The victory of Thom Tillis in the Republican Senate primary in North Carolina (5/6) prompted a lot of punditry about the death of the tea party. “The establishment guy won! The tea party loon got whomped! The adults are back in charge,” Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (5/7). But Ed Kilgore of WashingtonMonthly.com gets it right:
“For one thing, the ‘Establishment’ did not have a great night in House races in NC. But even if all you do is to focus on Tillis’ win, it came at the sort of price that I suspect ‘Establishment’ candidates are going to be willing to pay all over the country this year: abject surrender to party extremists on every key issues.
“As it stands, Thom Tillis will be entering the general election campaign against Kay Hagan having proudly and redundantly branded himself as a ‘conservative revolutionary’ leading battles against education funding and abortion rights and voting rights in a state that is ambivalent at best about its shiny new right-wing government. And if there were any doubts about perceptions of Tillis, I’d say publicity about the 2011 ‘divide and conquer’ video will take care of them eventually. Any ‘move to the center’ by Tillis will be very, very difficult.”
Drum noted, “The tea party basically took over the GOP four years ago. Sure, there are still candidates who are more or less conservative than others, but even the ‘establishment’ candidates these days are creatures of the tea party. As Dave Weigel says at Slate.com, there’s really not much contest left. The tea party has already won:
“In 2014, the biggest target of the year so far was Thom Tillis, the leader of the ultra-conservative North Carolina legislature, which was elected with the help of Americans for Prosperity’s Art Pope — who, following the 2012 elections, is now the state’s budget director,” Weigel noted at Slate.com (5/7). “The ‘Tea Party,’ as seen in the movement’s best-funded national organization, had already won in North Carolina and made it a test kitchen for ALEC model legislation. Where, as I asked last week, was the space to the right? There wasn’t any. This is why Democrats, who quietly gave up hope of a Republican runoff over the last week, have been trying to remind people that Tillis is perfectly right-wing.”
If Tillis is the best example you can find of an “establishment” candidate, Drum concluded, “then the conservative establishment is well and truly toast. These days, the tea party is triumphant everywhere. The only thing that’s changed is its name. It’s now called the Republican Party.”
DEMS COMPETITIVE IN 3 KEY SOUTHERN STATES. The Affordable Care Act has not been the train wreck that Republicans hoped would lead them to an electoral rout this November. Democrats appear to be in better shape in the South than D.C. pundits assumed, as a survey finds them to be competitive in key Southern races in Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky.
An NBC/Marist poll released 5/12 shows Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), considered one of the cycle’s most vulnerable Democratic incuments, leading Rep. Tom Cotton, 51% to 40%. Pryor has a 50% favorability rating in the poll. Previously, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll for the New York Times gave Pryor a 10-point lead, as did a survey for a group advocating an increase in the minimum wage, HuffingtonPost.com noted (5/12). Pryor’s support for the Affordable Care Act might not as fatal as the GOP hoped, while Cotton’s vote against the farm bill may have hurt him among the state’s rural voters.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is essentially tied with Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), 46% to 45%.
NBC/Marist also gives Dems a legitimate shot at a pickup of the open Senate seat in Georgia as Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) is retiring. Michelle Nunn (D), a former non-profit CEO and daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D), is within 4 points of her most likely Republican rivals, trying Rep. Jack Kingston, trailing businessman David Perdue by 4 and leading former Ga. Secretary of State Karen Handle by 3. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll (5/12) has Nunn leading all her Republican opponents, beating Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) by 15 points, Rep. Paul Broun by 13 points, Kingston by 10 points, Handel by 8 points and Perdue by 1 point — within the poll’s margin of error.
In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall (D) in his re-election race narrowly leads Rep. Cory Gardner (R) 47%-43% in a survey (5/7-8) by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling for the League of Conservation Voters. Ten percent of respondents were undecided.
DEMS BOTCH FLA. HOUSE PICKUP. Democrats apparently bungled a top pickup opportunity in the US House as Ed Jany, a former Republican who was recruited by Dems to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District formerly held by the late Rep. Bill Young (R), dropped out of the race (5/13) telling the Tampa Bay Times he “wrongly assumed” he could handle his professional workload during a political campaign. He is a security consultant for the World Cup in Brazil this year.
The National Journal noted that former gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink (D) narrowly lost a special election for the Tampa-area seat in March to David Jolly (R). After Sink declined to run again, the Dems turned to Jany, a former Republican who had to run as an independent because, under Florida law, he hadn’t been registered as a Dem long enough. Party leaders also had pressured local NAACP Chapter President Manuel Sykes, a Democrat, to drop out of the race to clear the way for Jany, leaving no one on the party line.
Sykes told National Journal he is unlikely to get back in the race because of how the Pinellas County Democratic Party treated him when asking him to drop out. County Party Chairman Mark Hanisee, he said, left him a voicemail saying he would be “persona non grata” if he stayed in the race.
“I don’t want to get mixed up with party leadership,” Sykes said. “Even if they smile at me, I know it’s not sincere. I don’t feel comfortable.
BENGHAZI! John Fugelsang advises Republicans: “If you oppose Medicaid expansion, it’s best not to accuse other politicians of ‘leaving Americans to die’.”
HOSPITALS SEE BIG DROP IN UNINSURED ADMISSIONS IN BLUE STATES. Jason Millman reports at WashingtonPost.com (5/12) that publicly traded hospital chains report a big difference in admissions between states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn't.
“The Hospital Corporation of America ... saw a 22.3% growth in Medicaid admissions, compared to a 1.3% decline in non-expansion states. The company also had a 29% decline in uninsured admissions in the expansion states, while non-expansion states experienced 5.9% growth in uninsured admissions, chief financial officer William Rutherford said.
“Community Health Systems, with facilities in 29 states, also noticed an expansion gap. In expansion states it serves, CHS said it saw self-pay [i.e., uninsured] admissions drop 28% while Medicaid admissions increased by 4%. Self-pay emergency room visits decreased 16% in expansion states, but they increased in non-expansion states, the company said in its earnings call last week.
“Tenet Healthcare reported last week that it had a 17% increase in Medicaid inpatient visits while uninsured visits decreased 33% in the four expansion states where it operates. In non-expansion states, Medicaid admissions dropped 1% as uninsured care rose 2%.”
This is why hospitals support Medicaid expansion so strongly, Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (5/13). “Medicaid may not pay a lot, but on average it pays a lot better than uninsured patients. A drop of around 30% in uninsured admissions is a big win for the patients, but it’s also a big win for the hospitals.
Normally, of course, that would be enough to gain Republican support, but not in the world of Obamacare. The fact that Medicaid expansion benefits the poor, benefits hospitals, probably benefits state finances, and is all but free to participating states—well, it’s just not enough. Demonstrating their tribal opposition to all things Obama is far more important. For example:
POOREST AMERICANS STILL LOCKED OUT OF O’CARE. Despite the fact that Affordable Care Act has been in place for four years now, more than 1 mln low-income Americans who are dependent on community health centers are still going uninsured, according to a new report conducted by researchers at George Washington University.
Patients at community health centers, which get federal funding to operate in medically underserved communities, are typically even poorer than the uninsured population as a whole. They also tend to be in worse health compared to other low-income people. Nonetheless, many of these vulnerable Americans are locked out of health reform because they live in states that have rejected Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion:
According to the researchers, more than 70% of those people live in just 11 southern states. And 35% of them live within the borders of five states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. The southern region of the US has historically struggled with higher rates of uninsurance, poverty, and preventable health issues. Nonetheless, GOP lawmakers there continue to resist cooperating with health reform at any cost.
“These low-income patients, many of them living in the South, already face significant challenges to obtaining health care,” Dr. Peter Shin, the lead author of the study and the director of the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, explained. “Our analysis suggests these patients will remain without access to affordable insurance, which will almost certainly lead to delays in care and the risk of more serious health conditions.”
There are also serious financial consequences to resisting Medicaid expansion. Community health centers make a lot more money from Medicaid reimbursements than they do from the sliding scale of payments they receive from the uninsured. The new report estimates that community health centers in anti-expansion states will forgo $569 mln in the revenues they would have collected from new Medicaid patients. Rural hospitals in those states are also being forced to close, since there aren’t enough patients with insurance to ensure they have enough funding to remain operating.
All told, nearly 6 mln low-income Americans have been left without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever because of their lawmakers’ continued resistance to fully implementing Obamacare. The fight over Medicaid expansion is disproportionately impacting people of color, who already face significant health disparities compared to their white counterparts in Southern states. Over the past several months, residents in states like Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have risen up to protest their elected officials’ decision to reject the expansion.
On the other hand, in the states that have agreed to expand Medicaid, millions of low-income people are becoming eligible for the public program. The few deeply red states that have accepted the expansion, like Arkansas and West Virginia, are seeing their uninsurance rates plummet. (Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress.org)
‘PRO-GROWTH’ POLICIES DON’T ACTUALLY PRODUCE GROWTH. “Pro-business policies,” as defined by conservative economic pundits, don’t really contribute to economic growth, Menzie Chinn of the University of Wisconsin has shown.
Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times noted (5/7) that Chinn crunched the numbers from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit think tank funded by big business and the Koch brothers (among others), which recently published its latest ALEC-Laffer State Economic Index, which measures 15 state policy “variables,” such as top marginal income tax rates, property taxes, public employees per capita, state minimum wage, right-to-work law, and whether there’s an estate tax. States that rank high in all these factors and therefore shine in the index have low taxes, small government, anti-union policies and no estate tax.
But Chinn wondered if a high ALEC ranking translates into high growth. He started by measuring private nonfarm job growth in four states — California, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Minnesota — dating to January 2011, when all four got new governors. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sam Brownback of Kansas were extremely ALEC-friendly, Jerry Brown of California and Mark Dayton of Minnesota were not.
Here’s what he found, in a nutshell, at EconBrowser.com (4/21): “Kansas and Wisconsin, ranked 15th and 17th in terms of the ALEC-Laffer Economic Outlook Rankings, are doing equally badly relative to US employment growth. In contrast, Minnesota (ranked 46th) is outperforming the United States and those two states ... What about California? It is ranked 47th by ALEC-Laffer, and yet is doing the best in terms of employment amongst the four states.”
As Chinn observes, the most radical pro-ALEC governor is Walker, whose tax-cutting and anti-union zeal has propelled him into the race for the GOP presidential nomination for 2016. His state’s economic performance has been dismal, as ALEC’s own figures show. Walker predicted that his policies would result in job growth of 250,000, Chinn noted; so far Walker’s fallen short by more than 94,000.
What’s worst about these ALEC policies, Chinn reports, is that the relentless budget-cutting they require leave crucial state services, particularly education, gasping for breath. That’s a formula for long-term decline, not growth.
POPE: JESUS DEMANDS REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH. Pope Francis isn’t letting up on taking the Gospels literally when Jesus called for taking care of the poor, which has some wealthy Catholics fleeing to the Old Testament and later commentaries on the Gospels to justify their Mammonite inclinations.
Francis called for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits” (5/9), arguing that the Bible demands an economic system that cares for the “poorest and those most excluded.”
Francis made the comments while speaking before a gathering of several United Nations agency leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As he reflected on the UN’s target for Future Sustainable Development Goals, Jack Jenkins noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/9) the first Latin American pope asked those present to resist participating in an “economy of exclusion” and to strive to have “a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger.”
“In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens,” Francis said.
Francis grounded his argument in the biblical story of Zacchaeus, a rich (and likely corrupt) tax collector who dramatically altered his economic behavior after encountering Jesus Christ. According to Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus was overcome by Jesus’ kindness, prompting the wealthy man to publicly proclaim that he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he defrauded four times over.
“…Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus,” Francis said of the story. “This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity.”
ThinkProgress noted that te Zacchaeus story is but one of many instances where the Bible demands the redistribution of resources to those in need. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus tells a young man “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” In Luke 3:10-11, Jesus proclaims to an assembled crowd “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” In addition, one of Jesus’ most famous miracles is a the “feeding of the multitude,” or where he and his disciples manage to feed five thousand hungry people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Francis’ words speak directly to growing concern over economic inequality. In the US alone, the richest 1% of the population—a group which controls about 40% of the country’s wealth and owns about half of all stocks, bonds, and mutual funds—saw their income grow by 86.1% between 1993 and 2012. In that same time period, the incomes of the rest of the country — the bottom 50% of which own only 0.5% of investments — grew just 6.6%. This sort of wealth disparity is also a global problem: according to a recent study by Oxfam, the 85 richest people on the planet are worth nearly as much as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.
Pope Francis has made moral economics and concern for the poor a chief focus of his ministry since he ascended to the papacy in March 2013. Stories abound of him dining with the homeless and sneaking out of the Vatican to serve the needy; he even published an apostolic exhortation on just economic practices last year. In it, he argues that trickle-down economics has “never been confirmed by the facts” and asks “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
GOP REP: OBAMA’S KILLING VETS, YOU’RE NEXT. A Republican congressman agreed (5/12) that President Barack Obama is “killing veterans” for political expediency during a radio interview on Shreveport News Radio 710 KEEL and suggested that Obama would apply the same politically motivated rationing tactics to individuals and families enrolled in coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
Discussing the growing controversy over the deaths of at least 40 veterans, who died waiting for care, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) suggested that “this is the type of thing you would see with Obamacare, a centralized system, when you have the president making all of the decisions,” ThinkProgress.org noted.
The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, actually requires everyone to have insurance so they can get health care from private health-care providers.
Igor Volsky noted at ThinkProgress that the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will conduct a “face to face” audit of all VA clinics to investigate complaints of lengthy waits for treatment and allegations that 40-plus vets have died waiting for care. Several lawmakers have called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Volsky noted that Fleming did not specify the similarities between this scandal and the health care law or explain which provisions would allow a president to make medical decisions on behalf of patients enrolled in the ACA. His office did not immediately return a request for comment.
US OIL & GAS INDUSTRY AVERAGED AT LEAST 20 SPILLS PER DAY. The US oil and gas industry was responsible for at least 7,662 spills, blowouts, and leaks in 2013 — an average of about 20 spills per day, EnergyWire reported (5/12).
The figure (which does not include Louisiana spills) represents an 18% increase in the number of spills EnergyWire counted in 2012, when 6,546 accidents were tallied. Though most of the spills were small, their combined volume added up to more than 26 mln gallons of oil, gas, hydraulic fracturing fluid and other substances, the report said.
The increase in drilling accidents since 2012 is particularly jarring because the US has not actually seen an increase in drilling sites. According to January data from the American Petroleum institute, the total number of wells in the country in 2013 stayed largely the same, actually decreasing 1% since 2012.
The decrease, according to API, is because the US drilled substantially less gas wells in 2013, but increased its oil drilling — a trend seen most notably in Montana. There, spills were up 48%, largely in line with the 42% increase in rig count figures. In North Dakota’s booming Bakken Shale, though, spills jumped by 42% while rig numbers dropped 8%, another startling figure apparently driven by hasty, irresponsible development.
“We still have this mentality that we have to go faster and faster,” Don Morrison of the environmental group Dakota Resource Council, told EnergyWire. “When you’re rushing, things go wrong.”
Despite exhaustive state-by-state analysis of data, EnergyWire was unable to retrieve spill information from Louisiana, because the state did not apparently have an accessible list of spills. Louisiana officials reportedly told the publication that the information could be found in a Coast Guard’s National Response Center database, which is shut down. The state has not yet fulfilled EnergyWire’s (3/21) Freedom of Information Act request for the data. (Emily Atkins, ThinkProgress.org)
TURNS OUT THREATENING FEDS IS ILLEGAL. FBI agents have launched a formal investigation into alleged death threats, intimidation and possible weapons violations that culminated with a dangerous showdown with armed supporters of deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy (4/12-14), and the first people interviewed by FBI agents were Las Vegas Metro Police, starting with Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillispie, KLAS-TV reported (5/8).
FBI agents spoke to an entire squad of Metro officers, who were on the scene to act as a buffer between the crowd and BLM agents. Bundy supporters have insisted in emails and calls to KLAS that no one in the crowd pointed weapons at BLM or Metro officers, but officers told KLAS’s Investigative Team that is exactly what they saw, with many armed men set up behind women and children.
“It is not a rumor. When we first got out there and made a left to divide I-15, that is all you saw. You saw kids and women and horses in the backdrop and then men with guns, laying on the ground, in the back of pickup trucks. We’re going, ‘wow, this would never happen in Las Vegas,’ But it was there. That is not a rumor. It is reality and I saw it with my own eyes,” Metro Police Sgt. Tom Jenkins told KLAS reporters.
There is also a considerable amount of video and photos of Bundy supporters carrying weapons and taking up sniper positions. Facebook postings during the standoff discussed pro-Bundy snipers targeting BLM agents in case shooting started. Another posting threatened to kill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The separatists, who were cheered on by Fox News and many Republican leaders, including Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), didn’t get the fight they were looking for with federal agents in April, but it is a federal crime (a felony) to point a gun at a federal agent and if the separatists think they won the first inning because the BLM backed down, they should remember that the US Department of Justice bats last. Also, it will be interesting to see what happens to anyone who buys Bundy’s cattle, given the federal claims on them.
CHAMBER HEAD: WITHOUT IMMIGRATION REFORM, GOP SHOULD FORGET 2016. US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue said that the Republican Party “should not bother to run a candidate” in the 2016 presidential election unless Congress can pass immigration reform this year. During an event on the economy and infrastructure (5/12), Donohue argued that it was necessary for the House to “do something rational” and that the Chamber of Commerce would “put a lot more” heat on Congressional members who are resistant to the idea of reform, Politico.com reported.
When asked by a moderator what he deemed a “must pass bill … that’s crucial for the future of the US economy,” Donohue insisted on passing immigration reform:
“We’ll be absolutely crazy if we don’t take advantage of having passed an immigration bill out of the Senate. Going back and doing it again might be harder and do something rational in the House and put it together and let’s get the three or four things we really need there. And we’ve got a lot of heat on that and we’re going to put a lot more. ... If the Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016. I mean, think about that. Think about who the voters are.”
The voters that Donohue referred to are likely Latino voters who could impact the 2016 election, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee noted at ThinkProgress.org (5/12). A 2013 Latino Decisions poll found that at least 63% of Latino voters say that they know someone who is an undocumented immigrant. Another Latino Decisions poll found that 63% of Latino voters “would view House Republicans somewhat or much less favorably if House Republicans block immigration reform.” And a report released by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projected that there may be 28 mln eligible Latino voters for the 2016 election. As a reference, Latino voters made up 17% of the 2012 vote in Florida, 37% in New Mexico, 18% in Nevada, and 14% in Colorado.
MAJORITIES LOSE FAITH IN PARTISAN SUPREME COURT. An overwhelming majority of voters would support sweeping reforms to the Supreme Court, as trust and confidence in the institution has eroded in recent years, according to a survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
Wide majorities disagree with recent 5-4 party-line rulings that have upended a century of campaign finance law and tilted the rules in favor of the extremely wealthy and major corporations, Ryan Grim noted at HuffingtonPost.com (5/7). The landmark Citizens United ruling was opposed by a whopping 80-18 margin. The more recent McCutcheon decision, which lifted caps on total giving, was said by a 51% majority to be likely to create more corruption, while 8% suggested it would lead to less.
By a 60-36 spread, those surveyed by Democratic-aligned GQR said that Supreme Court justices were more likely to be carrying out a personal or political agenda than working to render a fair and impartial judgment, an opinion that cut across party lines.
Overall approval of the Supreme Court has been falling since its 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision handed the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, according to Gallup.
Big majorities in the GQR poll said that Supreme Court justices should no longer be appointed for life, that cameras should be allowed in the courtroom and that justices should disclose financial conflicts of interest and be bound by ethics rules.
FED DEFICIT ON TRACK FOR SIX-YEAR LOW. President Obama is making steady progress reducing the massive federal deficit that was rung up in fiscal year 2009 under President George W. Bush, Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog.com (5/12), as the federal government has raised taxes and cut spending. The government ran a surplus in April, thanks to tax payments that put the budget on track for the lowest annual deficit in six years. The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting a deficit of $492 bln for the fiscal year, which would be the narrowest gap since 2008 and down $900 bln since President Obama took office in January 2009.
Benen added, “I should note that I don’t consider this sharp reduction in the deficit to be good news. On the contrary, I strongly believe the nation should be borrowing more, not less, taking advantage of low interest rates, investing heavily in infrastructure and economic development, creating millions of jobs, and leaving deficit reduction for another day.
“That said, if we’re going to have a fiscal debate, it should at least be rooted in reality, not silly misconceptions. And the reality is, we’re witnessing deficit reduction at a truly remarkable clip. Every conservative complaint about fiscal recklessness and irresponsibility in the Obama era is completely divorced from reality.”
POT GROWERS GET COOP BANK. Colorado lawmakers approved a financial system for the new marijuana industry, a network of uninsured cooperatives designed to give pot businesses a way to access basic banking services, the Associated Press reported (5/7).
From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2014
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