The Supreme Court ruled (6/28) that the Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive health care reform package signed by President Obama in 2010, is constitutional. The Court upheld the law’s most controversial provision, the individual mandate, ruling that it is constitutional under the government’s authority to levy and collect taxes.

Although the individual mandate, enforced by a tax penalty, was promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1990s and was the centerpiece of then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts in 2006, approval of the federal version by the Supreme Court cranked up the GOP hyperbole machine.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was in denial that the Supreme Court was the last word on the law’s constitutionality. “Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional.”

Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli called it “a dark day for the American people, the Constitution and the rule of law.” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) tweeted, “I feel like I just lost two great friends: America and Justice Roberts.” Ben Shapiro of right-wing Breitbart.com added: “This is the greatest destruction of individual liberty since Dred Scott. This is the end of America as we know it.. No exaggeration.”

Carly Fiorina, a Romney surrogate and cancer survivor, falsely claimed that “Obamacare” would have undermined her access to medical services. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Obamacare would “Sovietize the American health care system.” Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said the court decision has “made America less free” and explained, “We the people have been told there is no choice,” he said. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo – the IRS.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal expressed alarm that the government might force people to eat tofu.

Some suggested taking up arms against the feds. Roy Nicholson, chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party, suggested an uprising against “the criminal invaders” to “restore our constitutional republic.” Matthew Davis, a lawyer and former Michigan Republican Party spokesman, wrote that citizens might be justified taking up armed rebellion. “There are times government has to do things to get what it wants and holds a gun to your head,” he wrote. “I’m saying at some point, we have to ask the question when do we turn that gun around and say no and resist.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) falsely claimed the federal mandate was the “biggest tax increase ever in American history,” so conservatives immediately jumped on the idea that the individual mandate was a massive tax hike on the middle class, reviving an argument Republicans have made since the law passed more than two years ago. (Scott was elected governor of Florida in 2010 despite being implicated in one of the biggest Medicare fraud cases in history. Scott was CEO of Columbia/HCA when it was fined $1.7 bln and found guilty of swindling the government.)

However, ThinkProgress.org noted that the tax imposed by the individual mandate amounts to either $695 or 2.5% of household income for those who don’t have insurance by 2016 and are not exempt based on income levels. By comparison, the payroll tax cut extension Republicans repeatedly blocked earlier this year would have added 3.1 percentage points to the tax and cost the average family $1,500 a year.

The mandate, meanwhile, is expected to hit only 1.2% of Americans who do not already have health insurance and choose not to purchase coverage, even though they can afford the cost, the Center for American Progress reported. The number could be even lower: in Massachusetts, the only state with an insurance mandate, less than 1% of the state’s residents paid the penalty in 2009. People earning less than four times the poverty rate ($92,200 per year for a family of four) will receive tax credits to subsidize their purchase of insurance.

The majority of the Affordable Care Act’s other taxes, such as a payroll tax increase and a tax on high-cost health plans, are aimed at upper-income Americans. In exchange, millions of jobs will be created as new people enter the health care system and millions of people will gain access to affordable, quality insurance that they otherwise would not have.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called the Supreme Court decision “a rigorous, resounding confirmation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. ... This decision keeps consumers, rather than insurance companies, in the driver’s seat, and protects the more than $1 tln in deficit reduction included in the ACA. Today’s decision allows us to continue our work replacing the current sick care system with a genuine health care system – one focused on wellness, prevention, and public health, keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.”

Under the Affordable Care Act (see healthcare.gov):

• More than 3.1 million young adults who would have gone uninsured are now covered by their parents’ health care plans;

• The Patients’ Bill of Rights puts Americans back in charge of their health care decisions, protects those with pre-existing conditions, eliminates lifetime coverage limits, ends arbitrary policy cancellations by insurers, and improves accountability and transparency;

• 45.1 million women have access to breast and cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, and well-child visits with no out-of-pocket costs;

• Over 5.1 million people on Medicare saved over $3.2 billion on prescription drugs thanks to discounts on both name brand and generic drugs donut hole over the past two years;

• 86 million Americans have already received one or more preventive services, like cancer screenings and check-ups, at no cost;

• 360,000 small businesses have used the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to help insure 2 million workers.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the Court decision “a victory for the American people. With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class, more coverage for families, and greater accountability for the insurance industry.

“The Affordable Care Act is already paying dividends for millions of Americans – with more to come:

• Children can no longer be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

• Seniors are paying less for prescription drugs.

• Students and young adults can stay on their parents’ plans.

• Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing medical condition.

“In passing health reform, we made history for our nation and progress for the American people. We completed the unfinished business of our society and strengthened the character of our country.  We ensured health care would be a right for all, not a privilege for the few. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed our progress and protected that right, securing a future of health and economic security for the middle class and for every American.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the most prominent advocate of single-payer coverage, celebrated the Supreme Courts upholding of the Affordable Care Act, but said it is only the start of what the nation needs to do. “Today is a good day for millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions who can no longer be rejected by insurance companies. It is a good day for families with children under 26 who can keep their children on their health insurance policies. It is a good day for women who can no longer be charged far higher premiums than men,” he said in a prepared statement. 

“It is a good day for 30 million uninsured Americans who will have access to healthcare.  It is a good day for seniors who will continue to see their prescription drug costs go down as the so-called doughnut hole goes away. It is a good day for small businesses who simply cannot continue to afford the escalating costs of providing insurance for their employees. It is a good day for 20 million Americans who will soon be able to find access to community health centers.

“It is an especially good day for the state of Vermont, which stands to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal funds to help our state achieve universal health care.

“In my view, while the Affordable Care Act is an important step in the right direction and I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld it, we ultimately need to do better.  If we are serious about providing high-quality, affordable healthcare as a right, not a privilege, the real solution to America’s health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Until then, we will remain the only major nation that does not provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right of citizenship.”

He added, “I am proud that Vermont is making steady progress toward implementing a single-payer system. I hope our state will be a model to show the rest of the nation how to provide better care at less cost to more people.”

National Nurses United is one of the progressive groups that will continue to support Medicare For All. Karen Higgins, the group’s co-president, said, “We will continue to see patients who postpone filling prescription medications, or delay doctor-recommended diagnostic procedures or even life saving medical treatment because of the high out of pocket costs, or families faced with the terrible choice of paying for medical care or food or clothing, or who delay payment on medical bills at the risk of bankruptcy or a destroyed credit rating.”

“We will continue to see hospitals, insurance companies and drug companies engage in price gouging and insurance companies refusing to authorize treatment recommended by a doctor under the pretext it was ‘experimental’ or ‘not medically necessary,’ euphemisms for care that doesn’t meet the real test of a profit driven bottom line,” Higgins said.

“And we will continue to see the US fall farther behind other countries in a wide range of health barometers, including life expectancy, deaths of women of child bearing age, and long waits for care, even though we spend twice as much per capita or more than those other nations,” Higgins said.

DEMS TARGET GOP REPS FOR HEALTH CARE OPPOSITION. As public opinion is starting to come around on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and the House Republican leadership was planning to call for a vote for the 31st time to repeal the health care reform, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting seven Republican members of Congress with ties to the insurance industry, Luke Johnson reported at HuffingtonPost.com (7/9). The DCCC has released online ads targeting Reps. Dan Lungren and Mary Bono Mack (Calif.); Bob Dold, Judy Biggert and Bobby Schilling (Ill.); and Nan Hayworth and Chris Gibson (N.Y.). Robocalls, meanwhile, are beginning in the seven members’ districts, along with those of Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Anne Marie Buerkle (N.Y.) and congressional candidate Rodney Davis (Ill.).

The Dems might want to think about adding Rep. David Dreier (Calif.) to the list after he said in a House Rules Committee debate of the GOP’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (7/9) that insurance companies should be allowed to discriminate against people with brain tumors. “I don’t that think someone who is diagnosed with a massive tumor should the next day be able to have millions and millions and millions of dollars in health care provided,” he said. Instead, he suggested, they should be put in a state-run high-risk insurance pool. ThinkProgress.org noted (7/10) that the Affordable Care Act already includes a high-risk pool program that acts as a bridge to 2014, when the new regulations prohibiting discrimination go into effect. The program already has benefitted 67,482 individuals, although the high cost of insuring sick people means that it is not sustainable over the long-run.

FLA. GOV. CLOSES HOSPITAL IN FACE OF TB OUTBREAK. Fla. Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a bill (3/26) that slashed the state Department of Health’s budget and closed a state hospital where bad cases of tuberculosis were treated. Nine days later, the federal Centers for Disease Control reported that Florida was experiencing its worst TB outbreak in 20 years in Jacksonville. Since then, the governor’s office has either ignored or suppressed news of the outbreak, and it rushed ahead with plans to close the TB hospital six months ahead of schedule as local officials kept information about the outbreak from the public, according to Stacey Singer of the Palm Beach Post, was stymied by state officials at every turn when she tried to learn more about the outbreak and about why the state hadn’t responded to it in a concerted way.

“The fact that the outbreak began where it did and that it has so far spread mostly among homeless people, mental health patients and drug addicts who encounter each other in soup kitchens and shelters may have made the issue seem less urgent to state officials,” Alex Seitz-Wald wrote at Salon.com in noting Singer’s story. “Setting aside the dignity of all human life, there is already evidence that the disease has spread beyond the underclass and is continuing to grow, unmonitored, in the Sunshine state ...

“The case underscores the real human consequences of austerity budgeting and conservatives’ drive to slash government whenever possible,” Seitz-Wald wrote. “Since austerity came into vogue with the Tea Party beginning in 2009 and was then put in place nationally after the Republican wave in 2010, there have been countless examples where cuts or attempted cuts impact preparedness. After the the Japanese tsunami, it was noted that Republican budget cuts targeted the agency responsible for tsunami warnings. The same was true about earthquake monitoring after a temblor struck the eastern seaboard (though funding was restored). House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also tried to hold up disaster funding for tornado and earthquake cleanup, demanding it be offset with cuts elsewhere. Republicans’ proposed budget last year would have cut funds for the CDC and food safety monitoring. Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spoiled his big national debut in 2009 when he gave the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s first state of the union address in which he attacked supposedly wasteful spending on volcano monitoring in Alaska. Just a month and a half later, a volcano erupted in Alaska that threatened Anchorage.”

TEXAS WILL LEAVE MILLIONS UNINSURED. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said that his state, with the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation (25%, or 6.2 mln people), would turn down millions in federal funding offered under the Affordable Care Act to cover families up to 133% of the federal poverty level. The Medicaid expansion, which would cover 100% of the costs for the first three years and 90% of the costs after that, would provide coverage for 1.8 million Texans, more than any other state. That is an intolerable “power grab” by Obama, he said.

“I stand proudly with the growing chorus of governors who reject the Obamacare power grab,” Perry said in a statement. “Neither a ‘state’ exchange nor the expansion of Medicaid under this program would result in better ‘patient protection’ or in more ‘affordable care.’ They would only make Texas a mere appendage of the federal government when it comes to health care.”

Pressed by Fox News anchor Jenna Lee (7/9), Perry offered no plan to provide for the 6.2 mln Texans who don’t have insurance. “The real issue here is about freedom,” he said. Perry has proposed to convert Medicaid to a block-grant program to spend the federal money as the state sees fit.

Dan Stultz, president and CEO of the Texas Hospital Association, told TexasTribune.org that without the expansion, “many will remain uninsured, seeking care in emergency rooms, shifting costs to the privately insured and increasing uncompensated care to health care providers.”

“With a strained state budget, it’s hard to imagine addressing the uninsured problem in Texas without leveraging federal funds, which will now go to other states that choose to expand their Medicaid program,” he said.

The Austin-based Center on Public Policy Priorities (cppp.org) noted that even with the increase in Medicaid for poor adults, Texas Medicaid costs under the ACA would only increase by $5.8 bln from 2014-2019 while the state would receive $76.3 bln in federal matching funds — a net gain of $70 bln.

“Expanding Medicaid will save Texas money in other ways, especially by reducing the money it spends providing health care in emergency rooms and health clinics to people without insurance,” said CPPP’s Anne Dunkelberg. “Texas could even end up saving more on these costs than it spends on the expansion, easing the strain on property taxes.

“Failing to expand Medicaid would squander the opportunity to pump tens of billions of dollars into our state economy and leave as many as 1.5 to 2 million of struggling Texans out in the cold without insurance coverage. The last thing Texans want is to see our federal tax dollars pay for health care for people in New York or California rather than to cover people right here at home.”

DON’T FORGET CURIOUS ROMNEY ACCOUNTS. Mitt Romney has tried to avoid questions about his tangled web of investments, including foreign holdings and offshore bank accounts and complicated tax strategies. But Brian Beutler of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted (7/6) that questions have persisted for months about an IRA account held by the Romneys valued at upwards of $100 mln — a stunning amount for a savings vehicle designed to provide middle-class retirees comfortable, but not lavish retirement. Romney has declined to answer how, despite a $6,000 annual limit on contributions to an IRA, did Romney’s IRA grow to over $100 mln, and whether he avoided US taxes on its enormous returns.

As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times (7/9): “There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments. And that is precisely why voters have a right to know that truth.”

Elections are, after all, in part about the perceived character of the candidates — and what a man does with his money is surely a major clue to his character.”

Meanwhile, a top-tier surrogate for the Romney campaign, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), said on CNN (7/10) that Romney should not have to release his tax returns, and that critics of the candidate’s decision to hide his vast fortune in overseas bank accounts should “get over it.”

HOUSE FARM BILL TARGETS FOOD STAMPS, FREE SCHOOL LUNCHES. The House farm bill would cut $36 bln in spending, 45% of which would come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), that would result in 2 mln people losing food assistance. Some low-income working families would lose benefits simply because they own a car. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 1.8 mln people would lose benefits if they were subject to new income and asset tests, and 280,000 children in low-income families would lose free school meals ThinkProgress.org noted (7/9). Although Republicans have framed food assistance as wasteful spending, the program was only 0.52% of the US GDP, ThinkProgress.org noted (7/6), adding that that food stamps kept 5 mln peole out of poverty in 2010 and the program reduced the number of children living in extreme poverty in half.

5 WAYS REPUBS SABOTAGED JOBS. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the economy added a more 80,000 jobs in June, as the unemployment rate remained at 8.2%, unchanged from May but down from 9.3% in June 2011. Republicans claimed the relatively low job growth was proof of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy. But Jeff Spross of ThinkProgress.org noted the top five ways Republicans have sabotaged the economy:

1. Filibustering the American Jobs Act. Last October, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill proposed by President Obama that would have pumped $447 bln into the economy. Economic analysts predicted the bill would add 2 mln jobs and hailed it as defense against a double-dip recession. The Congressional Budget Office also scored it as a net deficit reducer over 10 years, and the American public supported the bill.

2. Stonewalling monetary stimulus. The Federal Reserve can do enormous good for a depressed economy through more aggressive monetary stimulus, and by tolerating a temporarily higher level of inflation. But with everything from Ron Paul’s anti-inflationary crusade to Rick Perry threatening to lynch Chairman Ben Bernanke, Republicans have browbeaten the Fed into not going down this path. Most damagingly, the GOP repeatedly held up President Obama’s nominations to the Federal Reserve Board during the critical months of the recession, leaving the board without the institutional clout it needed to help the economy.

3. Threatening a debt default. Even though the country didn’t actually hit its debt ceiling last summer, the Republican threat to default on the US’ outstanding obligations was sufficient to spook financial markets and do real damage to the economy.

4. Cutting discretionary spending in the debt ceiling deal. The deal the GOP extracted as the price for avoiding default imposed around $900 bln in cuts over 10 years. It included $30.5 bln in discretionary cuts in 2012 alone, costing the country 0.3% in economic growth and 323,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute. Starting in 2013, the deal will trigger another $1.2 tln in cuts over 10 years.

5. Cutting discretionary spending in the budget deal. While not as cataclysmic as the debt ceiling brinksmanship, Republicans also threatened a shutdown of the government in early 2011 if cuts were not made to that year’s budget. The deal they struck with the White House cut $38 bln from food stamps, health, education, law enforcement, and low-income programs among others, while sparing defense almost entirely.

There have also been a few near-misses, in which the GOP almost prevented help from coming to the economy. The Republicans in the House delayed a transportation bill that saved as many as 1.9 mln jobs. House committees run by the GOP have passed proposals aimed at cutting billions from food stamps, and the party has repeatedly threatened to kill extensions of unemployment insurance and cuts to the payroll tax.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, those policies — the payroll tax cut, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and discretionary spending for low-income Americans — have the highest multipliers, meaning more job boosting potential per dollar.

BAIN PAIN FOR MITT ROMNEY. A Washington Post/ABC News survey released 7/9 shows a dead heat nationwide with President Obama and Mitt Romney at 47% each, but the poll shows that Obama’s attacks on Romney’s record as CEO of Bain Capital has had an impact on voters in battleground states. In the eight states that the Washington Post has identified as tossups (Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida), 32% said Romney’s work buying and restructuring companies before he went into politics was a major reason to oppose him (compared with 24% nationwide), while 16% said it was a reason to support him and 49% said it was not a major factor. In the battleground states, 48% said in his work as a corporate investor, Romney did more to cut jobs in the US, while 34% said he did more to create jobs.

Jed Lewison noted at DailyKos.com (7/10), “These numbers essentially confirm the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing the same sort of battleground Bain pain for Romney. The silver lining for Romney here is probably that there’s still a lot of people who haven’t decided one way or the other about Bain, but to the extent that voters have focused on it, it’s a drag on Mitt Romney—and he still hasn’t figured out how to turn the story around.”

POLL: HOLDER CONTEMPT VOTE WAS POLITICAL. A CNN poll (conducted 6/28-7/1 and released 7/9) shows that 53% of Americans approve of the US House holding Atty. Gen. Eric Holder in contempt of Congress in the standoff over the investigation of the “Fast & Furious” operation. But 61% said the vote’s purpose was to “gain political advantage,” while only 34% said the vote represented “real ethical concerns.”

LABOR UNIONS AREN’T PEOPLE, COURT RULES. In the space of a week, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court affirmed its Citizens United decision that allows corporations to get involved in political campaigns, as the court (6/25) rejected a Montana Supreme Court decision that would have allowed the state to continue its century-old ban on political spending by corporations.

But labor unions don’t get the same rights, as it restricted union ability to engage in political speech in the case of Knox v. SEIU (6/21). In this case, Brendan Fischer of PR Watch noted, the SEIU issued an “emergency” dues increase to raise funds for fighting anti-worker initiatives on the ballot in California. Seven justices agreed that the union should allow nonmembers (who are required to pay for the costs of collective bargaining) to get a refund for political expenses, but the five conservative justices went further and Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said that unions can only assess such an emergency dues increase if employees affirmatively choose to opt-in, departing from the long-standing principle that opting out of paying for political expenses was constitutionally sufficient.

John Nichols noted at TheNation.com that corporations do not have to seek the approval of stockholders in order to direct money into political campaigns.

“So what if the Court were to say that shareholders had to affirmatively approve corporate expenditures on behalf of candidates, parties or ballot measures?,” Nichols asked.

“Let’s go a step further. Millions of Americans own pieces of corporations through pension plans, investment funds and other vehicles that hold stock. Yet, these Americans get no information from corporations about political activities. What if the Court were to require corporations to get affirmative approval from them? Or even from the managers of pension plans or funds?

“Corporate CEOs and their amen corner in the media would scream about the “bureaucratic nightmare” imposed on them by the Court, and their lawyers would portray it as an infringement of their free-speech ‘rights.’

“Yet, a court that is busy removing barriers to corporate ‘speech’ has just imposed new ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ burdens on unions. And Alito’s ruling suggests that the Court majority will continue to do so.”

150 YEARS OF AGGIES. Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (7/10) that July 2 marked the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, signing into law the Morrill Act, which authorized creation of “land-grant colleges” to teach agriculture and mechanic arts. The bill, which provided 300,000 acres of federal land for each member of Congress to be used to build institutions of higher learning in their state, was first passed in 1859, but it was opposed in the South (then-Sen. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi denounced the land-grant proposals as potentially dangerous invasions by the federal government into the domestic rights of the states) and was vetoed by President James Buchanan. Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont resubmitted the act in 1861, by which time Buchanan was replaced by Lincoln and most of the states that had opposed the original act had seceded. Morrill defanged the remaining congressional opposition by providing that the new institutions also would teach military tactics. The act sailed through to passage and the first of the colleges to open was Ames College in Iowa, which would become Iowa State University. The Act became so popular that its provisions were extended to the former states of the Confederacy almost immediately after the end of the war and, in 1890, a second Morrill Act was passed to benefit what became known as “historically black” colleges and universities.

“The idea behind the Morrill Act was a commitment by the entire nation to extend higher education to as many of its citizens as possible,” Pierce wrote. “This was an idea embedded in the country’s political DNA from its founding. (James Madison appealed early on for a national university, and the idea that an educated citizenry was necessary for a viable republic was at the heart of what he and Thomas Jefferson had in mind for the University of Virginia.) This belief was central to the emerging idea of an American political commonwealth, the idea that the country is a union of the people, and not simply an alliance of states. The opposition to it was generated by those same forces that always have been arrayed against that idea.”

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2012


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