Certain political cliches cry out to join the list of the biggest lies in the world. Today’s candidate: Partisan politics stops at the water’s edge.
The sentiment was first voiced by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican who became chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1947. Vandenberg was for real, providing enthusiastic support for President Harry Truman’s Cold War policies.
But it’s time to admit that the immediate postwar period was a one-off in our history and that in the age of President Obama even Republicans who agree with the president on a given foreign policy question have to disguise the fact with taunts and insults.
Our freedom to oppose a president whenever we choose is precious and differentiates us from, say, the citizens of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. We forget too easily that dissent, even in wartime, is an American tradition, from the deep divisions over the War of 1812 and Abraham Lincoln’s sharp critique of the Mexican War all the way through Vietnam and Iraq.
But these debates involved matters of principle. What’s strange about the response to Putin’s grab of Crimea is how eager Republicans are to blame Russian aggression on past Obama failures — even as Obama proposes to follow policies on Ukraine that they are themselves prescribing. To paraphrase the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, they blame Obama first.
In extreme instances, Obama’s foes have come down with truly weird cases of Putin Envy. “Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day, right?” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani swoonedMonday on Fox News. “He decided he had to go to their parliament. He went to their parliament. He got permission in 15 minutes.”
Fox’s Neil Cavuto rightly observed: “Well, I mean, that was kind of like perfunctory.” Giuliani was undeterred in his awe of authoritarianism: “But he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader. President Obama, [he’s] got to think about it. He’s got to go over it again. He’s got to talk to more people about it.”
Ah, the joys of dictatorship.
And on the right wing, no day is complete without some invocation of Benghazi. Thus this tweet from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday: “It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression.”
Graham’s friends explain this away as his effort to ward off a tea party challenge in South Carolina’s June primary. But that’s the point: Republicans indulge in Obama Derangement Syndrome precisely because so many who vote in GOP primaries demand it.
Republicans typically reply that Democrats were no softies when it came to George W. Bush. There’s truth to that, particularly in the final years of his tenure. What they ignore is that Democrats entirely shelved partisanship after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There was little opposition to Bush’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan and less questioning in advance of the Iraq war than there should have been.
Moreover, Republicans were utterly unrestrained in casting opposition to Bush’s policies as disloyalty to the nation. When Nancy Pelosi accused Bush in 2004 of being “incompetent,” Tom DeLay, then the House majority leader, denounced the top House Democrat for being “so caught up in the partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk.”
In late September 2004, during the presidential campaign, Bush said that his opponent John Kerry’s statements on Iraq “can embolden an enemy,” while Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) predicted that terrorists “are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry.”
Washington usually responds blandly by saying that “both parties do it.” But note the consistent thread through the GOP attacks: that Democrats — then Kerry, now Obama — are weak and vacillating and give comfort to our foes. Why is it acceptable for supporters of a party to condemn critics as near-traitors when their side is in power and then embrace the right to dissent when the other guys control the White House? Freedom is freedom.
There’s also this. A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: the first, that we will not commit U.S. military forces in this crisis, but secondly, we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?
Paul Krugman, New York Times
I think it’s interesting that DeMint has pushed Heritage into aneven more blatant political role; but the subtext of such stories often seems to be that until DeMint arrived Heritage was a center of honest, serious, if conservative-leaning research.
In their dreams — or maybe in the dreams of self-proclaimed centrists, who wanted to believe that such an organization existed.
The truth is that the pre-DeMint Heritage was Hack Central, producing garbage posing as research. It promoted the death tax scam; it proclaimed that the Ryan plan would push the unemployment rate down to 2.8 percent, then tried to send that “result” down the memory hole. Heritage economists have promoted the fallacy that government spending can’t increase demand. And so on.
So Heritage never was a “think tank” in the sense that actual thought or research took place there. It just played one on TV.
Paul krugman, New York Times
Remember the “death tax”? The estate tax is quite literally a millionaire’s tax — a tax that affects only a tiny minority of the population, and is mostly paid by a handful of very wealthy heirs. Nonetheless, right-wingers have successfully convinced many voters that the tax is a cruel burden on ordinary Americans — that all across the nation small businesses and family farms are being broken up to pay crushing estate tax liabilities.
You might think that such heart-wrenching cases are actually quite rare, but you’d be wrong: they aren’t rare; they’re nonexistent. In particular, nobody has ever come up with a real modern example of a family farm sold to meet estate taxes. The whole “death tax” campaign has rested on eliciting human sympathy for purely imaginary victims.
And now they’re trying a similar campaign against health reform.
I’m not sure whether conservatives realize yet that their Plan A on health reform — wait for Obamacare’s inevitable collapse, and reap the political rewards — isn’t working. But it isn’t. Enrollments have recovered strongly from the law’s disastrous start-up; in California, which had a working website from the beginning, enrollment has already exceeded first-year projections. The mix of people signed up so far is older than planners had hoped, but not enough so to cause big premium hikes, let alone the often-predicted “death spiral.”
And conservatives don’t really have a Plan B — in their world, nobody even dares mention the possibility that health reform might actually prove workable. Still, you can already see some on the right groping toward a new strategy, one that relies on highlighting examples of the terrible harm Obamacare does. There’s only one problem: they haven’t managed to come up with any real examples. Consider several recent ventures on the right:
? In the official G.O.P. response to the State of the Union address, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers alluded to the case of “Bette in Spokane,” who supposedly lost her good health insurance coverage and was forced to pay nearly $700 more a month in premiums. Local reporters located the real Bette, and found that the story was completely misleading: her original policy provided very little protection, and she could get a much better plan for much less than the claimed cost.
? In Louisiana, the AstroTurf (fake grass-roots) group Americans for Prosperity — the group appears to be largely financed and controlled by the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors — has been running ads targeting Senator Mary Landrieu. In these ads, we see what appear to be ordinary Louisiana residents receiving notices telling them that their insurance policies have been canceled because of Obamacare. But the people in the ads are, in fact, paid actors, and the scenes they play aren’t re-enactments of real events — they’re “emblematic,” says a spokesman for the group.
? In Michigan, Americans for Prosperity is running an ad that does feature a real person. But is she telling a real story? In the ad, Julia Boonstra, who is suffering from leukemia, declares that her insurance has been canceled, that the new policy will have unaffordable out-of-pocket costs, and that “If I do not receive my medication, I will die.” But Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post tried to check the facts, and learned that thanks to lower premiums she will almost surely save nearly as much if not more than she will be paying in higher out-of-pocket costs. A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity responded to questions about the numbers with bluster and double-talk — this is about “a real person suffering from blood cancer, not some neat and tidy White House PowerPoint.”
Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?
The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.
No, what the right wants are struggling average Americans, preferably women, facing financial devastation from health reform. So those are the tales they’re telling, even though they haven’t been able to come up with any real examples.
Hey, I have a suggestion: Why not have ads in which actors play Americans who have both lost their insurance thanks to Obamacare and lost the family farm to the death tax? I mean, once you’re just making stuff up, anything goes.
Representative highlights work in health care, education
Owen O’Rourke / Item Photo
Congressman John Tierney answers questions from members of the Lynn Item editorial board on Wednesday.
By Chris Stevens / The Daily Item
LYNN — U.S. Rep. John Tierney is touting his work over 18 years to make higher education more accessible and affordable; improve health care for veterans; deliver funds for infrastructure improvements; and create jobs.
Tierney faces a primary challenge in September from fellow Salem Democrat Seth Moulton, and Republican Richard Tisei, the GOP nominee for the seat in 2012, is running again.
During an editorial board visit to The Daily Item on Wednesday, Tierney said his experience is needed in Washington to push policies designed to re-energize the economic recovery, get more people back to work and return prosperity to the nation.
“We’re working through the most challenging times,” Tierney said. “Jobs are coming back; too slowly, but they’re coming back. We’ve had gains the last 47 months consecutively but there’s more work to do … People won’t be comfortable until we don’t have four people going for every job.”
He said House Speaker John Boehner “knows that if he wants to get anything done he has to come over and work with Democrats,” adding that 60 to 80 members of the Republican caucus “have decided that government is nothing they want to be involved with … that any government action at all is an infringement on their personal liberty and freedom.”
Tierney highlighted his efforts to draft the House version of the Workforce Investment Act, which he said supports community colleges, job training, internship and apprenticeship programs, at a time when the 6th District in particular is seeing a resurgence in advanced manufacturing jobs.
A member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tierney cited many measures he sponsored to help students, including the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act and the America Competes Reauthorization Act.
He said the income-based college loan repayment program is something that doesn’t get enough attention. Under the plan, college graduates repay loans based on a percentage of their income. Congress initially set that percentage at 15, but President Obama lowered it by executive order to 10 percent.
“It allows people to manage their college loans and also have a life, buy a car or even a house,” he said. “If they pay 10 percent of their income for 20 years, the rest of the balance is forgiven.
It’s amazing more people don’t know about it, and I think we need to do a better job getting that out there.”
Tierney said he also advocated for the so-called Maintenance of Effort provision, requiring states to maintain their funding for higher education in order to receive increased federal funding.
Tierney said he has been a tireless advocate for veterans through his years in Congress, and noted that the 6th Congressional District is one of the few, if only, where veterans have to travel no more than 15 miles to receive health care.
“All of the work in the veterans area, we’re extraordinarily proud of that,” he said. “We put community-based outreach clinics in Haverhill, Gloucester and Lynn. We doubled the size of the one here in Lynn … We’re going to increase the size of the one in Gloucester and put a women’s clinic in there, because 17 percent of the veterans now are women.”
He also cited his support of the Wounded Warriors Act, which he said increased spending on health care for veterans to the highest level in 73 years, as well as his work as chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Government Oversight Committee, which held meetings at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., which led to renovations to Walter Reed and 16 other veterans hospitals around the country.
Tierney acknowledges the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website was a big problem, but defends the need for the ACA and the difference it has already made for millions of Americans.
“People need health care and you have millions of people who have health care now who didn’t have it before. You’ve got people who aren’t being shut out for an annual limit or lifetime limit. You’ve got children on their parents’ plans until they’re 26. You’ve got seniors who are given eight to 10 more years of Medicare from that bill, and it gets rid of the donut hole (in prescription coverage), which is between a $650 and $700 savings per year for seniors, which is substantial,” Tierney said.
He said the Affordable Care Act has also pumped millions of dollars into health clinics, including Lynn Community Health Center.
Tierney said the Recovery Act money resulted in more firefighters and police officers for area cities and towns, and he said he was a driving force to include in the act funding for education, to prevent teacher layoffs.
He said he has worked to deliver funding for infrastructure improvements throughout the district, including new MBTA garages under construction in Salem and Beverly, Rockport and Newburyport.
And he said he secured an additional $10 million for dredging off Newburyport and Salisbury “to save those areas from continually getting wiped out.”
“It’s about being vigilant and working with agencies,” he added, on the ability to find and secure that funding. “That dredging money came from the Sandy bill.”
He said he is not afraid to break ranks with his party when necessary and cited a number of examples.
“I was one of 57 Democrats who voted against getting rid of the Glass-Steagall Act; I break ranks regularly on the fishing industry situation (on catch limits); and I broke ranks on the NSA.”
On the latter issue, he said, “I think the NSA program was way out of control and we have to strike a balance to more reasonably protect people’s rights. … There’s no real reason for government to have five years of collective data with no basis. … It hasn’t resulted in any useful intelligence.”
Regarding Edward Snowden, who made public the NSA surveillance program on Americans, Tierney said Snowden should return to America, face trial and “then there has to be some consideration on what proper disposition should be.”
Tierney took a shot at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization he said that fights for loopholes for multinational corporations without regard for small businesses, contending the U.S. Chamber costs small businesses roughly $2,000 per year in fees.
He said he strongly favors an increase in the minimum wage.
“Arguably it should be a little over $11, but $10.10 is a good bill,” he said. “I’d be ashamed if I were an employer paying someone $7.25 an hour.”
Tierney said he intends to continue to serve as the 6th District’s representative in Congress, “for as long as I’m doing a good job, enjoy the work and feel like we’re accomplishing good things for the district,” he said. “And we’ve done good work for the district. We have a lot of accomplishments and I think we clearly are in synch with the needs of the district when it comes to policy.”
He said he scoffs when he hears political opponents attack his record.
“I love the mantra that I haven’t done anything in 18 years, because if I sat down here and went over all that I’ve done, I’d be here the rest of the afternoon. Just go to my website.”
From the Congressional Budget Office
february 18, 2014
Increasing the minimum wage would have two principal effects on low-wage workers. Most of them would receive higher pay that would increase their family’s income, and some of those families would see their income rise above the federal poverty threshold. But some jobs for low-wage workers would probably be eliminated, the income of most workers who became jobless would fall substantially, and the share of low-wage workers who were employed would probably fall slightly.
What Options for Increasing the Minimum Wage Did CBO Examine?
For this report, CBO examined the effects on employment and family income of two options for increasing the federal minimum wage (see the figure below):
- A “$10.10 option” would increase the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour in three steps—in 2014, 2015, and 2016. After reaching $10.10 in 2016, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually for inflation as measured by the consumer price index.
- A “$9.00 option” would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour in two steps—in 2015 and 2016. After reaching $9.00 in 2016, the minimum wage would not be subsequently adjusted for inflation.
What Effects Would Those Options Have?
The $10.10 option would have substantially larger effects on employment and income than the $9.00 option would—because more workers would see their wages rise; the change in their wages would be greater; and, CBO expects, employment would be more responsive to a minimum-wage increase that was larger and was subsequently adjusted for inflation. The net effect of either option on the federal budget would probably be small.
Effects of the $10.10 Option on Employment and Income
Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below). As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.
Many more low-wage workers would see an increase in their earnings. Of those workers who will earn up to $10.10 under current law, most—about 16.5 million, according to CBO’s estimates—would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if the $10.10 option was implemented. Some of the people earning slightly more than $10.10 would also have higher earnings under that option, for reasons discussed below. Further, a few higher-wage workers would owe their jobs and increased earnings to the heightened demand for goods and services that would result from the minimum-wage increase.
The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate. However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families, because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
Moreover, the increased earnings for some workers would be accompanied by reductions in real (inflation-adjusted) income for the people who became jobless because of the minimum-wage increase, for business owners, and for consumers facing higher prices. CBO examined family income overall and for various income groups, reaching the following conclusions (see the figure below):
- Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion.
- Real income would increase, on net, by $5 billion for families whose income will be below the poverty threshold under current law, boosting their average family income by about 3 percent and moving about 900,000 people, on net, above the poverty threshold (out of the roughly 45 million people who are projected to be below that threshold under current law).
- Families whose income would have been between one and three times the poverty threshold would receive, on net, $12 billion in additional real income. About $2 billion, on net, would go to families whose income would have been between three and six times the poverty threshold.
- Real income would decrease, on net, by $17 billion for families whose income would otherwise have been six times the poverty threshold or more, lowering their average family income by 0.4 percent.
Effects of the $9.00 Option on Employment and Income
The $9.00 option would reduce employment by about 100,000 workers, or by less than 0.1 percent, CBO projects. There is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight increase in employment and a reduction in employment of 200,000 workers, in CBO’s assessment. Roughly 7.6 million workers who will earn up to $9.00 per hour under current law would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if this option was implemented, CBO estimates, and some people earning more than $9.00 would have higher earnings as well.
The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $9 billion; 22 percent of that sum would accrue to families with income below the poverty threshold, whereas 33 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
For family income overall and for various income groups, CBO estimates the following:
- Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $1 billion.
- Real income would increase, on net, by about $1 billion for families whose income will be below the poverty threshold under current law, boosting their average family income by about 1 percent and moving about 300,000 people, on net, above the poverty threshold.
- Families whose income would have been between one and three times the poverty threshold would receive, on net, $3 billion in additional real income. About $1 billion, on net, would go to families whose income would have been between three and six times the poverty threshold.
- Real income would decrease, on net, by $4 billion for families whose income would otherwise have been six times the poverty threshold or more, lowering their average family income by about 0.1 percent.
Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on the Federal Budget
In addition to affecting employment and family income, increasing the federal minimum wage would affect the federal budget directly by increasing the wages that the federal government paid to a small number of hourly employees and indirectly by boosting the prices of some goods and services purchased by the government. Most of those costs would need to be covered by discretionary appropriations, which are capped through 2021 under current law.
Federal spending and taxes would also be indirectly affected by the increases in real income for some people and the reduction in real income for others. As a group, workers with increased earnings would pay more in taxes and receive less in federal benefits of certain types than they would have otherwise. However, people who became jobless because of the minimum-wage increase, business owners, and consumers facing higher prices would see a reduction in real income and would collectively pay less in taxes and receive more in federal benefits than they would have otherwise. CBO concludes that the net effect on the federal budget of raising the minimum wage would probably be a small decrease in budget deficits for several years but a small increase in budget deficits thereafter. It is unclear whether the effect for the coming decade as a whole would be a small increase or a small decrease in budget deficits.
Bill O’Reilly’s Gift for the Ages
FEB. 13, 2014
Timothy Egan, New York Times
It’s been nearly two weeks now since Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama on Super Bowl Sunday, and in the No Spin Zone of the host’s pretend world he’s still spinning the chat as the greatest conversation since Winston Churchill dined alone.
His sit-down with the president, he said, “is going to go down in journalistic history as what should be done.” And in case historians are late to the same conclusion, O’Reilly is auctioning off the notes of his questions — “they are obviously one of a kind,” he says.
Let us now praise the Bombastic One’s gift to posterity. His interview, his notes, all the ephemera should be preserved and studied. The sickness that infects news and politics, and its commensurate cynicism, can be directly traced to the creation of Fox News — “a political operation that employs journalists,” in the words of Gabriel Sherman, author of the new book on Roger Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” There is no bigger media story in the last 50 years than the creation of a news network run by political hacks, says Sherman. I’m inclined to agree.
But just as important, civility itself took a dive with the rise of Fox, and has never recovered. The shouters, the boasters, the haters who show up at town hall meetings or pollute the Web with dark fantasies get their behavioral cues from Fox. O’Reilly is famous for telling guests to “shut up,” for cutting off people he disagrees with, for smugly praising his own performances and bringing on sycophants to do the same. By comparison, Ron Burgundy is a model of humility.
A congress where members can shout “You lie” at a president, or tweet “socialist dictator” and “Kommandant-in-chef” (sic), is another result of the vulgar forces unleashed by Fox.
Imagine Walter Cronkite, Diane Sawyer, Terry Gross or Tim Russert devoting entire shows to praising their own work. A good interview makes news, or reveals something fresh about the subject.
So, the first point for historians sniffing the odor of O’Reilly’s time capsule in 2114 is that the interview made no news. No ground was broken. It was a journalistic dud. O’Reilly himself spoke for about 40 percent of the time, and devoted 90 percent of the interview to “the full Fox scandal grab bag,” as Jon Stewart called it.
O’Reilly, in four days of talking about himself after the interview, said his role is to hold politicians accountable. If only. Remember how accountable he held George W. Bush when the president took the country to war on a lie, bankrupting the nation in the process? You don’t? Here’s a sample, from a 2004 interview with Bush, then in a heated election contest with John Kerry. That September, a series of incendiary ads, questioning the military service of Kerry in Vietnam, was a hot topic.
O’Reilly: “You didn’t know anything about the Swift Boat ads before they went on the air, did you?”
Bush: “No, I didn’t.”
O’Reilly: “Did Karl Rove know anything about it?”
Bush: “I don’t think so.”
In fact, records show that the bulk of the funding for those smears came from two men with close ties to Bush — one a longtime associate of Karl Rove’s, something that was easily found by a document search.
O’Reilly then dismissed as “propaganda” questions about whether the combination of massive tax cuts and two costly wars might leave the country broke. But he did drill Bush on why there are so many liberal college professors and “pinheads” at Harvard and Yale.
The biggest issue at the time was how the United States could be fooled into going to war over nonexistence weapons of mass destruction.
O’Reilly: “What happened to Saddam’s chemical arsenal? Do you know?”
Bush: “No, I don’t.”
O’Reilly: “He hasn’t given us much, has he?”
Other news organizations, The New York Times among them, were less watchdog than lapdog at times as well. But from beginning of this debacle to the mission-accomplished end, Fox worked closely with the White House. Ailes offered strategic advice in the run-up to the war, and Fox was the lead cheerleader. The same Fox host who says his job is to hold politicians accountable actually warned his fellow citizens not to raise questions or protest.
“Americans, and indeed our allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me,” said O’Reilly. “Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do.”
Since Benghazi dominated O’Reilly’s interview with Obama, it’s fair to check how many times O’Reilly asked Bush about at least six attacks on United States embassies and consulates during his first term. Zero. It never came up in three long interviews, according to the transcripts Fox posted.
Little wonder that Bush felt right at home with O’Reilly. “I really enjoy how you interview people and I appreciate you giving me a chance to come on and have, what we say in Texas, ‘just a visit.’”
Just a visit for one president, a trip to the scandal trough for another. Should O’Reilly ever sit for an interview on his own past, on terms he applies to Fox’s enemies, it would include questions about the lawsuit from a former subordinate who complained of “constant and relentless sexual harassment.” No spin there. No questions either. After a reported $10 million settlement was paid to keep the details inside Fox, O’Reilly said, “This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again.”
We could ask O’Reilly about the softball interview he did with former Governor Mike Huckabee concerning the felon he let out of prison early in Arkansas who went on to murder four police officers. This kind of politician should be a punching bag for O’Reilly, Willie Horton-ized to a pulp. Unless, of course, he worked for Fox. O’Reilly praised his colleague as “a stand-up guy.”
From the War on Christmas to the Frankenstein monster of the Tea Party, Fox’s creations have been uniformly bad for American life. Regular viewers of Fox are less-well-informed than people who are exposed to no media. So yes, future generations should study O’Reilly’s interview. Learn from it, as with all mistakes of history, lest it be repeated.
Willful stupidity in the Obamacare debate
By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: February 5, Washington Post
One of the best arguments for health-insurance reform is that our traditional employer-based system often locked people into jobs they wanted to leave but couldn’t because they feared they wouldn’t be able to get affordable coverage elsewhere.
This worry was pronounced for people with preexisting conditions, but it was not limited to them. Consider families with young children in which one parent would like to get out of the formal labor market for a while to take care of the kids. In the old system, the choices of such couples were constrained if only one of the two received employer-provided family coverage.
Or ponder the fate of a 64-year-old with a condition that leaves her in great pain. She has the savings to retire but can’t exercise this option until she is eligible for Medicare. Is it a good thing to force her to stay in her job? Is it bad to open her job to someone else?
By broadening access to health insurance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ends the tyranny of “job lock,” which is what the much-misrepresented Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of the law released Tuesday shows. The new law increases both personal autonomy and market rationality by ending the distortions in behavior the old arrangements were creating.
But that’s not how the study has been interpreted, particularly by enemies of the law. Typical was a tweet from the National Republican Congressional Committee, declaring that “#ObamaCare is hurting the economy, will cost 2.5 millions [sic] jobs.”
Glenn Kessler, The Post’s intrepid fact checker, replied firmly: “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs.” What the report said, as the Wall Street Journal accurately summarized it, is that the law “will reduce the total number of hours Americans work by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time jobs.”
Oh my God, say opponents of the ACA, here is the government encouraging sloth! That’s true only if you wish to take away the choices the law gives that 64-year-old or to those parents looking for more time to care for their children. Many on the right love family values until they are taken seriously enough to involve giving parents/workers more control over their lives.
And it’s sometimes an economic benefit when some share of the labor force reduces hours or stops working altogether. At a time of elevated unemployment, others will take their place. The CBO was careful to underscore — the CBO is always careful — that “if some people seek to work less, other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions and the overall effect on employment will be muted.”
The CBO did point to an inevitable problem in how the ACA’s subsidies for buying health insurance operate. As your income rises, your subsidy goes down and eventually disappears. This is, as the CBO notes, a kind of “tax.” The report says that if the “subsidies are phased out with rising income in order to limit their total costs, the phaseout effectively raises people’s marginal tax rates (the tax rates applying to their last dollar of income), thus discouraging work.”
But the answer to this is either to make the law’s subsidies more generous — which the ACA’s detractors would oppose because, as the CBO suggests, doing so would cost more than the current law — or to guarantee everyone health insurance, single-payer style, so there would be no “phaseout” and no “marginal tax rates.” I could go with this, but I doubt many of the ACA’s critics would.
The rest of the CBO report contained much good news for Obamacare: Insurance premiums under the law are 15 percent lower than originally forecast, “the slowdown in Medicare cost growth” is “broad and persistent” and enrollments will catch up over time to where they would have been absent Obamacare’s troubled rollout.
The reaction to the CBO study is an example of how willfully stupid — there’s no other word — the debate over Obamacare has become. Opponents don’t look to a painstaking analysis for enlightenment. They twist its findings and turn them into dishonest slogans. Too often, the media go along by highlighting the study’s political impact rather than focusing on what it actually says. My bet is that citizens are smarter than this. They will ignore the noise and judge Obamacare by how it works.
Eduardo Porter, New York Times
We look back upon the Great Depression as a discrete event with a beginning and an end; a long and profound economic shock but one that turned out to be nonetheless temporary. In the 1930s, however, many feared that what John Maynard Keynes clinically called “equilibrium at less than full employment” might, in fact, be the new normal — forever.
There is a lesson here for us, somewhere. In hindsight, the Depression suggests our era will, too, eventually emerge from its economic morass. Yet we should hardly let optimism carry us away.
Despite timid buds of growth, profusely irrigated with money by the Federal Reserve, we could be in for a much more enduring stagnation than our leaders in Washington are willing to concede.
As he delivered his fifth State of the Union address, President Obama, not unlike President Franklin D. Roosevelt early in his second term, seemed to have given up far too early in the game on trying to stimulate the recovery.
In “Freedom From Fear,” his history of the United States through the Great Depression and World War II, David Kennedy notes that fears that what Keynes called “technological unemployment” might become a permanent feature of the labor market, especially among the less skilled and the elderly, date back to the administration of President Herbert Hoover.
He quotes Lorena Hickok, a former reporter for The Associated Press who joined the Roosevelt administration in 1933 to work on the New Deal: “The majority of those over 45 probably will NEVER get their jobs back,” she said.
Her boss, Harry Hopkins, agreed: Given “improvements in management and technology,” private businesses might never be able to absorb all able-bodied workers.
Indeed, the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, which created the Works Progress Administration that funneled over $13 billion into public jobs (the equivalent of about $218 billion today) and employed 8.5 million people over eight years, was hardly meant to be just “emergency relief” for the job market, Mr. Kennedy wrote. Rather, it aimed to relieve a potentially permanent shortcoming.
The job market is not in as bad a shape as it was at the depths of the downturn in the 1930s. The standard measure of unemployment stands at 6.7 percent rather than over 20 percent. Still, by any reading of the statistics, the economic emergency set off by the implosion of the housing bubble is far from over.
Broader measures of joblessness paint a bleak picture. As Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s former top economic adviser, noted in a speech at the International Monetary Fund in November, “the share of men or women or adults in the United States who are working today is essentially the same as it was four years ago.”
Today, the American economy is still roughly 8 percent smaller than it would be if it had followed the path the Congressional Budget Office forecast in August 2007. That’s a gap of $1.5 trillion, or almost $5,000 for every person in the country.
The failure to rebound has revived the old, recurring fear: Is stagnation inevitable? Has the economy — has the job market — become stuck for good?
For all the political back-and-forth over these questions, calls for more radical moves to revive the economy have largely vanished from the policy debate.
The Obama administration’s boldest propositions are sensible, from raising the minimum wage to $10.10 to extending emergency unemployment insurance. But they are not quite on the scale of a trillion dollars’ worth of lost gross domestic product.
This is not just the president’s doing. The bipartisan cooperation that would be needed to start a jobs program of the scale of what was tried during the New Deal — not to mention the World War II production explosion that finally ended the Depression — is out of the question today.
Perhaps more important, however, is that even among Democrats there remains little appetite for the kind of aggressive government action that was popular in F.D.R.’s day.
The fear, however, seems overdone.
Many economists go pale at the thought of a mass program of public jobs to combat unemployment. They envision a bungling bureaucracy choosing investments, hiring workers and firing them. Even if the right investments could be identified, they fear the new jobs would demand skills the unemployed simply do not have.
The aversion is anchored in history. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter ran into trouble trying to increase jobs with the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.
Even as voters expressed skepticism of “fake” jobs, public employee unions demanded that the cheaper CETA workers not compete for tasks performed by government employees. Politically vulnerable to exposés of petty corruption, the program was killed as soon as Ronald Reagan came to office.
Though the program employed 750,000 workers at its peak in 1978, it was perceived largely as a failure.
The experience of the 1970s hardly settles the debate, however. Recent precedent with other forms of public job promotion is not all bad. Thirty-nine states used $1.3 billion from the fiscal stimulus package passed in 2009 to create more than 260,000 jobs by subsidizing private employers.
A subsequent evaluation of the program found that two-thirds of these jobs would not have existed without the subsidy. Many of those jobs went to people who were difficult to employ, including workers who had been jobless for a long time, people on welfare and workers with criminal records. Yet after the program ended in September 2010, 37 percent of the formerly subsidized workers kept their jobs.
Our experience, moreover, has taught us specific rules of thumb for governments searching to increase employment.
“It works best if you hire people that would not otherwise be hired, to do something productive that is not already being done by somebody else,” said Lawrence Katz of Harvard, formerly chief labor economist in the Clinton administration. “Long overdue infrastructure investments would be a good place to start, coupled with funding for positions cleaning parks and the like, which could help disadvantaged workers like the long-term unemployed.”
Not every unemployed worker may be qualified to build infrastructure. But many might. Today, there are 1.5 million fewer jobs in construction than there were before the financial crisis six years ago. Plenty of unemployed workers out there know how to build things.
There is a fair chance that the private sector, left to its own devices, will never hire them.
Mr. Summers proposed a list of factors that could be holding the economy back. A slowdown in the expansion of the labor force and weaker productivity growth might be restraining investment, he suggested. The concentration of income among the very richest could be curbing consumer spending.
Importantly, he has noted that the forces restraining growth preceded the crisis. “Even a great bubble wasn’t enough to produce any excess in aggregate demand,” Mr. Summers said in his November speech. Whatever is wrong with the United States economy has been wrong for a while.
There are potentially great benefits to government investments in public works at a time like this. The legacy of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s included half a million miles of highways, 100,000 bridges and as many public buildings. It includes the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, S.C., and the Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mount Hood in Oregon.
And it would not even be very expensive. With the borrowing costs of the federal government below the rate of inflation, investments would actually help reduce the nation’s debt burden. Lenders are, in effect, paying the government to borrow money.
Perhaps the best argument for government investment to increase jobs and raise demand is that the alternatives seem much worse.
Our current path — set by the Federal Reserve’s huge stimulus to encourage lending — seems dangerously similar to the wanton credit expansion that led to the crisis of a few years ago. Trusting it any further appears foolhardy.
It would be better to rely on fiscal policy, but the path favored by many Republicans in the House seems even worse. To slash government spending and let the economy run its bedraggled course would probably transform our economic emergency from a painful though temporary setback into a permanent feature called stagnation.
And yet this is essentially the policy the nation is following.
( I though President Obama handled a roughneck better than the Broncos did. Editor: Phil Sweeney)
By PETER BAKERFEB. 2, 2014, New York Times
WASHINGTON — Some of the hardest hits of Super Bowl Sunday came a couple of hours before kickoff.
In keeping with his tradition of appearing on the network broadcasting football’s championship game, President Obama found himself confronting a full-scale blitz by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
In the interview, conducted live before the game, Mr. Obama was grilled about the botched rollout of the health care law, his discredited assurances that anyone who liked their insurance could keep it, the attack on the American post in Benghazi, Libya, and the Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of conservative groups.
His answers shed little if any new light on some of the most controversial moments of Mr. Obama’s presidency, but it was a feisty 10-minute encounter that exposed the different world views of Mr. Obama and some of his sharpest critics.
For Mr. Obama it may have been an unpleasant duty that was more or less unavoidable but for some conservative fans of Fox, it was an opportunity to watch the president challenged in a way they believe he has not been by the rest of the news media.
Mr. O’Reilly, sitting forward in his chair at the White House, pressed Mr. Obama repeatedly. The president, smiling but seemingly trying to keep his patience, pushed back in kind. At times the two men talked right over each other.
When Mr. O’Reilly asked if the broken promise on keeping health plans was “the biggest mistake of your presidency,” Mr. Obama responded, “Oh, Bill, you’ve got a long list of my mistakes of my presidency.”
When Mr. O’Reilly interrupted an answer to press Mr. Obama on why Susan E. Rice, now the president’s national security adviser, first characterized the Benghazi attack as a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video, Mr. Obama said, “And I’m trying to explain it to you if you want to listen.”
Mr. O’Reilly went on to say that Mr. Obama’s detractors believe the administration tried to mislead the public about what really happened in Benghazi because it was in the middle of his re-election campaign.
“They believe it because folks like you are telling them,” Mr. Obama responded.
“No, I’m not telling them that,” Mr. O’Reilly protested.
When Mr. O’Reilly asked if the I.R.S. scandal involving tax scrutiny of political groups exposed corruption in the agency, Mr. Obama blamed Fox for spreading what he called incorrect information. “That’s not what happened,” Mr. Obama said. “Folks have, again, had multiple hearings on this. I mean, these kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them.”
Mr. O’Reilly responded that there were “unanswered questions” and asked again if there was corruption in the I.R.S.
“There were some boneheaded decisions,” the president said.
“But no mass corruption?” Mr. O’Reilly asked.
“Not even mass corruption — not even a smidgen of corruption,” Mr. Obama said.
Asked why Douglas Shulman, while I.R.S. commissioner, had visited the White House many times, Mr. Obama said the agency was involved in the implementation of the health care program and new Wall Street regulations. “I do not recall meeting with him in any of these meetings that are pretty routine meetings that we had,” Mr. Obama said.
At other moments, Mr. Obama skirted Mr. O’Reilly’s questions, including one about why he had not fired Kathleen E. Sebelius, the health secretary, for the health care debacle.
“I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable,” Mr. Obama said, offering no examples. “But when we’re in midstream, Bill, we want to make sure that our main focus is how do we make this thing work so that people are able sign up and that’s what we’ve done.”
Mr. O’Reilly, who has interviewed Mr. Obama in the past, including before the 2011 Super Bowl, ended the session on a softer note. “I know you think maybe we haven’t been fair,” he said, “but I think your heart is in the right place.”
Then he asked perhaps the most pressing question of the day: Who would win the Super Bowl?
Mr. Obama ducked.
“These guys are too evenly matched,” he said. “I think it’s going to be 24-21, but I don’t know who’s going to be 24 and I don’t know who’s going to be 21.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 3, 2014, on page A12 of the New York edition with