Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sen. David Vitter's attack on the 14th amendment has killed irony dead

Every so often, conservative hatred of birthright citizenship erupts like a festering herpes sore on the face of American political discourse. Five years ago, it was Arizona nutjob Russell Pearce, the father of the notorious SB1070 immigration bill, who proposed legislation that would deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. That bill, of course, went nowhere--in no small part because it's a clear violation of the 14th amendment, as interpreted by 117 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

No matter, though--during this week's debate on amendments to a human trafficking bill, Sen. David Vitter has made it his priority to push for an amendment that would refuse citizenship to children in the United States because of so-called birth tourism--all purely in the guise of reducing human trafficking, of course:
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), citing stories about abuse in “birth tourism” industries, tried to introduce an amendment on Tuesday that would have violated the 14th Amendment by prohibiting children of parents who aren’t already citizens or lawful permanent residents to automatically become U.S. citizens.
Vitter used the same arguments about Native American tribes and the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" phrase that Pearce latched onto so incorrectly. But Sen. Vitter specifically hammered on the practice of birth tourism by Chinese families as a pretext for attacking the 14th amendment. This is not without a small dose of irony: it was the Supreme Court case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark that established the practice of birthright citizenship in the first place. That case? whether or not a child born to unnaturalized Chinese parents in the United States would be allowed to claim United States citizenship.

Here's the main thing, though: If Republicans want to go after birthright citizenship, there's a way to do it: propose a constitutional amendment and let's debate it. The 14th amendment is part of our Constitution; the Wong Kim Ark case established jus soli citizenship as the unquestioned law of the land 117 years ago. Overturning that requires a constitutional amendment, not some stupid state legislation in Arizona or an amendment to a Senate bill on human trafficking. That sort of crap if just about scoring cheap political points to please the nativist base at home. If you want to debate whether or not birthright citizenship is the right method for the United States, do it the honest way.

Russ Feingold, once and future Senator (D-WI)

Blogging from mobile so this could be a bit awkward--but PPP has a poll showing former Senator Russ Feingold with a decisive lead over the man who beat him in the 2010 Republican wave year, Ron Johnson:

It's normally a bad sign for an incumbent when you're polling below 50 percent. It's an even worse sign when your opponent is polling at 50 percent. All in all though, it just goes to show that we have two different electorates in this country. The electorate that will send Feingold back to the Senate and deliver its Electoral College votes to Hillary Clinton isn't the same one that voted in Scott Walker. And if all such statewide elections had presidential turnout, Scott Walker would be a trivia footnote instead of the current Republican front runner.

Lindsey wins!

Following up on my post from earlier in the month about Lindsey Horvath: SHE WON! I'm sad that John Heilman didn't win as well, but he has a chance to retake a seat on the council in a special election on June 2nd.

It's a special pleasure to see good friends win elections.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Local LA politics edition: Lindsey Horvath for West Hollywood City Council

I'm taking a break from national stuff and King v. Burwell this week. I'm back in the Los Angeles area for tomorrow's municipal elections--and especially to help my dear friend Lindsey Horvath, who's running for West Hollywood City Council.

I can't say enough about Lindsey. She has been my best friend and ally in local politics for basically the past five years. She's smart, loyal, and fiercely dedicated to progressive causes. I'm not sure how she has time to do all the political and nonprofit activism she's done, and you shouldn't be surprised if there's a campaign for Congresswoman or Senator Horvath somewhere down the line. But all politics is local, and so much good stuff can start with campaigns just like this one.

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who feels this way about Linz. She has also been endorsed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Democratic Party, three current councilmembers, three statewide elected officials, and a ridiculous number of local community leaders. She's the real thing. So if you are a voter in the City of West Hollywood, or if you know a voter in the City of West Hollywood, tell them to vote tomorrow. Not just for West Hollywood, but because great political careers often start with small electorates.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Do King v. Burwell supporters want to destroy the healthcare system or not? Hard to tell.

Over at Roll Call's Wonk Wire, Taegan Goddard lays out the fundamental problem that Republicans face in trying to convince Chief Justice Roberts to join with the presumed four SCOTUS justices who want to destroy the Affordable Care Act through King v. Burwell:
“One conservative source close to the case recently explained that the Republican discussions about contingency plans were largely aimed at the chief justice. The source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, described it as an attempt to ‘make the world safe for Roberts to overturn’ the subsidies and to ‘not let our guys look like they’re going crazy and letting the world spin into chaos.'”
“That’s easier said than done. Scratch beneath the surface and the GOP effort to devise an alternative is a mess.”
So, Republicans are trying to convince Roberts that siding with them won't destroy the health care system, even as the King lawyers are trying to convince Roberts that the federal government intended to compel states by threatening to destroy their health care system. This is the Republican difficulty: they want to take away people's health care, while not being seen as taking away people's health care. And it won't work.

The hypocrisy of the King v. Burwell plaintiffs

Brian Beutler's incisive writing at TNR gave me the idea to document the hypocrisy of the intellectual leaders of the King v. Burwell case, and I wrote that up for Daily Kos this Sunday. In case you missed it because there was a little thing called the Oscars happening that night, the tl;dr version is:

Before the IRS wrote the rule confirming that subsidies would be available on the federally-facilitated exchange, the conservative lawyers now behind King were building a case that forcing states to develop an exchange in order for their residents to receive subsidies violated the Dole text for constitutional federal compulsion. But now, these same lawyers are arguing that the authors of the Affordable Care Act intended this exact sort of compulsion. Of course, a century of SCOTUS jurisprudence says that courts can't rule in favor of a statutory interpretation that raises constitutional questions--which means that now, the lawyers are taking the exact opposite approach and saying that the compulsion that they initially thought was illegal actually happens all the time.

In short, the conservative ideologues behind King have no actual integrity, and are perfectly willing to flip their argument a full 180 if they feel it's a faster path to destroying the Affordable Care Act.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

HCA's King v. Burwell brief notes dramatic success of ACA for women

Last week, I wrote about the amicus brief in the King v. Burwell case that was filed by Hospital Corporation of America, the nation's largest private-sector provider of medical care. The brief concludes that the arguments of the plaintiffs, who are attempting to strip federal exchange Obamacare subsidies from some 7 million people, defies logic. So far, so good.

A detail of the brief, however, elaborates on a specific policy success of the Affordable Care Act's federal exchange: demonstrable improvements in access to health care for women. As the original brief explains, one of the main goals of passing health care reform was to improve access to care for women. To support the claim that denying subsidies on the federal exchange would defeat the entire purpose of the law, HCA compiled data for its facilities operating in states served by federal exchanges, and noted just how much women with federal exchange insurance are benefiting compared to their uninsured counterparts. The data HCA presents is remarkable: for instance, 77 percent of the oncology care given to patients with federal exchange insurance goes to women. 65 percent of HCA's patients insured on the federal exchange are women, vs. 53 percent of insured patients--suggesting that uninsured women are forgoing care at a higher rate than male counterparts. And women with federal exchange insurance are three times more likely to get recommended breast ultrasounds than uninsured patients. So why does this matter? As Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check says:
The brief draws special attention to the health benefits for women insured through the exchanges because Congress also paid special attention to women’s health issues in the Affordable Care Act—like covering women’s health services as “essential benefits,” or banning the practice of charging women more for health insurance. The Supreme Court case determining the fate of Obamacare hinges on what Congress intended when it wrote the law. If Congress intended to benefit women’s health, HCA argues, it can’t possibly have wanted millions of women to go without the essential care they can only afford thanks to the federal exchange subsidies.
When arguing about whose interpretation of a law is correct, context and Congressional intent matters. The statistics HCA brings to the table prove just how successful Obamacare has been at achieving the intent of improving health care for women. CATO's Michael Cannon, by contrast, would apparently prefer to see poor women die slowly from cancer than allow them to afford insurance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

California Senate Field Poll: no, Condi Rice doesn't "lead" anything

Many of my California political friends are exercising a fair bit of consternation about the latest Field Poll on the race to claim the California Senate seat currently held by Barbara Boxer. The poll suggests that more people would consider supporting the Republican former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, than would consider supporting the leading Democrats: Attorney General Kamala Harris and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. So does this mean that Rice is all of a sudden a frontrunner and Dems should start quaking in their boots about a seat they might have at first thought was safely theirs? Absolutely not.

To begin with, Rice isn't even a potential candidate at this point. She has declared repeatedly that she has no interest in running. The Sacramento Bee reported that she was informed of the poll results and it did not change her mind one bit about the idea of running. But even beyond that, the way the poll question is worded is they key issue. Instead of saying "if the election were held today, which candidate would you vote for?" and reading a list of names, it simply asks whether or not people would be inclined or not to vote for a particular candidate. Let's take Kamala Harris, the Democrat with the highest inclination ratings at 46%. She has 74% of Dems inclined to vote for her, with 13% not inclined at 13% with no opinion. Her numbers among Republicans are essentially reversed. Rice does as well among Republicans as Harris does among Democrats, but gains a much higher inclination among Democrats than Harris does among Republicans, scoring an inclination of 30.5%. But does that mean that if Rice were a candidate, she could be remotely capable of getting 30% of the Democratic electorate to vote for her in a head-to-head with Harris? Absolutely not. Statistically speaking, it's very likely that most of the Dems who were inclined toward Rice also reported being inclined toward Harris in the poll. When given a choice between a Democrat and a Republican they would be inclined toward, it's very doubtful that all, or even most of that 30.% percent of Dems would choose Rice over Harris. The same could of course be said of the small number of Republicans who are inclined toward Harris, but Rice stands to lose far more ground with Dems than Harris does with GOP voters in this poll.

Furthermore, Rice has a veneer of moderation, which makes her palatable for middle-of-the-road voters and some Democrats. But if she ever did decide to become a candidate, Democrats would undoubtedly spend millions to hang the Bush administration around her neck like an albatross. So first: Rice isn't running. Second, even if she were running, she wouldn't be as much of a threat as the poll implies. And third, even if she were such a threat, she would find herself losing her moderate sheen in short order.

At ease, Californians.

More on California's 25th Senate District: letter from a transgender resident

A transgender resident of Glendale, CA published a letter to the editor in the Glendale News-Press that echoes my thoughts about Zareh Sinanyan. Sinanyan, you may recall, is the current mayor of Glendale, and his city council colleagues somehow saw fit to appoint him as mayor despite his long online trail of horrific racism, sexism and homophobia. Here's the letter in full:
I live in Glendale and I am transgender, but I don’t need to be transgender to not like that my city council has on it Zareh Sinanyan, a guy who was called out for online comments he’d made before his election to the council that were deeply misogynistic, racist and homophobic. Of course, then the council thought his was such a swell image for Glendale that they made him mayor. Now I see Anthony Portantino, who is in the running for state Senate, has included Sinanyan in his video of endorsements.

I’m not a political beast by nature, but I wonder about this town I live in that thinks this stuff is OK. Ethan Czahor just got canned (“resigned”) for his awful tweets while Jeb Bush’s tech officer, but I think if he’d only come to Glendale he might have a future.

Grey James

I think it's pretty obvious that Portantino has made a political calculation. He would rather proudly claim support from an avowed racist than risk causing any sort of rift in possible support from the Armenian political community. When it comes time for the Democratic Party to make its endorsement, I hope the delegates of the 25th District remember this decision.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What will Republicans do for King v. Burwell victims? They have absolutely no idea.

Late last week, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked what Congress would do if the Supreme Court decides to take away subsidies from the approximately 7 million participants the federal Obamacare exchange by ruling with the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell. The answer? They have no freakin' clue:
Republicans are developing a “contingency plan” to address the states whose residents would lose subsidies while lawmakers work on a full replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, told reporters Friday in Washington.
“What’s the bridge out of Obamacare for people in the states that just lost it?” Ryan said during a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. “What we want to do is give the states freedom to let their people go into a patient-centered health care system, which will look like what we would ultimately like to replace Obamacare with.”
In other words: they're not going to issue the technical fix that would allow the law to work the way everyone acknowledges it was intended to work, because the goal has always been to destroy the law. What will they do? They have absolutely no idea, but whatever it is, it will end up being whatever it is that they'll end up drafting to replace Obamacare. Of course, the last "Obamacare replacement" that Republicans came up with wasn't so much a replacement as it was a much crappier version that offered fewer subsidies and eliminated many of the law's basic consumer protections.

Every day, Republicans make it harder and harder for both the Roberts Court and for the general public to take them seriously.

My latest on King v. Burwell

Available at Daily Kos. I have so little respect for Michael Cannon.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Los Angeles: when cutting business taxes makes sense

As a progressive Democrat, you might not normally expect me to be in favor of cutting business taxes. One exception? My home city of Los Angeles and "gross receipts tax" it imposes on businesses. The gross receipts tax is, well, pretty gross. It taxes businesses not on their profits, but simply based on how much they collect on their invoices. Simplistically speaking, all business that collect, say, $1 million in invoices are taxed on that basis, regardless of how high their operating expenses are.

Needless to say, this unfairly penalizes businesses in industries with low profit margins, as well as businesses that invoice for a high amount of passthrough expenses. Let's take the marketing research industry, for instance: standard practice for focus group facilities is to pay the people who come in to do their focus group projects, and then invoice the clients for the amount of money they spent. In some cases, the incentive money can comprise the majority of the invoice, and yet it's a passthrough expense: the facility makes no money on it, but because it still counts toward gross receipts, the city can assess taxes on it. This leaves the facility two options: either to eat the cost of paying taxes on money it doesn't make, or to try to make up the difference by raising prices elsewhere and thus putting it at a competitive disadvantage. In either case, it makes operating a service business within Los Angeles more uncomfortable than it should be, and in the marketing research industry, the gross receipts tax has been a factor for focus group facility owners in whether to locate a business within Los Angeles proper, or pick a neighboring city like Santa Monica or Culver City instead.

Thankfully, Mayor Eric Garcetti is changing that. From a recent release:
LOS ANGELES -- Mayor Eric Garcetti today signed his business tax cut plan into law and received the endorsement of the influential Los Angeles Business Council for his plan to increase L.A.'s minimum wage.
"Together with the City Council, we are taking a strategic approach to creating jobs and opportunity for Angelenos. Cutting our business tax will entice more businesses to stay, come and hire in L.A., and responsibly raising the minimum wage will inject significant spending into our neighborhood businesses," Mayor Garcetti said. "I'm proud to have the support of the Los Angeles Business Council, which represents such a broad cross-section of L.A. businesses."
"Today, we are taking a significant step to helping our economy grow," said Council President Herb Wesson. "We want to do everything we can to retain and bring business to the City of Los Angeles. We also want to help our residents earn a decent wage, and today I'm pleased we're making progress on both."
"With today's cut to our business tax, we are shattering the myth that Los Angeles is a bad place for business," said Councilmember Paul Krekorian, who chairs the Council's Budget and Finance Committee. "And this is just the first step. We are committed to further reforming our business tax to make it cheaper, more predictable and less arbitrary. Tax reform like this works, and I'm confident it will help grow our economy and create more jobs for Angelenos."
Mayor Garcetti has made job creation and support for businesses a cornerstone of his back to basics agenda. L.A.'s business tax is the highest in the county, making our city more expensive and less attractive to do business in, while the current minimum wage leaves even full-time working people below the poverty line, which is a drag on our overall economic recovery.
The business tax cut represents a 16 percent overall reduction over three years, saving L.A. businesses a total of $90 million. The cut takes the top tax rate from $5.07 per $1,000 in gross receipts to $4.75 in FY 2016, $4.50 in FY 2017, and to $4.25 in FY 2018.

Now, I'm not suggesting that this tax cut will end up paying for itself. But eliminating the gross receipts tax and replacing it with something that is less punitive towards businesses with a lower profit margin will definitely increase business development and reduce any competitive disadvantage Los Angeles faces compared to its neighbors.

Combined with the minimum wage increase that's on track for passage, it looks like the city's economic future is getting brighter for everyone under Mayor Garcetti's leadership.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Maybe the Western States Petroleum Association should take a cue from the CEO of Shell?

The Western States Petroleum Assocation has been spending big on lobbying in California:
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) topped the oil industry spending with a total of $31,179,039 spent on lobbying since January 1, 2009 at the time of Barrett’s report. Chevron was second in lobbying expenses with a total of $15,542,565 spent during the same period.

From July 1 to September 30 alone, the oil industry spent an unprecedented $7.1 million lobbying elected officials in California “with a major focus on getting oil companies out of a major clean air regulation,” said Barrett.
The "major clean air regulation in question is AB32, the 2006 law that allowed the California Air Resources Board to establish a cap-and-trade program that caps allowable carbon emissions and requires polluters to purchase credits from the state. It's a focus for oil companies now because AB32 was implemented gradually: at first, the credit purchase requirement only applied to stationary emitters. But on January 1 of this year, wholesalers of liquid fuels became subject to the program, causing oil companies to go all-in to try to get the program delayed or repealed.

So far, they have very little to show for their efforts. And if the CEO of Shell has his way, they'll stop trying:
“You cannot talk credibly about lowering emissions globally if, for example, you are slow to acknowledge climate change; if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price; and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate,” Mr. van Beurden plans to say.
Now, I'm not normally the type of person to go around thanking a big oil CEO, but credit goes where credit is due here. It's time for the oil lobby to stop externalizing the cost of their pollution. It's time for them to stop creating a false dichotomy between the environment and jobs. And it's time for them to acknowledge their role in climate change and work to minimize it. Let's hope WSPA is listening in.

California Senate District 25: Why is Anthony Portantino touting support from a virulent bigot?

Political people who say bigoted crap on the internet tend not to last too long in politics. Witness, for instance, the case of Ethan Czahor, recently let go from Jeb Bush's presidential campaign because of his racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments on twitter and on his personal blog. Some observers were uncomfortable, perhaps not without justification, that a campaign staffer was being held to such an accounting for views he shared as a college student. But what if the person who spewed the online bile isn't just a campaign staffer, but is currently the mayor of a city with 200,000 people? And moreover--if you were running for office yourself, would you want to tout the endorsement of someone who had posted some of the vilest filth that YouTube comments have to offer? Doubtful, unless you're former Assemblymember and current State Senate candidate Anthony Portantino.

Before we continue, let's meet the mayor in question: Zareh Sinanyan, who last year became the mayor of Glendale, a city nestled between Los Angeles and Pasadena in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. As a candidate for city council back in 2013, Sinanyan had gathered an impressive amount of support from elected officials: not just Portantino, but also Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Krekorian, former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, and current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the time City Council President. In early March, however, an enterprising local blogger discovered that Sinanyan had, over the preceding several years, left a vile history of racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic comments on YouTube. And by vile, I mean vile. For example:


 When the story broke, most elected officials distanced themselves from Sinanyan and withdrew their endorsements. One exception? Anthony Portantino. There is no record from any media outlet anywhere of Portantino withdrawing his endorsement of Sinanyan in the wake of the latter's disgusting diatribes.

Now, maybe a more forgiving person would just assume that Portantino missed the whole scandal. Not likely, given how well known it was that he was preparing for a run for the 25th State Senate District. So why am I bringing it up now? Because Portantino just sent an email to his list containing a video announcing endorsements from local mayors. And on that video is none other than Zareh Sinanyan of Glendale.

So why bring it up now? Honestly, I haven't been keeping up with politics in the San Gabriel Valley. The Sinanyan scandal occurred in March of 2013, when I was knee-deep volunteering on Eric Garcetti's run for mayor of Los Angeles. Before that video, I didn't even know that Sinanyan had won a city council spot in spite of his racist rants, much less that he had been appointed mayor. But Portantino of all people should know better than to have accepted and promoted Sinanyan's endorsement. Back when I was the campaign manager for Speaker Emeritus John Perez' campaign for State Controller, I often found myself going head-to-head at endorsement meetings with Portantino, who was supporting Perez' opponent and current Controller Betty Yee. Portantino would argue that much of his support for Yee was owed to his desire to see a woman in statewide office to set a positive example for his daughters.

I don't disbelieve him in that. But the least he could do would be to set a good example himself--not just for women, but for the LGBT community and all the people insulted by Sinanyan--by rejecting this endorsement, rather than sacrificing his principles for political expediency.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is King v. Burwell part of a long con?

Over at New Republic, Brian Beutler has an outstanding piece about the farcical three-ring circus surrounding the standing issues for the technical plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case that is threatening subsidies for those with plans on the federal exchange. Even more interesting, though, is the history of the efforts of the ideologues in the case to find some avenue to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Viewed through that lens, it seems like the entire point of the case might be a strategy to get the whole law thrown out by the courts. Here's Beutler:
Credit for identifying the five-word phrase at the heart of the legal challenge goes to a lawyer named Thomas Christina. Unlike today’s conservatives, he allowed for the narrow possibility that his interpretation was incorrect—or at least the outgrowth of a legislative snafu. “This could be an unintended consequence,” he explained in his AEI presentation. “We’re not going to really know much until at least the spring of next year when there are proposed regs. But the lesson appears to be that there will be no tax credits for taxpayers who live in non-capitulating states, which is really quite extraordinary.”

Extraordinary not because it traced a path by which Republican governors could destroy the law by sitting on their hands, but because it was too coercive and thus vulnerable to a Constitutional challenge.

“This is dangling cash in front of voters,” Christina said. “I mean, really, you will end up in exactly the same place, whether you knuckle under or not, with one important difference, which is you won’t get re-elected if you turn down free money that might otherwise have been paid in the form of tax credits to your citizens. Nobody would be foolish enough to pick door number one. That I think—it fits very comfortably in what I’ve posited is this non-interference principle.”

For a time, Jonathan Adler—one of the conservative lawyers most closely associated with the subsidy challenge—bought into this line. He wrote that “under most conditional spending statutes, states may risk losing direct financial support if they fail to follow federal dictates. Here, however, it is state citizens who lose a financial benefit if their state does not act. This structure could create potential coercion concerns insofar as the Dole test focuses on whether the relevant conditions ‘interfere[] with the state’s sovereign accountability.’”

Only when the IRS announced it would issue subsidies universally did Adler and his partner-in-crime Michael Cannon—a CATO institute libertarian—change course. Where conservatives once argued the subsidy condition might be unconstitutionally coercive, they set about to force the government to make good on that very coercion. For a time, Cannon treated their reading of the law as the result of a “glitch.” Eventually the difficulty of undoing the ACA by exploiting a "glitch" dawned on them.
To summarize: Christina and Cannon thought they had an angle to challenge the ACA if the turned out that the law required states to set up their own exchange to get the subsidies. turns out that when the IRS wrote the guidelines on subsidies, that angle went out the window: because the federal exchange got subsidies, there was no state compulsion, and therefore, no possibility for a court challenge on coercion grounds. Now, however, Cannon and his pals are trying to get the Supreme Court to say that, yes, the law did intend to coerce states, and that the IRS rule granting subsidies is illegal under the technical text of the ACA.

Let's suppose that plaintiffs prevail in the case and rule that federal exchange subsidies are illegal. There will be massive disruption to the health insurance system, obviously, but let's move past that. Congress won't do anything to pass a fix and guarantee the legality of subsidies on the federal exchanges. But even if states do step in and fill the void, guess what? It tees up unconstitutional coercion argument for Christina and Cannon as a pathway to destroying the entire bill.

Viewed in this light, it's possible that the entire point of the King v. Burwell case isn't just to try to hobble the law by throwing its regulatory structure out of whack--instead, it's just an intermediate step toward one final court challenge that could kill the whole thing.

Gavin Newsom for Governor? How about no.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom opened a campaign account to start fundraising to succeed Jerry Brown as Governor in 2018. My thoughts? How about no: Don't get me wrong: I respect Newsom for taking a stand on marriage equality long before it was popular or convenient. But his record on other issues is much more dicey. He flip-flopped on California High-Speed Rail at a time when the program was in dire straits and needed all the support it could get. In 2008, he ended San Francisco's sanctuary city policy for juvenile undocumented immigrants. His record on renter's rights is spotty at best. He sided with Rick Perry in the ideological cold war between Texas and California on taxation and job creation (which California is winning, by the way). And in a move that progressive activists won't easily forget, Newsom endorsed Ro Khanna in his right-leaning effort to unseat longtime progressive Congressman Mike Honda. Newsom will be formidable, obviously. He has name ID and will be able to raise significant money from the tech circle and venture capital. But progressives will be thirsting for a viable alternative.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hospital Corporation of America brief eviscerates King v. Burwell plaintiffs

The Hospital Corporation of America is the country's largest private medical care provider. As such, their main objective is to have a health care system with a competent, consistent regulatory structure with as many people insured as possible so that they access care in the most cost-efficient and least burdensome manner possible. This stands in stark contrast to the plaintiffs in the King v. Burwell case, who are trying to outlaw subsidies for the 6.5 million people (just so far) on the federal exchange. HCA submitted a marvelous Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of the government documenting the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act in terms of policy. And as far as the plaintiffs' legal argument? The basic message is, "you guys can't really be serious":
Without subsidies, the goal of near-universal coverage would be impossible. Not only would many newly uninsured Americans be stripped of coverage, but the likely effect of the ACA as interpreted by Petitioners would be an overall increase in the uninsured in federally-facilitated Exchange states relative to a pre-ACA baseline. Supra pp. 18–23. It cannot be that Congress’s “comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage,” NFIB, 132 S. Ct. at 2606 (op. of Roberts, C.J., joined by Breyer & Kagan, JJ.), was actually a plan to take coverage away and destabilize insurance markets. Indeed, “[i]t defies logic to think that Congress would disregard [these] real-world consequences.” Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, 134 S. Ct. 1422, 1430 (2014).
For the plaintiffs, though, it's kind of like a Cards Against Humanity draw: "In the CATO institute's new court case, it turns out that 'Congress's comprehensive national plan to provide universal health insurance coverage was really just 'a plan to take coverage away and destabilize insurance markets' all along." On a side note, it's especially delicious to see a major corporation telling a bunch of right-wing ideologues to shove off because the Affordable Care Act has been so good for business.

A basic King v. Burwell question for Michael Cannon

When oral arguments come up in the King v. Burwell case, there's one basic question I would love to see a justice ask of CATO hack Michael Cannon. It would go something like this:
If, as you argue, the Affordable Care Act wanted to force states to set up their own exchange in order to qualify for subsidies, then why the the law authorize a federal exchange in the first place?
Seriously. What's the point of creating a fallback that isn't actually a fallback? This whole thing has the convolutedness of a bad action movie script.

Monday, February 09, 2015

HHS press release puts King v. Burwell in stark relief

Charles Gaba of ACA Signups fame shared a press release from the Health and Human Services Department on Daily Kos yesterday that underlines just what's at stake in the King v. Burwell court case:
For instance: Moments ago, the HHS Dept. of the United States sent out this press release, touting the fact that about 6.5 million people who selected private policies via Healthcare.Gov for 2015 (about 87% of the 7.5 million total confirmed via the federal exchange) qualify to receive tax credits to help cover the cost of their health insurance premiums. The average tax credit for those 6.5 million people is $268/month, or $3,216 per year.
Now, let's do some math on this. If King v. Burwell is decided in favor of its Cato Institute proponents, it will remove all tax subsidies from those who have signed up for qualified health plans under the federal exchange. As of now, with not quite a week left in the open enrollment period, there are 6.5 million people who qualify for an average annual subsidy of $3,216 this year. That comes out to a $20.9 billion tax hike on lower- and middle-income Americans, to say nothing of the systemic havoc it will wreak on the health care system and the number of people who will die because they could no longer afford health insurance. Gaba estimates that the number of subsidy-eligible participants on the federal exchange will end up somewhere near 7.3 million when all is said and done. Presuming the average subsidy remains the same, you would then be looking at a tax hike of roughly $23.5 billion, along with a concomitant increase in deaths and premium death spirals.

Supporting this lawsuit just to deny President Obama a policy success is a really evil thing to do. I'm not quite sure how Michael Cannon can look himself in the mirror every morning.