While conservatives continued to complain about Democratic health-care reforms that are designed to make private insurance more affordable and effective, the US Census Bureau reported that the nations economic problems caused 6.6 mln Americans to lose their job-based health insurance in 2009. Public insurance programs such as Medicaid and the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), along with the economic Recovery Act, covered 2.3 mln of those who lost their private insurance, so that the total number of uninsured Americans under 65 rose by only 4.3 mln. But that still left 50.7 mln uninsured. Employer-paid health insurance fell from 61.9% of Americans in 2008 to 58.9% in 2009.
The Census Bureau also reported that 43.6 mln people, or 14.3% of the population (and 20.7% of children), live in poverty. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that unemployment insurance helped stave off poverty for another 3.3 mln people.
INSURANCE HELP IS ON THE WAY. Rules that went into effect (9/23):
require new insurance plans to provide preventive care without charging a co-payment;
allows children to stay on their parents insurance policy until their 26th birthday;
prohibits insurers from denying coverage for children under 19 because of pre-existing conditions;
bans lifetime limits on benefit payouts for new policies;
starts a phaseout of annual limits on benefit payouts;
prohibits insurers from rescinding coverage for technical errors on the patients original application; and
provides consumers with a way to appeal denial of coverage.
The law previously provided tax credits for 4 mln small businesses to help them provide insurance for their workers; provided $250 rebate for seniors who hit the Medicare prescription drug donut hole; provided $15 bln for preventive care; and setting up a website to allow consumers to compare health insurance coverage options and pick the coverage that works for them. It also increases payments to states to provide Medicaid for low-income families; increases payments for rural health care providers; provides funding to expand services at community health centers; and offers $250 mln in grants to states that hold insurance companies accountable for unreasonable rate hikes.
Reforms continue through 2014, when the law provides health insurance exchanges that will offer a choice of health plans that meet benefit and cost standards; tax credits to help working families afford insurance; and increases tax credits for small businesses that provide health benefits. (See healthcare.gov.)
INSURERS RENEGE ON KIDS COVERAGE. Several health insurance companies have announced that they are ending insurance coverage for children because the new law wont let them turn away the sick ones anymore. The Denver Post reported (9/20) that Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana were among the companies that said they would stop writing new policies for individual children not covered by their parents or other plans. HealthCareForAmericaNow.org reported that WellPoint and CoventryOne also are refusing to issue new child-only policies because they will no longer be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
Once the law is fully implemented, insurance companies will not be able to deny any of us coverage because we have an illness, or drop us when we do, or force us into bankruptcy because of caps on how much of our health care theyll pay for, Melinda Gibson wrote at HealthCareForAmericaNow.org. Thats why this law really is a [big deal], and thats why this latest move by the insurance companies is so over the top.
Gibson added, Its noteworthy that the insurance companies are doing exactly what they said they would not do when Karen Ignagni, President and Chief Executive Officer of Americas Health Insurance Plans, wrote to US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on March 29, 2010. In that letter Ignagni said that Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition. Amazingly, Ignagni went on to take credit for this provision of the law: That is why health plans in 2008 proposed reforms to make pre-existing condition exclusions a thing of the past. I hate to pile on, but the letter continued: With respect to the provisions related to coverage for children, we await and will fully comply with the regulations described in your letter.
Apparently, not so much.
Insurance companies reneging on their obligation to cover children is just one reason health reform was necessary in the first place. Wendell Potter, a former CIGNA executive who quit to advocate a single-payer plan to replace private insurance, said on MSNBCs Countdown of insurance company execs (9/21), Theyre not monsters, but they know their obligation is to Wall Street.
PREACHER, HEAL THYSELF. Profiteering insurance companies have an ally in Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor-turned-talk-show-host and potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate who denounced the notion of providing health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions in a speech at the Value Voters Summit (9/17): It sounds so good, and its such a warm message to say were not gonna deny anyone from a preexisting condition. Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [to] our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, Id like to buy some insurance for my house. Hed say, Tell me about your house. Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but Id like to insure it today. And hell say Im sorry, but we cant insure it after its already burned. Well, no preexisting conditions. (Huckabee got a round of applause from the Values Voters crowd.)
That was too much for Rick Ungar at Forbes.com (9/17). So much for the days of compassionate conservatism. I guess Huck figures that a child born with a serious medical condition should never be entitled to expensive but needed medical care throughout his or her life because, in the Governors words, that house has already burned down.
Ungar quoted Rev. Sandy Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, who wrote in 2007 that Jesus was a healer. ... He never refused to heal someone because they could not pay, and pre-existing conditions were his specialty. It seems to me that Jesus would provide for the health and well being of all persons.
Ungar concluded, I dont know if Huckabee is really a religious man or, for that matter, ever was. However, if the Governor does practice what he preaches, he might want to be more concerned about how his speech plays when his day comes to account for his behavior before a much higher power than the conservative crowd that filled the auditorium at todays Value Voters conference.
GOP THREATENS SHUTDOWN OVER HEALTH REFORM. Republicans plan to do what they can to repeal or roll back the new health care law if they take over Congress, including shutting down the federal government if they reach an impasse with the White House. For starters, the New York Times reported (9/21), Republicans say they will try to withhold money that federal officials need to administer and enforce the law. They know that if they managed to pass a repeal, Obama would veto it.
Theyll get not one dime from us, the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer recently. Not a dime. There is no fixing this.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a senior Republican on the Finance Committee, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the requirement for employers to offer insurance to employees or pay a tax penalty. Many Republicans also want to repeal the laws requirement for most Americans to obtain health insurance.
Republicans say they will also try to scale back the expansion of Medicaid, the program for low-income people. And GOP lawmakers may try to restore money to Medicare Advantage, the managed-care program that was an attempt to privatize senior health coverage. But that probably will have to wait until a Republican is in the White House.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) claims he has 173 votes to repeal health care reform and is demanding a blood oath from Boehner to include a repeal of health care reform in every appropriations bill, even if a government shutdown results. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said a shutting down government is the right thing to do, even if it means closing veterans health services and access to national parks, because health reforms and other government programs are like gangrene that need to be cleaned out.
REPUBS APPLAUD JOBS FROM GM BAILOUT THEY OPPOSED. When GM announced that it would rehire 483 laid-off workers at its Spring Hill, Tenn., plant to produce engines for Buick, Chevrolet and GMC models (9/17), the Tennessee pols who showed up at a ceremony to celebrate the news included Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Rep. Marsha Blackburn all three of whom voted against the auto bailout that kept GM in business. United Auto Workers in attendance booed the Republicans lustily, saving their strongest scorn for Corker, who had argued that no federal aid should go to American car companies until American workers wages were reduced to levels competitive with foreign labor.
Justin Hyde noted at Jalopnik.com (9/18) that Corker in March 2009 complained that the bailout was a major power grab by Obama. Now he says, I contributed to strengthening the auto industry in this country.
Alexander last year complained the bailout was taxpayer money down the drain. Now he says, The center of the auto industry is still moving to Tennessee and the mid-South.
Blackburn in December 2008 said, I certainly cant think of the last time the federal government stepping into an industry caused that industry to be more successful, or more efficient. She wasnt quoted at the Spring Hill rally, but Hyde noted that she is currently leading the fight to overturn a ban on incandescent light bulbs.
Some critics called the bailout socialism, even fascism, Andrew Leonard noted at Salon.com (9/20), but Leonard also noted that the plant was lured to Tennessee in 1985 by then-Gov. Lamar Alexander with a package of tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and $20 mln of job training. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Tennessee did exactly to Michigan and the rest of the Rust Belt what so many American lawmakers now claim China is doing to the United States, Leonard wrote. With the help of government incentives and guaranteed cheap(er) labor, GM offshored production of the Saturn to Tennessee. You sure dont need to look across the Pacific to understand 14.5% unemployment in the Rust Belt. This is how American capitalism works.
MURKOWSKI RANKLES GOP. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) isnt taking her GOP primary election defeat as the last straw in her re-election plans, as she announced that she will proceed as a write-in candidate against teabag Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams in the general election. She has $1 mln to pay for voter education, including TV ads, on how to write in her name (although her first ad misspelled the name on her website). Republicans fear that her campaign could split the GOP vote and allow McAdams to win. In retaliation, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell removed Murkowski as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference and said he was considering replacing her on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
POLL FINDS LITTLE SUPPORT FOR WEALTHY TAX CUTS. A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Service Employees International Union found that there was strong support in seven critical battleground states for letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for people making over $250,000 a year, as President Obama proposes. The poll found that overall 55% of voters support allowing the tax cuts to expire. Those who favored and opposed the tax cuts for the wealthy in the battleground states included California (63%-29%), Colorado (57-37), Illinois (69-26), Nevada (52-38), Pennsylvania (68-25), Washington (60-33), Wisconsin (64-28).
Greg Sargent noted at washingtonpost.com (9/21) that a majority of voters in the seven battleground states reject a core argument in favor of the Bush tax cuts: the idea that the cuts for everyone helped the economy. The poll finds that a majority think the Bush tax cuts either made no difference (26%) or hurt the economy (27%). Thats a total of 53%. Paul Begala, an adviser to the SEIU, told Sargent. At a time when Democrats are facing tough races all across the country, defending middle-class tax cuts while Republicans hold them hostage for tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year is a winning issue for them. This is the fight Democrats need.
GOP SMALL BIZ NOT ALL THAT SMALL. Republicans have argued that allowing tax rates on the wealthy to expire would hurt small businesses. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) went so far as to insist that the policy would increase taxes on 94% of Americas small businesses. PolitiFact.com rated that a Pants-On-Fire lie, noting that the Joint Committee on Taxation found that 94% of businesses were S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships, whose owners would pay taxes on profits, but only 3% of all taxpayers with positive business income would see their taxes go up under the Democratic plan. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, Well, it may be 3%, but its half of small business income. Because, obviously, the top 3% have half of the gross income for those companies that we would term small businesses.
But Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (9/20) that the Republican definition of small businesses included companies like the Wall Street buyout firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts, which recently reported more than $54 bln in assets managed by 14 offices around the world, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, a massive international auditing firm. Tribune Corp., which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, also qualifies as a small business. It also includes authors, actors and athletes who employ few if any workers.
FBI IMPROPERLY PROBED ANTIWAR, GREEN ACTIVISTS. The FBI under George W. Bush improperly investigated US activist groups and put members of an environmental advocacy group on a terrorist watch list, even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said, according to the Washington Post (9/20). Among the groups monitored were the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace group; the Catholic Worker; the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Greenpeace USA. Greenpeace activists were put on a terrorist watch list, Inspector Gen. Glenn A. Fine reported.
FBI Director Robert Mueller is cited in the report for providing inaccurate and misleading congressional testimony when he said in 2006 the FBI had information that certain persons of interest in international terrorism probes were expected to be present at a 2002 antiwar event sponsored by the Merton Center, the Post reported. An FBI agent from the Pittsburgh Field Division attended the rally and was told by his supervisor to look for terrorism suspects, but Fines investigators found no evidence that the FBI had information that any terrorism suspects would be there. FBI deputy director Timothy P. Murphy, in his response included with the report, said the FBI regrets that inaccurate information was provided, but he does not explain how that happened. Lying to Congress is a federal offense.
ELECTION NOT OVER YET. John Boehner already is meeting with D.C. lobbyists and trade groups seeking input on the new GOP agenda and the lobbying firm of Akin Gump, Straus, Hauer and Field is hosting an election night fundraising reception for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee at the W Hotel in Washington that represents Change K Street can believe in, as Ben Smith reported at Politico.com (9/21), but Gallup showed Dems making up the gap with Republicans in its tracking poll (9/20) and taking a (statistically insignificant) 1-point lead, 46% to 45%, as voters start to focus on the election and learn more about Tea-Party-influenced GOP candidates.
MASS DEPORTATION OVERRATED. You might receive a chain email asking, What did Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower have in common? It claims all three presidents ordered mass deportation of illegal aliens to make jobs available for American citizens and returning veterans and suggests that the same thing could happen today. In fact, according to FactCheck.org:
President Hoover never ordered mass deportations, though roughly 121,000 persons were officially deported or induced to leave.
Truman signed legislation to protect the rights of Mexican farm workers recruit legally under the bracero program to help harvest US crops, but he was unable to win approval of bills to crack down on employers of illegal immigrants. About 3.4 mln were deported or left voluntarily under threat of deportation.
Eisenhower did not deport 13 mln Mexicans. Only one-tenth that number was ever claimed by the federal officials in charge of Operation Wetback, and even that figure is criticized as inflated by guesswork.
[President Eisenhower in 1954 in Operation Wetback, using the then-popular slur of alien Latinos ordered sweeps of Latino neighborhoods and random stops of Mexican-looking people in southwestern states to remove 1 mln illegal immigrants, many of whom had moved to the US to work on American farms during the bracero guest-worker program during and after World War II. The sweeps and random stops angered American citizens who were harassed because of their Latino heritage and many American citizens were among the 130,000 who were deported, as the Border Patrol was not always scrupulous about due process. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that another 1.3 mln Mexicans left of their own accord. The sweeps were suspended after funding ran out and produce growers complained that they had lost their cheap farm labor.]
Historian Mae M. Ngai told FactCheck the email was a most interesting distortion of history. Ngai, now at Columbia University, said that none of these presidents presided over any general deportation campaign.
FactCheck concluded: So this e-mails claim that a president could sure do it today that is, easily deport all the estimated 12 mln illegal immigrants now in the US is a conclusion based on false evidence. No relocation effort nearly so large has ever been attempted, let alone accomplished in two years as this e-mail states.
PROGRESSIVE DEMS OPPOSE SOCIAL SECURITY CUTS. Some 55 House Democrats have signed a letter warning President Obama theyll oppose any effort on his part, or on the part of his fiscal commission, to cut Social Security benefits or privatize the program, TalkingPointsMemo.com reported (9/20). The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Originally cosigners were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), and CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). The advocacy groups Social Security Works, P Street Project (the lobbying arm of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee) and MoveOn helped organize the effort to add signatures.
This is not an issue we should even need to debate as Democrats, Grijalva told TalkingPointsMemo.com. The people of this country have had an agreement with the federal government for many years now you give to your country during your career, and your country gives back during your retirement.
WATCHDOG COMPLAINS ABOUT DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE. Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine ODonnell allegedly used more than $20,000 in campaign funds to pay her rent and other personal expenses, according to a complaint filed (9/20) by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, came out swinging against ODonnell, Christine ODonnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted, Sloan said in a press release. Ms. ODonnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses. Republicans and Democrats dont agree on much these days, but both sides should agree on one point: thieves belong in jail not the United States Senate.
ODonnells lawyer attacked CREW, which calls itself a nonpartisan watchdog group, arguing that the group lacks credibility because George Soros has donated to CREW, TalkingPointsMemo.com reported (9/21). A CREW spokesman noted that CREW also has gone after Democrats, including Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Maxine Walters (D-Calif.).
The complaint is based, in part, on an affidavit of former campaign aide David Keegan, who said ODonnell in 2009 paid her landlord two months rent out of her campaign funds. On FEC forms, she called the expenditures expense reimbursements. Keegan also attested that ODonnell routinely used campaign funds for meals and gas. CREW said she has not held a steady job or had a discernible source of income for many years. Questionable expenses total more than $20,000.
ODonnell has said she used campaign funds to pay half the rent at her townhouse and said it was legal because the home was also used as her campaign headquarters, the *Christian Science Monitor* reported (9/21). ODonnell also has been subject to a tax lien and has been accused of leaving a trail of unpaid bills.
DEL. GOPER: HITLER INVENTED CHURCH/STATE SEPARATION. With all the attention on Christine ODonnell, its easy to overlook the congressional race to fill the seat Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del) gave up to get upset by teabagger ODonnell. But Glen Urquhart got the GOP nomination for the House and Muriel Kane of RawStory.com noted (9/17) that he has his own colorful political positions.
Do you know, where does this phrase separation of church and state come from? Urquhart asked at a campaign event last April. It was not in Jeffersons letter to the Danbury Baptists. ... The exact phrase separation of Church and State came out of Adolph Hitlers mouth, thats where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why theyre Nazis.
Urquhart was correct only in the technical sense that Jeffersons exact wording in his letter to the Baptists was building a wall of separation between church and State, but Kane noted the concept is deeply rooted in America and goes back at least to Roger Williams, who founded the colony of Rhode Island in the 1600s. But some fundamentalist Christians claim it was a 20th-century concept.
Urquhart faces former Del. Lt. Gov. John Carney (D) in the general election. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed Carney leading by 48% to 37%, but that leaves Carney potentially vulnerable to a supercharged conservative base.
DUELING RALLIES. As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show prepares for the Take It Down a Notch for America rally on the National Mall 10/30, with Comedy Central "rival" Steven Colbert planning a Keep Fear Alive rally at the same time and place, Politico.com noted (9/20) that the rallies are a satiric response to Glenn Becks much-hyped Restoring Honor Rally on 8/28, but some Democrats worry that a big attraction in D.C. on the Saturday before Election Day will pull activists out of their districts and away from the crucial door-knocking and phone-banking that can make a difference in mid-term elections. But others view the rallies, which will not be overtly partisan and will feature entertainers, as a last chance to energize younger voters who backed Obama but who seem to have no idea who is running for Congress much less an inclination to knock on doors for them. He will energize many, many more people than he will distract, said Dan Cantor, a veteran of the lefts ground game and executive director of New Yorks Working Families Party. See thedailyshow.com.
Labor unions, civil rights organizations, peace groups and other progressive organizations also are sponsoring the One Nation Working Together march and rally with MSNBCs Ed Schultz at the National Mall (10/2) from noon to 4 p.m. Local events also are planned around the country and activists will be knocking on doors as part of a massive get-out-the-vote mobilization. See onenationworkingtogether.org.
STEELWORKER CHIEF NAMED TO TRADE PANEL. President Obama named United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard to his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Gerard has been a critic of Chinas currency manipulation that maintains an unfair advantage over trading partners, especially the US. Chinas rapid economic growth has ended poverty for millions of its workers, Gerard wrote in a column posted at Alternet.org (9/16). Here in the United States, however, Chinas flouting of international trade law is destroying the lives of millions of workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 2.4 mln American jobs have been lost or displaced since 2001 as a result of the trade deficit with China. American workers celebrate their Chinese counterparts improved quality of life, but they condemn the government of China for accomplishing that with beggar-thy-neighbor trade practices.
From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2010
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