notorious for its shenanigans. House Republican leaders, struggling to build a majority, had to extend voting by an unprecedented three hours. It wasn't pretty and Tom Delay, who was House Majority Leader at the time, eventually received a “public admonishment” from the House Ethics Committee for his actions during those waning hours. (The Committee found that DeLay had offered political favors so that then-Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan would change his vote. Many close observers, including my former colleague Timothy Noah, think the evidence suggests DeLay offered an actual bribe, in the form of $100,000 in campaign contributions for Smith's son, who was then running for Congress. DeLay denied this.)

In short, Democrats had plenty of good reasons to be angry about Part D. Democrats never tried to undermine the law’s implementation—a point Norm Ornstein, the political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, made via e-mail:

Democrats were furious with how the Medicare prescription drug bill passed. But once it was law, they weren't going to punish needy seniors to sabotage Bush's accomplishment. It is remarkable to use threats of congressional power to intimidate sports organizations so that people who need insurance or need help knowing what is available to them will suffer by being kept in the dark. Stick it to millions so you can stick it to the president? That is statesmanship? No, it is cruel and outrageous.

When Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bragged early in the Obama administration the "single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," he laid bare his determination to sabotage the President of the United States.  Now, it is clear he- and at least two other Republicans- are anxious to sabotage the American people.



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