Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 29, 2015

January 28, 2015

Unequal States: How Much Do You Have to Make to Be a ‘One Percenter?’

Danny Vinik looks at the Economic Policy Institute’s new report  on trends in inequality over the past 95 years.

“The authors, Estelle Sommelier and Mark Price, also broke down income statistics geographically, looking at how much money a person must make in each state to enter into the top 1 percent. In Connecticut, for instance, a person must make nearly $700,000 to be in the top 1 percent. In Arkansas, it’s just $228,000.”

Posted at 9:05 a.m.

Republicans Now Blame Obama for Income Inequality

Danny Vinik claims that “over the past week we have gotten a taste of what the new Republican attacks on the Obama economy will look like …  Obama is responsible for increased inequality. “Frankly, the president’s policies have made income inequality worse,” House Speaker John Boehner said on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” citing Obamacare as a reason for growing inequality. Other Republicans, like Mitt Romney, have suddenly discovered that inequality is a pressing problem.”

“Inequality has worsened during Obama’s presidency for one simple reason: We went through a nasty recession and are only now seeing the beginning of a widespread recovery. That recovery, so far, has benefited the rich considerably.”

“The Republican Party’s newfound attack on Obama over rising income inequality is especially strange because it ignores his greatest legislative achievement, which has improved the lives of millions of poor Americans. Yes, I mean Obamacare, the benefits of which accrue almost entirely to the poor.”

“The recovery has been slow compared to past recoveries but not compared to past recoveries after a financial crisis. By the latter comparison, this recovery is slightly above averageand it’s the envy of the developed world.”

Taking a Shot at Vaccines: California’s Vaccine Denial Problem

Christopher Ingraham: “My colleague Jason Millman reported last week on the results of a study showing that vaccine skeptics tend to cluster together in like-minded, often wealthy communities. Since the study focused on just a handful of northern California counties, I’d like to extend that analysis by looking at vaccine refusal across the entire state of California – as a result both of vaccine denial and religious objections.”

“The map below is a first crack at that. Using data from the California Department of Public Health, it divides the state into equal-area grids, and within each area it counts the number of public school kindergartners with what’s known as a “personal belief exemption” (PBE) to state vaccine requirements. The hexagon markers are sized by the total number of kindergartners in the area, and colored according to the percent of them with PBEs.”

Posted at 8:46 a.m.

Americans Still Want Obamacare Perks

Although views of Obamacare remain negative (46% have an unfavorable opinion; 40% say they favor the law) Americans want Congress to act if the Supreme Court invalidates the law’s insurance subsidies, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

“If the Supreme Court rules that financial assistance is only available in states with state-run marketplaces, nearly two-thirds of the public says that Congress should take action so that people in all states can be eligible for financial help to purchase health insurance. Majorities of Democrats and independents say they would support Congressional action, while Republicans are more divided. And, although the Supreme Court’s decision would have significant implications for many people in states using the federal exchange, their views are similar to those of people living in states with their own marketplace.”

Figure 2

Obamacare Enrollment Reaches a New Record

The Hill: “Roughly 9.5 million consumers have chosen health plans or reenrolled in their old coverage on ObamaCare’s marketplaces since Nov. 15, an increase over last year’s final count.”

“The new figure puts the Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) 2015 sign-up target within striking distance. The Obama administration is hoping to achieve at least 9.1 million paid enrollments for this year.”

“While HHS appears to have hit its enrollment goal at first glance, it is not clear how many people who have chosen plans will pay their first premium — the threshold for full enrollment.”


Posted at 5:03 a.m.

January 27, 2015

CBO Revises Obamacare Enrollment Projections

National Journal: “Obamacare enrollment won’t be quite as fast—or as expensive—as previously expected, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.”

“All told, Obamacare reduced the number of uninsured Americans by about 12 million last year and will cut the uninsured rate by 19 million people this year, CBO said. And the budget office still expects the law to cover about 24 million people who otherwise would have been uninsured.”

“But the budget office said enrollment in Obamacare’s insurance exchanges will take longer than expected to ramp up. CBO said it now expects the exchanges to cover roughly 12 million people this year, down from 13 million in its last estimates. It also reduced its enrollment projections for 2016.”

“Why? Sign-ups toward the end of 2014 were lower than expected, and the number of people who selected coverage but then dropped it was higher than expected.”

Posted at 10:24 a.m.

A Troubling Increase in Vaccine Skeptics

Wall Street Journal: “The measles outbreak that began at California’s Disneyland Resort last month is part of a new trend that worries public health officials.”

“Large outbreaks in the U.S. of the highly infectious disease have become more common in the past two years, even though measles hasn’t been indigenous since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“At the same time, persuading skeptical parents to vaccinate their children has grown more difficult because concerns about a possible link between vaccines and autism—now debunked by science—have expanded to more general, and equally groundless, worries about the effects of multiple shots on a child’s immune system, vaccine experts and doctors say.”

“While vaccination rates across the nation have been high since the mid-1990s—at 94.7% for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for kindergartners in the 2013-14 school year—some communities and groups in pockets of the country eschew or delay vaccinations, and the number of susceptible people in such communities is growing.”

Posted at 9:37 a.m.
Health, Social Issues

Obamacare’s Estimated Costs Slashed

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday significantly lowered its estimated cost of health coverage under Obamacare.

New York Times: “Douglas W. Elmendorf, the director of the budget office, said the changes resulted from many factors, including a general ‘slowdown in the growth of health care costs’ and lower projections of insurance premiums that are subsidized by the federal government.”

“In March 2010, when President Obama signed the health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the expansion of coverage would cost the federal government $710 billion in the fiscal years 2015 through 2019.”

“’The newest projections indicate that those provisions will cost $571 billion over that same period, a reduction of 20 percent,’ he said. The Affordable Care Act not only subsidized the purchase of private insurance, but also authorized a major expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people.”

“All told, the budget office said, the coverage provisions of the health care law will have a gross cost of nearly $2 trillion over the next 10 years, partly offset by $643 billion in new revenues and penalty payments.”

Posted at 9:23 a.m.

CBO Projects Deficit Decline But Warns of Tripling Interest Payments

Washington Post: “The federal budget deficit will ease slightly to $468 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday, but the agency warned that the mounting level of federal debt over the next decade would mean a tripling of interest payments and new spending constraints.”

“The projected deficit, equivalent to 2.6 percent of the size of the economy, would be the smallest since 2007 and close to the 2.7 percent average deficit over the past 50 years.”

“While those deficits would remain stable through 2018, the CBO warned that they would rise after that.”

January 26, 2015

What Happened to America’s Middle Class?

New York Times: “The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.”

“In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year … But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 8.12.28 AM

“In recent years, the fastest-growing component of the new middle class has been households headed by people 65 and older.”

“Geography also matters. The biggest declines in middle-class households during the previous half-century occurred in the Northeast — states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey — where industrial economies gave way to mass suburbanization and increased affluence.”

A Crippling Blow to Obamacare Looms in SCOTUS Ruling

National Journal: “If the Supreme Court tears apart Obamacare this summer, the president won’t be able to put it back together all by himself … The high court is expected to rule this summer in a lawsuit over Obamacare’s insurance subsidies, which more than 80 percent of enrollees are receiving. ”

“Without a fix in Congress or a good administrative option, the only solution would be to convince the states to set up their own exchanges. That would involve convincing Republican governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures, all of whom have already refused to set up their own exchanges once, to cooperate.”

“States are going to have to establish exchanges, whatever that means. But whatever it means, it probably means the state would have to take some kind of affirmative action.”

“Because HHS had considerable flexibility in certifying state exchanges, it might be able to soften some of its standards to make it easier for states to take control of their marketplaces after a Supreme Court decision.”

“Setting up a new system for regulating insurance plans isn’t free–states that initially set up their own marketplaces were eligible for unlimited planning and establishment grants from the federal government, to help them get off the ground. But that funding has expired; states would now have to spend their own money.”

“Furthermore, the looser the standards HHS adopts, the more likely they are to draw another legal challenge.”

“It could just become a never-ending series of lawsuits.”

Posted at 7:27 a.m.
Health, Judiciary

The U.S. Fracking Explosion

Inside Climate News has compiled a map of the nation’s fracking activity. There are “22 states, from California to Texas, Michigan to West Virginia, currently employing this high-intensity form of energy extraction, and five others may soon follow.”

“Fracking is used differently in each state, depending on the available fossil fuels. Texas has thousands of wells that tap into deeply buried shale deposits. By contrast, in Indiana, fracking occurs for a small percentage of wells.”

January 23, 2015

Doomsday Clock Moves Dangerously Close to Midnight

National Journal: “It’s 2015, and Cold War fears of nuclear Armageddon have largely faded from public consciousness. But scientists Thursday moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock, which for decades has signaled the urgency of threats to humanity, to the second most critical position in its history: three minutes to midnight.”

“‘Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,’ wrote the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has published the Doomsday Clock since 1947, in explaining Thursday’s adjustment.”


Who are the Losers in a SCOTUS Obamacare Subsidies Ruling?

Margot Sanger-Katz: “The people who could lose their health insurance as a result of a Supreme Court decision [in favor of the plaintiff in King v. Burwell] are predominantly white, Southern, employed and middle-aged, according to an Urban Institute analysis.”

The groups that have gained the most from Obamacare so far are “blacks, Hispanics, young adults, rural Americans and those with the lowest incomes. But the group that stands to lose the most from the court case has a markedly different profile.”

QS104 infographic

“The new Urban study finds that the biggest regional loser from the court case would be the South. More than 60 percent of people who would lose their individual health insurance live there. Among different income groups, the largest reductions would come for those earning between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level — or between about $40,000 and $80,000 for a family of three. Forty-seven percent of the people who would lose insurance have full-time jobs, and 34 percent have part-time jobs. Sixty-one percent are white. Forty-seven percent have attended at least some college. Ninety-two percent would probably describe their health as better than fair.”


Posted at 11:34 a.m.
Health, Judiciary

Why Republicans Can’t Overturn Obamacare

To illustrate how difficult it would be for Republicans to undo Obamacare, Jason Millman writes how Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson conceded Thursday that his state must keep its Medicaid private option.

“After months of silence, Hutchinson provided a clear message — the state must keep the private option, though he will look for cost-saving reforms that gives Arkansas policymakers more flexibility to administer the program.”

“From a political standpoint, the important thing Thursday was Hutchinson’s tone. He spoke candidly about the benefits of the private option.”

“Also notable was his insistence that the state just can’t just drop coverage for those who’ve gained it, and that the state’s health-care industry can’t tolerate ongoing uncertainty, year-to-year, whether coverage will be continued. Hutchinson called for a two-year extension of the private option in its current form, as a new task force will consider possible changes to the program.”

“Those comments show the larger implications for Republican governors if the Supreme Court this summer overturns the health insurance subsidies provided through the federal-run ACA exchanges. That could disrupt new coverage for millions who’d no longer find health insurance affordable without subsidies, and it could be left to the states to fix the situation if Congress does nothing.”

Posted at 7:39 a.m.

January 22, 2015

Inhofe: ‘Man Can’t Change the Climate’

Bloomberg: “Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the most outspoken global warming skeptic in Congress, voted along with 97 of his colleagues on Wednesday on a resolution stating that ‘climate change is real and not a hoax.'”

“Inhofe has not, however, changed his view that the rise in global temperatures has anything to do with human activity.”

“‘Climate is changing, and climate has always changed, and always will, there’s archeological evidence of that, there’s biblical evidence of that, there’s historic evidence of that, it will always change,’ Inhofe said on the Senate floor. ‘The hoax is that there are some people that are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful that they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.'”

The roster of how the votes played out is listed on Wired.

Posted at 10:43 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Senate: No Link Between Human Activity and Climate Change

The Guardian: “It is nearly 27 years now since a Nasa scientist testified before the US Senate that the agency was 99% certain that rising global temperatures were caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

“And the Senate still has not got it – based on the results of three symbolic climate change votes on Wednesday night.”

“The Senate voted virtually unanimously that climate change is occurring and not, as some Republicans have said, a hoax – but it defeated two measures attributing its causes to human activity.”

“But the Senate voted down two measures that attributed climate change to human activity – and that is far more important. Unless Senators are prepared to acknowledge the causes of climate change, it is likely they will remain unable and unwilling to do anything about it.”

Posted at 10:39 a.m.
Energy & Environment

Obamacare Enrollment Continues at a Strong Clip

Reuters: “The Obama administration said on Wednesday that more than 7.1 million people have signed up for 2015 healthcare coverage through the federal government’s insurance marketplace as of last Friday.”

“The figures, which show more than 400,000 new applicants for the week from Jan. 10 through Jan. 16 alone, do not include enrollees at 14 state-run marketplaces.”

With state exchanges included, Charles Gaba of ACA Signups estimates that “the actual number is closer to 9.7 million.”

“At least 33 states have now reached the ‘official’ 2015 [qualified health plan] enrollment target laid out for them by either the HHS Dept (10.4 million nationally) or, in some cases, individual state governments/exchanges. Again, this means roughly 30% more enrollees than the April 19, 2014 total, but in some cases it’s higher or lower.”


Posted at 7:49 a.m.

Unemployment No Longer a Top Concern Among Americans

Gallup: “Healthcare costs and lack of money or low wages rank as the most important financial problems facing American families, each mentioned by 14% of U.S. adults. Fewer Americans than a year ago cite the high cost of living or unemployment, and the percentage naming oil or gas prices is down from 2012.”

Most Important Financial Problem in U.S., Recent Trend

“The American economy continues to recover. With Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index in positive territory for the first time since the Great Recession, and with President Barack Obama stating that the U.S. last year had its best year for job growth since 1999, certain financial problems have receded from the nation’s memory, while others have persisted in the forefront. Americans have consistently cited healthcare, a topic of fierce debate this decade, as one of the most important financial problems, and it remains so.”

In Texas, a Family Earning Less Than $4,000 is ‘Too Rich’ for Medicaid

Jason Millman: “A common misconception about the Medicaid program is that all poor people automatically qualify for the health insurance program. They don’t — and depending on where you live, it can be incredibly hard to get coverage.”

“If you live in one of the 23 states that didn’t expand coverage, the limits can be really strict, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The result is that a lot of people end up being caught in a gap where they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to get assistance through the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges.”

“Fourteen states currently set Medicaid eligibility for parents at below half of the federal poverty level. One of the most stringent requirements is found in Texas, the largest state sitting out the Medicaid expansion. Medicaid coverage in Texas is cut off for parents earning above 19 percent of the federal poverty level — or $3,760 for a family of three.”

“As you can see below, it’s not hard in a lot of states to wind up making too much money to qualify for Medicaid.”

Posted at 6:20 a.m.

The Secret to a Good Education: Money

Max Ehrenfreund: “More recent research … has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education. A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.”

“The authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, released a revised draft of their as-yet-unpublished paper this week. The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families. They found that a 10 percent increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5 percent increase in students’ earnings as adults. A public investment in schools, they wrote, returned 8.9 percent annually for a typical pupil who started kindergarten in 1980.”

“The findings are evidence that public schooling can be a way for children who grow up in poverty to overcome their circumstances …The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year.”

Posted at 5:54 a.m.

January 21, 2015

Senate Will Vote on Whether Climate Change is a Hoax

Science Insider: “The U.S. Senate’s simmering debate over climate science has come to a full boil today, with lawmakers trading feisty remarks as they prepare to vote on at least two measures offered by Democrats that affirm that climate change is real—with one also noting that global warming is not ‘a hoax.”

“In an effort to highlight their differences with some Republicans on climate policy, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused. The backers are now pushing for votes on those measures as soon as today.”

“The Democratic amendments vary in detail and whether they call for specific actions on climate policy. But they share one thing in common: that lawmakers should at least accept climate science, regardless of party affiliation.”

It’s Expensive Being Poor

Charles Blow: “Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released a study that found that most wealthy Americans believed ‘poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.’”

“This is an infuriatingly obtuse view of what it means to be poor in this country … Allow me to explain … a few illustrations of ‘how extremely expensive it is to be poor.’”

“First, many poor people work, but they just don’t make enough to move out of poverty — an estimated 11 million Americans fall into this category.”

“And yet, whatever the poor earn is likely to be more heavily taxed than the earnings of wealthier citizens, according to a new analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.”

“In addition, many low-income people are ‘unbanked’ (not served by a financial institution), and thus nearly eaten alive by exorbitant fees.”

“One way to move up the ladder and out of poverty is through higher education, but even that is not without disproportionate costs … And often, work or school requires transportation, which can be another outrageous expense.”

Obamacare Wish May Doom Republicans in 2016

Talking Points Memo: “A Supreme Court decision to overturn Obamacare subsidies would directly affect millions of Americans in key swing states and pose a political dilemma for Republicans ahead of the 2016 election — at least unless they can get behind a viable health care alternative.”

“A ruling in the looming case King v. Burwell could wipe out health insurance subsidies for some 3 million Americans in a dozen states that could decide the 2016 election and rely on the federal exchange, according to new research by professors Theda Skocpol of Harvard University and Lawrence R. Jacobs of the University of Minnesota.”

“In Florida, nearly 1.2 million Americans are enrolled in a federal exchange plan as of early 2015. In Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and North Carolina a total of 1.3 million Americans would lose their plans. Notably, in each of those states the number of federal exchange customers who risk becoming ineligible for subsidies exceeded the 2012 presidential election winner’s margin of victory in that state, Skocpol and Jacobs found.”

“Ironically, the negative consequences of a Supreme Court ruling to restrict the subsidies would be most prevalent in Republican-heavy states, which overwhelmingly refused to build their own exchanges.”

State of The Union is Better but Still Troubled

The New York Times‘ Upshot Staff’s take on the State of the Union is, “in short: The state of union, while far stronger than when Mr. Obama took office, remains troubled.”

“While the unemployment rate is falling rapidly, there has been less progress in pulling back in the millions of Americans who dropped out of the labor force entirely during the recession and slow recovery.”

“The proportion of the population with a job fell nearly five percentage points from late 2007 to late 2010 — and the economy has regained only one of those five percentage points since. Some of that is because of longer-term demographic changes, particularly with the baby boom generation reaching retirement age. But there are millions who left the labor force when the economy went south and do not yet see the opportunities that might coax them to rejoin the work force.”

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“The acceleration in job creation has not, as of yet, been matched with an acceleration in wages. Hourly earnings have been rising around 2 percent a year since 2011 — in other words, barely above the rate of inflation.”

Posted at 6:54 a.m.

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