Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 29, 2014

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.”

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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.”

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“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.

Obamacare Adviser’s Remarks Were a ‘Speak-O’

Jonathan Cohn asks MIT economist and Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber about his controversial 2012 comments.

Gruber’s 2012 comments: “I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country.”

Gruber’s response to Cohn: “I honestly don’t remember why I said that … I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake … My subsequent statement was just a speak-oyou know, like a typo.”

“What do I think? … Like other journalists who were following the process closely, I never heard any of them suggest subsidies would not be available in states where officials decided not to operate their own marketplacesa big deal that, surely, would have come up in conversation.”

“I obviously can’t speak to what Gruber was thinking at the time. But it doesn’t change my view that the architects of Obamacare wanted everybody to have subsidies, no matter what decision their state officials made about the marketplaces.”

Posted at 9:13 a.m.

Solar Capacity Soars in 2014

PV Tech: “In the first six months of 2014, solar has represented almost a third of new electricity generation capacity additions in the US, more than doubling its performance in the same period of 2013, according to US government statistics.”

“According to the latest monthly Energy Infrastructure Update issued by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), new energy generation installations in the US were dominated in June by natural gas and solar, with only about half as much wind added as solar.”

“According to the report for June, around 40MW of solar was installed in June, behind 63MW of natural gas generation capacity added but ahead of wind power, with 21MW.”

“From a total of 8,496MW installed in all forms of generation in January to June of 2013, solar represented about 14% of new generation capacity, while in January to June this year, solar made up 32% of newly added capacity.”

“A US governmnt report last week predicted that by 2040 solar would be second only to natural gas in its importance to the US energy mix.”

Posted at 8:43 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Repeal Prohibition on Marijuana

The New York Times Editorial Board calls on the federal government to repeal the ban on marijuana.

“It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.”

“There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.”

“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

States Move to Protect Obamacare Exchanges from Court Ruling

Wall Street Journal: “A number of states are scrambling to show that they—not the federal government—are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.”

“The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration.”

“Amid the uncertainty, some of the 36 states in which the federal government has a role in the exchanges are moving to shore up their status. Some are saying publicly that their exchanges have always been state-operated. Others are trying to make the case that they should be considered to have state exchanges regardless of federal involvement. Still others, such as Arkansas, are pushing ahead to take over their exchanges, which would likely free them from the effects of any court decision.”

Posted at 7:07 a.m.

July 25, 2014

Ryan Proposes Consolidated Anti-Poverty Effort

“Bringing detail to Republican promises to address poverty, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan laid out a plan Thursday for using a conservative approach to reshape food stamps, housing assistance and other federal social programs,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Since losing the 2012 presidential election, Republicans have been looking for new ways to broaden the party’s appeal to Americans anxious about the economy, while adhering to small-government, low-tax principles. The plan from Mr. Ryan, the party’s leading fiscal architect in the House, reflects an emerging conservative view that could shape legislation if Republicans emerge from the November elections in control of both chambers of Congress.”

“Many of the elements of Mr. Ryan’s 73-page plan lean heavily on consolidating federal social-welfare programs and shifting administrative control to the states. Its centerpiece would create an ‘Opportunity Grant’ that would lump money for food stamps, housing assistance and other antipoverty programs into one funding stream for states that join the new system.”

Posted at 2:52 a.m.

July 24, 2014

A Social Security Boondoggle

Associated Press: “Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. Nearly $300 million later, the new system is nowhere near ready and agency officials are struggling to salvage a project racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency.”

Posted at 10:56 a.m.
Social Issues

States Against EPA Rule on Carbon Pollution Would Gain

New York Times: “Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma are among the most vocal Republican skeptics of the science that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but a new study to be released Thursday found that their states would be among the biggest economic winners under a regulation proposed by President Obama to fight climate change.”

The study “concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.”

“The report concluded that the rule would hurt states where coal production is a central part of the economy — chiefly Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producer. States that produce both coal and natural gas, such as Pennsylvania, would experience an economic trade-off as diminished coal production was replaced by new natural gas production.”

Posted at 1:24 a.m.
Energy & Environment

July 23, 2014

Fake Applicants Received Subsidized Health Insurance

“In undercover tests of the new federal health insurance marketplace, government investigators have been able to procure health plans and federal subsidies for fake applicants with fictitious documents,” the Washington Post reports.

“The results of the inquiry by the Government Accountability Office are evidence of still-imperfect work by specialists intended to assist new insurance customers as well as government contractors hired to verify that coverage and subsidies are legitimate. The GAO also pointed to flaws that linger in the marketplace’s Web site,”

“According to testimony to be delivered before a House Ways and Means subcommittee, undercover GAO investigators tried to obtain health plans for a dozen fictitious applicants online or by phone, using invalid or missing Social Security numbers or inaccurate citizenship information. All but one of the fake applicants ended up getting subsidized coverage — and have kept it.”

Posted at 1:49 a.m.

Court Rulings Inject Uncertainty Into Obamacare

“Two federal appeals court panels issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for millions of Americans, raising yet more questions about the future of the health care law four years after it was signed by President Obama,” the New York Times reports.

“The contradictory rulings will apparently have no immediate impact on consumers. But they could inject uncertainty, confusion and turmoil into health insurance markets as the administration firms up plans for another open enrollment season starting in November.”

“If it stands, the ruling could cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace. It could also undercut enforcement of the requirement for most Americans to have insurance and the requirement for larger employers to offer it to their full-time employees.”

“The Justice Department said the government would continue paying subsidies to insurance companies on behalf of consumers in the 36 states that use the federal exchange, pending further review of the issue by federal courts.”

Posted at 1:44 a.m.

July 22, 2014

Where Obamacare Subsidies Might Not Be Allowed

A federal court ruling potentially could cripple the Affordable Care Act “by making subsidies unavailable in as many as 36 states where the federal government has run some or all of the insurance exchanges,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

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Posted at 12:14 p.m.

July 21, 2014

New Health Law Rules Could Widen Insurer Networks

“The Obama administration and state insurance regulators are developing stricter standards to address the concerns of consumers who say that many health plans under the Affordable Care Act have unduly limited their choices of doctors and hospitals, leaving them with unexpected medical bills,” the New York Times reports.

“Federal officials said the new standards would be similar to those used by the government to determine whether Medicare Advantage plans had enough doctors and hospitals in their networks. These private plans, sold by companies like UnitedHealth and Humana, provide comprehensive care to 16 million of the 54 million Medicare beneficiaries.”

“States are free to adopt additional standards of their own, and Washington did so in late April.”

Posted at 4:37 p.m.

Are Death Panels Still Alive?

“Five years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, one of the most controversial initiatives created under the healthcare law has no money, no members, and increasingly, at least in the near-term, no purpose,” the Morning Consult reports.

“The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), sometimes referred to as ‘death panels’ by some conservatives who have argued that it bestows powers to unelected officials that belong to Congress and could lead to rationed care for the elderly, has seen its raison d’etre swept away under an avalanche of good news.”

“Until recently, Congress knew only two ways to discuss Medicare, and that was in terms of the entitlement program nearing insolvency and the outsized percentage of the federal budget that it encompassed. IPAB was created to control Medicare spending costs by giving the 15-member panel the power to cut doctor payments under the program – a dramatic and near impossible feat for Congress to achieve on its own – whenever the per-person costs surpass the average of two consumer pricing indexes.”

“But the IPAB became a political lighting rod during the 2010 elections, and Republicans effectively neutered the panel by slashing its budget and signaling to the White House that it would have a tough time confirming any appointees it might send before the Senate Finance Committee.”

Zombie2 Are Death Panels Still Alive?

Posted at 4:30 p.m.

July 18, 2014

All Core iPhone Technology Was Initially Funded by the Federal Government

Screen Shot 2014 07 17 at 14.09.38 590x310 All Core iPhone Technology Was Initially Funded by the Federal Government

Financial Times: “This chart shows how every technology that makes it so smart, traces its funding back to a mission-oriented public agency in the US government which likes to pretend it believes in the free market when actually it has been one of the most interventionist in history.”

Posted at 1:06 p.m.

Where’s Karl Rove’s Brilliant Alternative to Obamacare?

Jonathan Chait: “Karl Rove has a column today promising Republicans that they can still win by running against Obamacare.”

“Rove is correct that public disapproval of Obamacare has consistently exceeded approval. The trouble for Republicans is that their party hasn’t managed to keep the debate solely focused on the question of ‘is this law good or bad?’ Repealing Obamacare is less popular than keeping it. And the Democratic position of building on the existing law polls far ahead of the Republian position of scrapping it and starting over.”

“Democrats may have the liability of defending the status quo, but Republicans have the liability of lacking a plausible alternative. Thus, the most recent Pew poll shows that voters trust Democrats over Republicans to handle health care, 45 percent  to 40. This would seem to at least complicate Rove’s giddy advice that Republicans are as strong as ever on the issue.”

17 majority wants congress to work to improve aca polling.w560.h402.2x Wheres Karl Roves Brilliant Alternative to Obamacare?

Posted at 12:35 p.m.

Washington’s Uninsured Rate Plummets to 8.65 Percent

The Olympian: “State insurance officials say fewer than 9 percent of Washington residents still don’t have health insurance.”

“That’s a significant improvement from numbers before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.”

“The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner counted 970,000 uninsured Washington residents last year. That number is now 600,000 or about 8.65 percent of the state population.”

Read more here:
Posted at 10:18 a.m.

Education is Producing a Nationwide Gentrification Effect

Emily Badger: The disparity between college and high school graduates’ wages has “widened as our economy has shifted to bestow greater and greater rewards on the well-educated. By 2000, that number was about 57 percent. By 2011: 73 percent.”

“These figures, though, reflect only part of the inequality that has pushed the lives of college and high school graduates in America farther apart. As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city.”

“Diamond describes this as a kind of nationwide gentrification effect.”

“The larger the share of a city’s workforce that’s made up of college graduates, the more expensive it is to live there.”

And “those cities with a higher share of college grads yield higher wages for them, too. Diamond found that a 1 percent increase in a city’s college employment ratio corresponded with a 0.3 percent increase in wages for college graduates:”

college wages Education is Producing a Nationwide Gentrification Effect

The bottom line: “The economic well-being gap — including access to places with a better quality of life — grew even wider.”

Voter ID Laws Are Deliberately Racist

Ana Marie Cox shows how recent voter ID cases brought to courts in Texas and North Carolina may help highlight their deliberately racist underpinnings.

“And they will need to defend the outrageous details of the law – such has how a concealed carry permit is a permissible form of voter ID but a federally-issued Medicare card carried by an elderly woman is not.”

“Putting malice under a national spotlight might be the best way to turn people against voter ID laws in general.”

“Right now, Americans support the idea of voter ID laws by huge margins … But the reasons that the public supports such laws aren’t the same as the GOP’s reasons for pursuing them: Republicans want to prevent specific types of people from voting; the American public wants voting to be fair. That’s why conservatives have had to hammer so hard on the false narrative of ‘voter fraud’ – to convince everyone that it’s what the laws are really about.”

Support declines when voters are educated about the true intent of these laws: A “survey found that informing respondents that ‘Opponents of voters ID laws argue they can actually prevent people who are eligible to vote from voting’ brought support for voter ID down by 12 points.”


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