Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Last Call For Hoocoodanode, Louisiana Edition

Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu may have lost her bid for Senate in November, but don't feel bad for her.  She's back on her feet with a new job.

Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is joining the Washington lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman, the firm will announce later Tuesday (May 26). 
Landrieu said she will join Van Ness Feldman as a senior policy advisor, working closely with another recent hire, former Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the former top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. 
Former senators are barred from lobbying their former colleagues for two years after the end of their congressional careers. For Landrieu, that means she can't lobby colleagues until January, 2017. But she can lobby members of the executive branch, and is free to provide Van Ness Feldman clients with strategic advice
Landrieu said the job will provide her with the "flexibility" to continue her work for the Walton Family Foundation, advocating on education issues, such as support for charter schools in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and nationally.
Landrieu lost her bid for a 4th Senate term to then Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, in a Senate runoff election. 
In taking the job at Van Ness Feldman, Landrieu, who ended her 18-year Senate career as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is joining a long list of former lawmakers in the lobbying business. Among former Louisiana members now lobbying are former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-Metairie; former Sens. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., and John Breaux, D-La., and former Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, Jimmy Hayes, R-Lafayette, Chris John D-Lafayette, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

Nobody would have guessed that a Blue Dog senator from Louisiana refinery country would end up working for Big Oil and charter schools, right?

It's good work if you can get it, and who wouldn't want the former Senate Energy Committee chair working for them?

And so it goes.

Insurance Companies Are Still Jackasses

As Kevin Drum reminds us, there's a lot of screaming, crying, and clickbait in FOXtown about health insurance companies saying they need 2016 premium rate increases due to Obamacare regulations of 50% or more.  What insurance companies want and what state insurance regulators will approve, well, those are two drastically different things.

In any case, we've all seen this movie before. Republicans will latch onto it as evidence of how Obamacare is destroying American health care and it will enjoy a nice little run for them. Then, a few months from now, the real rate increases—the ones approved by state and federal authorities—will begin to trickle out. They'll mostly be in single digits, with a few in the low teens. The average for the entire country will end up being something like 4-8 percent. 
So don't panic. Sure, it's possible that the Obamacare shit has finally hit the fan, but probably not. Check back in October before you worry too much about stories like this.

McMegan gets out her calculator (seemingly unencumbered by gastritis this week) and McDisagrees.

Eyeing the Journal's list, the most obvious pattern is that states are converging on a price somewhere well north of $300 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker seeking a Silver plan; the states with the biggest rate hikes all had premiums under $250, and are asking to be allowed to go near or over $300, while the states that asked for low increases were already over $300, and in some cases well over. (Vermont is at $430 -- and asking to go to $476! "Only" an 8.4 percent increase, but wow.) It seems as if states where insurers initially underpriced are now trying to move toward a natural price somewhere between $3,600 and $5,000 a year for a single nonsmoker. If that's the price of providing basic benefits, regulators cannot command it away by fiat; the best they can do is to force insurers out of the market
I assume that these large insurers are willing to incur some losses in the market for exchange policies in order to stay on the good side of their state regulators and HHS, because overall, those policies are not a large part of their business. But getting those rates down to something more on the order of 10 percent would require some pretty big losses. How long, exactly, will they be willing to carry a product that loses that kind of money?

Here's a concept.  If they can't provide health insurance plans that meet Obamacare requirements, and there are plenty of insurers who can, then maybe they need to be forced out of the market.

Remember, health insurance companies make big bucks on A) providing services that aren't used and the premiums that go with them, and B) denying claims.  I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for health insurance companies to begin with.  Part of the purpose of Obamacare was to do exactly that: force the bad players out of the market by limiting overhead costs.

We're seeing cost-cutting in health care across the board now.  The major, major problem is that we have the most expansive health care in the world, and finally we're starting to see some progress on the cost front, thanks to Obamacare.

So ideally, it'll cost the insurance companies less to provide coverage for care, so maybe they won't all go out of business.

Weird how that works.

The Truth About Thad

So if you remember the ugly campaign for the re-election of Mississippi GOP Sen. Thad Cochran last year, you're not alone.  The Tea Party resorted to all kinds of horrible tricks to go after Cochran, including going after his bed-ridden wife suffering from Alzheimer's dementia, which resulted in his primary opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, refusing to concede last year's primary for months before forced to by the courts and accusing everyone he could find (Republicans, Democrats, and especially Mississippi's black voters) of a massive conspiracy to make him lose.

The whole thing, you may recall, started over rumors that Cochran was pulling a Newt Gingrich and cheating on his sick wife.  Rose Cochran died six months ago, and now it appears that there may have been truth to those rumors as Cochran has married the long-time aide he was allegedly cheating with.

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran married his longtime aide Kay Webber in a private family ceremony in Gulfport on Saturday, according to a one-sentence statement released by his office Monday.

Cochran's relationship with Webber became the topic of much speculation and intrigue during last year's Republican U.S. Senate primary. Supporters of challenger Chris McDaniel accused Cochran of carrying on an affair with Webber. Cochran's office denied any kind of affair.

Rumors of a possible marriage between Cochran and Webber surfaced earlier in May; however, multiple Cochran staffers denied any knowledge of a possible wedding as recently as last week.

Senate and campaign staff defended the relationship between Cochran and Webber during last year's campaign in light of news detailing travel overseas and back to the district that included Cochran and Webber. A campaign spokesperson at the time said Webber "is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip."

Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said Monday that Webber would remain on the senator's staff.

So in the end, the Tea Party bloggers going after Cochran were probably right, and he was cheating on his wife. The Washington Post is more than a little unhappy.

Over the past 12 years, records showed that Webber had joined Cochran on more than 30 publicly funded international trips costing more than $150,000, the Clarion-Ledger reported in 2014.

Critics also pointed to records that showed the six-term senator rented the basement apartment of Webber’s $1.6 million Washington rowhouse as proof of an untoward relationship.

Cochran’s Senate and campaign staff defended Webber’s involvement in the travel and apartment as “strictly professional” and “perfectly appropriate” for a senior staff member.

Webber, who makes about $140,000 a year, was said to attend official meetings and social functions, help the senator maintain his travel schedule and organize constituent events, his office said.

Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told the Clarion-Ledger a year ago that Webber “is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip.”

Rumors of the couple’s marriage had begun to swirl earlier this month, the Mississippi newspaper reported Monday, though Cochran staffers denied knowing of any wedding as recently as last week.

And so it goes, Republican values voters.


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