Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 24, 2014

April 23, 2014

April Will Be First Month With CO2 Levels Above 400 PPM

Climate Central: “April will be the first time in human history where levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were higher than 400 parts per million for an entire month, one scientist who monitors the levels said. And they could stay above that mark into July.”

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“Carbon dioxide concentrations, as measured at a site atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano since 1958, surpassed the 400 ppm mark for the first time in recorded history on May 9, 2013. While the particular mark is symbolic, it serves to show how far concentrations have risen from their pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm as fossil fuels such as coal and oil have continued to be burned.”

Posted at 11:47 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion a Great Deal for States

Center on Budget and Priorities: “Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates released last week show that health reform’s Medicaid expansion, which many opponents wrongly claim will cripple state budgets, is an even better deal for states than previously thought. CBO has sharply lowered its estimates of the costs to states of adopting the Medicaid expansion.”

“States will spend only 1.6 percent more on Medicaid and CHIP due to health reform than they would have spent without health reform. That’s about one-third less than CBO projected in February.”

“CBO apparently lowered its projection of the added state costs because it now expects fewer people who were eligible for Medicaid before health reform — but were unenrolled — to enroll in Medicaid as a result of health reform.”

 

4 22 14health f1 Obamacares Medicaid Expansion a Great Deal for States

Posted at 8:13 a.m.
Health

Retirement the Top Financial Concern for Americans

Gallup: “A firm majority of Americans, 59%, are worried about not having enough money for retirement, surpassing eight other financial matters. A majority of Americans have reported being “very” or “moderately” worried about retirement savings every year since 2001, illustrating that saving for retirement disquiets Americans in both good and bad economic times.”

“For a country that now has a life expectancy at birth of 78.7 years, retirement savings for post-work years is considered a matter of national importance”

 mg3blyjnu21gxfa1c2buq Retirement the Top Financial Concern for Americans

A ‘Blinkered View’ of Race at the Supreme Court

New York Times Editorial Board: “A blinkered view of race in America won out in the Supreme Court on Tuesday when six justices agreed, for various reasons, to allow Michigan voters to ban race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.”

“The Michigan amendment has already resulted in a 25 percent drop in minority representation in Michigan’s public universities and colleges, even as the proportion of college-age African-Americans in the state has gone up.”

“In the most eloquent part of her dissent, Justice Sotomayor rightly took aim at the conservative members of the court, who speak high-mindedly of racial equality even as they write off decades-old precedent meant to address the lingering effects of ‘centuries of racial discrimination’ — a view that is ‘out of touch with reality.’ The reality, she wrote, is that ‘race matters.’”

A Medicaid Expansion Success Story

According to National Journal‘s Health Care Edge newsletter, “Arkansas’ privatized version of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion — seen as a model for other red states — seems to be working. Nearly 70 percent of eligible residents signed up for the program within the first six months, the state Department of Human Services said. That’s a strong start for the program, which uses federal funding from the health care law’s Medicaid expansion to move low-income residents into private insurance plans. It’s widely seen as a model to bring other red states into the Medicaid expansion, and Arkansas still has all year to bring more people into the system.”

 A Medicaid Expansion Success Story

David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times writes: “we ought to give thanks that lawmakers in Arkansas found a way forward to do right by our neediest citizens.” He calls for patience with the holdout states and points out that “it took states several years to adopt the original Medicaid program too:”

 A Medicaid Expansion Success Story

Posted at 7:21 a.m.
Health

Wealthiest Americans Outpace World as Middle Class Lags Behind

New York Times: “While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.”

“After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.”

Screen Shot 2014 04 22 at 2.54.21 PM 445x309 Wealthiest Americans Outpace World as Middle Class Lags Behind

“The findings are striking because the most commonly cited economic statistics … continue to show that the United States has maintained its lead as the world’s richest large country. But those numbers are averages, which do not capture the distribution of income. With a big share of recent income gains in this country flowing to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, most Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.”

“The American rich pay lower taxes than the rich in many other places, and the United States does not redistribute as much income to the poor as other countries do. As a result, inequality in disposable income is sharply higher in the United States than elsewhere.”

Posted at 6 a.m.
Economy

April 22, 2014

Is Income Inequality Really Shrinking?

James Petholoukis of the American Enterprise Institute takes note of economist Michael Feroli’s analysis of wage growth.

“In particular, the 90-10 ratio compares earnings of workers in the top decile with those in the bottom decile and is sometimes used as a proxy for income inequality.”

“When the series began in 2000, workers in the top earnings decile earned 4.4 times as much in a usual week compared with workers in the bottom decile. The 90-10 ratio then steadily increased until it topped out at 5.3 in 2012Q3. Since then the ratio has come back down to 5.0 last quarter.”

042114inequality Is Income Inequality Really Shrinking?

Posted at 12:47 p.m.
Economy

Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban

Politico: “The Supreme Court delivered another setback to affirmative action Tuesday, easing the way for states to bar public colleges from considering race in admissions.”

“The 6-2 decision upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans preferential treatment based on race, gender, ethnicity or national origin. The ban on affirmative action applies not only to admissions decisions at public colleges, but also to state hiring and contracting practices.”

“Opponents argued that the ban imposed an unfair and unreasonable burden on minorities. When it came to college admissions, for instance, other interest groups — rural students, say, or low-income students — could petition public universities to grant them special consideration. But women, African-Americans and others covered by the ban could not ask for similar treatment without first amending the state constitution.”

“Supporters, led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, argued that banning discrimination by race could not possibly be considered a discriminatory act.”

Posted at 10:44 a.m.
Judiciary

U.S. Carbon Emissions Down But HFCs Are Soaring

The news website, Responding to Climate Change, reports that “US greenhouse gas emissions dropped 10% from 2005 – 2012.”

The results, part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, show emissions “fell 3.3% from 2011-2012 … The US is just over halfway to meeting a pledge made at UN talks in 2009 to cut GHG releases 17% on 2005 levels by 2020.”

“The EPA says the reductions are due to new clean energy generation sources, investments in efficiency measures and a drop in transportation sector emissions.”

However, “hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerant gases with a warming potential far more potent than CO2, soared from 36.9 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (CO2e) to 151.2 CO2e from 1990 to 2012.”

US GHG 466 U.S. Carbon Emissions Down But HFCs Are Soaring

40 Percent ‘Concerned Believers’ of Global Warming

Gallup: “Over the past decade, Americans have clustered into three broad groups on global warming. The largest, currently describing 39% of U.S. adults, are what can be termed “Concerned Believers” — those who attribute global warming to human actions and are worried about it. This is followed by the “Mixed Middle,” at 36%. And one in four Americans — the “Cool Skeptics” — are not worried about global warming much or at all.”

“The ranks of Cool Skeptics have swelled, while the Mixed Middle — once the largest group — has declined modestly.”

“In particular, the percentage of Americans believing that global warming is caused by pollution from human activities dropped sharply in 2010. The same pattern has been seen with personal worry about global warming and the perception that the seriousness of the issue is exaggerated in the news. All of these findings are likely linked to the high profile “Climategate” controversy that emerged in late 2009.”

But: “the percentage of “Concerned Believers” has recovered to pre-Climategate levels.”

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Posted at 7:46 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Wage Theft is a Universal Problem

The New York Times Editorial Board uses the recent antitrust lawsuit filed by software engineers as evidence that the “huge and underpoliced” problem of wage theft is “not confined to low-wage workers.”

“When wage theft against low-wage workers is combined with that against highly paid workers, a bad problem becomes much worse. Data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute show that in 2012, the Department of Labor helped 308,000 workers recover $280 million in back pay for wage-theft violations — nearly double the amount stolen that year in robberies on the street, at banks, gas stations and convenience stores.”

“Moreover, the recovered wages are surely only a fraction of the wage theft nationwide because the Labor Department has only about 1,100 wage-and-hour investigators to monitor seven million employers and several states have ended or curtailed wage enforcement efforts.”

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Posted at 7:38 a.m.
Economy

Will Insurance Premiums Skyrocket?

Lucia Graves: “The next great frontier of conservative hyperbole concerns premiums for 2015, with critics warning that costs will double or even triple next year.”

“As of this week, we have good evidence to the contrary. Health insurance premium rates are expected go up just 7 percent—a rate of increase much lower than what critics were predicting. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is predicting that premium hikes will be relatively modest.”

“The origin of these critics’ argument can be traced to a thinly sourced article in The Hill, which quoted a former Cigna executive saying things like, ‘My gut tells me that, for some people, these increases will be significant.’ The reports about insurance rates possibly tripling, which were widely repeated, appear to come from a single anonymous insurance executive.”

At the end of the day “nobody knows for sure what will happen next year.”

Posted at 7:20 a.m.
Health

An Added Benefit of Being Rich

Derek Thompson comments on Barry Bosworth’s study of the connection between life expectancy and wealth.

“Here’s the money chart and it tells a really sad story. In the richest country in the world, the expected lifespan of middle- and lower-income women is actually declining. At every income level, more money means more life.”

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“We don’t know the precise causal mechanism, but we know that the relationship is remarkably tight at every income level … I’ll leave it for you to decide, based on what we know about income and lifespans, whether a program that would necessarily make the low-income lower-income is one that deserves to be taken seriously as a moral document.”

Posted at 6:40 a.m.
Economy, Health, Social Issues

April 21, 2014

More Americans Finding it Difficult to Save

Gallup: “The majority of Americans continue to enjoy saving money more than spending it, by 62% to 34%. The 2014 saving-spending gap is the one of the widest since Gallup began tracking Americans’ preferences in 2001.”

“If the increases in spending are occurring out of necessity, not desire, and Americans take on more debt or deplete their savings, the picture may not be quite as rosy.”

“Stagnant wage growth and the overall sluggish recovery from the Great Recession perhaps have contributed to decreasing personal savings. While Gallup data indicate a stronger preference to save than to spend, in reality Americans seem to be having difficulty putting together a safety net. This has more than likely contributed to the lingering pessimism about the U.S. economy.”

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Posted at 12:48 p.m.
Economy

Marijuana Use Becoming Very Common

Washington Post: “More than half of all Colorado residents have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, according to a collection of data released by Quinnipiac University pollsters.”

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“In a March Pew survey, 48 percent said they had tried marijuana — although only 12 percent said it had been within the last year”

“That same Pew poll showed, for the first time in more than four decades of surveys, that a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana.”

Screen Shot 2014 04 18 at 10.37.34 AM Marijuana Use Becoming Very Common

Posted at 10:37 a.m.
Social Issues

Keystone XL Delay Tactics

Reuters: “The latest delay to a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will reinforce a White House strategy to energize President Barack Obama’s liberal-leaning base before fall elections.”

“Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally-friendly candidates.”

Steyer: “This is rotten eggs for TransCanada and good news on Good Friday for those who oppose Keystone as not being in our nation’s best interest.”

Josh Lederman of the Associated Press argues that the delay “is doing little to quell posturing over the project, which has taken on a life of its own as climate change activists battle with energy advocates from both parties.”

Celinda Lake: “There’s no winning decision here … In a situation where you’re between a rock and a hard place, it’s better to postpone and then let everybody complain.”

Washington Post: “As much as Landrieu, Pryor, Hagan, Begich and company have said how frustrated they are by Keystone XL delays, secretly they are probably sighing in relief, too — at least if the administration is leaning toward rejecting the pipeline.”

Posted at 10:28 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare Debate Turns to Costs

The recent surge in insurance enrollment has shifted concern from coverage to controlling insurance costs.

New York Times: Experts say that “Americans feeling more economically confident might demand more procedures from doctors and hospitals. Insurers paying more money for those procedures might, in time, increase premiums, cutting into wage gains. The government might end up spending more on the health law than current projections imply.”

“The question is whether health spending might grow moderately, with a one-time bump from new Affordable Care Act enrollees, or whether it might surge, with potentially damaging consequences for the fiscal deficit and wages.”

 An Altarum Institute report “shows that health spending started to climb last summer. This February, spending growth reached a seven-year high.”

Screen Shot 2014 04 21 at 9.26.09 AM Obamacare Debate Turns to Costs

Government data also show the annual pace of spending growth on health care increased to a recent high of 5.6% in the fourth quarter of 2013, from 1.3 percent in the first quarter.

Jason Furman counters: “Even if only one-third of the slowdown is sustained … we will be spending $1,200 less per person on health care after a decade.”

 

Posted at 9:26 a.m.
Health

Framing Climate Change as a Bipartisan Issue

Sean McElwee, writing for The Atlantic, reports that “the environment was once a bipartisan issue.”

“Data from the Pew Research Center show that the decrease in support for environmental protection is not only very recent but also one-sided.”

a5bccb9c3 Framing Climate Change as a Bipartisan Issue

“Despite that decline, [recent studies show that] Republican support for environmental causes is stronger than it might appear … If Republican voters are concerned about the environment, why haven’t we seen any action?”

“One explanation is that the framing of environmental issues is often anathema to conservatives … Liberals view environmental issues as moral concerns informed by a harm principle, while conservatives view environmental issues through the lens of purity, and particularly for religious people, stewardship.”

“A 2012 study … found that climate campaigns overwhelming frame the issue in terms of harm and care, fairness, and oppression of marginalized groups. These frames fall into what [the study] would consider left-wing frames, alienating conservatives.”

In addition, wealthy, influential elites do not consider the environment a major problem:

d8c600a1d Framing Climate Change as a Bipartisan Issue

“Activists will find more success if they focus on promoting sanctity and responsibility, showing how protecting the environment is economically beneficial and leaving a legacy for future generations.”

Posted at 8:55 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare Enrollment Likely to Push Past 8 Million

The Hill: “Enrollment in ObamaCare’s new health insurance exchanges is likely to grow past eight million, as some states are still letting people sign up for insurance beyond this year’s official enrollment deadline.”

“At least eight states and the District of Columbia are still allowing people to register for health plans, according to news reports and an April 14 analysis by consulting firm Avalere Health.”

Sarah Kliff: “Medicaid enrollment has grown much faster than the 24 states that haven’t expanded their Medicaid programs.”

medicaid enrollment changes Obamacare Enrollment Likely to Push Past 8 Million

Other sources of coverage are growing too: “In advance of the individual mandate, research suggests people are signing up for employer-sponsored insurance in greater numbers — and buying individual plans off the exchanges.”

“Charles Gaba … estimates that between 2 to 5 million people have purchased individual policies outside the exchange.”

“Lastly, research from the RAND Corporation suggests that about 7.2 million people have gained employer-sponsored coverage since the health law’s insurance expansion began.”

Posted at 7:02 a.m.
Health

April 18, 2014

It Pays to be Super Rich in America — For Now

Floyd Norris: “It is an interesting fact that our current tax system assures that — year after year — the superrich, those who report adjusted gross incomes of more than $10 million, have tax rates that are significantly lower than those of the very rich, those earning more than $500,000 but less than $10 million.”

“Figures just released by the Internal Revenue Service show that in 2011 the difference in rates between the groups rose to 4.1 percentage points, the largest since the I.R.S. began calculating the data in 2000. The superrich paid 20.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes in 2011, while the very rich paid 24.5 percent.”

Screen Shot 2014 04 18 at 12.29.38 PM 438x335 It Pays to be Super Rich in America    For Now

“Why are the superrich treated so well? It is largely because investment income — what we used to call unearned income — has long enjoyed preferential tax treatment.”

“But starting in 2013, the wealthy face significant tax increases. And the increases are greater for investment income. It seems likely that the gap in tax rates between the superrich and the very rich may be narrowed.”

Posted at 12:32 p.m.
Budget & Taxes

Many Americans Face Financial Peril With a Job Loss

Gallup: Many working Americans would experience financial peril if they lost their current job, putting pressure on them to find a new job quickly. A substantial minority of U.S. workers say they could go just one week (14%) or one month (29%) before experiencing significant financial hardship if they lost their job.

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Implications: “With long-term unemployment a serious problem in recent years, many U.S. workers are not in a position financially to go a month, or even a week, without finding a new job if laid off. That underscores the economic hardship that unemployment of any length can bring on U.S. families, particularly for younger and lower-income workers.”

“Gallup estimates that about 9% of workers are especially vulnerable, in that they think it is at least fairly likely they will be laid off but do not have the financial means to go more than a month without finding new employment.”

Posted at 12:14 p.m.
Economy

Combating Climate Change and Economic Growth Can Co-Exist

Paul Krugman notes that there is some good news from the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“There is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small.”

“What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.”

“The climate change panel … notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007.”

“Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about ‘decarbonizing’ electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.”

Krugman asserts “there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.”

Posted at 8:52 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare Enrollment Numbers: ‘Good News — Very, Very Good News’

Jonathan Cohn declares the latest Obamacare enrollment numbers to be “good news—very, very good news.”

“While not everybody who signs up for a plan pays the premiums, anecdotal reports suggest that 80 to 85 percent have so far. At worst, then, enrollment would be around 6.4 million.”

slide1 18 Obamacare Enrollment Numbers: Good News    Very, Very Good News

Moving on to the age mix, Cohn notes that “the overall age mix for the Affordable Care Act is virtually the same as the age mix was in Massachusetts. More important, it vindicates the predictions of experts like Gruber who said, all along, that young people would be among the last to sign up.”

slide1 16 Obamacare Enrollment Numbers: Good News    Very, Very Good News

Cohn acknowledges there are still areas of uncertainty including “the state-by-state breakdown [which] matters a lot more than the national one.”

“The outlook on premiums is also uncertain. Underlying medical costs appear to be rising … But some industry officials and consultants have indicated that the increases are more likely to be modest—and that the markets, as a whole, appear stable.”

Posted at 8:12 a.m.
Health

Eight Million is More than Just A Number

Paul Krugman points out that the Obamacare enrollment of eight million has a “crucial implication: the benefits of Obamacare, for all its imperfections, are immense.”

“Millions of people who lived extremely anxious lives now have far more security than before. Compared with those benefits, the complaints of some already insured people that they have less choice of doctors than before, or that they’re no longer allowed to retain minimalist plans, look like whining.”

Posted at 7:57 a.m.
Health

Why Obamacare is Working

Sarah Kliff: “There’s a very simple reason that Obamacare hit 8 million sign-ups: Being uninsured is horrible.”

“But the political conversation over Obamacare was driven almost entirely by people who had, and knew they would be able to keep, their health insurance. It was filled with a lot of assumptions, theories, and speculations about what people who didn’t have good insurance, or any insurance, would do. And after Obamacare’s disastrous launch, the theory took hold that these people wouldn’t find this untested program worth the trouble. It was the permanently insured speculating about the uninsured and the barely insured – and, unsurprisingly, they got it wrong.”

“Back in December, when the web site’s woes were fresh in everyone’s mind, I made a prediction that sounded strange even to me: Obamacare might still hit its 7 million enrollees. The reason I made that prediction was I’d been talking to the uninsured who’d been spending hours or days or weeks trying to get through the web site. They were frustrated and they were angry. But not one of them had given up.”

Posted at 7:10 a.m.
Health

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