Deployment of the new and improved HealthCare.gov 2.0 has caused enrollment in Affordable Care Act health plans to surge, which spells trouble for Republicans who had bet “all in” on the failure of the “Obamacare” website that serves the 36 states whose Republican state officials declined to build their own exchanges and then worked to sabotage the federally managed program.

Enrollments at the glitch-plagued website had lagged, with only 27,000 enrollments in October and 110,000 in November, but the revamped website was handling nearly one million visits a day and had signed up 112,000 people the first week of December. As of Nov. 30, 1.2 mln people had gained health coverage through Obamacare, including 365,000 who have purchased private insurance and 803,000 who have been determined to be eligible for the public Medicaid program. Technical experts said they were preparing for a surge of applications before Dec. 23, the enrollment deadline to receive coverage by the first of the year.

The New York Times reported (12/10) that navigators and applicants were reporting far fewer problems. “I was hearing so much about the glitches in the system that I was worried that it wouldn’t work,” said Caroline Moseley, 54, who lost her job as a housing program analyst for the City of Philadelphia. After asking a navigator from the nonprofit Resources for Human Development for help in finding a plan, Ms. Moseley chose one that costs $27 a month with a $6,000 deductible. “It was a great experience,” she said. “The site was running very smoothly. It took about 30 minutes tops.”

Stephanie Lincoln, 60, of Lansdowne, Pa., also had quick success with the exchange — after a frustrating experience trying to submit an application online in October and November. With the help of a navigator, Caroline Picher, working at the local library, Ms. Lincoln signed up in just one hour for a policy that will cost $113 a month, with no deductible.

“I am one of the people whose plans were canceled,” Ms. Lincoln said. “It was just the easiest thing in the world.”

Then there’s the story about JoAnn Smith, who actually works in the medical field as a transcriptionist, making $23,000 a year in Clearwater, Fla., but has been uninsured. She found that it would only cost her $3.19 a month to cover herself and her husband. “I just instantly burst into tears,” she told NBC News (12/10).

Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (12/10) that Smith still needs to call Humana, the insurer she picked, and confirm her eligibility and payments. “This is the part that will break your heart: ‘I am kind of afraid to call them because I feel like it’s a trick. I am afraid I will call and they will say ‘JoAnn who?’’ This from someone in the medical field! This is what the existing insurance industry has created; a public that doesn’t believe there isn’t some hidden new trick the insurance company is going to pull to screw you out of care.

“It’s going to take a while to sink in with the uninsured who are able to get coverage that there won’t be a trick and that they will get coverage. It’s also going to sink in with the people in red states who are being denied coverage through expanded Medicaid that they are being unfairly punished so that their governors and legislatures can make a political point. Obamacare could be a real political issue in 2014, but not the one Republicans were counting on.”

States also found it easier to enroll low-wage residents in the expanded Medicaid programs. Under the law, the federal government picks up nearly the entire cost of that expansion for the first three years. That wasn’t a good enough deal to convince Republican leaders in 25 states to give five million working poor a break, but in the other half of states, as well as D.C., 803,000 have qualified for Medicaid coverage through November.

One of them was Ray Acosta, 57, who owns a small moving company in Sierra Vista, Ariz., that barely made it through the recession, the New York Times reported (12/9). Acosta had paid dearly for health insurance since he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He paid more than $800 a month in premiums, plus steep co-payments for the drug that helps keep him alive. Then his insurance company said it would cancel his policy at year’s end. But he found, to his astonishment, that he qualified for Medicaid under the new health care law.

Even in states that have not expanded Medicaid, the interest in Obamacare has caused more low-income residents to qualify for Medicaid under the old rules. In South Carolina, Medicaid rolls will grow by 162,000 people by mid-2015. Had the state accepted the federal money, another 340,000 people could have gotten coverage.

States that have refused the federal money to expand Medicaid will lose more than $35 bln collectively in federal funds by 2022, and cost their taxpayers more, the Commonwealth Fund reported (12/10). The bigges losers are Texas ($9.6 bln), Florida ($5 bln), Georgia ($2.9 bln), Virginia ($2.8 bln) and North Carolina ($2.6 bln). The citizens of those states will continue to “bear a significant share of the overall cost of the expansion through federal tax payments,” the report says, while they will “not enjoy any of the benefits.”

The loss of Medicaid funding might accelerate the loss of hospitals that are forced to absorb the cost of uncompensated care, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (11/25). At least five public hospitals have closed this year and many more are scaling back services, with the loss of 5,000 health-care employees, mainly in states where Medicaid wasn’t expanded, Bloomberg News reported (11/24).

GOP SQUEALS AT FILIBUSTER NEUTERING. Republican obstinance on presidential nominations finally pushed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to crack down on the abuse of the filibuster, which resulted in the Senate approving a new judge to the D.C. Circuit Court and a new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Patricia Millett was confirmed on a 56-38 vote (12/10) to a seat on the circuit court, which is considered the nation’s second highest because it rules on many appeals dealing with federal agencies and regulations. Rep. Mel Watt, the nominee for the Housing Finance Agency, cleared a procedural vote, 54-46, then confirmed him on a 57-41 final vote. Both had been filibustered this fall.

Reid filed for cloture on 10 more nominations that were expected to be considered in the following week. As of 12/10, there were 94 vacancies on federal district and appellate courts out of 874 authorized “Article I” judicial seats, and 52 nominees were pending Senate action, the Administrative Office of the US Courts reported.

As expected, Republicans squealed about the Democratic “power grab,” ignoring the unprecedented use of the filibuster to block judicial nominations. When Reid asked for unanimous confirmation of dozens of non-controversial nominations, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) replied, “The Democratic majority changed the rules of the Senate in a way that creates a Senate without rules. So until I understand better how a United States senator is supposed to operate in a Senate without rules, I object.”

This is the same Lamar Alexander who, when he was trying to smooth over Democratic objections to judicial nominees in 2005, pledged that “I would never filibuster any President’s judicial nominee, period. I might vote against them, but I will always see they came to a vote.” Since then, Alexander repeatedly has supported filibusters of Obama’s judicial nominations.

Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org that at least 11 other sitting Republican senators also pledged to oppose judicial filibusters (in 2005, when a Republican President was in the White House). They included Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both of Georgia; Tom Coburn (R-OK); John Cornyn (R-TX); Mike Crapo (R-ID); Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Chuck Grassley (R-IA); Mitch McConnell (R-KY); Jeff Sessions (R- AL); Richard Shelby (R-AL); and John Thune (SD).

GM SURVIVES GOVERNMENT RESCUE. General Motors hopes that Republicans will start buying GM pickup trucks again after the US Treasury Department announced (12/9) that it had sold its final shares of GM stock. “It’s been a long, hard road with the label of Government Motors,” Mark L. Reuss, the president of G.M.’s North American division, said before the announcement, the New York Times reported.

Taxpayers ended up losing about $10.5 bln on their $49.5 bln investment in the Detroit automaker, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said. But taxpayers ended up in the black overall on crisis-related bailouts, as Treasury has recovered $433 bln from the Troubled Asset Relief Program after initially investing $422 bln.

Also, the Center for Automotive Research found that had GM and Chrysler failed together, the result could have been 4.1 mln jobs lost across the US economy in 2009-2010, with $105 bln in lost income and payroll tax revenue for the Treasury.

Steve Benen of Maddowblog.com noted (12/10) that with the benefit of hindsight, President Obama’s rescue of GM (and Chrysler, which was sold to Fiat at a loss of $1.9 bln) may seem like a no-brainer, as the rescue prevented an even more severe crisis with the loss of another million jobs in the auto industry.

“But in 2009, this seemed a lot less obvious,” Benen wrote. “Indeed, this was a real policy gamble, which the public didn’t necessarily like, and which Republicans insisted would be a complete disaster. At the time, among conservatives, failure was a foregone conclusion – government intervention in the marketplace always fails, they said, and Obama big-government solution to the auto industry’s crisis simply couldn’t work.”

Consider the predictions made at the time, as pulled together by ThinkProgress:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?” [6/1/09]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “It’s basically going to be a government-owned, government-run company…. It’s the road toward socialism.” [5/29/09]

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “No matter how much the President spins GM’s bankruptcy as good for the economy, it is nothing more than another government grab of a private company and another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign.” [6/1/2009]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?” [6/2/09]

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA): “Unfortunately, this is just another sad chapter in President Obama’s eager campaign to interject his administration in the private sector’s business dealings.” [6/2/09]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX): The auto company rescues “have been the leading edge of the Obama administration’s war on capitalism.” [7/22/09]

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): When government gets involved in a company, “the disaster that follows is predictable.” [7/22/09]

A guy by the name of Mitt Romney said we could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if the administration’s policy was implemented, Benen added.

“Republicans were completely, unambiguously wrong, Benen wrote. “The US auto industry has been a bright spot on the economic landscape in recent years, and hasn’t been this strong in recent memory.

“It’s likely pointless to expect accountability for those whose predictions failed miserably, but when it comes to credibility on the economy, folks should keep this story in mind.”

CORNYN BECOMES SEVENTH GOP SENATOR WITH TEABAGGER CHALLENGE. Teabaggers are challenging seven incumbent Republican senators, including the top two in the Senate, as Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) jumped into the Republican primary 15 minutes before the filing deadline (12/9) to challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for being too liberal for Texas.

Cornyn, who ranks second in the GOP Senate leadership as minority whip, is considered very conservative and his campaign reported $7 mln in cash on hand in September, but Stockman has prided himself on being one of the furthest right members of Congress. He refused to vote for Rep. John Boehner for Speaker of the House, called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama and he criticized Cornyn for opposing Sen. Ted Cruz’s effort to fund the government only if the Affordable Care Act is defunded. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a well-funded primary challenger in businessman Matt Bevin, who has the support of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which was founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint. The winner faces a popular Democrat, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Stockman of Friendswood, a Houston suburb, was first elected to Congress from Southeast Texas in 1994, upsetting 42-year incumbent Democrat Jack Brooks (D-Beaumont) in a race that largely turned on Brooks’ support of the assault weapons ban. In his first term, he was perhaps best known for accusing the Clinton administration of staging the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco to justify the assault weapons ban. Stockman lost his attempt for re-election in 1996 to moderate Democrat Nick Lampson of Beaumont. Stockman won election to the new and heavily Republican 36th District in 2012 and within a few weeks of making it back to Washington, he was calling President Obama’s gun control proposals “unconstitutional and unconscionable,” threatened to file articles of impeachment over them and compared the President to Saddam Hussein, Taniel noted at DailyKos.com (12/10).

Other incumbents who have drawn a tea-party challenge include:

• Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who was firsts elected in 1978; and whose challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is backed by the right-wing Club for Growth;

• Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) faces state Rep. Joe Carr;

• Sen. Michael Enzi (Wyo.) faces Liz Cheney, who has stumbled in attempts to establish herself as a Wyoming resident.

• Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) has at least four challengers;

• Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a 16-year veteran, faces physician Milton Wolf.

Republicans also are defending open seats in Nebraska and Georgia where intense primaries are raging. A weak nominee in Georgia could put that seat in play for Democrat Michelle Nunn.

The Club for Growth was credited with helping defeat Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) in 2010 and it steered $6 mln to Ted Cruz to help him upset Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) in 2012. The Club has endorsed only one of the 2014 challengers — McDaniel in Mississippi — and dismissed Stockman (12/10), saying Cornyn was sufficiently conservative.

Of the seven primary challenges, Josh Kraushaar noted at NationalJournal.com (12/10), “Republican strategists view the Mississippi Senate race as the only contest where the challenger has a serious shot at winning. In that race, McDaniel, known as the Jim DeMint of the Mississippi state Legislature, jumped in the race before Sen. Thad Cochran announced his reelection plans. After the Thanksgiving holiday, Cochran announced he’s running for a seventh term, but he hasn’t faced a serious challenge in decades. Conservative groups have commissioned polling in Mississippi, concluding that the senior appropriator is at risk of losing reelection.”

Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the majority, while Democrats are defending 21 seats, including seven in states that Obama lost in 2012 (Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, retiring Max Baucus’ seat in Montana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, retiring Tim Johnson’s seat in South Dakota and retiring Jay Rockefeller’s seat in West Virginia). Paul Kane noted in the Washington Post (12/10) that margin would be much smaller if not for a series of GOP candidates who emerged from ideological primaries in 2010 and 2012 as tea party heroes, only to blunder through the general election and lose winnable races.

LIBS LOSING TALK RADIO STATIONS. Liberal radio talkers are losing two important West Coast stations in December as Clear Channel announced it will switch KTLK-AM in Los Angeles and KNEW-AM in San Francisco to conservative talk formats featuring Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In the past year, Detroit’s progressive outlet shut down and Seattle’s liberal talk station switched to sports. After last year’s election, Portland’s progressive talk station ended its political program, Mackenzie Weinger noted at Politico.com (11/28), leaving just a few dozen stations still carrying liberal talkers.

Right-wing talkers already had a more than 9-1 advantage over liberal talkers, due mainly to the conservative leanings of broadcast executives. And when liberals organized a boycott of Limbaugh’s sponsors, it caused skittish corporations to pull their advertising from both conservative and liberal talk radio.

Weinger noted that progressive radio could badly use some cash. “At least as long as there are terrestrial talk stations, liberal or progressive business leaders have to buy stations and create a progressive network of stations that they own and control,” liberal radio host Bill Press said. “Otherwise, progressive radio will always be at the mercy of right-wing owners, which they are today. Until progressives take ownership of stations and control them, they’ll never be on a level playing field.”

Three progressive activists — Cliff Schecter, Alex Lawson and Kymone Freeman, brought progressive radio back to Washington, D.C., where liberal talk had been missing since 2008, when they took over WPWC 1480 AM in February 2012 and rebranded it as We Act Radio (weactradio.com).

Otherwise, most of the action is moving online. Press streams his morning show on Youtube as TawkerTV and simulcasts on Free Speech TV, which is available online at freespeech.org, 200 affiliated TV channels, Dish Network, Direct TV and Roku.

Jon Sinton, founding president of Air America, which built a progressive radio network from March 2004 to January 2010 and had 66 stations in May 2008, told Weinger the idea for his Progressive Voices, an online site on the TuneIn app to stream progressive talkers, was spurred in 2011 by the realization it “was crazy to think you could go back to AM radio.”

Nicole Sandler, who hosts her show online at RadioOrNot.com and serves as Randi Rhodes’s regular guest host, added that “progressive media has gotten sort of a foothold online early because we’ve been kicked off the airwaves.”

Beyond online and mobile platforms, people seeking out progressive radio can also look to SiriusXM, which recently re-launched its liberal talk channel as SiriusXM Progress.

Stephanie Miller lost her Current TV show in August when Al Jazerra bought Al Gore’s cable channel and she is losing her California Clear Channel stations in January, but she can be heard online at several stations that stream live, as well as Progressive Voices on TuneIn and SiriusXM and she is preparing to move her video feed to Free Speech TV in January.

MANDELA WASN’T ABLE TO CLOSE WEALTH GAP. With all the praise of Nelson Mandela’s leadership in guiding the transition of South Africa from apartheid rule to democracy, Patrick Bond, who served in Mandela’s administration in 1994 and ’96 and is now professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, said Mandela has been criticized for not standing up to the rich people who controlled South African industry. In an interview with TheRealNews.com (12/6), Bond cites a former Mandela cabinet member, Ronnie Kasrils: “He basically says that as a ruler Mandela gave in way too much to rich people. So he replaced racial apartheid with class apartheid.”

Just before the 1994 elections, the International Monetary Fund arranged a loan with the stipulation that the new constitution give property rights extraordinary dominance and also gave the South African central bank insulation from democracy. Mandela also felt the need to repay $25 billion worth of loans taken by the apartheid regime. “He later bitterly remarked about those loans having set back the cause of delivering desperately needed services,” Bond said.

SANTORUM: FIGHTING OBAMACARE JUST LIKE APARTHEID. Rick Santorum took the prize for worst comparison with South African apartheid on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor on Thursday night (12/4) when he memorialized the passing of South African leader and global visionary Nelson Mandela by equating Obamacare with the oppressive South African system for maintaining the supremacy of the white minority by denying blacks political rights.

Praising Mandela for standing up to a “great injustice,” the former Pennsylvania senator continued by ascribing his own conservative principles to the civil rights pioneer:

“Nelson Mandela stood up against a great injustice and was willing to pay a huge price for that, and that’s the reason he is mourned today, because of that struggle that he performed…and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that.”

DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS ON CAPITOL MONUMENTS. Now that the Oklahoma has a monument to one version of the Ten Commandments (Jews, Catholics and Protestants have different versions) authorized by the Legislature, a group of Satanists want to add their own monument to the Devil.

“They said they wanted to be open to different monuments,” said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Temple of Satan told CNN, “and this seems like a perfect place to put that to the test.”

Greaves and some legal experts say the Constitution is clear: the government can’t endorse one particular religion. So, if a state capitol has a monument to one faith, it must allow monuments to others as well.

The Temple of Satan is less a religious body organized around rituals and regular meetings than a roving band of political provocateurs, said Greaves. Last year, the Temple organized a gay and lesbian kiss-in at the gravesite of the mother of anti-gay preacher and activist Fred Phelps. It also held a rally at Florida’s state capitol in support of a law that allows “inspirational messages” at public school assemblies.

“It allows us to spread the message of Satanism,” which centers around respect for diversity and religious minorities, said Greaves.

Oklahoma legislators voted to erect the Ten Commandments monument in 2009, using private funds donated by Rep. Mike Rietz, a surgeon and Southern Baptist deacon.

Rietz declined to comment on the Satanists’ proposal (10/9), citing an separate and ongoing dispute with the American Civil Liberties Union over the Ten Commandments monument.

VOLCKER RULE REINS IN BANKS’ GAMBLING. Federal regulators (12/10) approved the final version of the “Volcker Rule,” a key component of the financial reform law that is aimed at reining in banks’ riskiest trading practices. After struggling for more than two years to write the complex rule, five regulatory agencies signed off on the nearly 900-page reform that included tough new sections narrowing carve-outs for legitimate trades, Reuters reported (12/10).

While reform advocates cheered the final rule, they cautioned that much of the impact will depend on how regulators police banks to make sure they don’t pass off speculative bets as permissible trades. “It’s a very serious blow to the gambling culture of Wall Street,’’ Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets, a non-profit investor-advocacy group, told USA Today (12/10). “It’s much better than many people expected.’’

POPULIST DEMS ACTUALLY DO OK AT POLLS. An attack on progressive populists in the Democratic Party, written for the Wall Street Journal (12/3) by leaders of the “Third Way,” which seeks to preserve love and respect for the money wing of the Democratic Party, revived the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. Third Way’s Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler claimed that the victories of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Bill de Blasio in New York City actually are bad for Democrats because they perpetuate the “we can have it all fantasy.” Mike Lux noted in a column at HuffingtonPost.com (12/9) that “on the overall politics, their argument about de Blasio being from New York City and Warren being from Massachusetts meaning that populism won’t play was hilarious to this Midwesterner who did all my early politics in red and purple states. (They also ignore that Warren was the only person to beat an incumbent senator last year, with an opponent was a popular and charismatic moderate; and that de Blasio started way behind in the polls to Mayor Bloomberg’s designated heir but came roaring back as his message was heard, but hey: I guess you just can’t mention inconvenient facts.) They ignore the fact that full-throated progressive populist Sherrod Brown [D-Ohio] had more money spent against him by Karl Rove and the Chamber than any other Senate candidate, yet never trailed and won Ohio by several more points than Obama; they ignore Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin beating a popular ex-governor with a great populist message; they ignore Heidi Heitkamp running on her record as a big-business-suing attorney general, and the ideological heir to her old Wall Street-bashing boss Byron Dorgan, and winning an upset come-from-behind victory in North Dakota; they ignore Chris Murphy winning against a candidate willing to spend $50 million with an anti-big money message in Connecticut; they ignore the scores of swing-state and district victories in elections for Congress and governor of candidates with populist campaigns over the last decade, including Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Brian Schweitzer (Mont.), the Udalls in New Mexico and Colorado, Jeff Merkley (Ore.); and they ignore Obama winning reelection by running against income inequality, the Republican refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy, the Ryan budget, Bain Capital and Romney’s 47% statement. ...

“We need a political strategy that has at its heart the kind of clear, compelling, accessible messaging on the core economic issues that matter to low and middle-income Americans that Elizabeth Warren is so good at projecting. We need to stand in solidarity to everyone who is hurting in this economy, and everyone in the modern progressive coalition, which includes young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, unmarried women, union members, the LGBT community, and, yes, working class whites who are being crushed by this economy. And, finally, we need to reach out to the small business people and entrepreneurs who are being squeezed and financially hurt by the big businesses trying to push them out-of-the-way.

“The most important thing we need to do in order to win the war and not just a skirmish here or there is to understand the nature of that war. This isn’t about the left vs. some kind of phony establishment DC/Wall St centrism. Their version of centrism has little support — the policy proposals we support on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, trade, taxes, investments in education and infrastructure, breaking up the banks, minimum wage, and other issues are all supported by very big majorities of American voters. Instead, this is a long-term war between a few incredibly wealthy and powerful special interests on one side, and those of us willing to take on those powers that be on the other.”

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2014


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