Friday, December 11, 2009

Last Call

Jon Cohn puts the price tag on the Senate Medicare expansion plan.
According to the projection, under reform the government will reduce its spending on Medicare significantly. Establishing a commission on the cost of Medicare will reduce it further, although not by much in the early years. And a tax on the most expensive health insurance plans will curb spending in the private sector.
Over time, the cumulative effect of these changes will grow, so that the gap between what we'd spend on health care without reform and what we'd spend with it will shrink. In 2019, the last year of the projection, the difference--that is, the amount of extra money our society devotes to health care--is a measly $23 billion out of more than $4.5 trillion total.
That's 0.5 percent--not five percent, but zero-point-five percent. If that were the price of expanding insurance to around 40 million people, it'd be an absolute bargain.
But the actual price may be even lower, at least as time goes forward. The Medicare Actuary does not project beyond the 2019 window. But it's reasonable to assume that if the trend holds until 2019, it will hold for a few years beyond, to the point where medical care spending really would come down.
So, it's...almost reasonable, cost-wise.  The real problem is of course running the program.

The GOP Plan On The Medicare Compromise

Ladies and gentlemen, Glennsanity.
On his radio show today, Fox News host Glenn Beck called Medicare what it is — a “government-run health care plan.”

Beck attacked the new compromise and proposed a simple solution of his own — “abolish Medicare”:
CO-HOST: This is unbelievable, because the whole thing with the public option, is we were saying this is going to be like Medicare, they just want to make a big — make another Medicare program. And then they said no, public option is just competition.
BECK: And, wait wait wait. And I also said why don’t you just abolish Medicare, because it’s so wildly corrupt and out of control. It’s so inefficient, it is so bad and there’s $47 billion in suspected wrong payments, okay, in Medicare. So what are they saying — now remember, what we’re going to do — the compromise is we’re going to expand Medicare. That way there won’t be a public option, we’ll just — which doesn’t make any sense — we’re going to expand Medicare.

Nice.  We have now gone full circle on this merry-go-round cavalcade of crapulence.  When it comes to killing Obamacare or throwing the elderly under the bus, Glenn Beck doesn't even hesitate before pitching them on the tracks.
Death panels for the elderly are evil...but not as evil as government-run health care Medicare!

I Never Sausage A Bad Deal Before

"A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer," reports the AP. The Senate Finance Committee barred annual caps altogether. The merged Senate bill only erases "unreasonable" annual caps. What's "unreasonable?" Hard to say.
Hill sources explain that this was inserted because CBO said premiums would "go through the roof" if insurers couldn't cap benefits. The official quote from Jim Manley, Harry Reid's spokesperson, says much the same thing. "We are concerned that banning all annual limits, regardless of whether services are voluntary, could lead to higher premiums," he explained. "We continue to work with experts on how best to accomplish our goals of preventing insurance companies from imposing arbitrary coverage limits while providing the premium relief American families need and deserve.”

This, however, obscures the choice that's being made. The tradeoff here is slightly higher premiums for everyone versus total financial ruin for the people who absolutely need help the most. Politically, choosing "everyone" rather than "people with cancer" makes sense, because the first group has more votes than the second. But on a policy level, it's nuts. Health-care insurance literally exists to protect us from the worst-case scenarios. This provision says that the Senate bill will protect everyone but the truly worst-case scenarios. If you assume that people support the basic concept of health-care insurance, then they don't, or shouldn't, support this.
You know what happens to the truly worst-case scenarios?  They go bankrupt or die because they'll run out of insurance to pay for treatment. Who defines "unreasonable" limits?  Who knows?  It's sausage in the making, folks.  Unreasonable to the insurance companies will of course be "limits high enough that we might lose money on somebody."

The more I hear about this plan, the more I'm thinking "screw it".  I know that's the whole point of the Senate version of the bill, but still.  Ahh, but it gets worse, courtesy Bob Cesca:
Okay, so enough is enough. The White House has to walk away from the PhRMA deal.
Apparently, the White House is working with PhRMA to kill Byron Dorgan's drug reimportation amendment. The amendment would save around $100 billion more than the White House deal for $80 billion. What's bizarre is that there's Republican support for the amendment, and so PhRMA is threatening both Democrats and Republicans who support it.

But instead of pursuing bipartisanship on this thing, the White House is preferring to stand by whatever deal it made with the lobbyist group.
Byron Dorgan wants to re-import drugs from Canada at a savings of $100 billion.  Republicans actually like this deal.  It's the White House killing it.

Think about that for a minute.

Good News And Bad News Out Of The House

The good news, the House financial reform bill passed.
The bill, which passed 223-202, imposes more oversight and stronger capital cushions for the largest banks and Wall Street firms. It forces them to pay a total of as much as $150 billion into an emergency fund that could be tapped when a troubled firm needs to be taken over and broken up.
The legislation also calls for the regulation of some derivatives and creates a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate products such as credit cards and mortgages.

"The bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns would be not possible -- made illegal -- under this bill," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Committee, said Wednesday as debate started on the bill. "If a company fails, it'll be put to death."

The House rejected, by 223-208, an amendment that would have effectively killed the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, replacing it with a council of existing regulators.
That's the good news.

Here's the bad news.
The members also voted down, by 241-188, an amendment that would have given bankruptcy judges new powers to lower balances on mortgages in order to prevent homeowners from losing their homes in foreclosure.
On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, the bill is moving much more slowly and final passage is likely months away.
Cramdown didn't even make it out of the House this time.  And the Senate is talking about having this bill done by April, which means the GOP will make sure this bill never passes as they will delay, delay, delay until election season and then blame the Democrats for not being able to get things done.

We've seen this all before.  The bill will be watered down in the Senate to the point of fecklessness and then the Dems will put Obama in the position of having to sign a crappy bill he did nothing to help along.

The Why Behind Climategate

The FOX Street Journal's Kim Strassel helpfully provides the entire reason behind the Climategate full press and it has everything to do with the EPA's recent ruling on CO2 and Copenhagen:
"The Obama administration now owns this political hot potato," says one industry source. "If I'm [Nebraska Senator] Ben Nelson or [North Dakota Senator] Kent Conrad, why would I ever want to take it back?"
All the more so, in Congress's view, because the EPA "command and control" threat may yet prove hollow. Now that the endangerment finding has become reality, the litigation is also about to become real. Green groups pioneered the art of environmental lawsuits. It turns out the business community took careful notes.

Industry groups are gearing up for a legal onslaught; and don't underestimate their prospects. The leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit in England alone are a gold mine for those who want to challenge the science underlying the theory of manmade global warming.
Business groups and energy giants don't want to just tie up the EPA regs or legislation from Congress.  They want to literally put climate science on trial from crimes against profit.  They're going to try to bury the science under mounds of trials and depositions and competing testimony and so confuse the country that America simply gives up on it.

But that's the whole point, now isn't it?

What Atrios Said

On the deficit:
The best hope is that this is mostly about selling future deficit reductions rather than anything near term.

I do not know why Dems think people really care about the deficit. They don't. In bad times it's just something "bad" they project their anxieties onto, but they don't care.

Though, in the spirit of cooperation, I will offer up my suggestions for deficit: cancel a couple wars.
Ding ding ding!

I will reiterate:  Anyone who says they are a fiscal conservative while voting that we need to continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is a lying sack of crap that deserves to be voted out of Washington.  If that means some Democrats have to go, so be it.  But it will mean a much larger number of Republicans will be gone as well.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

KDrum asks:
Is lefty obsession with the public option going to torpedo Dems in 2010?
No Kevin, Democrats failing to pass meaningful health care, environmental, financial reform and immigration legislation while having control of the House and having 60 votes in the Senate as they promised to do will torpedo the Dems in 2010.  Pay attention, please.

They've already lost on Afghanistan, but that's Obama's fault.  The other four issues are looking shaky at best.

Sanford And Done

SC Gov. Mark Sanford.  Keeps his job...loses his wife.
South Carolina's first lady, Jenny Sanford, announced today that she will file for divorce from Gov. Mark Sanford.
"This came after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation," Jenny Sanford said in a statement.

She also pleaded for some measure of privacy.

"The dissolution of any marriage is a sad and painful process. It is also a very personal and private one. Because Mark and I are public figures, we have naturally had less privacy with which to deal with our difficulties than do other couples. Indeed, I know it will soon become known so I choose to release this brief notice that I am now filing for divorce," she said. "I am still dedicated to keeping the process that lies ahead peaceful for our family."

Jenny Sanford and her sons had moved out of the governor's mansion, even as the couple said they were working on their marriage.
Not a pretty end to an ugly story, and it being politics, it won't be the last time it happens either.

Shot In The Dark

I respect the NRA for what it does, but frankly there's a problem when four out of five NRA members believe Obama will try to ban all gun sales in the US.
79 percent of NRA members believe Obama will definitely or probably try to outlaw gun sales, according to a poll released Thursday that was conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. 18 percent of NRA members saw it as unlikely for Obama to ban firearms sales.
Gunowners unaffiliated with the NRA still saw it as likely for Obama to outlaw gun sales, though by a lesser margin. 57 percent of non-NRA members said the president would definitely or probably try to ban gun sales, whereas 30 percent said Obama likely wouldn't try to criminalize gun sales.
In other words, NRA owners are far more likely to believe the President is going to outlaw gun sales in America than non-NRA gunowners.  Granted, Frank Luntz is very much a Republican pollster running out of Michael Steele's outfit, but the numbers are scary.

If four of five NRA members believe Obama will ban all gun sales, what are they willing to do to prevent that from happening?  What lengths are they willing to go to?  Why is the NRA trying to promote the view that Obama will ban all gun sales?  The clear answer is to promote gun sales, because that's what the NRA advocates.  But paranoia and firearms are not a very safe combination.  I've talked about this before at length and taken a lot of heat for it.  But it's as true today as it was six months ago, if even more so.

Using paranoia about the President to advocate gun sales isn't just irresponsible, it's damn dangerous.

Brand Spanking New

This makes soooooo much sense it's almost too obvious to see:  Ezra snags a correlation between states where parents prefer to disicpline their kids through physical means, and states that voted McCain in 2008.

No really. Nice little linear relationship there. The more you like to spank your kids, the more likely it is you voted for Angry Johnny Volcano there.  Vermont down there in the low corner, and Wyoming in the high.

Explains everything.

The Assault On Science, Part 3

Yggy explores the reasons behind climate change denial from a political perspective, in particular the Village refusing to embrace it.
Something those of us who want to prevent catastrophic climate change need to remember is that we’re right. Not just factually right, but morally. But while it’s true that effective communications tactics employed by the other side have been helpful to their cause, ultimately the main thing that’s helped them has been the willingness of people who know better to act in a morally indefensible manner.
I’m fairly certain, for example, that Fred Hiatt wouldn’t strangle a baby polar bear just for cheap thrills. But he would run an ignorant Sarah Palin op-ed on climate, and repeatedly allow George Will to mislead people about climate science. What’s more, if Hiatt strolled around Washington soaked in the blood of polar bears he’d been strangling, people would treat him like a pariah. But instead his friends and colleagues and professional peers have evidently decided that he’s just a nice guy who happens to run a crappy-but-influential op-ed page. Similarly, Collin Peterson made the House climate bill much worse, but more financially advantageous to his donors and constituents. But, again, you can’t imagine Peterson roaming around Indonesia killing island-dwellers and pulling off bank heists in order to bring more cash back to rural Minnesota. It’s just that in the context of legislating, people have decided that it’s morally okay to do the wrong thing for personal gain.
(More after the jump...)

Blackwater Runs Still, Runs Deep

More and more informaion is starting to come out on Blackwater's role in Iraq during the Bush years as the CIA's private army.
Private security guards working for Blackwater USA participated in clandestine CIA raids against suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Blackwater's role points to a much deeper connection between the company and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed and raises concerns over the legalities of involving contractors in the most sensitive operations conducted by the U.S. government.

The "snatch and grab" raids took place regularly between 2004 and 2006, the Times reported, when the insurgency in Iraq was escalating and security throughout the country was deteriorating.

Asked for comment on the report, CIA spokesman George Little did not confirm the role that the Times said Blackwater played but defended the use of contractors on intelligence missions.

"This agency, like many others, uses contractors in roles that complement and enhance the skills of our own workforce, just as American law permits," Little said late Thursday. "Agency staff officers have the decision-making authority and bear responsibility for results."
Really, guys?  Despite the tens of thousands of troops we had, we still farmed out CIA black bag jobs to Blackwater?  No wonder the Republicans continue to insist that military contractors like Blackwater must be immune from prosecution. 

They're war criminals.

We farming out our dirty work to PMCs like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, and keeping our official military's nose clean.  In return, the Republicans and war hawk Dems are making sure these private military contractors remain above the law.  Not only did Bush and Cheney know, but Congress knew about and sanctioned it as well.

If you think Blackwater head Erik Prince will ever see a day in jail, you're mad.  Nobody will serve a minute in jail for this, and the Holder DoJ will never prosecute.

And you can bet we'll continue to use PMCs to do our dirty work.


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