Raising the minimum wage is hugely popular with the public, fits perfectly into the progressive agenda, appeals to the white working class and splits the Republican Party right in half, Ruy Teixeira noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/23). The Democratic Party could use it to mobilize lower-income workers of all races and split the Republican Party.

A Pew Research poll in February 2013 found that, by a thumping 71-26 margin, the public favored increasing the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour, as President Obama has proposed, but House Speaker John Boehner has rejected. Among blacks, 91% supported the increase, with Hispanics 83% in support and whites 64% in support.

Democrats support the minimum wage increase 87-11, independents 68-28 and even Republicans narrowly favored the increase, 50-47.

The move was also popular among income groups. Those with family incomes below $30,000 supported raising the minimum wage by 79-20, but those with incomes above $75,000 were also on board by a 65-32 margin.

“Of course, even strenuous advocacy of raising the minimum wage will not suddenly persuade a majority of white working class Republicans to support progressive candidates,” Teixeira noted. “But even modest white working class defections would go a long way, even — or perhaps especially — in red states.

“No wonder Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running for Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky, is making a higher minimum wage a central part of her campaign. In fact, the only really hard thing to understand here is why more candidates with progressive views on the minimum wage aren’t following Grimes’ lead. Let’s hope in the future they will.”

WHITE WORKING-CLASS VOTERS UP FOR GRABS. Use of populist economic issues such as the minimum wage could help bring back white voters who have been distracted by Republican use of social issues. Another Pew Research poll in July found that Obama’s approval rating among white working-class voters fell from 35% last November to 26% in July. But Andy Levinson noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/17) that a Pew Research poll in June showed 34% of the “less than college” white voters still approved of Obama’s performance, a decline of a statistically insignificant 1% from the 35% recorded by Pew last November or 2% from the 36% support Obama actually received in the 2012 elections.

There is the possibility than Pew’s findings of a sharp decline in the July survey is exaggerated, Levinson wrote, but the author of the new book, The White Working Class Today: Who They Are, How They Think and How Progressives Can Regain Their Support, said if Pew’s findings are real, the most plausible explanation for the decline in white working-class support is the President’s increased emphasis on social issues such as gun control, immigration reform and gay rights in the past six months.

“However, this doesn’t mean that Democrats should be quieter or reverse course on social issues,” Levinson wrote. “Rather, they should simply be more targeted in how they sell themselves to the white working class.

“Beginning in January, three things happened and, just as importantly, one didn’t. First, Obama became very visibly and forcefully identified with the demands for gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Second, immigration reform leaped to the center of national political debate. Third, marriage equality and racially-charged issues (voting rights, profiling) became the subject of widely discussed court cases. Finally, issues of importance to white working class Americans did not receive significant national attention.

“The issues that got attention were are all of clear, direct and substantial interest to particular elements of Obama’s ‘new’ coalition of minorities, the young, single women and college educated professionals. None, however, has any strong appeal to white working class Americans.

“Second, a substantial group of white working class Americans see the key issues of guns and immigration through a class lens, in the sense of a sharp division between the values and perspectives of white working people and those of well to do professionals and affluent ‘limousine liberals.’ Ethnographic field studies since the 1970s ... have consistently found that a significant number of white working-class Americans perceive a pervasive liberal attitude of disdain and self-righteous condescension toward gun owners and view this attitude as an elitist view that is far easier to uphold when one lives in a gated community, isolated suburb, idyllic college town or apartment building with 24-hour doorman.

“Equally, the progressive view that citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a simple matter of basic humanitarian compassion seems to many white working people (see here and here) a perspective that is far easier to embrace when one does not live in close proximity to any immigrants (or any poor people at all for that matter) or directly compete with immigrants for jobs or social services.”

Progressives are frequently unaware or indifferent to this class critique, but they are widely and openly discussed in white working class conversation, Levinson wrote.

He also noted that opinion polls consistently show that hostility to the undocumented is one of the strongest emotional issues for some white working Americans. In the 2011 Pew Political Typology Survey, for example, which polled a very large sample on a wide variety of issues, clear majorities of white working people expressed negative opinions about undocumented immigrants, a higher level of hostility than on all other cultural issues. Other broad surveys have shown similar results. Although white workers struggle to balance compassion and self-interest, there is an undeniable current of anger and frustration. Progressive emphasis on the rights of gays and African Americans fits quite comfortably into an overall narrative that liberals are generally more concerned about other elements of their coalition than they are about white working class Americans.

“It is therefore quite plausible that, even though Obama did not actually choose gun violence and immigration as his second term priorities but rather found them thrust upon him, the fight over those issues may have persuaded some white working class Americans that Obama abandoned them,” Levinson wrote.

Research by Democracy Corps (democracycorps.com) has demonstrated that white working-class opinion is actually divided into three extremely distinct sub-groups –- a relatively progressive group that already votes Democratic, a group of conservative true believers who will never support progressives or Democrats regardless of any centrist tack, and a group of “open-minded” or “tolerant” white working Americans who hold a variety of culturally traditional views but are still open to voting Democratic on other grounds.

“In today’s circumstances, the critical challenge is for progressive candidates to convincingly display a sincere and genuine understanding of how working people have been affected in their day-to-day lives by what Stan Greenberg has called ‘the new American economy’ post-Great Recession,” Levinson wrote.

In their report for Democracy Corps (7/22), Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert wrote, “Americans are living in a new economy — one in which jobs do not pay enough to live on what they used to — and barely keep up with prices at the grocery store, student loan payments, and childcare expenses. Voters have moved to a post-recession understanding of how pay and prices balance out in their household budgets. Because their understanding of the economy is no longer situated in the temporary reductions of the recession but a seemingly permanent assessment about jobs, they now have very different assumptions about life chances, opportunity, income, and equity.”

Levinson concluded, “The facts are simple: white working class voters are a key swing group for the 2016 elections. While the Democratic base itself can be mobilized by dramatizing the absolutely appalling consequences of a Republican victory, Democrats who want to head off a blowout loss among white working class voters will need to devote disciplined and sustained attention to the task of winning their trust and support from now until the beginning of the next presidential election.”

BOEHNER DEMANDS CUTS TO SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE, MEDICAID IN DEBT LIMIT FIGHT. House Speaker John Boehner said the Republican-controlled House will not agree to raise the US debt ceiling this fall unless Democrats agree to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicare, farm programs and government pensions, the Idaho Statesman reported (8/26). “I made up my mind that we weren’t going to kick the can down the road any more,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told a Boise lunch crowd at a fundraiser for Idaho’s 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with” Boehner said. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

The Speaker clearly wanted the Republican donors in the audience to think he’s preparing a debt limit fight reminiscent of the 2011 crisis that cost the United States its AAA credit rating, triggered losses of more than 2,000 points on Wall Street and will cost taxpayers an estimated $19 bln over 10 years, Jason Sattler noted at NationalMemo.com (8/27).

Sattler added, “Apparently, the Speaker doesn’t remember that the budget was actually in a surplus just over a decade ago. That’s a memory he probably wants to block out, since he went along with George W. Bush’s agenda that helped turn that surplus into a deficit of over a trillion dollars as Bush left office. The budget deficit this year is projected to be about half the deficit President Obama inherited.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in an interview with the New York Times (8/27) reiterated President Obama’s determination that the administration will not negotiate over the debt limit and will not accept a delay or defunding of parts of Obamacare. “I think we saw in 2011 the danger of going down the path of having the kind of negotiation over the debt limit that you have over other issues. The debt limit is just different. It’s just different. There cannot be any question. We are a country that pays our bills.”

Republican Party leaders say not on their watch.

TED CRUZ — BEST NRSC VICE CHAIR DEMS EVER HAD. The National Republican Senatorial Committee clearly thought they had a valuable political ally in November 2012 when they named Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as vice chairmen of the committee for the 2014 cycle. The Washington Post reported that Cruz “gives the committee a well-regarded Hispanic and tea party-friendly vice chairman who could help it deal with contentious primaries during the 2014 cycle. The party has nominated several weaker conservative candidates in recent years who went on to defeat.”

Republicans were thrilled that they got Ted Cruz, because they figured his star power would be the key to saving Republican incumbents from from primary challenges from the right, Jed Lewison noted at DailyKos.com (8/26). Except now Ted’s running for president (despite having being born in Canada), and on a recent trip to New Hampshire, Cruz made clear he has no plans to endorse his Lone Star State colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, for re-election in 2014.

“I think it is likely that I am going to stay out of incumbent primaries across the country, either supporting incumbents or opposing incumbents,” Cruz said.

“If the NRSC existed for just one reason, that one reason is to protect Republican incumbents in the Senate,” Lewison noted. “And here you’ve got the NRSC’s vice chairman pointedly saying that he won’t endorse any of those incumbents, because he doesn’t want to tarnish his 2016 street cred with the base. That’s pretty awesome—and counts for another reason why I love Ted Cruz.”

Steve Benen of MaddowBlog.com noted that The Atlantic reported in March that “a remarkable number of both Republicans and Democrats” have already come forward “to say that they think Cruz is kind of a jerk.” The New York Times added that “even some Republican colleagues are growing publicly frustrated” with the right-wing freshman.

Dispatches also notes that being a Cuban Canadian American who’s opposed to immigration reform doesn’t play that well with Mexican Americans, who are 64% of the Hispanic population in the United States — and a much greater percentage in Cruz’s adopted state of Texas.

COLORADO, MONTANA ANNOUNCE AFFORDABLE INSURANCE RATES. Add Colorado and Montana to the list of states reporting affordable insurance premiums under Obamacare. The states’ individual policies under the health law will offer more robust coverage than current plans do, and most new enrollees will receive government subsidies to help them buy insurance — a fact that much of the coverage on Obamacare neglects to mention.

Colorado’s insurance marketplace will offer 150 individual policies from 13 insurers whose rates will vary based on a person’s age, geographic location, and whether or not they smoke. Premiums for a 27-year-old non-smoker will be about $135 per month for a bare-bones “catastrophic” plan. The most generous policies preferred by the medically needy and older Americans can range up to $1,000 per month depending on the previously mentioned factors and the cheapest “Bronze-level” plan for a 40-year-old non-smoker will run about $177 per month — cheaper than the current Colorado individual policy average of $200 per month.

These numbers don’t take Obamacare’s government insurance subsidies into account. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 87% of Americans who enroll in the health law’s marketplaces in 2014 will receive at least some government assistance to buy their coverage. For Americans who make less money, such as young people, the subsidies will be more generous. That means the 27-year-old non-smoker used an example above could have as much as half of his or her $135 premium covered by the government if they make around $16,000 per year.

For information on the Affordable Care Act, see healthcare.gov. (ThinkProgress)

MORE MED STUDENTS CHOOSING FAMILY PRACTICE. The number of US medical school graduates choosing to go into family medicine and primary care rose for the fourth consecutive year, according to a press release from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). That’s great news for the millions of Americans who will become newly insured under Obamacare and Medicare in the coming years, since many industry experts feared there wouldn’t be enough primary care physicians to meet their medical needs, Sy Mukherjee noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/22).

Family medicine, unlike more specialized medical fields, involves caring for patients in a comprehensive way that involves everything from diagnosing and treating a wide range of common illnesses to promoting preventative health measures that might prevent the need for more specialized care in the future. In 2009, only 58% of US medical school graduates chose residencies in family medicine — but now more than 67% of first-year family medicine residents graduate from American medical schools.

Many health experts have feared that America is in the midst of a widespread doctor shortage that may prevent millions of people from receiving essential primary care — especially as millions of Americans become insured for these types of services under Obamacare in 2014. Estimates from the Association of American Medical Colleges pegs the shortage at 13,000 doctors today and projects it to be ten times that number by 2024. The new numbers are cause for optimism — but doctors warn that it still may not be adequate to meet future needs.

The surge in family doctors is also good news for Medicare. The Wall Street Journal had found that the number of doctors refusing to serve Medicare patients had increased almost three-fold between 2009 and 2012 due to uncertainty over reimbursement rates. But a survey commissioned by USA Today found that the number of US physicians accepting new Medicare patients had risen by about 33% between 2007 and 2011, largely thanks to the influx of new primary care doctors highlighted by the AAFP. These doctors are more willing to accept Medicare patients than older physicians who are dropping out of the health care system.

New medical graduates’ interest in primary care and their willingness to take on Medicare patients may signal that young doctors understand the types of resources that will be needed under health reform. Recent evidence has shown that medical schools have also been changing the way they teach their students in response to Obamacare, emphasizing the sort of team-based comprehensive care that the law encourages and slowly shifting away from a model that encourages new doctors to choose specialty medical professions that may pay more than family medicine.

CONS’ NEW HEALTH PLAN: GO TO E.R. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), as new president of the Heritage Foundation, is leading the effort to convince Republicans to shut down the government in a ploy to defund the Affordable Care Act, telling a town hall in Tampa, Fla., “This might be that last off-ramp to stop Obamacare before it becomes more enmeshed in our culture. The law “is not about getting better health care,” he continued. Uninsured Americans “will get better health care just going to the emergency room.”

The claim may be a standard line for today’s Republicans, but Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/22) that it is a stark departure for DeMint and the think tank he now leads. In 1989, the Heritage Foundation was at the forefront of advocating for a requirement to purchase coverage through a system of regulated health care marketplaces, and later lobbied Congressional Republicans to offer the initiative as an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health proposal.

More than a decade later, when then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) included the individual mandate in his health reform law, Heritage described it as “one that is clearly consistent with conservative values.” A Heritage health care analyst said Romney’s proposal would reform the state’s “uncompensated-care payment system,” force residents to take “personal responsibility” for their health care and prevent them from simply showing up “in emergency rooms.”

Indeed, DeMint himself backed the effort when he endorsed Romney for president in 2008. “That’s something that I think we should do for the whole country,” DeMint told Fox News. “And the governor just looked at the numbers like a good businessman and realized that we could give people private insurance policies cheaper than we could provide free health care.”

CHILD HUNGER COMMON IN US, TEACHERS SAY. Three-quarters of America’s teachers have students who routinely show up to school hungry and half say hunger is a serious problem in their classrooms, according to an educator survey by No Kid Hungry (nokidhungry.org). The numbers represent a significant jump from last summer, when about three in five teachers surveyed routinely taught hungry kids.

The report also notes that free- and reduced-price breakfast programs are hugely under-enrolled. While 21 mln kids eat school lunch, just 11 mln eat school breakfast. Previous research has shown that child hunger has a profound impact on educational achievement. Closing the school breakfast gap by just half would produce over 3 mln kids with higher test scores and over 800,000 more high school graduates. Hungry kids are at far greater risk of emotional and psychological problems that undermine their education, are far more likely to drop out of high school, and struggle to keep up with the cognitive development of their adequately-fed peers.

Yet Congressional Republicans have proposed cuts to the federal food stamps program that would exacerbate the hungry student problem, Alan Pyke noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/27). The initial $20.5 bln in cuts was predicted to boot 210,000 children from school meals programs that are tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the House GOP now plans to cut closer to $40 bln from the program after returning from summer recess.

Conservatives argue that private charities and individuals’ good will would bridge the gap left by government’s pullback from providing food assistance. But even at current funding levels for public programs, No Kid Hungry found teachers already spend an average of $37 per month on food for their students and principals spend $59.

KRISTOL KLEAR ON SYRIAN INVOLVEMENT. If you didn’t already have qualms about the US making military strikes against Syria in retaliation for the alleged use of poison gas against a supposed rebel community, William Kristol has joined the crowd urging President Obama to get bombing post-haste. Paul Waldman noted at Prospect.org (8/27) a letter on the Weekly Standard’s website with the not-sarcastic headline, “Experts to Obama: Here is what to do in Syria.” Among the “experts,” Waldman noted, are not only Kristol, who was prominent among those urging the invasion of Iraq in 2003, predicting that “This is going to be a two-month war” and asserting that there was no reason to think there’s be any conflict between Sunnis and Shias since “Iraq’s always been very secular.” but a whole bunch of folks with a nuanced grasp of the subtleties of Middle East politics and a track record of wise counsel on matters of war. Other signers include “Iran-Contra criminal Elliot Abrams, evangelical leader Gary Bauer, former seat-warming senator Norm Coleman, French gadabout Bernard-Henri Levi, foreign-policy genius Karl Rove, and presidential laughingstock Tim Pawlenty, not to mention the hilariously named Arch Puddington, who apparently is an actual person and not a character from a children’s book,” Waldman noted. He concluded, “Bombing Syria may or may not be a good idea; I’m extremely skeptical, but it isn’t as though there’s no reasonable case you could make for it. But when these clowns start advocating for it, it becomes very difficult to think it would be anything but a disaster.”

KILLING ‘OBAMACARE’ IS KILLING THE GOP. The number of Americans willing to identify with the Republican Party is reaching historic lows, Ruy Teixeira noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/26). The Pollster.com rolling average of GOP party identification now stands at 22% and has been declining fairly steadily for the last several years. The latest poll from Pew Research Center — perhaps the most reliable of all pollsters — has the GOP down to only 19% identification:

What’s going on? President Obama’s approval rating has been declining and is now “underwater” (higher disapproval than approval). The GOP, of course, has been single-mindedly dedicated to opposing him. They are particularly committed to opposing Obamacare, which on the surface seems like an even juicier target, averaging just 40% approval in recent polls. Indeed, they are so dedicated they have voted 40 times to repeal it and now are threatening to shut down the government unless the program is defunded. You’d think that beating up on these not-so-popular targets would yield more, not less, identification with the GOP. Where’s the love?

Maybe they’re placing their bets on the wrong horse, especially when it comes to Obamacare. Start with the fact that roughly a third of the opposition to Obamacare stems from the view that the program isn’t liberal enough rather than too liberal. That doesn’t fit with the GOP’s blow-it-up paradigm. Nor do recent polls that show an average of only 35% saying they want to repeal Obamacare as opposed to keeping it as is or with changes.

A recent Hart Research/SEIU poll on voter attitudes toward the ACA makes the point even more clearly. As Hart Research puts in in their memo on the poll:

“Voters feel intensely negative toward Republican candidates who have worked to repeal or undermine the law, especially those who are unwilling to help their constituents take advantage of the benefits and protections available to them under the ACA…. Seventy-one percent of voters express unfavorable feelings toward ‘a Republican who, as an elected official, refuses to help individuals and small businesses understand how best to deal with Obamacare and take advantage of its benefits.’ … Two-thirds of all voters (including 60% of undecided voters) have an unfavorable impression of ‘a Republican who repeatedly voted to cut the funding needed to effectively implement the law, and refuses to provide information to employers and individuals about it.’”

No wonder the GOP’s anti-Obamacare shenanigans aren’t helping their brand with the public. The point is underscored by another finding from the Hart survey:

“Our generic congressional trial heat shows a relatively narrow, three-point advantage for Democratic candidates (44%) over Republicans (41%) nationwide. However, when the choice in the 2014 election is presented as “a Democrat who favors fixing and improving Obamacare rather than repealing it altogether” versus “a Republican who wants to totally repeal Obamacare,” voters favor the Democratic candidate (51%) over the Republican candidate (36%) by 15 percentage points.”

Thus it would appear that the more the GOP pursues their anti-Obamacare crusade, the more damage they do to themselves. Indeed, when combined with their destructive opposition to immigration reform, popular gun regulations and any expanded efforts to revive the economy, it’s hard to think of a group of voters they could alienate who they haven’t. That’s why we see their party identification hitting 20% or below. If Republicans ever want to see their party identification climb back up to respectable levels, instead of sinking slowly in the west, they’d be well-advised to rethink their current strategy, especially their obsession with repealing Obamacare. (Ruy Teixera, ThinkProgress.org.)

26 STATES DENY HEALTH COVERAGE FOR WORKING POOR. One of the key pieces of the Affordable Care Act is expansion of Medicaid to cover families living up to 133% of poverty. The federal government would pay the entire cost of expanding the program until 2016 and then gradually will reduce its contribution to 90% in 2020 and subsequent years. But many states are refusing to accept the federal money to expand Medicare to cover the working poor. Texas — which has the highest percentage of uninsured residents — would never pay more than 7% of the cost of providing coverage to Texans, but Texas Republicans argued that “even $1 in the name of ‘Obamacare’ was a dollar too much.”

“Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into this fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system,” Perry said April 1. The decision means a loss of approximately $7 bln for Texas hospitals, which comes on top of the $700 mln a year reduction in Medicaid payments from state budget shortfalls and cuts under sequestration.

In the 26 states that refuse the Medicaid expansion, people who earn from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level ($11,490 to $45,960 a year for an individual),can get federal tax credits to help pay for private health insurance, Robert Pear noted in the New York Times. But since the drafters of the Affordable Care Act assumed that the states would accept the Medicaid expansion, many people below the poverty level will still earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but won’t earn enough to qualify for tax credits or other help with insurance.

Under the new law, in the states that rejected the Medicaid expansion, Jonathan E. Chapman, the executive director of the Louisiana Primary Care Association, which represents more than two dozen community health centers, noted that: “If the breadwinner in a family of four works full time at a job that pays $14 an hour and the family has no other income, he or she will be eligible for insurance subsidies. But if they make $10 an hour, they will not be eligible for anything.”

Tom Banning, chief executive officer of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, told NPR that failing to expand Medicaid will only shift costs throughout the health care system. “These people don’t choose to get sick. When they do, they’re going to access our health care system at the most inefficient and expensive point, which is the emergency room,” Banning says. “And it’s going to cost the taxpayers, and it’s going to cost employers a lot of money to care for them. And we’re going to be forgoing billions of dollars that the feds have set aside for the state to pay for and provide this care.”

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2013



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