Tag Archives: Republicans

Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Senator McConnell couldn’t have made himself more clear to the Republican leadership — let’s please have less drama from the White House so we can get along with our agenda.  Less tactfully phrased, McConnell and his myrmidons such as Representative Mark Amodei (NV2) and Senator Heller (R-NV) isn’t going to do anything about the dolt in the Oval Office until after they get what they want.  They want two things: (1) to return the control of the health insurance market back to the insurance companies; and (2) to dismantle the financial and consumer protections enacted in the Dodd Frank Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Not sure about this, then please consider the current push for the Choice Act:

“At a time when too many hard-working American families are still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crash, deregulating Wall Street’s biggest firms again makes no sense. Yet the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to do exactly that.

It would allow the biggest Wall Street banks to opt-out of significant financial protection rules, while those banks that remain in the regulatory system would be blessed with watered down versions of once-tough protections, like living wills and stress tests. Perhaps most worryingly, the CHOICE Act would cripple two of the most important post-crash reforms: the Financial Stability and Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).” [the Hill]

Review: The CFPB was the agency which brought to light, and then levied fines against Wells Fargo for egregious violations of their customers’ privacy and financial interests.  Little wonder the banks aren’t happy with those “bureaucrats.” Less wonder why the Republicans aren’t going to do anything about the President who had to fire his National Security Adviser — until the Choice Act is safely delivered to his desk.

We should also recall that the Republican version of the healthcare reform act is much less about health insurance reform than it is about bestowing tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, to the tune of close to $765 billion over the next ten years.  We can easily conjecture that the GOP will do nothing about the man in the office who fired the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and then the emissary from the Department of Justice who warned him about the dangers presented by the presence of General Flynn.  At least nothing will be done, until the Republicans can cut Medicaid to the barest of bones:

His (Trump’s) promise would be violated by House GOP bill, as it seeks to freeze Medicaid expansion money for states in 2020 by withhold funding at the enhanced match rate for any new enrollees after that point. Other beneficiaries are at risk with the more long-term transformation that program stands to undergo under the GOP bill. The legislation would overhaul the program—now an unlimited federal match rate—into a per capita cap system, meaning that states would get a fixed amount of funding per enrollee. The Congressional Budget Office, analyzing an initial version of the legislation, predicted out of the 24 million Americans who would lose coverage under the earlier GOP bill compared to current law, 14 million were due to its changes to Medicaid. [TPM]

Given there is no CBO scoring on the current edition, we can’t be certain that States like Nevada which expanded Medicaid enrollment in order to make health care access affordable, won’t be left in the lurch — Congressman Amodei’s tortured logic to the contrary.  So, nothing is likely to be done about the executive who fired the Director of the FBI who was supervising the investigation of Russian meddling in our elections (and possible Trump connections to that meddling) until Medicaid cuts are also tucked into the President’s portfolio for a signing ceremony.

When will Republicans address the Leaker-in-Chief’s discussions with the Russian visitors to the White House?  Probably not until the budget cuts to the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education come to fruition.  Do we have a situation in which the following is true?  If the Trumpian honeymoon isn’t over, it soon will be.

That sentiment was echoed by a prominent GOP consultant I spoke to who asked not to be named to offer a candid assessment of Trump and congressional Republicans.
“The question for Republicans is whether this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said the source. “Forty percent approval is not the issue; an erratic, rudderless, leaderless White House is.” [CNN]

The camel’s back may not bend until the Republicans have seen their agenda realized, their Randian Dreams made true, and their Austerity Government imposed on the American people.   The damage of this administration and the Republicans in Congress who enable and excuse him is only starting to come to fruition.

 

Comments Off on Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Filed under Amodei, Comey, conservatism, corporate taxes, financial regulation, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, income tax, McConnell, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health

Caveats and The Unspoken Big Lie

So, we have two sources telling us that approximately 24 to 26 million people will lose their health care insurance if the Republicans are successful in jamming through their tax shift proposal masquerading as a ‘replacement’ for the Affordable Care Act.  Therefore, it’s now time for a new ‘talking point’ from the GOP, especially since some Republicans like Rep. Mark Amodei are on record saying:

When asked what his plan for a change to Obamacare would be, Heller said, “If you like your health care, you can keep it,” a statement that echoes a promise from Obama that later ended up being false.  Amodei said he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone.  “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said. [RGJ 2/22/17]

Well, now we know with some certainty that the GOP replacement bill will result in reduced coverage, and some people and families will be uninsured.  How to escape this trap? A new talking point!

“No one will lose their coverage.” 

The HHS Secretary Tom Price, whose replacement would have cost some 18 million their insurance, opined:

“Success, it’s important to look at that,” he said. “It means more people covered than are covered right now at an average cost that is less. I believe that we can firmly do that with the plan that we’ve laid out there.”  Not exactly.

Then, there was Pete Sessions, a Republican from Dallas, telling his listeners:

“Nobody is going to lose their coverage,” Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, told CNN. “You’ll be able to keep your same doctor, you’ll be able to keep your same plan.”

A spokeswoman for the congressman later explained that Sessions meant Americans will have the choice whether to obtain or maintain coverage — not that the GOP bill would take coverage away. The American Health Care Act would nix the ACA mandates requiring Americans to have health insurance.” [DMN]

And, there it is, the Big Caveat, which makes taking health insurance away from working American all AOK.  You can “choose” to keep your health insurance! IF and ONLY IF you can afford it. ?

However, even IF you can afford it, the policy you can purchase may not be truly comprehensive. A young person may have to get additional insurance if he or she marries and there is a pregnancy in the plans. More cost. A plan may not cover preventative care? Or mandatory coverage for cancer screenings?  More cost.  It doesn’t take too long to add up the extras until what has been basic coverage becomes optional coverage. Then the risk pool is reduced and the premiums go up. That is how insurance works. The larger the risk pool the lower the premium costs.

Thus, “you can keep your health insurance” IF:

  • You can afford it in the first place, not likely if you are among the low wage workers in this country.
  • You can afford it and are willing to accept lower levels of coverage, and you don’t mind having to pay for additional services for additional  premiums.
  • You are willing to shop for insurance coverage every time the circumstances of your life changes; as in pregnancies, pre-natal care, caring for a special needs child, a family member needs rehabilitation or mental health care.
  • You are willing to see your local, and especially rural, hospitals see higher levels of uncompensated care.
  • You are willing to accept that your doctors and other health care professionals will see less reimbursement for services rendered.
  • You are willing to forego coverage for preventative screening and treatment for medical conditions.

Access to health insurance isn’t the same as having health care insurance.  As the now commonplace tweet has it: “I have access to a Mercedes Benz dealership — that doesn’t mean I can afford to buy something of their lot.”

Comments Off on Caveats and The Unspoken Big Lie

Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Myths and Legends: The Medicaid Issue in Nevada

There was a Republican politician on my television screen this morning telling me, or trying to tell me, that Medicaid was “meant for mothers, children, and those who couldn’t work…” This is outdated. Then, he tried to convince me that Medicaid was being “abused” by those who work and ‘game the system,’ while spouting platitudes about the Free Market and the Joys of Competition.  Let’s start at the very beginning.

This is the explanation of Medicaid as reported by Nevada’s Division of Health Care Financing and Policy (pdf)

“Medicaid is the nation’s main public health insurance program for people with low incomes and the single largest source of health coverage in the U.S.”

The program is meant to help people with low incomes.

“The PPACA extended coverage to many of the non-elderly uninsured people nationwide. The June 2012 Supreme Court Ruling made Medicaid expansion optional for states, and Nevada elected to join the expansion and maximize federal dollars. Effective January 1, 2014, this move broadened Medicaid eligibility to nearly all adults under age 65 with income at or below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). At the end of SFY 2014 that meant that there were an additional 125,989 new enrollees in Nevada Medicaid, and increased expenditures of $154,816,777.00. These new expenditures are 100% federally funded.” [NV med pdf]

Medicaid expansion added those working Americans who were earning 138% of the poverty line and below, (pdf) and more specifically: (1) Those between the ages of 19 and 64 who are earning less than 138% of the FPL. (2) Pregnant women in homes earning less than 165% of the FPL. (3) Children from birth to 19 years of age in homes wherein the earnings are at or below 205% of the FPL, with a small premium required in some cases. Translated into real people with real levels of low income earned, this means a family of four would be eligible for Medicaid in Nevada if the family earnings are less than $2795 per month; for pregnant women if the earnings are at or less than $3341 per month; and families are eligible for the kids’ Check Up program if family earnings are less than $4151 per month.

If we calculate annual earnings, then monthly earnings of $2795 mean an annual income  of $33,540. At $3341 annual earnings of $40,092, and at $4151 annual income of $41,630. Nevada’s median income is $52,431 (2015). To put these numbers in perspective, the average weekly wages of a person working in a private restaurant in this state are $382, or $1528 per month ($18,336 yearly). [DETR] The average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Las Vegas, the obvious site for most private restaurants, is $932 per month. [RJ] In short, not only are wages not all that generous in Nevada, the benefits available for Nevada families aren’t all that generous either.

Republicans, however, strenuously oppose benefits for adults capable of working. This would make infinitely more sense IF and ONLY IF they were willing to support a living wage for all employees. One really doesn’t get to have it both ways.  Either you want a reduction in benefits that most working people can afford to purchase on their own because they have the financial resources to do so, or you want lower wages which mean that individuals and families cannot afford those things, like health insurance, and the public benefits are required to make up the difference.  However, at this point we slam into another GOP myth.

Free market competition will make health insurance affordable for everyone, even those who are working in low wage jobs.  Good luck with that. Personally, I have yet to hear anyone explain with any specificity why health insurance corporations will be flocking to Clark, Washoe, or even Esmeralda counties because there is more “free market” applied to the situation. If the insurance companies weren’t wildly excited about selling individual and family health insurance before the enaction of the ACA, why would they do so now? Unless, of course…

They could sell policies that didn’t cover all that much? That cost more for those between the ages of 50 and 64?  That didn’t cover maternity expenses? That didn’t cover preventative care? That didn’t cover drug rehabilitation and mental health services in parity with physical treatments? That only covered the items required in those states with the least consumer protections? And, even then all we have to look to is the situation in Nevada when insurance corporations were free to offer what they were pleased to call comprehensive policies.  Again, if they weren’t interested in selling a plethora of individual and family policies then why believe they would be now?

And that Free Marketeering? It doesn’t work in the health care industry:

“In a free market, goods and services are allocated through transactions based on mutual consent. No one is forced to buy from a particular supplier. No one is forced to engage in any transaction at all. In a free market, no transactions occur if a price cannot be agreed.

The medical industry exists almost entirely to serve people who have been rendered incapable of representing their own interests in an adversarial transaction. When I need health services I often need them in a way that is quite different from my desire for a good quality television or a fine automobile. As I lie unconscious under a bus, I am in no position to shop for the best provider of ambulance services at the most reasonable price. All personal volition is lost. Whatever happens next, it will not be a market transaction.” [Forbes]

The only thing I can say with any certainty is that the Republicans have little idea exactly what constitutes a Free Market, and instead are waving it like a banner crovering their underlying desire to be free from the moral requirements compelling us to be our brother’s keepers.  The range of misanthropic explications are appalling, from “we need not do anything because the poor will always be with us anyway,” to “when Jesus told us to provide for one another he only meant fellow Christians.”

The Repeal and Replace campaign is as void of humanity as it is of understanding of the reality of most family economics, and of the comprehension of what the term ‘free market’ actually means.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

The Government Regulations They Love To Hate

The Republicans have catch phrases which have been very handy for their purposes for the last forty years, “burdensome regulations,” are among them. Rarely do they want to identify upon whom the burden rests. Often they are fond of calling the regulations “job killing.”  Nearly always the “regulations” are amorphous, and highly generalized.

Let’s get specific.  Senator Rob Portman will be introducing a bill which, in its present form, would limit the ability of federal agencies to promulgate rules until every last lawsuit against them is completely litigated. In other words, NEVER.  So, what nefarious regulations would people like to have eliminated?

How about eliminating the regulations associated with the Clean Water Act?  One regulation has already fallen — the one limiting toxic sludge emptied into freshwater.  Is this going to make drinking water any safer? Will this encourage the development of tourism based activities in coal country to diversify their economy by adding more hunting and fishing opportunities?  Will elimination of these rules make the drinking water in Flint, MI and other American cities safer for children, and adults?  Do we really want to go back to the not-so-good old days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, OH?

Or perhaps people would like rules associated with the Clean Air Act eliminated?  What’s wrong with breathing a little smog — other than creating public health issues like an increase in the incidence of asthma? Respiratory diseases? Lung cancer? What’s wrong with creating a country of people walking around with face masks as they do in Beijing?

How about eliminating consumer protection regulations?  Gee, what could go wrong, other than a replication of Wells-Fargo’s egregious practice of opening accounts people didn’t know about and then charging fees on those accounts?  Other than predatory lenders charging unimaginable rates for pay day loans to working people, and even members of the US Armed Forces?  Other than mortgage servicers failing to notify customers who held their mortgages and failing to properly record documents with local governments? Other than obviously dangerous products being available for sale to unwitting customers, customers without the ability to check online to see if products for infants, children, and others are safe and free of deadly defects?  Other than allowing financial advisers being able to tell retirees to purchase financial products which benefit the adviser far more than they would benefit the retirees?  Other than making it easier for the Wolves on Wall Street to indulge in Casino play with investment funds?  Were these the “burdensome” rules of which we wish to be relieved?

It’s interesting, that Republicans are only too pleased to speak of those regulatory burdens in highly generalized terms, but when brought down to cases, they tend to sputter that “No, it’s not Those” regulations of which they speak.

Who is in favor of providing federal funds to schools that allow bullying and discriminatory behaviors in their buildings? Who is in favor of making it more difficult to determine if lending institutions are cheating their customers?  Who is in favor of dirty air and filthy streams?  Who is in favor of making it more likely that food sold to the public won’t be properly inspected? Let’s guess it’s NOT the average American member of the public at large.

Someone is in favor of removing these, and other obstacles, to free wheeling unrestrained and unregulated corporate practices, and in this Congress they are finding significant support.

Comments Off on The Government Regulations They Love To Hate

Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics

O Mexico

Mexico is one of the top US trade partners. Its president has just cancelled a trip to Washington.  This has implications.  Remember that major US corporations have primary, secondary, and tertiary economic interests in that nation.  While the anti-immigrant rhetoric may warm the hearts of Republican party voters, policies which diminish those trade relations have serious consequences for our own economy.

Re-negotiating NAFTA will be a complicated process, scrapping it would allow the Mexican government to restrict primary activities (mining, agriculture), impose restraints on secondary elements such as trucking and transportation, and inhibit retail operations like those of Walmart. This is not to argue that there are elements of the trade agreement which couldn’t do with some reform – labor rights, environmental protections, etc. – but that blanket proclamations and nativist  rhetoric are dangerous insertions into the debate.

And, yes, it’s not going to be a wall, it’ll be a fence; and the Mexican government isn’t going to pay for it, US taxpayers will be footing the bill, no matter how Republicans try to manipulate the arithmetic.

There is another, more amorphous, concept to contemplate regarding the current administration’s posture on our relationship with our southern neighbors.

There appears to be a very uncomfortable level of commentary regarding Mexicans. Mexicans are taking American jobs? Mexicans are flooding over our borders? Mexicans are criminals? All of these statements are demonstrably false, but that may not matter.

It’s refreshing to note that there is an increased interest in the work of Hannah Arendt, especially “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” in which she describes the process by which a nation devolves into the abyss.  The process requires suspension of belief in facts and the adoption of prophecy.  If the economy becomes weakened it will be because Mexicans are taking away American jobs. If the institutions of American democracy are crumbling it must be because Mexicans are voting illegally in American elections. If crime rates are up (which they are not) it must be because of criminal behavior by Mexican immigrants.

The process also requires conflation. There are eerie reminders of Leonardo Conti’s notion that a “half Jew must be treated like a full Jew.” Are second and third generation Mexican-American citizens to be classified as less than full citizens?  Why is the current administration seeking daily lists of crimes alleged to have been perpetrated by immigrants?  Does this register with our consciences as being just a bit too similar to the inquiries of the Nazi’s Institute for Study of the Jewish Question?”

What are the consequences of associating Mexican, and all other Central American immigrants, with corruption and crime? What might be a consequence of identification of all Hispanic individuals as immigrants rather than as second or later generation citizens?

Does this mindset make it easier to adopt patently racist voting rights restrictions in the name of “election integrity?” Does this make easing regulations concerning workplace and job discrimination more acceptable in the name of “America First,” a slogan associated with the pro-nazis of the 1940s? Does this atmosphere create an environment where being tough on crime means being rough on members of our Hispanic population?

The president of Mexico is right to cancel his trip.  The current administration is not speaking to how things are (there was no significant voting fraud) (more manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots than other people) but to paint a picture of an authoritarian government staunchly defending our “integrity and values” until we don’t have any left.

Should the administration continue this route the wall, as some pundits are saying, may well serve to keep Americans in, rather than to keep Mexicans out.

Now, go to your favorite book store and get some Orwell and Arendt.

Comments Off on O Mexico

Filed under Politics

Repeal and Replace with stale and fail

There is a sort of, kind of, GOP pn to replace the Affordable Care Act, it’s the set of proposals from Tom Price. [Some discussion available at Forbes] Essentially this version of the ‘replacement’ is a collection of the frail, the failed, and the stale. Some items of note:uran

  • It gives the insurance companies a loophole to reintroduce exclusions for preexisting conditions.
  • It encourages health savings accounts, another way of giving the well to do another tax break.
  • It offers subsidies which would likely only help with the low coverage health insurance plans that could be advertised as ‘comprehensive’ before the ACA.
  • Just about anything on a piece of paper would qualify as an insurance policy, opening loopholes for the creation of ‘place holder policies,’ and the life time limit junk insurance which could be sold before the ACA.
  • Portability is shorthand for the elimination of consumer protection enforced by state insurance officials. If almost anything qualifies as an insurance policy then such policies would be allowable in all states, regardless of state requirements.

This, of course, isn’t the only set of proposals out there. However, it does contain some common GOP ideas about how to get back to those not so wonderful days when junk insurance could pass for the real thing, and when insurance corporations could use all the premium money they wanted on executive compensation or other shenanigans.

Comments Off on Repeal and Replace with stale and fail

Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Politics

Capitalism Won’t Be Saved By Republicans

For the sake of this argument let’s assume that while capitalism may not be the most egalitarian system of resource management and allocation, it’s the best one we have to date.  It’s a bit like the definition of democracy – it isn’t perfect, but no one’s come up with anything better.  So, with this in mind we can propose that capitalism is worth saving.  But, saving from what?  And here I climb back on the hobby horse – we need to save free market capitalism from Financialism.

What is Financialism?  If you’ve just tuned in, I’ve been operating with the Armistead definition:

“Financialism is an economic system where the primary activity consists of creating and manipulating financial instruments.  Financial instruments…are in their original form firmly linked to economic reality.  However, when financialism sets in, financial instruments become progressively further removed from their role in supporting commerce in the real world and develop a life of their own.”  [Armistead]

When this “life of its own” comes in to play there are some serious problems for the underlying economy.  Michael Konczal summarizes the issue as succinctly as anyone:

“If you want to know what happened to economic equality in this country, one word will explain a lot of it: financialization. That term refers to an increase in the size, scope, and power of the financial sector—the people and firms that manage money and underwrite stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other securities—relative to the rest of the economy.

The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole. And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only: immediate income paid to shareholders.”

That second paragraph is a summation of what we’ve been looking at for the last 20 years.   If we were discussing capitalism we’d be talking about economic growth predicated on development in manufacturing, housing, infrastructure, energy, agriculture, primary industries, transportation, etc.  However, we’ve not been talking about capitalism, especially in the media. We’ve been lathered up and shaved by financialism.

We barely know what capitalism is anymore.  What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says, “business news?”  If you said, “stock market report” that would reflect what the evening news gives you. Usually the Dow Jones Industrial Average comes first, and then ‘what drives it’ comes in commentary purporting to be analysis.  Consider the following reaction to inquiries about the strength of the economy in 2012:

“The stock market in the past has been a leading indicator, but that leading quality has weakened in recent years. Stock prices are driven by profits and profit growth. During the Great Recession, corporations have been able to maintain profitability by slashing employment to reduce costs. They have streamlined their operations and have squeezed more productivity out of their remaining workers. Thus, higher stock prices don’t necessarily mean a stronger economy, especially in terms of employment growth. That said, I do think the economy is on an upward path, with job growth of about 2 million expected for the national economy in 2012.” [SDUT]

And here we have an illustration of the third point Konczal was making:  Corporations are judged not by the quality of their products, the character of their work forces, the direction of their research and development – but by the immediate income paid to shareholders.

Couple this with the Shareholder Theory of Value, which Jack Welch once referred to as the “dumbest idea in the world,” and the financialist  incentive is to maximize productivity, prioritize immediate results, and ignore the stakeholders for the benefit of the shareholders.  Now, view the Epi Pen issue from the perspective of the shareholders – the object was to increase immediate shareholder value, but:

“While individual consumers may not have had a voice or recourse, the market did. Mylan may have improved its margins and ultimately driven higher returns and shareholder value, but within a week the price increase cost the company $3 billion in market cap and a stock tank of over 12% in 5 days.” [Fortune]

Ethics do matter, especially to stakeholders.  If there is a silver lining in this cloud it is that the stakeholders (individual consumers, school districts, emergency responders, local fire departments…) can place significant pressure on shareholders.  Breach the bounds of acceptable human behavior and the amorphous market will take a bit out of the corporate hide; illustrating former CEO Welch’s point precisely.

Now, let’s enter the political phase.  Republicans would love to dismantle the financial regulation structure which has curtailed some of the excesses of Financialism which precipitated the last Great Recession.  Out with Sarbanes-Oxley, Out with Dodd Frank, out with “excessive regulation.”   This is a recipe for disaster.  Regulation restrains, and restraint is what is needed to prevent capitalism from degenerating into financialism.

Again, a summation from Konczal:

“…the most important change will be intellectual: we must come to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners, but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy as a whole. Our wealth and companies can’t just be strip-mined for a small sliver of capital holders; we’ll need to bring the corporation back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside an economy that only works for a select few.”

Income inequality on steroids? More Bubbles? More volatility? And, more economic problems associated with those issues.  It will be up to Democrats to resist the financialization of the American system of capitalism because the Republicans are either trapped in its web or ignorant of its consequences.

Comments Off on Capitalism Won’t Be Saved By Republicans

Filed under Economy, financial regulation