Will young adults want Obamacare? Let’s ask a young person who’d know

Via WashPo
Via WashPo

Via Ezra Klein at WashPo:

There’s been an interesting conversation over the last week about how young people will fare under health reform. Aaron Smith, executive director of Young Invincibles (and a bona fide young adult) has spent the past few years of his life worrying and working on exactly that question. So I asked him to weigh in. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Aaron Smith: I’d begin with the economic landscape because I think that matters here. The young adults we’re talking about are largely low income. They might be in school or in school part-time or in community college. They’re in and out of the workforce. They’re having a tough time landing a steady job with benefits. They don’t make very much money. Many of them were on their parents’ plan growing up. They don’t have a ton of familiarity with the health system. They don’t always know what terms like “deductible” and “co-pay” mean.

But they know they can get sick. More young people than folks over 75 go to the emergency room in a year. It happens frequently enough to them and their friends that they know the costs can be astronomical. Young women are more frequent users of health care; they need things like birth control and regular check-ups. You have young men who don’t have a primary doctor or even remember the last time they went to the doctor. About 15 percent of young adults have a chronic condition and know pretty well that they need health care.

How many of them are uninsured now?

About 19 million young adults 18 to 34 lack health insurance. Our polling shows that less than 5 percent of young people choose not to have it. The number one reason they don’t have it is the cost. Most young people don’t qualify for Medicaid right now even if they have very low incomes because most states just don’t give childless adults Medicaid. That’s one of the biggest changes under Obamacare. If every state expanded Medicaid, about 8 million would qualify for Medicaid. Another 9 million would qualify for subsidies because they make less than 400 percent of poverty.

So then 17 of the 19 million uninsured young people are, in theory, eligible for either subsidies or Medicaid under Obamacare?

That’s right. It’s a pretty phenomenal percentage. So if we do our jobs right, young people will be one of the biggest winners in the health-care law.

But behind this conversation lurks this larger question of whether young people care about health insurance at all. There’s a school of thought that says a lot of the young people who are uninsured or have very little insurance just don’t think they need health insurance. But, and this is anecdotal, that doesn’t fit with my experience very well. Young people I know are really nervous when they don’t have health insurance. They’re really excited if they get a job with benefits. I’m not saying I’ve got a perfectly representative sample, but I’m just not meeting many of these kids who literally don’t care about being insured. 

I heard this story on the radio the other day about a young person who said, “I didn’t really feel like I was an adult until I got a job with health insurance.” That’s definitely something I can relate to and that I’ve seen out there in the field. The term “young invincibles” is a health insurance industry term. It tries to explain the fact that young people are disproportionately uninsured. But I think people just dramatically underestimate how hard it is for someone who don’t get health insurance at their job to get health insurance. Less than 50 percent of young adults get employer-sponsored health insurance.

There have been some studies that looked at the choice of whether to accept coverage when you had an employer-based offer. Young people and older people made pretty much the same decisions. Older people were a bit higher, but both were above 70 percent. So when they have the option, the vast majority take it. But when you don’t have the option you have to make tough choices. It’s like deciding not to have a car or living in a bad area. It’s just a tough choice.

 But the cost does matter. So is Obamacare actually going to make insurance affordable for this group? Or will it make insurance more expensive for young, healthy people by making it easier for sicker, older people to buy insurance without getting discriminated against? 

The first important point is the huge percentage of unemployed young people who get access to either subsidies or Medicaid. So you saw in California that many young people will end up having insurance options that cost them less than $100 or less than $50 simply because their income is low enough to qualify for subsidies. For someone making $20,000 a year, they’re going to have to pay $40 a month for health insurance. That’s a very good deal. And in a state like California, there are also millions of young people who qualify for Medicaid.

Now we’ve identified a population between 300 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level that’s going to have more problems. The subsidies aren’t that rich for them, and so whether to buy is a tougher question. They’ll have financial strain. They have financial strain now. That’s why they’re uninsured. If you’re just getting by, then $200 a month can be a lot. That’s where education can be key. It can still make good financial sense to be covered because there are real risks. But I think, in general, it will be a good enough deal to sign up. We saw that in Massachusetts where youth uninsurance dropped in half in the first year.

 Expand on that a bit. I recognize Massachusetts is a somewhat unusual state. But its health reforms were very similar to the national reforms. They should’ve had the same issues with rate shock and with bringing older and sicker people in. So what did we learn from them?

There were a couple of interesting things in Massachusetts. One is the Massachusetts exchange had what’s called the “young adult” plan. It’s higher deductibles. It’s a bit cheaper in terms of premiums. It’s similar in some ways to the catastrophic plan available under the health-care law. It’s the most popular plan for young adults in the exchange. So that’s one important point: Youth-tailored insurance options are important.

And just to be clear, the federal plan has something similar in this catastrophic plan mainly available to young people, right? 

Yes, so there’s a catastrophic plan as part of the health law. There’s not been that much analysis of it. But it’s specifically targeting that young adult population. It has a very high deductible — about $6,000. So it’s not generous coverage. But it meets all the other standards in terms of benefit caps and preventive coverage and no discrimination and so on. For many young people, that will be their cheapest option. Particularly above that 300 percent of poverty line. In California, that was costing about $130 to $150 a month.

What else did we see in Massachusetts? 

They also did big public outreach campaigns. They got the Boston Red Sox to do PSAs. They understood there had to be an attitude change and they were very proactive about trying to address it. The polls show health reform in Massachusetts is actually quite popular, even among young people who are now being forced to purchase coverage. And that’s another similarity. There’s a mandate. But it has exceptions. Not many people pay it in Massachusetts. If you’re low-income, it doesn’t apply to you. That’s true nationally, too. The mandate doesn’t apply to you if coverage is more than 8 percent of your income. What we saw in Massachusetts is that people are either exempt or they choose to pay for health insurance, Very few end up paying the mandate.

The last point which has been talked about so much people don’t think about it anymore is the expansion of dependent coverage which has also been very popular. Nationally about three million people are estimated to have gotten back on their parents plan because of the law.

 So given all the issues of implementation and the political opposition to the law and the difficulties in various states and the early information about premiums, where do you think this will end up in 2014 and 2015? Do you think young people will sign up or stay away?

I’m pretty hopeful, in part because the experience in Massachusetts showed this model can work. But it will play out differently in different states. A state like California is following the playbook. They’ll do a big promotional campaign. They’re investing in on-the-ground outreach and education. They’re expanding Medicaid so really low-income folks will qualify for health insurance. So I could see it being a huge success in a state like that. But not every state will do that. An important point for young people is that some of the states with the highest rates of youth uninsurance are in the south and some of those states aren’t expanding Medicaid or building their own exchanges. My fear is what happens in those states. So I could see some states coming out and looking much better than other states.

Everyone is unhappy with Obama’s budget proposal, and that’s a good thing


Reporters, politicians, and pundits all over are tearing apart the budget President  Obama has recently outlined, which he will submit to Congress Wednesday of next week.

The big takeaway is that the President is essentially offering the same policy Speaker Boehnor rejected during the fiscal cliff talks from December. The plan involves tax and spending increases, closed loopholes, and some spending reductions, the key of which involves changes to the cost-of-living adjustment for entitlement spending. The President is essentially putting his foot down with Republicans, and reaffirming this as the Democrat’s imperfect compromise plan.

Mandatory spending, mostly comprised of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is rising, and unsustainably. There are many ways of dealing with this, and using chained CPI may not be the best one, but at least it is an idea.

I don’t love the President’s budget. And I very well shouldn’t. Neither should congressional Democrats or Republicans. In attempting to compromise, neither side should or could responsibly expect to get everything they want. We have seen this dysfunction go on too long to believe a soon-to-be-lame-duck Democratic president or fingers-on-the-ledge Democratic senate majority can manhandle House Republicans. So any pragmatic hopes of getting a serious, long-term budget passed need to include major concessions to Republicans. Democrats refusing to look at ways to reform entitlements (which can and should be much more than just a reduction in benefits) are being just as obstinate as their partners in crime across the aisle.

I 100% agree that the President’s outlined budget is a bad break for progressives. But while some worry any hope for a grand bargain is pointless, I would argue that it is more unreasonable to allow two increasingly polarized political groups to act completely self-interested. Nothing will happen if both sides deem the argument all or nothing. There were periods in the past with much less polarization where compromises were business as usual. Aspiring to create such an atmosphere again seems much more useful work than continued refusal to act at all.

Check out this breakdown via the Washington Post:

President Obama will propose a budget next week that embraces a risky strategy of courting Republicans for a grand bargain on the debt while angering Democratic allies with cuts to the nation’s entitlement programs.

White House officials said Friday that Obama’s budget would cut Medicare and Social Security and ask for less tax revenue than he has previously sought. The budget, to be released Wednesday, will fully incorporate the offer Obama made to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during December’s “fiscal cliff” talks — which included $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts and tax increases.

On Friday, liberals expressed outrage that a freshly reelected president would concede so much. Some of Obama’s allies said they were concerned that he was making a strategic mistake. Yet the president’s aides said he was intent on showing that he was not backing away from the compromise he had offered.

“The budget reflects his priorities within a budget world that is not ideal,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “It requires compromise, negotiation and a willingness to accept that you won’t get 100 percent of what you want.”

The budget will break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities. But the spirit of compromise did not win Obama much immediate support, as Republicans and Democrats questioned whether it would lead to an agreement.

Boehner accused Obama of holding entitlement cuts “hostage” in an effort to win support for more tax increases, despite warnings from congressional Republicans not to do so.

“That’s no way to lead and move the country forward,” Boehner said.

But some of the most heated commentary came from the left, which was furious that the president was enshrining cuts to Social Security as official administration policy. Obama proposed changing the cost-of-living calculation for Social Security in a way that will reduce benefits for most recipients, a key Republican request that he had earlier embraced only as part of a compromise.

“I am terribly disappointed and will do everything in my power to block President Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats. “I remember when Obama said he was concerned about retirees struggling to get by and was unequivocal in his opposition to cutting cost-of-living adjustments.”

Overall, the budget request reflects Obama’s stark shift in strategy over the past month, as he has adopted a far more congenial posture toward the opposition. He has begun a charm offensive, reaching out to rank-and-file House and Senate Republicans, dining and speaking privately with them. Obama is set to have dinner with a group of Republicans on Wednesday night, just hours after his budget is released.

Obama’s aides have not been overly optimistic about the prospects for a deal. But they now argue that a strategy of private outreach, coupled with public events, offers the best path for progress not only on the deficit but also on other issues, including immigration and gun control. The White House says the concessions in Obama’s budget should not be viewed as a list of options but rather as a cohesive package.

Obama decided to incorporate the approach he had offered Boehner after a debate among his advisers and allies on Capitol Hill, according to people familiar with the discussions. Some worried that the White House was giving away concessions before Republicans agreed to make some of their own.

“I have some tactical concerns about the White House approach and some substantive concerns,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a White House ally in pursuit of a broad budget deal.

“The president has essentially said this is his end point and this is a compromise proposal,” Van Hollen said. “Republicans have rejected this as a compromise. From the Republican perspective, the president’s budget is the starting point for negotiation.”

White House officials say Obama felt that, as president, it was important he stand by his original offer and include it in his budget proposal.

“We want to make clear that it’s something that we’re willing to do. To not put it in [the budget] would be a conversation disconnected with reality,” a senior White House official said. Failing to do so, the official said, would have provoked howls from Republicans that “you moved the goal posts.”

Officials also pointed out that the president’s budget goes beyond the Boehner offer. Obama’s budget would fund several new priorities, including the creation of a program offering preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.

Officials proposed an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for the early childhood education initiative and would also seek to generate revenue by limiting how much wealthy individuals can accrue in their tax-protected retirement accounts. Such accounts would be capped at $3 million in 2013 dollars — which officials say is enough to finance a $205,000-a-year income. The president would also seek to scrap a loophole in the law that lets people collect both unemployment insurance and disability payments — so called double-dipping.

The budget request comes on top of a deal struck at the start of the year to raise taxes on the wealthy by more than $600 billion over a decade.

Through that pact and earlier agreements, Congress and Obama have agreed to reduce the annual budget deficit — how much more the government spends than it collects — by $2.5 trillion over the next decade. If left in place, the deep spending cuts that took effect March 1, known as sequestration, would reduce the deficit by an additional $1.2 trillion over the same period. That would be just about enough to keep deficits from rising and to stabilize the debt, as measured as a percentage of the overall economy.

But Obama’s budget proposal would eliminate sequestration and replace it with a variety of other deficit-reduction measures, together worth $1.8 trillion, according to White House estimates.

The deficit, which is projected this year to be equal to 5.5 percent of the size of the economy, would shrink to 1.7 percent of the economy by 2023. By comparison, the House Republican budget — which would curtail spending on dozens of programs for the poor, repeal Obama’s health-care law and partially privatize Medicare for people now younger than 55 — aims to eliminate the deficit by 2023. A more liberal plan passed by Senate Democrats would make the deficit 2.2 percent of the size of the economy by that point.
The budget is more conservative than Obama’s earlier proposals, which called for $1.6 trillion in new taxes and fewer cuts to health and domestic spending programs. Obama is seeking to raise $580 billion in tax revenue by limiting deductions for the wealthy and closing loopholes for certain industries such as oil and gas.
The budget proposal slices $200 billion from already- tight defense and domestic budgets. It would cut $400 billion from Medicare and other health programs by negotiating better prescription drug prices and asking wealthy seniors to pay more, among other policies. It would also generate $200 billion in savings by scaling back farm subsidies and federal retiree programs, among other proposals.
The proposal to change the formula to calculate Social Security payments, also originally part of the offer to Boehner, would generate $130 billion in savings and $100 billion in revenue, a result of the impact of the change on other government programs.
Obama is submitting his budget two months late, after aides scrambled to deal with the end-of-year “fiscal cliff” and then the March 1 deadline for sequestration. With the House and the Senate having passed dueling budget proposals, both sides will see whether they can find a compromise.

Two upcoming debates will provide opportunities. This summer, Congress will once again be forced to raise the federal debt ceiling or risk a default on the national debt. Republicans in February decided not to mount a fight over the debt ceiling, as they had in 2011, and it is not yet clear whether they will oppose an increase this time. In addition, Congress and the White House will have to agree to a new budget plan at the end of September.

Stop suggesting government should run like a businesses

All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved

Plenty of links in today’s article. Check them out if you have time.

There is a worrying trend, in my opinion, of politicians and public figures making comparisons between running a business and running a government. That is simply political posturing that goes no farther than ideological fluff. It is wrong-headed for a simple reason well articulated by John Harvey in an older post via Forbes:

…to ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit. The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable.

And from Matthew Yglesias at Slate, responding to an article in the Sacramento Bee claiming California is insolvent:

This is a big mistake. Obviously California’s state government is not a business. But if it were a business, the right way to account for it would be to treat it as the owner of all the non-federal land in California and all the structures sitting on that land. That stuff—the beaches and the beach houses and the offices and the shopping malls and all the rest—is the tax base of an American state government. California, thanks to 1978’s famous Proposition 13, does not in practice collect all that much in real estate taxes. But that’s a policy decision, not an aspect of the state’s balance sheet. Of course the fact that California is a state government constrained by political factors also highlights the fact that it’s a bit dumb to compare governments to businesses. But if it were a business, then it’d be a business in a great financial position. If the actual financial position is not-so-great that’s precisely because it isn’t a business.

Governments are not like households, and governments are not like businesses. They serve an entirely different function, and try to address the tragedy of the commons by investing in things the market would never support precisely because they do not represent potential profits. Rather, they seek to avoid negative externalities and thus avoid greater potential societal costs that otherwise would not be accounted for. There may be some for-profit schools, but we would not trust  or desire private for-profit groups to educate all citizens. Likewise with the military, police, social services, and welfare state. Certainly, there are exceptions, like perhaps the US Postal Service, but generally we can believe if something was profitable the private sector would already be involved. Don’t confuse the issue by claiming a government could behave like something it is not and should not be.

The political genius of Rand Paul’s drone filibuster

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak


Rand Paul made quite a statement with his legitimate, physically-present filibuster of President Obama’s pick for CIA director John Brennan, and by extension the administration’s proposals for drone policy in the US. With a lot of similar views to his father, Ron, I can’t say I totally agree with Paul’s take that we could be seeing the government striking down citizens with unmanned drone strikes for political dissent anytime soon. The famous “slippery slope” argument is a hyperbole that rarely holds water, and doesn’t take into account the gravity of the scenario in this case. But I 100% agree with Paul’s public defense of his position, one not in line with a large wing of his party (gasp!), his ability to find common ground with those across the aisle, and the fact that he actually spoke about drones and civil liberties for almost 13 hours. Definitely take note of that point in the article, as that element is even more unusual than a traditional filibuster.

Via Peter Weber at The Week:


Rand Paul has managed to pull a Willie Nelson. Nelson, in songwriter Bruce Robison’s playfully deifying telling, moved to Austin from Nashville in the 1970s and, “like a miracle,” gave “all the rednecks and hippies from New York City down to Mississippi” something to cheer about, side by side. The list of senators who stepped onto the Senate floor to help the Kentucky Republican keep up his nearly 13-hourold-timey talking filibuster about President Obama’s drone policy didn’t include senators from New York or Mississippi, but it did encompass Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) among a supporting cast of Tea Party and establishment Republicans. The groups of people cheering him on outside the Senate defied the idea of an America polarized along strict partisan lines.

The filibuster is working for Paul for a number of reasons. First, there’s the novelty and drama of pulling a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style feat — and, from all reports, doing it quite coherently. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got some similarly glowing press for his eight-and-a-half hour Senate talkathon in 2010. Paul one-upped him, though. Through some combination of design, stamina, and serendipity, Paul has become the toast of Twitter and the big story in Washington.

In truth, Paul had to resort to a talking filibuster because the other kind — simply requiring 60 votes to move a bill or nomination, as Senate Republicans had just done with Obama judicial nominee Caitlin Halligan — probably wouldn’t have worked in this case; CIA director–designate John Brennan, the proximate target of Paul’s filibuster, almost certainly had the necessary support to overcome that threshold. But the political stars were aligned for Paul. “Within hours, reporters who rarely covered drone policy were live-tweeting Paul quotes,” says David Weigel at Slate. “The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a #StandWithRand fundraiser for senators who ‘remained committed to upholding the values and the mandates of the Constitution.'”

Politically, Paul’s unpredictability and ability to grab attention with “an unorthodox move” like this should also make his potential 2016 presidential rivals very nervous, says Sean Sullivan atThe Washington Post. At least one of them, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), joined in the filibuster effort. If Paul keeps this up, he’ll be “a pretty dangerous candidate” to run against.

But there’s more to it than that. Quick, without looking: Can you remember what Sanders was filibustering in 2010? Unlike the Vermonter’s lost cause (opposing an Obama tax deal with Republicans), Paul hit on a hot, substantive topic that creates interesting and unusual political bedfellows — and he kept his filibuster focused on that topic instead of reading the phonebook or recipes. The nomination of Brennan, a chief architect of Obama’s drone policy, was the premise of the filibuster, but Paul’s larger issue is with a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder in which the chief U.S. law enforcement officer said that, in very extreme cases, it was theoretically possible that Obama would order a lethal drone strike on an American terrorist suspect.

Paul’s wariness at that response resonates with a wide group of people: The same coalition of “constitutional conservatives,” libertarians, and college Republicans that were attracted to the presidential campaigns of Paul’s father, retired Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). But he also drew plaudits from hawkish Republicans, ACLU liberals, Code Pink anti-war activists, and other people who never embraced the elder Paul. The idea of death-by-drone is more immediate and existential than whether we should re-adopt the gold standard.

Best of all for Paul, you don’t even have to agree with the specific points he was making — essentially, that once you allow U.S. drone strikes under “extraordinary circumstances,” it’s a slippery slope to Arab-Americans being obliterated without warning “in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich.” or dropping “a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda.” In fact, most of the senators who aided Paul’s filibuster surely don’t agree with his every point. (A fairly reliable GOP barometer, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, applauded Paul’s “theatrical timing,” but urged him to “calm down,” sided with Holder and Obama on the legal merits, and said that if “Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.”)

The issues of when to use remote-control warfare, what boundaries we should have for fighting terrorism and domestic surveillance, when the government can use lethal force against American citizens, and what constitutes due process are complicated and filled with ample grey areas. But Paul can look like at least a minor hero to so many people because of the one big idea uniting the motley #StandWithRand crew: We should really be having this conversation in the U.S., now, publicly, before (probably non-lethal) drones above our heads become just another part of this American life.

How We Overregulate and Underregulate at the Same Time

Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

There are always shades of grey in politics.  Even for known liberal blogger extraordinaire Matt Yglesias.  Always a fan of any political analysis involving subtlety and pragmatism, I wanted to send one of his recent articles along.  Here, he details how both Republicans and Democrats can be right about regulation, except that they are likely talking about two different things.  Philosophically black and white, yet grey and nuanced in practice.  Good thing to keep an open mind about.

By Matthew Yglesias via The Week:

I [Yglesias] did a piece about how annoying the paperwork for getting even the simplest small-business license is, which prompted a lot of weird reactions from conservative readers, like “Obama lapdog Matt Yglesias has epiphany: Gee, it’s hard to start a small business in D.C.!” and various comments about how I’m reaping what I sow, and now I should understand why lots of people vote Republican.

This is something I think I actually understand very well. I voted for Republican Patrick Mara the last time he was on the ballot for a D.C. Council at-large seat, and I’ll probably vote for him again. I voted for Mitt Romney for governor in 2002. I would have voted for Michael Bloomberg in the 2005 or 2009 New York City mayoral races, and in general I think the conservative critique of municipal government in the United States has a lot of merit. Republicans might be interested in why someone like me—someone who sympathizes with many of their economic policy views—still hesitates to vote for their candidates for national office. One reason is that I tend to think conservatives place much too little emphasis on the rights and interests of religious and ethnic minority groups, gay people, and the like. Another reason is that conservatives have much too much affection for state-sponsored violence. In terms of economic policy, Republicans tend to deride the hugely successful practice of taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. But even on the regulatory front, there are real shortcomings to the Republican approach.

The way I would put this is that the American economy is simultaneously overregulated and underregulated. It is much too difficult to get business and occupational licenses; there are excessive restrictions on the wholesaling and retailing of alcoholic beverages; exclusionary zoning codes cripple the economy; and I’m sure there are more problems than I’m even aware of.

At the same time, it continues to be the case that even if you ignore climate change, there are huge problematic environmental externalities involved in the energy production and industrial sectors of the economy. And you shouldn’t ignore climate change! We are much too lax about what firms are allowed to dump into the air. On the financial side, too, it’s become clear that there are really big problems with bank supervision. The existence of bad rent-seeking rules around who’s allowed to cut hair is not a good justification for the absence of rules around banks’ ability to issue no-doc liar’s loans. The fact that it’s too much of a pain in the ass to get a building permit is not a good justification for making it easier to poison children’s brains with mercury. Now obviously all these rules are incredibly annoying. I am really glad, personally, that I don’t need to take any time or effort to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury emissions rules. But at the same time, it ought to be a pain in the ass to put extra mercury into the air. We don’t want too much mercury! We don’t want too much bank leverage!

Business licensing is different. “This city has too many restaurants to choose from” is not a real public policy problem—it’s only a problem for incumbent restaurateurs who don’t want to face competition. But in other fields of endeavor—telecommunications, say—the absence of regulations can lead to an uncompetitive outcome. Partisan politics is pretty simple, since there are only two parties to choose from. But the underlying structure of reality is quite complicated, and it’s worth your time to try to understand the issues.

Why the GOP should embrace Obama (and perhaps Dems should hug them back)


I often harp on the importance of context and history.  I think the last few years show a great opportunity for that kind of thinking by both parties.  Rather than fighting a partisan battle based solely on party lines, why can’t we look more objectively at policy and see the commonalities?  For all the insistence that things are worse than ever, Obama has been far less radical than many of his critics would like you to believe.  Couched in context of decisions made by politicians on both sides of the aisle the last 20 years at least, we can see that while there are loud voices on the far ends, there happens to be more commonality in policy proscription if not rhetoric in the middle.  This represents an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans: ignore the nonsense, put down the swords, and do your jobs when there are common solutions.  The article is about the challenges President Obama will face in his second term, but you can extrapolate the message to the entire system.

Paul Brandus of The Week has more:

Despite conservatives insisting he’s an out-of-control socialist, the president is downright Republican on many key issues.

As the curtain rises on Barack Obama’s second term, where’s the love from Republicans? After all, when you think about some of things he did over the past four years, he’s one of them.

Like Richard Nixon, Obama raised taxes on the rich and cut them for everyone else. Like Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama fought for cleaner air and water. Like Ronald Reagan, Obama backed tough measures to curb gun violence. Like Reagan, he dreamed of a cap and trade plan to help the environment. (Reagan’s dream came true with a global treaty to save the ozone layer in 1987.) Obama copied Mitt Romney’s health-care plan and George W. Bush’s immigration plan. Like Bush, he ordered a troop surge to gain strategic advantage in an unpopular war — before cutting a deal to end it. And like Reagan and Bush (and Dick Cheney, who said deficits don’t matter), under Obama, the debt exploded.

Yet despite all these similarities to their own polices over the years, some Republicans say, “What a commie! Fascist! Socialist! Tyrant!”

The right’s distaste for Obama’s first-term policies extends overseas as well. He has been accused of weakness on North Korea and Iran, two charter members of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” Bush admitted both Pyongyang and Tehran to this exclusive club in his 2002 State of the Union (Iraq was the third member of this troika), and issued this explicit warning:

“The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

But Bush did permit it. In October 2006, North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Bush also did little to stop Iran from marching ahead with its own nuclear program. Now, Bush did stop someone: Israel. In 2008, he rejected a request from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for bunker-buster bombs needed to hit Iranian nuclear targets buried deep underground. Bush also rejected an Israeli request to fly over U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace on its proposed raid. Yet somehow, it’s Obama who inherited both of these nuclear messes, who is called weak and disrespectful of our key allies.

Of course, I’m half-joking about Obama being a Republican. But the joke’s on the GOP. Republicans have moved so far to the right in recent years that they can’t recognize how centrist most of the president’s policies — taken from past Republican playbooks — really are. On big issues like immigration, climate change, and reducing gun violence, and on issues that effect important voting blocs, like Latinos, students, and women, Republicans today are simply out of touch. This dynamic looms large over the second term, and the president will take advantage wherever he can.

And there’s this: Barack Obama is not the same president he was four years ago. It has been said that no job can truly prepare one for the presidency, and given Obama’s thin résumé and inclination for hubris (a trait all presidents have), it was inevitable that there would be growing pains. He made mistakes. He boasted about how he would stop the oceans from rising and cut the deficit in half. His advisors said unemployment wouldn’t go beyond 8 percent. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But like all presidents, Obama has learned on the job. He has acquired a better sense of power and how it is applied in pursuit of a goal. He has a more realistic understanding of the entrenched forces that are working against him. This understanding, and the 332 electoral votes he won on November 6, have given him a backbone. He always had one, but it wasn’t evident because he spent much of the past four years bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans (with the major exception of health-care, which was shoved down the GOP’s throat). Obama has wised up. And he’s disdainful of the Republicans who spent the last four years blocking him at every turn.

What does all this mean for the president’s agenda? Take one of his big second term goals: Immigration reform. The president knows — as do Republicans — that he won the Latino vote by 44 percentage points. That’s eight percentage points more than in 2008. Obtuse, arrogant policies doomed Republicans from the beginning, and given the fact that Latinos are not only the fastest-growing voter bloc in the country but also the youngest, Republican policies will have to change if the GOP hopes to reverse this trend in 2014, 2016, and beyond. Obama has little reason to play nice with the GOP on immigration reform.

Republicans are already changing. During the year-end tax fight, Obama’s divide-and-conquer strategy peeled off 85 Republican votes in the House, shattering what had been a rock-solid GOP caucus. 85 votes. Among those voting the president’s way: Former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Then last week, Republicans caved on the debt ceiling, stepping back from threats to shut down the government. Look for Obama to keep up the pressure on the sequester, the big spending cuts that were kicked down the road until March, and on other fiscal matters as well.

The president is holding the best cards he has held in four years. But political winds are fickle. Obama and the Democrats won in 2008, received a “shellacking” (his word) in 2010, and then rebounded last November. He begins his new term with a modest 52 percent approval rating, below Bill Clinton’s 60 percent in 1997 and Ronald Reagan’s 62 percent in 1985. In fact, Obama is right about where George W. Bush was when his second term began in 2005. The numbers are worse on the one issue that his administration will ultimately be judged on: the economy. The New York Times reported last week that just 46 percent of Americans approve of the president’s ability to handle the economy; 49 percent don’t.

Obama also knows that presidents tend to lose ground in midterms, and that after 2014, he will be a lame duck. He has a narrow window in which to act. If the president wants to make a mark with his second-term agenda, he has months, not years, to do so.

Paul Brandus is an award-winning member of the White House press corps and the founder of WestWingReports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport.

House Science Chair’s First Action Is To Hold A Climate Change Denier Hearing




To follow up on some recent news about the new chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith makes an unsurprising first move by starting his chairmanship off denying established science.  In making a call for “experts” to “create a forum for discussion”, Smith is simply creating a forum for more confusion and mistruth to be spread, and giving those voices access to national airtime.  The constant demand from climate deniers that science prove or know for certain exactly how things are happening and how they will in the future shows a blatant ignorance for how science works.  The science is as strong as it gets, and while there are as with any global phenomenon multiple factors that influence the global rise in temperature, we can know that factors under human control are the most devastating, and that is what we must know for policy action.  It is becoming almost incomprehensible to be that the US stands so firmly against all public knowledge on the subject.  I do not believe people who deny our impact on climate change as a whole are some kind of selfish sadists looking to take all they can from the earth for themselves to the detriment of the future, but more that the message of established scientists needs to be trusted as essential to making effective public policy.  Removing the mistrust factor, and decoupling climate denial from conservative political self-identification, would go a long way.  This nonsense, however, does the opposite.

Via Rebecca Leber at ThinkProgress.com:

Coming off of the hottest year in U.S. history and 333 months of higher-than-average global temperatures, Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) first move as the new chair of the House Science and Technology Committee includes a hearing on climate science, according to Dallas News.

For Smith, who criticized “the idea of human-made global warming,” the hearing will be an opportunity to give a platform to the committee’s climate zombies:

I believe climate change is due to a combination of factors, including natural cycles, sun spots, and human activity. But scientists still don’t know for certain how much each of these factors contributes to the overall climate change that the Earth is experiencing. It is the role of the Science Committee to create a forum for discussion so Congress and the American people can hear from experts and draw reasoned conclusions. During this process, we should focus on the facts rather than on a partisan agenda.

Smith has blasted the media as “lap dogs” for not devoting enough airtime to climate deniers and implored networks to not “hide the facts.” Unsurprisingly, he has taken $500,000 from oil and gas over his political career and $10,000 from Koch industries last year.

GOP members of the committee “keep science at farthest arm’s length” with its long list of climate deniers. “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” House Science Subcommittee Chair Paul Broun (R-GA) said. But the list also includes former Chair Ralph Hall (R-TX), Vice Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and subcommittee chairs Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Larry Bucshon (R-IN).

If climate-denying Republicans want the facts and not “a partisan agenda,” they can just read the new draft National Climate Assessment, which dives into the consequences of a hotter, drier, disaster-prone climate.

Debunking the Denial: “16 Years of No Global Warming”

I do get frustrated, like the writer of today’s article, sometimes. It can be so hard to combat the falsities borne out of malice, ignorance, or even oversimplification of the complex challenges associated with climate change. Those studying the issue or working in the field see the threat so clearly, but for many others it is too distant a problem or too far removed from their daily lives. This article is a great, quick breakdown of the basic tenants of the science on climate change: the world is warming, which is quickly becoming a threat to us, and it’s our fault. Check out the video attached from Skeptical Science, read the article, check out the copious linked material, but try to avoid the cynicism. Being sour and condescending only further alienates those who need to hear the message most: those who don’t yet care.

Via Phil Plait at Slate:


“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

– Attributed to Mark Twain

The difficulties in debunking blatant antireality are legion. You can make up any old nonsense and state it in a few seconds, but it takes much longer to show why it’s wrong and how things really are.

This is coupled with how sticky bunk can be. Once uttered, it’s out there, bootstrapping its own reality, getting repeated by the usual suspects.

Case in point: The claim that there’s been no global warming for the past 16 years. This is blatantly untrue, a ridiculous and obviously false statement. But I see it over and again online, in Op Eds, and in comments to climate change posts.

The good news is, John Cook Kevin C. from Skeptical Science has created a nice, short video showing just why this claim is such a whopper [see above].

I like this: clear, to the point, and easy to understand. The bottom line is that temperatures continue to rise, and that human-caused greenhouse gas forcing of the climate has not even slowed, let alone stopped.

I’ll note that climate change deniers are still going on about climate scientists manipulating data. They’re even trying to cast doubt on the measurements showing 2012 is the hottest year on record in the US! Which it was. The irony is rich; it’s a common tactic for deniers to accuse actual scientists of the very tactics the denialists use. It’s a level of chutzpah so high that even Yiddish can’t do it justice.

You want to hear about real manipulation? Media Matters reports that for the past four years, not once was a scientist on a Sunday morning news show to talk climate change. Those discussions were dominated by politicians or a media people. Sauce for the goose: Media Matters found that every politician interviewed was a Republican. And since I’m at it, please, don’t bother with false equivalencies.

By the way, Lamar Smith (R-Tex) is a climate change denier. And he’s taking over the Congressional House Science Committee.

It’s more than incredible; it makes Orwell look like a piker.

Predicted heat wave map for Australia

Predicted temperatures in Australia for Monday, Jan. 14, 2013.

Image credit: Bureau of Meteorology

And in the meantime, we saw Arctic sea ice at record low levels in 2012. West Antarctica andGreenland are melting. It is getting so hot in Australia right now that weather forecasters had to add a new color to the weather maps to indicate temperatures above 54° Celsius—that’s 130° Fahrenheit. The heat wave has literally set fire to Australia. And for me (and astronomers around the world) it’s personal; we almost lost a major observatory to Australian wildfires over the weekend.

And instead of doing something about it, we have to tie up all our time fighting denialist propaganda. It’s shameful.

So let this be clear: There is no scientific controversy over this. Climate change denial is purely, 100 percent made-up political and corporate-sponsored crap. When the loudest voicesare fossil-fuel funded think tanks, when they don’t publish in science journals but instead write error-laden op-eds in partisan venues, when they have to manipulate the data to support their point, then what they’re doing isn’t science.