Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 2, 2014

August 1, 2014

Hiring Tops 200,000 for Sixth Month In a Row

“Hiring by U.S. employers remained robust in July, if a bit slower than previous months, with a broad-based rise in payrolls extending a half-year streak of strong employment gains. The jobless rate ticked up to 6.2%,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

New York Times : “The latest economic data eases the pressure on the Federal Reserve to retreat more quickly from its stimulus campaign. The Fed’s chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, and her allies argued in recent months that the declining unemployment rate overstated the economy’s progress, because more people would start looking for work as the recovery continued. The uptick in the unemployment rate in July lends credence to that view.”

Posted at 12:38 p.m.

What Obamacare Should Look Like

Sarah Kliff shows what uninsured rates look like in  Kentucky before and after Obamacare.

“It mostly shows some really steep declines in the number of Kentuckians who do not have health insurance coverage.”

Gov. Steve Beshear “credits the states’ strong commitment to making Obamacare work, even in the face of political opposition, to Kentucky’s successful Obamacare launch.”

Bt0ARukIcAA ZCx What Obamacare Should Look Like

Posted at 7:56 a.m.

Obamacare Unpopular But Public Wants it to Stay

Kaiser Family Foundation‘s latest poll shows Obamacare’s unpopularity reaching an all time high of 53% in July, up 8% since last month’s poll.

“Despite the increase in the share with an unfavorable view of the ACA, a strong majority of the public continues to prefer that their representative in Congress work on improving the law (60 percent) rather than working to repeal and replace it with something else (35 percent), shares that have been consistent over the last several months. Even among Republicans and those with an unfavorable view of the law, about a third would prefer to see the law improved rather than repealed and replaced (32 percent and 36 percent, respectively).”

 Obamacare Unpopular But Public Wants it to Stay

Posted at 7:45 a.m.

The Religious Right Takes a Stand for the Environment

New York Times reports on the preponderance of conservative religious leaders who are speaking out in support of President Obama’s environmental policies.

“More than two dozen faith leaders, including evangelicals and conservative Christians, spoke at the E.P.A.” public hearings on its proposed regulation to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

“This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [religious groups] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet.”

“In recent years a number of conservative religious groups have embraced global warming as a serious concern.”

Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and climate scientist at Texas Tech: “Rather than letting our faith dictate our politics, we’ve gotten to the point for many of us where we’re letting our politics — typically what the Republican Party says — dictate our faith … Caring about God’s creation and caring about God’s people is entirely consistent with caring for your neighbor.”

Posted at 6:32 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Enough Already About Political Polarization

Jonathan Bernstein has had enough of the focus on partisan polarization.

“Yes, it’s important to note the distance between the parties, and to try to understand what’s driving polarization. Fine. I’m not suggesting that research on those issues should cease, or that scholars and journalists should ignore them.”

But: “Polarization alone doesn’t make good government impossible … The key isn’t the distance between the parties; it’s the willingness to compromise. That isn’t measured by partisan polarization scores. Put another way, government shutdowns don’t happen because the policy gap between the parties is large; they happen when one party (or a decisive faction within a party) decides to shut down the government.”

“Instead of focusing on polarization, I’d like to see more attention paid to how we can help our political institutions perform better given current conditions.”

Obamacare Reduces Prescription Drug Costs

The Hill: “The Obama administration says cost-saving measures in ObamaCare have reduced the burden of prescription drug coverage and saved seniors and people with disabilities $11.5 billion since 2010.”

“According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 8.2 million seniors and people with disabilities saved an average of $1,407 since 2010 through ObamaCare rebates and discounts to close the prescription drug ‘donut hole.’”

“The announcement comes … after the administration touted that Affordable Care Act measures to reduce Medicare costs had added another four years to the entitlement program’s solvency.”

Posted at 6:22 a.m.

July 31, 2014

Framing Climate Action as an Insurance Policy Against Future Costs

Rebecca Leber: “We’re seeing a smart change in how to talk about global warming … The White House is reframing it in language that most people should understandthe economy.”

“The White House Council of Economic Advisers’ new report on Tuesday describes climate change in these terms, showing exactly why inaction is bad policy. For every decade the U.S. waits to enact climate policy, the report finds the net cost rises 40 percent, with costs rising substantially over time.”

“And if we do wait too long, and global temperatures exceed 2 degrees Celsius warming to 3 degrees or 4 degrees warming, the Gross Domestic Product is going to take a hit … For the U.S., that would mean about $150 billion lost each year.”

screen shot 2014 07 28 at 3.24.23 pm 0 Framing Climate Action as an Insurance Policy Against Future Costs

“All this helps frame climate action as taking out insurance today against the worst of global warming’s impacts, just like a responsible homeowner would buy insurance. Putting numbers to the cost of inaction takes aim directly at a classic Republican rebuttalthat it’s better to wait for the so-called ‘unsettled science’ to settle on exact timing and magnitude of global warming’s consequences.”

Why Ban Marijuana When It’s Less Addictive Than Cigarettes?

Phillip Boffey, writing in The New York Times acknowledges that marijuana is not harmless, “but, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.”

“Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances … There is already some early evidence that regulation would also help combat teen marijuana use, which fell after Colorado began broadly regulating medical marijuana in 2010.”

“There’s no need to ban a substance that has less than a third of the addictive potential of cigarettes, but state governments can discourage heavy use through taxes and education campaigns and help provide treatment for those who wish to quit.”

NIDAs 9 Percent Cannabis Addiction Rate is 98 Percent BS Weedist 640x443 Why Ban Marijuana When Its Less Addictive Than Cigarettes?

Chart from Weedist

Posted at 10:58 a.m.
Social Issues

We Regulate Cars. Why Not Guns?

Nicholas Kristof: “Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?”

“That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns.”

“One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a ‘right to travel’ that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.”

“The National Rifle Association supported reasonable gun control for most of its history and didn’t even oppose the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968. But, since then, most attempts at safety regulation have stalled or gone backward …”

Gun controls “won’t eliminate gun deaths any more than seatbelts eliminate auto deaths. But if a combination of measures could reduce the toll by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved every year.”

Posted at 10:39 a.m.
Gun Control

Latest Obamacare Attack is Met With ‘Bug-Eyed Disbelief’

Commenting on the fracas over the Halbig v. Burwell lawsuit, Jonathan Chait writes that conservatives are “fantastically wrong” to assert that “Obamacare was designed to deny tax credits on the federal health exchange.”

“Lots and lots of people followed the Affordable Care Act really closely. If the federal exchanges were intended not as a backup but as a punishment, denying their customers tax credits, it would have been a huge deal. People would have known about it. The Obama administration would have publicized the threat. This enormously consequential policy decision would be the subject of thousands of news stories and public comments. The news would not be confined to one economist [(Jonathan Gruber)] speaking about it a couple of years later.”

“It is hard to summarize the liberal response to the right’s bizarre new revisionism except as the kind of stammering, bug-eyed disbelief that occurs when somebody is forced to defend a factual proposition that everybody knows is true.”

Posted at 9:58 a.m.
Health, Judiciary

How Liberals Help the ‘One Percent’

Ruchir Sharma, writing in The Wall Street Journal: “Talk to anyone on Wall Street. If they are being frank, they’ll admit that the Fed’s loose monetary policy has been one of the biggest contributors to their returns over the past five years. Unwittingly, it seems, liberals who support the Fed are defending policies that boost the wealth of the wealthy but do nothing to reduce inequality.”

“The Fed can print as much money as it wants, but it can’t control where it goes, and much of it is finding its way into financial assets … It’s no secret who owns most of these assets. The wealthiest 1% of households … now owns 50% of all financial wealth in the U.S., and the top 10% owns 91% of the wealth in stocks and mutual funds.”

“There is a fundamental shift in the challenge facing central bankers, everywhere. Top Fed officials including former Chairman Ben Bernanke have argued that rising asset prices are less a risk than a plus, because the rising value of houses, stocks and bonds makes families feel wealthier, so they spend more and boost the economy. But monetary policy should encourage investments that will strengthen the economy and create jobs in the long term—not conjure an illusory ‘wealth effect’ that is for now lifting mainly the wealthy.”

Posted at 8:36 a.m.

July 30, 2014

Which States Have a Thirst for Alcohol?

Washington Post: “No state handles its alcohol quite like New Hampshire, according to per capita consumption data shared by the Beer Institute. The libertarian New England state guzzles down more booze per person—some 40.8 gallons per year—than any other U.S. state … Next in line are North Dakota, Montana, Nevada, and Vermont, which sip on just under 35, 34, 33, and 32 gallons per person, per year, respectively.”

“On a booze by booze level, however, the story is a bit different … By the Beer Institute’s estimates, North Dakotans drink more than a pint per day on average—the most of any state in the country.”

“Washington D.C., however, is the definitive wine capital of the U.S.”

“New Hampshire is America’s biggest fan of hard alcohol.”

 Which States Have a Thirst for Alcohol?

Posted at 11:47 a.m.
Social Issues

U.S. Economy Bounces Back After Dismal Winter

Washington Post: After a dismal winter showing a 2.1 percent annualized drop in economic activity, “the U.S. economy sprang back to life in the April-June quarter, growing at a fast 4 percent annual rate on the strength of higher consumer and business spending.”

“Last quarter’s bounce-back was broad-based, with consumers, businesses, the housing industry and state and local governments all combining to fuel growth. The robust expansion will reinforce analysts’ view that the economy’s momentum is extending into the second half of the year, when they forecast an annual growth rate of around 3 percent.”

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “is among a group of economists who think growing strength in the job market and the overall economy will prod the Fed to move faster to raise rates to make sure inflation doesn’t get out of hand.”

us economy 2q U.S. Economy Bounces Back After Dismal Winter

Chart from Fox Business

Posted at 11:34 a.m.

Enough Political Drama Over Legal Challenges to Obamacare

Drew Altman of The Wall Street Journal observes that “little attention has been paid to whether Americans will perceive Halbig as a legitimate legal question or as more inside-Washington politics.”

“Which framing prevails–if one does–matters politically as well as legally. The public generally objects when people view anti-ACA measures as Washington shenanigans.”

“Politicians should recognize that this is not just another battle over the Affordable Care Act. Depending on whether Halbig comes to be seen as a legitimate legal issue or another partisan political war playing out in the courts, this is another lawsuit that could shake public faith in our political and judicial systems.”

Strong Connection Between Religion and Political Identity

Gallup: “Even as overall party identification trends in the U.S. have shifted over the past six and half years, the relationship between religion and party identification has remained consistent. Very religious Americans are more likely to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party and less frequently identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with those who are moderately or nonreligious.”

“The underlying explanations for the relationship are complex, and have to do with the historical development of partisan politics in the decades since Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were president, differing positions of the parties on moral and values issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and geographic patterns of residency that are simultaneously related to religiousness and partisanship.”

nqljm2phjuyc9r9yljt8cg Strong Connection Between Religion and Political Identity

Posted at 7:35 a.m.
Social Issues

An Obamacare Legal Challenge That’s Finally Dead?

Nicholas Bagley of the Incidental Economist: “Last month, I wrote about the other pending existential challenge to the ACA: the lawsuit claiming that it is unconstitutional because its enactment violated the Origination Clause. I said that nothing was likely to come of the challenge, and that nothing should. Today, a unanimous the D.C. Circuit panel released an opinion saying pretty much the same thing.”

The plaintiff, Matt Sissel, “argued that this ‘shell bill’ procedure violated the Origination Clause, which says that ‘[a]ll Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.’ The ACA raised revenue and didn’t really originate in the House. So the plaintiff thinks it’s unconstitutional.’”

“The D.C. Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Rogers, disagreed. Rogers’s analysis hinges on whether the ACA is a ‘Bill for raising Revenue.’ She notes—correctly—that “the Supreme Court has held from the early days of this Nation that ‘revenue bills are those that levy taxes in the strict sense of the word, and are not bills for other purposes which may incidentally create revenue.’”

“This case is over, and it should be over.”

Posted at 7:21 a.m.
Health, Judiciary

Large Majority Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Washington Post: “When asked what the U.S. government should do about all the children arriving alone at the U.S. border, some 70 percent of Americans said they favor offering the minors shelter and support while determining whether they were eligible to stay in the country.”

The results varied widely by age and political party affiliation.


 Large Majority Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Posted at 6:53 a.m.

July 29, 2014

U.S. Economic Confidence Drops Sharply

Gallup: “Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index dropped six points last week to -21 — the largest one-week drop since last October, and the lowest weekly index score since December. Americans’ confidence in the economy’s future waned more than their views of the current conditions.”

“This drop is largely attributable to the low confidence Americans have in the economy’s future, and not so much their views of its current health. The downturn coincides with a poor week for the stock market. The stock market drop could reflect nervousness about international tensions in the Middle East, a strained relationship between the U.S. and Russia, or the ongoing debate over immigration as children continue to cross the border in large numbers. It also might reflect poorer-than-expected earnings reports from major companies such as Amazon and Visa, which may signal weaker earnings in the second half of 2014 than previously thought.”

ccmwyuekrk6t5oufqzc4ra U.S. Economic Confidence Drops Sharply

Posted at 11:20 a.m.

Obamacare Helps Boost Hospital Profits

Wall Street Journal: “A wave of newly insured patients helped boost hospitals’ earnings in recent months, two hospital operators said Friday, a sign the law’s coverage expansion is leading more patients to seek treatment.”

“The hospitals’ performances show the impact of an improving economy, along with a late rush of health-law enrollees in March and April who have now begun seeking care. About half of the eight million people who obtained coverage in health-law marketplaces between October and mid-April arrived in the final six weeks of the extended enrollment period.”

“The hospital industry supported the 2010 law—which was expected to cost hospitals $155 billion in penalties and government pay cuts over a decade—on the promise that it would deliver a wave of new, paying patients.”

“The hospital sector’s strong showing this quarter suggests the bargain is paying off, said Alan Miller, Universal Health Services’ chief executive. ‘We’re in the second inning, but, yeah, I think it is hopeful … This is the best quarter I can remember in a very long time.’”

Posted at 11:14 a.m.
Economy, Health

The Typical Household Got a Lot Poorer

New York Times: “The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation.”

“The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years.”

“’The housing bubble basically hid a trend of declining financial wealth at the median that began in 2001,’ said Fabian T. Pfeffer, the University of Michigan professor who is lead author of the Russell Sage Foundation study.”

Posted at 9:23 a.m.

Medicare and Social Security: Good News and Bad News

The Hill: “Social Security and Medicare are marching steadily toward insolvency, according to a report released Monday by the trustees for the two entitlement programs.”

“While the report found some improvement for Medicare, which will now be able to meet its obligations until 2030, four years later than projected a year ago, the overall message continued to paint a dire long-term picture for the two programs.”

“Both will come under more strain amid a flood of retirees in the coming years, the trustees said. And the pressure will grow as Washington’s attention has turned away from any debate over changing the programs.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew “chalked up at least part of the recent declines in the growth of healthcare spending to ObamaCare, noting that Medicare has gained an extra 13 years in projected solvency since the trustees’ last report before Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act.”

“Social Security saw fewer changes, with the trustees projecting that reserves for the retirement and disability trust funds would tap out in 2033, the same as last year.”

“The threat to Social Security’s disability trust fund, however, is more immediate. It is expected to use up its reserves in 2016.”

Report Shows Decline in Medicare Spending

Sarah Kliff: “This is arguably the most unexpected piece of news in the new Medicare Trustees report: the government’s hospital insurance program might be spending less money to cover more beneficiaries than it did a year ago.”

“Medicare is spending significantly less per person than they did two years ago. And this report expects that trend to continue for another two years going forward.”

medicare per person Report Shows Decline in Medicare Spending

Overall, “per-person Medicare spending has grown by an average of 0.8 percent since 2009. That’s a lot slower than the rest of the economy, which has grown at an average 3.1 percent rate. Between 2012 and 2013, it was even slower: Medicare’s per person costs stayed exactly the same.”

“As to why this is happening, that’s the big question … It’s possible the health care law, and its changes to the Medicare system (this report estimates there are 165 of them) have had an impact as well.”

Posted at 7:30 a.m.

July 28, 2014

Americans Are Moving Away from Soda Consumption

Gallup: “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they avoid soda in their diet, while more than half say they avoid sugar. Meanwhile, more than nine in 10 Americans claim they try to include fruits (92%) or vegetables (93%) in their diet — slightly more than said this previously.”

iphcfmesmeg8gsnmeaqbiq Americans Are Moving Away from Soda Consumption

“Since 2002, soda and sugar have moved into the category of food a majority of Americans appear to consider bad for them. This year, more Americans than ever say they try to avoid drinking soda, while there has been little change in sentiment about avoiding sugar intake.”

“A promising note is that almost all Americans say they try to include fruits and vegetables. But this doesn’t necessarily reflect their success in doing so.”

Analysis of Extreme Temperatures Reinforces Global Warming Trend

Inside Climate News: “It’s reasonable to expect that the whole year may end up with the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded.”

“A new report, State of the Climate in 2013, issued by the American Meteorological Society on July 17, introduces an analysis of temperature extremes since 1950. Like the vast majority of climate measurements explored in this report, the data on temperature extremes confirm the general trend of a warming planet.”

“Extremes in recorded temperatures can be a more significant measurement than averages, the annual checkup explains, since ‘societal impacts are more often related to extreme events than changes in the mean climate.’”

“Globally, 2013 had the sixth-highest number of warm days on record, and the eighth-lowest number of cool nights.”

“Examining warm days and nights and cool days and nights on global and regional scales exposes more starkly ‘a general long-term tendency towards warmer conditions, as indicated by increasing numbers of warm extremes…and decreasing numbers of cool extremes.’”

Congress Pleads Ignorance on Subsidies: A Hollow Argument

Sarah Kliff contends that “Congress never debated whether they would limit the subsidies to states that built their own exchanges.”

“It’s obvious why. Health-care reform was often described as ‘a three-legged stool.’ If the government is going to open the individual market to everyone (leg one) and require Americans to purchase coverage (leg two), there have to be subsidies to ensure the mandated insurance was affordable (leg three). Take out any leg of the stool and the whole bill might collapse.”

“After covering the debate over health reform since it began in 2009, I feel completely comfortable saying Congress meant for residents of all 50 states to have access to financial help. It was never a question … whether this would be case.”

“The idea that the federal exchange would be designed to hurt states rather than help them … would have struck the law’s drafters as absurd.”

“There is reasonable space in the Affordable Care Act’s drafting to debate what the text of the law says — a question quite different from what it intends. That helps explain why two circuit courts came to two disparate rulings on the exact same case this past Tuesday.”

“But as someone who has covered Obamacare and the people who wrote it for five years, the argument that Congress actually didn’t know how it intended for subsidies to work rings hollow: … That idea was at the very core of Obamacare, and no one drafting or voting for the law intended to betray it.”

Posted at 10:06 a.m.

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