The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal Conundrum: Then What?

National Journal: “Every Republican 2016 presidential hopeful is going to start their health care policy platform with repealing the Affordable Care Act. It is a central tenet of the faith.”

“But what then? … There has been no vigorous debate that shapes a white paper into real policy.”

There are three schools of thoughts within the GOP on health care: “One wants to effectively revert to a pre-Obamacare world. Another acknowledges the new reality that Obamacare has created and encourages conservatives to consider what’s politically viable in that world. The third would say that Republicans should yield the coverage side of health care reform to liberals and work on the best free-market alternative they can muster without measuring it against the ACA.”

“Tax treatment of health insurance … is a big one, because employer-based health insurance covers almost half of the U.S. population, and a big reason for that is employer contributions are excluded from taxes. You start messing with that, and you risk a lot of people getting worried that they’re going to lose a plan they like. (Sound familiar?)”

“Repealing Obamacare means scrapping its Medicaid expansion and tax subsidies, both of which have helped millions of poorer Americans purchase private insurance. Which leaves the question of how you provide some kind of safety net for that population, which has historically been less likely to be insured and most at risk of medical bankruptcy.”

Is Climate Change to Blame for Colder Winters?

While some have pointed the finger at climate change to explain the bitterly cold winters of late, Neal Colgrass looks at a recent paper in the Journal of Climate that “extreme cold snaps will become rarer as the climate continues to warm.”

“The argument goes like this: The Arctic has been warming for decades, and temperatures in mid-latitudes (or temperate zones, where most of us live) vary less often when there’s less temperature difference between the tropics and the poles. Think of it this way: If air masses were all the same, there would theoretically be no fluctuation. So, less difference, less fluctuation.”

Health Care Reform Promises the Unexpected This Tax Season

With the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate entering into force this year, National Journal looks at a number of possible scenarios of how tax season might play out.

“Almost 7 million people picked plans through the exchanges and were eligible for subsidies last year. Half of them will end up owing the government money… The reason for this is because income—which is tied to the size of subsidies—can be very difficult to predict ahead of time. Most people elect to receive these subsidies in advance, when they enroll in health coverage, forcing them to predict what they’ll make. If this prediction is off (as it often is), they’ll have to reconcile it with what they actually made when they file their taxes.”

“Another 45 percent of people enrolled on an exchange and receiving subsidies will have a more pleasant tax-season experience: They’ll get money from the government. These people overestimated their income and have been paying more than the government says they should for their health insurance.”

“There’s a smorgasbord of possibilities, a mix-and-match of expectations, subsidies, penalties, and reporting requirements. Some people will both get some money back and pay a fine… But for all the potential complexity, for three-quarters of taxpayers, filling out their tax forms will require very little headache, as long as they are insured. These people will only have to check a box saying they have health coverage.”

Red States Love the Gas Tax

“Don’t believe the axiom that Republicans reflexively oppose tax increases: Outside the Beltway, it just doesn’t hold up,” The Atlantic reports.

“States across the country are raising their fuel taxes to pay for the upkeep of deteriorating roads and bridges, and in a surprising number of those states, the governors and legislative leaders pushing those changes are Republicans, not Democrats. In Utah, GOP Governor Gary Herbert signed a law last week passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature that raises the gas tax by 5 cents and ties future increases to prices at the pump. A month ago, Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, approved a gas-tax hike that sailed through the legislature in under two weeks. Top Republicans in Georgia, Michigan, and South Dakota have proposed similar increases, and as many as 12 states could raise fuel taxes in 2015 alone, after six did so in the last two years, according to an analysis by Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.”

“The movement is a breakthrough for many states that have gone more than 20 years without touching the levy on gasoline, and it presents quite the contrast with the dynamics in Washington… The mere proposal of a tax hike in Washington sends lobbyists scrambling and conservative activists mobilizing in opposition. Yet the most fascinating part of the recent gas-tax debate in at least some of the states is the absence of any visible ideological fights.”

Views on Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

Erik Eckholm points to “eroding freedom in the name of freedom: … Over time, court decisions and conservative legal initiatives started to change the meaning of those laws, according to liberal activists. The state laws were not used to protect minorities, these critics say, but to allow some religious groups to undermine the rights of women, gays and lesbians or other groups.”

Michael Lindenberger: “Indiana doesn’t need a new law to permit businesses from discriminating against gay customers. It’s perfectly legal to do that right now … In Indiana, and in most other states, businesses who want to discriminate against gay customers face no obstacles under state law in doing so. The few statewide discrimination protections that do exist are mostly limited to employment, and often enough only cover government workers.”

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board argues that the controversy reveals a new intolerance that targets religion: “In the increasingly bitter battle between religious liberty and the liberal political agenda, religion is losing. Witness the media and political wrath raining down upon Indiana because the state dared to pass an allegedly anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The question fair-minded Americans should ask before casting the first stone is who is really being intolerant.”

Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post notes the flip-flop in economics of exclusiveness, given the current outcry: “This is an astonishing, and inspiring, turn of events. If in [economist Gary] Becker’s day firms feared that customers would punish them for inclusiveness, today firms fear customers will instead punish them for exclusiveness. If in the past, to stay competitive and attract the most desirable talent, you needed to be discriminatory, today the opposite may be becoming true. Hooray for markets being on the right side of history.”

The New York Times Editorial Board: “Religion should not be allowed to serve as a cover for discrimination in the public sphere. In the past, racial discrimination was also justified by religious beliefs, yet businesses may not refuse service to customers because of their race. Such behavior should be no more tolerable when it is based on sexual orientation.”

Obamacare’s Prophets of Disaster

Pual Krugman: Representative Pete Sessions of Texas “recently set a new standard when he declared the cost of Obamacare ‘unconscionable.’ If you do “simple multiplication,” he insisted, you find that the coverage expansion is costing $5 million per recipient. But his calculation was a bit off — namely, by a factor of more than a thousand. The actual cost per newly insured American is about $4,000.”

“Whatever your overall view of the Affordable Care Act, one indisputable fact is that it’s costing taxpayers much less than expected — about 20 percent less, according to the Congressional Budget Office. A senior member of Congress should know that, and he certainly has no business making speeches about an issue if he won’t bother to read budget office reports.”

Krugman asserts that this is “how it’s been all along with Obamacare,” with “the prophets of disaster … pretending that the bad things they said would happen have, in fact, happened.”

“In short, when it comes to the facts, the attack on health reform has come up empty-handed. But the public doesn’t know that. The good news about costs hasn’t made it through at all: According to a recent poll by Vox.com, only 5 percent of Americans know that Obamacare is costing less than predicted, while 42 percent think the government is spending more than expected.”

California Leads the Nation in Solar Power

Think Progress: “California led the nation in new solar power capacity last year, and new data show it was the first state to get more than 5 percent of its annual electricity generation from large-scale solar projects producing more than one megawatt of power.”

“According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2014 utility-scale solar projects in California generated more than three times the output of the second-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.”

“The top three states in large-scale solar generation in 2014 — California, Arizona, and Nevada — are some of the most sun-drenched in the country, but their progressive renewable energy policies also played a major role in the solar build-out.”

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Will the US Impose a Consumption Tax?

“U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle increasingly are finding appeal in an ambitious concept for overhauling the nation’s income-tax system: a tax based on consumption, a tool long used around the world,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The plans vary widely in their details. They include European-style value-added taxes, a type of sales tax that is collected along each stage of the production process; traditional sales taxes; and taxes on carbon-based pollution.”

“The discussions are in early stages. The likelihood that senators will agree on a consumption tax—or any major overhaul—in current negotiations remains slim. Introducing such a different tax system also brings the fear of the unknown. Still, the talks open up a possible new direction in slow-moving discussions about rewriting the U.S. tax system.”