The Conservative Argument in Favor of the Affordable Care Act

So the shutdown is over and we aren’t going to default on any debt. But the Republicans still vow to get rid of Obamacare. So let’s look at why health care reform is something Conservatives should be in favor of. Here’s a letter to my Tea Party-backed Representative:

Health Care is a jobs issue. Actually, I was pretty surprised that the President and the Democrats didn’t use this line when they passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place, because it is very true. I used to work for Dell, one of the bigger employers in our district. In the mid 2000’s (2005 give or take) Dell decided to bring call volume back from India and therefore opened new call centers. Did they open them in the US? No, they opened them in Panama and Canada. Why? At least in part it was because those countries had government health coverage and so employers weren’t burdened with providing insurance.

A small business I know of in Travis County was very proud to start providing insurance for their employees around the same time. Shortly thereafter, one of their employees and his family were in a terrible car accident. They lost at least one member of the family (as I recall) and the survivors had some serious medical bills. Now, I don’t know if these medical bills had anything to do with the employee leaving the next year, but I would hate to be the employer faced with the prospect of having my small business hit with suddenly increased premiums because of something like this. I hope the guy was not fired so that the company could continue to provide benefits, but I can’t rule it out.
Health Care is a huge burden on job creation in this country and I can say that from my own direct experience as well. Dell laid me off in 2009 and I investigated starting my own business during the year that I remained unemployed. I applied for private insurance during that time and was denied for “pre-existing conditions.” The insurance company so wanted to avoid covering me that they took my off-hand comments in my doctor’s notes as a diagnosis. I am not certified by any authority in the world to make diagnoses, but that apparently didn’t matter to the insurance company. They also invented a “smoking history” for me.

Last year, I had a heart attack. That’s a real pre-existing condition that is going to require me to have insurance in place because heart attacks are EXPENSIVE and so are the drugs to prevent them. I’m doing everything I can to prevent a future heart attack but there are no guarantees and the prevention isn’t cheap either. Under the old system, that means I’m tied to employer insurance until I get old enough to qualify for Medicare. How can I create jobs and grow the economy if I can’t get health coverage? Well, right now, the answer is Obamacare. What you thought the Republican alternatives would work? Why would an out-of-state insurance company want to cover me when an in-state company bent over backwards to avoid covering me, when there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with me yet? Tort Reform? We have tort reform in Texas already and it didn’t make Scott & White feel inclined to take my application seriously. The plain fact is that the GOP has no viable alternative to solve the problems that Obamacare solves. Technical problems with the website aside, there are quite a few reasonably priced plans available to me on the exchange that aren’t allowed to deny me based on my medical history. Now, if you want to do something different from Obamacare, go right ahead, but keep in mind, none of what you and your colleagues have come up with so far fix any of the problems that make the health care industry a drag on our economy. Real health care reform is totally in line with Republican Values. Even if we accept the cynical view that the only thing Republicans value is handouts for the rich, health care reform is in line with that value, too.

And if you’re worried about the insurance companies and their lobby, here’s my thought on that subject: Screw them! Ostensibly they are in the business of paying medical bills, but my experience with them is that they will take any excuse NOT to pay those bills. I could go on for days with stories of how the insurer providing our agency’s current coverage have used incompetence and red tape to avoid meeting their obligations under our policy. Honestly, I don’t see how a government bureaucracy could be any worse than the private bureaucracy I’m dealing with currently. As long as insurance is a for-profit enterprise, this will always be a problem.

So, your recent ill-advised efforts to defund Obamacare were ill-advised not just because it was a stupid strategy, but because it went against our county’s economic interests. I was always taught that the GOP was the party of fiscal responsibility and growing the economy. Getting rid of Obamacare with your current ideas on what to do instead is neither responsible nor does it grow the economy.

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Progress…Finally

It’s not enough for me and if I were advising the President, I would advise that he stand firm, but the House Republicans have started to come to their senses. Speaker John Boehner yesterday announced an offer to the President (to try) to pass a debt ceiling increase good until around the end of November in hopes that the Democrats would come to the negotiating table about the budget. It’s a start.

Of course, their proposal still includes what Newsmax calls “several modest changes” to the Affordable Care Act. I remember when Republican partisans used to accuse me of Bush Derangement Syndrome, reflexively reacting to every move by GWB as if it were coming from the Devil himself (I may be exaggerating slightly). Apparently, GOPers aren’t immune to Obamacare Derangement Syndrome. Anyway, I digress. They should give that up. They should not only raise the debt ceiling but also pass a clean continuing resolution (which they may be considering). They should apologize to the American people and specifically to all those furloughed federal workers. But, for now, I’m going to be happy that they have taken any steps toward being reasonable and negotiating in good faith no matter how small those steps might be.


My representative is an idiot

Well, okay, that’s a little harsh. But he’s definitely drunk the kool-aid on this whole continuing resolution.

 Right now, it’s clear the Senate is not even willing to come to the table for discussion. This should outrage the American people. We cannot let Obama and his democratic-controlled Senate steamroll over the voice of the public. We cannot let this administration continue to pick and choose what laws it wants to enforce. It is not even fully enforcing its own landmark legislation- Obamacare. If it’s not good enough for the administration to enforce now, it’s clearly not ready!

I will continue my fight to fund this government in a fiscally responsible manner. I will continue my fight to delay Obamacare and protect the American public.”

No real facts of course, just GOP talking points. So here’s my response:

I just read your email blast entitled “Where do we go from here.” You complain about the Democrats not negotiating with you. I gotta tell ya, I wouldn’t negotiate with you either if I were in there shoes. First of all, you’re trying to negotiate on a fight you’ve already lost, both in Congress and in the courts. Second, you’re negotiating from a position of weakness; you’re a minority of a minority insisting on being able to control the agenda and there’s really no reason for anyone to let you do that. The Democrats have finally figured out that they are in the majority (with veto power no less). I don’t know why they’ve let you get away with this strategy this long. Third, you’re negotiating in bad faith; no concession is ever enough. The next time a must-pass resolution comes along you ask for more concessions. Y’all are like the vikings in England back in the middle ages; sure they can pay the Danegeld to keep this band of marauders out of your villages, but that won’t stop the next and the next after that. In such a world, only an idiot would keep letting the aggressor get away with it without a fight. Eventually, even an idiot should be able to figure out that standing up to you is the only possible way to get you to quit. Finally, you’re offering a lousy deal. In the first round you seriously wanted to trade a measly month or two of continuing resolution in exchange for giving up on their signature legislative achievement, the work of a century and a dozen presidents? You’ve got to be kidding me. What were you thinking? I know what you were thinking; they’ll fold like a napkin just like they did the last several times. Well, Mr. Congressman, they aren’t folding. I think they are done folding. I think you should expect them to continue to beat you up in the press and I think you should expect to lose. And I think you should expect to kiss the White House good-bye for the next two cycles if not the next two generations. You’ll be lucky to hold the house, and if you do, it’ll only be because of all the gerrymandered seats.
The place to go from here is out to the floor to pass a clean CR and hope the country forgives you. And then, do the same with the debt ceiling. With all this talk of fiscal responsibility, voting against raising the debt ceiling would mark you as a hypocrite.


Debt Limit

I’ve probably said a number of these things here before, but I wanted to share with you my latest letter to my so-called Congressman:

 I notice the House still isn’t getting serious about a budget; I talked about that yesterday. And of course, the longer you all spend futzing with the continuing resolution, the less time you have to deal with the debt limit. Let me tell you my thoughts on the debt limit. Republicans are very fond of talking about how the government should run its finances like a family or a small business would. I’m actually quite fond of that idea myself.

Do you know what happens when a small business or a family defaults on their credit payments? They get their interest payments jacked up. When you are a talking about an entity with over $16 trillion in debt, any flirtation with default is, to say the least, foolhardy, at worst, stupid. Look, clearly the President grew a spine sometime in the past year and he’s not going to cave to pressure from you guys like he’s done in the past. It’s clear he’s not going to stand for your tea party shenanigans this time around. You and the GOP talk a lot about fiscal responsibility. Well, the responsible thing to do in this situation is to raise the debt limit. Because even 1% of $16 trillion is a LOT of money. Yes, we can’t afford to keep spending the way we do, but we also can’t afford to get our interest rates jacked up for no good reason, either.

It’s also worth noting that the debt is not the fault of the President, it’s the fault of Congress. You pass a budget and the President has to spend it. You pass taxes and other revenue and the President can’t collect any more than that (sometimes you get lucky and your AIG stock goes up higher than you thought, but you can’t count on that). Your spending far outstrips your revenue, so the only way to resolve that is to borrow money. So the President does what he has to do to meet all of his obligations under the law, but Congress throws one more monkey wrench into the works: you also pass a debt limit that doesn’t cover all the spending you required over and above the taxes you’ve approved. Dirty pool if you ask me.

Raise the debt limit without strings or explain in the primary why we’re now paying even more interest when we could continue to borrow at rock bottom rates.


Shut Down!

My congressman is one of those who is insisting that the President and the Democrats give up a victory they’ve fought and won in both the Congress and the Supreme Court. Here’s the letter I sent him:

Leaving aside for a moment the merits of the ACA debate, this show down over a shut down is ridiculous. Your first offer was that he give up on his signature program, a victory in both Congress and the Supreme Court in exchange for what? A whole 45 days of government continuing to run? What a bad trade. Imagine someone wanted you to compromise on the 2nd amendment, would you cave for a measly 45 days? Of course you wouldn’t! Especially considering that in another 45 days they’re going to come back demanding more concessions to get the next 45 days. And every month or so after that, they’re going to ask for another concession. No one in their right mind is going to accept a crummy deal like that. And the GOP looks idiotic for expecting that he might.
What the House Republicans don’t seem to realize is that for the President and the Democrats, the fight now isn’t even really about Obamacare anymore, it’s about protecting the government from being held hostage.
If you want to take some kind of bite out of Obamacare, you’re never going to get there through the continuing resolution or the debt limit. You might be able to get away with a one-year delay in the individual mandate in exchange for a whole year budget. Maybe. But whatever you do, you’re going to have to make some kind of concession to show you’re willing to negotiate in good faith. Shutting down the government is not a show of good faith and you hurt your ability to get anything with each minute that passes.

I have plenty to say about the merits of the healthcare debate; we can talk about that later. For now, I’d just like to see the GOP quit shooting itself in the foot on a fool’s errand.

Really, I can see where representatives who have been elected by gerrymandered districts with the most radical voters being really the only voice they need to listen to, would not want to look like they are weak against the President. They are protecting their own re-election bid and I understand why they would want to do that. But protecting themselves, in this case means losing the White House next time around. And the longer these Tea Party types remain in control, the longer it will take to put together a White-House-winning coalition. Eight years ago the Republicans were talking about a permanent majority. Now they face the prospect of a permanent minority. We need to stop being a stupid party.


A dumb party

“We need to stop being a dumb party, and that means more than stop making dumb comments” Gov. Jindal on the future of the GOP

I can’t promise that the Governor of Louisiana and I agree on why, but we do agree that the GOP needs to quit being dumb. Here’s what I mean when I say things like this.

1. Writing off urban areas is dumb. Take a look at a map of the electoral vote and it looks like the Republicans control a huge portion of the country, and if we elected people by acreage, that would be right. But actually, we elect people by numbers of people. The states the Republicans can count on are big, but empty. The only one with more than 20 electoral votes is Texas. Reaching out to urban America is smart.

2. “Energizing the base” is dumb. The base is too small. Imagine a pyramid. If you build the walls too steep, it wont’ stand, it’ll fall on you. So the height of your pyramid is limited by the size of the base. Unfortunately, “energizing the base” means alienating people (women, hispanics, blacks, poor people, all of the growing demographic groups) so that you can’t grow the base. Worse, “energizing the base” has also meant “shrinking the base.” As evidence, I point you to the last Republican primary cycle in Texas. On all sides, Republicans were calling each other “moderate” the way Gingrich-era Republicans used to throw around “liberal” and McCarthy-era Republicans would throw around “commie.” I think we’ve already reached the point where the base is too small to reach all the way to the White House. Growing the base is smart.

3. Shutting the government down is dumb. Much to the dismay of the GOP, we actually need the government to do things. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) doesn’t seem to understand this. Was he visiting his great white north homeland the last time the GOP shut the government down? Has he not been paying attention to the results of the Sequester? Government does important things and pitching a fit over Obamacare by threatening to shut it all down is equivalent to a child threatening to hold his breath until he turns blue. It’s called a tantrum and any good Republican will tell you the correct response is discipline. Accepting the things you can not change is smart.

4. Threatening the credit of the USA is dumb. All these fiscal hawks are plenty happy, ecstatic even, to point out the massive size of our Federal debt. The Federal government pays just shy of $200 billion in interest every year for an effective rate of about 1.5% (there’s some rounding error there). Now, ask any one with a credit card what happens when you miss too many payments. Yes, that’s right, besides the late fees, you jack up your interest rate. So what’s 20% of $16 trillion? Okay, there’s no reason to think that the Feds would ever have to worry about that kind of interest rate, and so far, we’ve been able to maintain good interest rates even after losing our AAA rating, but when you are talking about debt that size, any increase in the cost of borrowing is significant. Each additional percentage point on the effective interest rate would be an extra $160 billion in interest every year, or enough money to pay all the military’s personnel costs. Defaulting on the national debt is irresponsible. Paying your debts on time with interest–i.e. meeting your obligations, a classic Conservative value–is smart.