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

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Associated Press: “Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims.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.”

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.

OG AC054 NACA51 G 20140722112818 Where Obamacare Subsidies Might Not Be Allowed

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.”


July 17, 2014

Decriminalized Prostitution Led to Fewer Rape, Gonorrhea Cases

“A loophole in Rhode Island law that effectively decriminalized indoor prostitution in 2003 also led to significant decreases in rape and gonorrhea in the state, according to a new analysis published by the National Bureau of Economic Research,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Screen Shot 2014 07 17 at 4.42.31 PM 445x321 Decriminalized Prostitution Led to Fewer Rape, Gonorrhea Cases

Concludes the report: “The results suggest that decriminalization could have potentially large social benefits for the population at large – not just sex market participants.”

The authors “got an opportunity to study the effects of decriminalized prostitution on crime and public health because Rhode Island lawmakers made a mistake. A 1980 change to state law dealing with street solicitation also deleted the ban on prostitution itself, in effect making the act legal if it took place indoors. The loophole apparently went unnoticed until a 2003 court decision, and remained open until indoor prostitution was banned again in 2009.”

“As you might expect, the economists found that decriminalizing indoor prostitution was a boon to the sex business.” Rhode Island also saw “a large decrease in rapes” after 2003, while other crimes saw no such trend in the state, they wrote. There also was “a large reduction in gonorrhea incidence post-2003 for women and men.”

Posted at 4:43 p.m.
Social Issues

Republicans are Wary About Muslims and Atheists

Christopher Ingraham: “Republicans express a much wider array of feelings toward people of different religious groups than do Democrats, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Pew asked respondents to rate different faiths on a ‘feeling thermometer’ ranging from 0 (most negative) to 100 (most positive).”

“But there are striking differences between respondents of different political parties. Republicans are much more positively disposed toward Evangelicals and Mormons than Democrats, and they have significantly more negative views of atheists and Muslims. The chart below says it all.”

religious thermometer Republicans are Wary About Muslims and Atheists

The “Pew study indicates that these trends are self-reinforcing. Republicans hold negative views of atheists and Muslims, which causes these groups to leave the Republican party, which in turn leaves the party with a more religiously homogeneous core.”

Posted at 10:40 a.m.
Social Issues

Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important U.S. Problem

Gallup: “With thousands of undocumented immigrant minors crossing the nation’s southern border in recent months, the percentage of Americans citing immigration as the top problem has surged to 17% this month, up from 5% in June, and the highest seen since 2006. As a result, immigration now virtually ties ‘dissatisfaction with government,’ at 16%, as the primary issue Americans think of when asked to name the country’s top problem.”

“Americans’ perception of the main problem ailing the country continued its gradual shift away from the economy in July, while healthcare is also fading as a top-of-mind concern. At the same time, immigration has clearly captured public attention given the political and humanitarian crisis building at the border …”

48hauumut0coztyfligg8a Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important U.S. Problem

Posted at 10:31 a.m.

Supreme Court’s Conservative Wing Frustrated by Chief’s Slow Approach

Adam Liptak: “When the Supreme Court term started last fall, it seemed that the legal landscape might soon be littered with corpses of overruled precedents. Briefs in at least eight cases asked that important decisions be overturned.”

“Come June, though, all the precedents survived. Some were battered; some were teetering; and some were hollowed out. But all lived, at least in name.”

“This was a disappointment to the court’s three most conservative justices, and it illuminated a fault line on the court’s right side.”

“Their message: He was moving too slowly.”

“’It does seem as if the chief justice has adopted a practice, in some cases, of voting with a conservative majority but not ruling as broadly as some others want to do,’ said Paul M. Smith, a prominent lawyer who argues frequently before the court.”

“’The chief likely is motivated by trying to conserve the court’s perceived legitimacy by avoiding express overrulings where possible and sometimes by bringing more liberal justices over to his side,’ Mr. Smith said.”

Posted at 9:33 a.m.

Study: States ‘Well Positioned’ to Handle New EPA Rules

The Hill: “An independent analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to limit carbon dioxide pollution from power plants concluded that states are ‘well positioned’ to handle the federal government’s requirements under the rules.”

“The Analysis Group said Monday that there will be costs associated with compliance, but ‘such costs will be much lower than the benefits to public health and to the overall economy from lower CO2 and other air emissions.’”

“If states design programs effectively, near-term electricity rate increases will be modest, and electric bills will fall in the long run, the group said.”

Federal Judge Rules Against California Death Penalty

New York Times: “A federal judge ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty system is so arbitrary and plagued with delay that it is unconstitutional, a decision that is expected to inspire similar arguments in death penalty appeals around the country.”

“The state has placed hundreds of people on death row, but has not executed a prisoner since 2006. The result, wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney of United States District Court, is a sentence that ‘no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.’”

“That sense of uncertainty and delay, he wrote, ‘violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.’”

Posted at 7:19 a.m.

No Signs of New Patient Glut Under Obamacare

NBC News: “Remember all those predictions that Obamacare was going to create a crush of pent-up medical demand?”

“That doesn’t seem to have happened, according to a new report.”

“In fact, visits appear to be down slightly over 2013, before 9 million people or more gained fresh insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the team at Athenahealth found.”

Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “I do think that primary care is changing … It’s possible many new patients are going to retail-based urgent care clinics … It is possible, I think, that there could be some new outlets for primary care that aren’t necessarily being captured,”

“It’s also hard to tell how many ‘new’ patients are newly insured, or have perhaps changed doctors for other reasons.”

pic agenda 071414 rwjf No Signs of New Patient Glut Under Obamacare

Posted at 7:06 a.m.

July 16, 2014

Who Smokes Where?

Screen Shot 2014 07 16 at 1.49.54 PM 418x335 Who Smokes Where?

Washington Post:  “Americans have been smoking fewer cigarettes every year for nearly 50 years running, but some states, age groups and demographics have been better about kicking the habit, or never even picking up the butt.”

Posted at 1:51 p.m.
Social Issues

Professor Claims Treatment of Carbon is Akin to Demonization of Jews

EcoWatch: “There must be some secret contest among climate deniers to see who can think of and utter the most ridiculous comments during interviews and debates.”

“If members of the denial club are, in fact, trying to outdo one another, give the current lead to William Happer, the physics professor at Princeton University who actually saw it fit to go on CNBC’s Squawk Box and say that some of us treat carbon dioxide the way Adolf Hitler treated Jewish people.”

“’The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,’ Happer said in the video posted by Media Matters for America. ‘Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.’”

“The comment was in response to Squawk co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin’s mention of similar comments Happer made five years ago.”

Posted at 12:34 p.m.
Energy & Environment

A Sad Excuse for a Highway Funding Bill

New York Times Editorial Board: “The enormous cost to society of poor infrastructure grows every year, and most of the blame can be placed directly on a Congress that refuses to collect and spend enough money to fix it.”

“On Tuesday the House made the situation worse with a sad excuse for a highway funding bill: A 10-month measure that keeps spending at an inadequate level and does not address the dwindling revenues that keep producing all-too-familiar cliffhanging crises.”

“This crisis was entirely foreseeable and was brought about by the ideological refusal of Congressional Republicans to raise the gasoline tax — the traditional method of paying for road projects, because it allows those who benefit from better roads to pay for them.”

“People of both parties ride in cars or take trains and buses, but they are being let down by politicians pretending that essential public works don’t come with a price tag.”

Teenage Conservatism Remains Illusory

Jonathan Chait addresses recent reports that indicate American teens are trending Republican.

Chait argues that a New York Times analysis that focuses only on white teenagers “fatally undermines the Teenage Republican hypothesis. The diversity of younger voters is the main thing that makes them more liberal. But the choice to focus on white voters only, which was defensible as a way to analyze the most pliable segment of the electorate, produced a skewed conclusion.”

David Leonhardt “finds little or no discernible shift of the youngest voters toward the Republican Party:”

14 18 politics.w560.h375.2x Teenage Conservatism Remains Illusory

“As every election cycle, older, Republican-leaning voters die off and are replaced by newer, Democratic-leaning ones. If the youngest and newest cohort is somewhat less Democratic leaning than the previous one, it would slow the process. But it’s like having your house flood at a slightly less rapid pace. The fabled new teenage conservatism remains as yet illusory.”

Posted at 8:51 a.m.
Social Issues

Another Decline in Health Care Spending

Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times writes that over the last few years, health care spending has gone down, not up.

“Since health care costs are growing more slowly than they have in decades, they’re making budget forecasts look better and better.”

“According to a report published on Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare is now expected to make up 4.6 percent of G.D.P. in 25 years, down from 4.9 percent in last year’s estimate. That’s a big enough difference that it buys the Medicare trust fund … about six more years of solvency in the budget office’s estimate compared with last year.

Over the last few years, the C.B.O. has “repeatedly reduced its forecasts of how much Medicare will cost. And to nearly everyone’s surprise, the program keeps underspending even those revised estimates.”

“C.B.O. points out that it can’t pinpoint the cause of the recent slowdown or its durability, which is why it’s not changing its fundamental view of where Medicare spending is heading over the very long term.”

Posted at 7:46 a.m.

July 15, 2014

Majority of Newly Insured Are Pretty Happy With Their Insurance

Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times writes about a new Commonwealth Fund survey showing that the newest health insurance customers are “pretty happy with their purchases.”

“Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before — including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year — were happy with their new coverage.”

commonwealth 3 Majority of Newly Insured Are Pretty Happy With Their Insurance

Chart from Vox

“There is reason to think that the good feelings may linger. Americans may complain about the details of their health insurance, but they are generally happy with it once they have it. An Associated Press poll in January found that 73 percent of all Americans with insurance before the rollout of the law were satisfied.”

Posted at 2:11 p.m.

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