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  • July 29, 2014
    Key Neocons Call for Ending U.S. Aid to Israel

    In their controversial 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt proposed a dramatic change in American financial aid for Israel currently amounting to $3 billion annually. "It is time to treat Israel like a normal country," they argued, "and make U.S. aid conditional on an end to the occupation and Israel's willingness to conform its policies to American interests." For this (among other perceived sins), the two men were vilified by many American politicians, press and pundits, and were quickly labelled anti-Semites--and worse.

    But now, some of the same voices that led the charge against Mearsheimer and Walt are now calling for ending U.S. aid to Israel altogether. At the front of that pack is Elliot Abrams. But the Iran-Contra conspirator, Iraq war architect and cheerleader for a preventive U.S. war to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities doesn't wants to terminate financial support to enhance American leverage on Israel, but to dramatically curtail Washington's influence over the Jewish State.

    As Eli Lake explained in The Daily Beast, right now President Obama, overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress and the American Israeli Political Action Committee remain committed to sending billions in U.S. aid for years to come. But some of the usual suspects among the neoconservative movement have a different take:

    "The experience of the Obama years has sharpened the perception among pro-Israel Americans that aid can cut against Israel by giving presidents with bad ideas more leverage than they would otherwise have," said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI)... aid provides easy fodder for critics to claim that the alliance is a burden on the United States or that it's a one-way street of America giving and Israel receiving. All things being equal, why not remove these falsehoods from the debate?"

    Abrams, who has called on Congress for an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to give President Obama a free hand to bomb Iran, wants to give Benjamin Netanyahu and his successors a free hand, period.

    "My view is over time it would be healthy for the relationship if the aid diminished. Israel should be less dependent on American financial assistance and should become the kind of ally that we have in Australia, Canada, or the United Kingdom: an intimate military relationship and alliance, but no military aid."

    (It should be noted, as former Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren did, that the United States does not have a mutual defense agreement with Israel. Then again, unlike Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, Israel's power is not fungible on behalf of the United States. As the experience of the First Gulf War showed to the chagrin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, justifiable Israeli retaliation against Iraqi Scud missile strikes would have shattered the allied coalition that ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.)

    With the Israeli economy booming and soon to be bolstered by massive proceeds from new natural gas discoveries, the once vital American billions will seem increasingly incongruous. As Abrams put it, "I do not believe a country that has a sovereign wealth fund can be an aid recipient."

    It's no surprise that David Wurmser would agree. Wurmser, an aide to Dick Cheney who resigned in 2007 over the Bush's administration's catastrophic policy that enabled Hamas to take over Gaza, as far back as 1996 called Israel to graduate from being a "tenuous project" to a "real country." Now a consultant for U.S. firms looking to invest in the Israeli energy sector, Wurmser argues that the U.S. should cut the cord precisely so Israel can operate with impunity free of pressure from Washington:

    "The aid both implied a lack of feasibility of the state as well as tying the state's hands and reducing its freedom to maneuver. Both of which are inappropriate for a truly independent country, which it had become in this period."

    That's putting it mildly. As the withering criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry from the Israeli government and press shows, our ally like any other will ultimately do what it believes are necessary for its--and not American--interests. (That 87 percent of Israelis don't want a truce to prevent the suddenly very popular Benjamin Netanyahu to crush Hamas in Gaza is reflects the two nation's diverging national interests.) While not all of their fellow travelers agree, the message from the neoconservatives seems to be this. Israel will--and should--do whatever it wants to anyway; Americans might as well as save that $3 billion a year. Apparently, it's better for Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and millions of American taxpayers to be frustrated for free.

    Perrspective 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    The Greatest Trade in American Political History

    Once upon a time, Democrats were the party of slavery, states' rights, secession and nullification. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the solid Democratic south sought the "Redemption" of the former Confederate States with the reestablishment of white supremacy through violence and voter suppression. For a hundred years, the architects and enforcers of Jim Crow's poll taxes and literacy tests, lynchings and cross-burnings, Klan rallies and White Citizens Councils, and segregation and separate but equal primarily called the Democratic Party their home.

    But that was all before the Great Trade.

    During the height of the civil rights movement in the middle of the 20th century, the Republican and Democratic parties were transformed by the greatest swap of political philosophies, personalities and constituencies in modern history. The integration of the American military in 1948, the end of state-mandated separate but equal schooling with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 upended both parties. The Democrats' slow but steady embrace of the civil rights movement and the GOP's response with its Southern Strategy literally changed the complexion of both parties.

    Thanks to the Great Trade, Democrats became the party of civil rights and the liberty for all, while the GOP became the bastion of backlash. Republicans acquired states' rights, secession and nullification in exchange for Democratic ownership of the general welfare, due process and equal protection in a more perfect Union. Democrats got John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the GOP got Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. Over time, the Party of FDR, JFK and LBJ got New England and the new West, while the solid south went to the Party of Lincoln. As a result of the Great Trade, it is now the Democrats who carry on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" and the Great Emancipator himself.

    But once again, Republicans are trying to whitewash their shameful present by instead pointing fingers at the Democrats' shameful past. Led by former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell, the right-wing American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) unveiled its version of "The Truth about Jim Crow." Noting that "Democrats were in complete control of the South during the entire Jim Crow era, from 1877 through 1965," ACRU crowed:

    The public should come away understanding the three most important facts about Jim Crow: Jim Crow was Dehumanizing; Jim Crow was Deadly; and Jim Crow was Democratic.

    The National Review's John Fund was quick to regurgitate the conservative talking point. Fund, who for years has waged a jihad against mythical voter fraud in order sell the GOP's draconian voter suppression schemes across the nation, this week wrote that he was "Setting the Record Straight on Jim Crow":

    But the political enforcement of Jim Crow was entirely in Democratic hands. The Ku Klux Klan functioned as the paramilitary wing of the Democratic party, and it was used to drive Republicans out of the South after the Civil War. Before he took up the cause of civil rights as president, Lyndon Johnson acting as Senate majority leader blocked the GOP's 1956 civil-rights bill, and gutted Eisenhower's 1957 Civil Rights Act. Democratic senators filibustered the GOP's 1960 Civil Rights Act.

    "Is it fair," Fund snidely asks before answering himself, "to remind people of the awful historical antecedents that can lurk within a political party?"

    Of course, it's fair. But fairness also requires acknowledging to readers (as Fund's allies at the ACRU did not) that history did not end in 1965. By then, the great trade was well underway, and the exodus of virulently racist southern conservatives from the Democratic Party was greeted with open arms by the Republican Party.

    Recall that in less than five years between 1961 and 1965, America witnessed the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer, the March on Washington and the Kennedy administration's intervention to integrate the all-white University of Alabama. On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy used a nationally televised address to explain the essence of the civil rights struggle to the American people:

    We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

    The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

    After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson used outpouring of grief and the growing support for the civil movement to ensure the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

    To be sure, on civil rights national Democratic leaders had followed and not led. But among their voters in the South and the white working class, Democrats would pay a steep price for their belated championing of equality and social justice. LBJ knew this at the time, lamenting before the ink was dry on the Civil Rights Act in 1964:

    "There goes the South for a generation."

    As it has turned out, it has been two generations. While the nation's rapidly changing demographics give now Democrats some hope for the future in Florida, North Carolina and Texas, the South has been a Republican fortress ever since Johnson left the Oval Office.

    In just eight years, LBJ's 1964 landslide victory with 61 percent of the vote was completely reversed. In 1972, Richard Nixon won 60 percent of the popular vote and a staggering 520 electoral votes. "In the eight years in between," Richard Perlstein wrote in Nixonland, "the battle lines that define our culture and politics were forged in blood and fire." As Perlstein summed up the story behind the dynamic at work:

    It is the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason.

    Even before candidate and President Nixon started executing Kevin Phillip's "Southern Strategy," Tricky Dick was already putting his formula of backlash politics to work in the 1966 midterms. Decades before the Tea Party and Fox News, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck warned about New Black Panthers, birth certificates, death panels and FEMA concentration camps from the nation's first African-American president (one they deemed a "racist" and an "angry black man" who "hates white people"), Richard Nixon hit the trail after the Watts Riots of 1965:

    He was campaigning in traditionally Republican districts where a Democratic congressman had won in 1964 on Lyndon Johnson's coattails, but was likely to be swept out in the conservative backlash.

    For instance, Iowa's first district. A five-term Republican, Fred Schwengel, was running to recover the seat he'd lost to a young political science professor from the Bronx named John Schmidhauser. One day, Representative Schmidhauser appeared at a farm bureau meeting, prepared for a grilling on the Democrats' agricultural policies. The questions, though, were all on rumors that Chicago's Negro rioters were about to engulf Iowa in waves, traveling, for some reason, "on motorcycles." The liberal political science professor was as vulnerable as a sapling...Now that farmers were afraid that Martin Luther King would send Negro biker gangs to rape their children, the Republican restoration seemed inevitable.

    In 1970, Nixon's henchman Kevin Phillips explained how it would all come to pass.

    "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."

    And to be sure, Phillips' "Negrophobes" and their elected enablers began making the Republican Party their home. Like his home state of Texas, Governor John Connally, the same man wounded in JFK's limousine in Dallas, switched parties, served as Nixon's Treasury Secretary and ran for the 1980 GOP presidential nomination. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, others swapped blue for red as well. Before North Carolina's Jesse Helms switched over, South Carolina Senator and former Dixiecrat presidential nominee Strom Thurmond bolted over the Civil Rights Act. Thurmond's most famous contribution to America's national discourse came in 1948:

    ''All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement."

    (During his presidency, George W. Bush would eulogize Jesse Helms as "an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty" and praised the late Strom Thurmond for "the tremendous love he had for his constituents.")

    In 1972, a young Trent Lott similarly jumped ship. Thirty years later, Mississippi GOP Senator Lott praised Thurmond on the occasion of his 100th birthday:

    "I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

    The Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor to the dreaded White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days, couldn't agree more. Which is why Haley Barbour, who campaigned for governor of Mississippi wearing a lapel pin of the state's Confederate flag he vowed to maintain, was a fixture at the CCC's events. Lott, too, was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott also offered his rebel yell in the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the War of Northern Aggression." (Former Missouri Senator and Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft went a step further, praising Southern Partisan for "defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis" and adding "We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.")

    To complete that conversion, candidate Ronald Reagan traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi to kick-off his 1980 presidential campaign. There, where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were slaughtered in 1964, Reagan declared "I believe in states' rights." Reagan, who had denounced the so-called "welfare queen," the "strapping young buck" and declared the 1965 Voting Rights Act "humiliated the South," soon had more company among southern conservatives in Republican ranks. In 1983, Texan Phil Gramm joined the GOP. Eleven years later, Alabama's Richard Shelby followed suit. It's no wonder that casual race-baiting long-discredited notions like states' rights, secession, and nullification are now standard fare on today's Republican menu.

    Of course, the parade of Democratic official turned Republican matches the transformation of the two parties' core constituencies. If (as Chris Bowers suggests) LBJ's signature on the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago represents the actual "moment Democrats lost the white working class vote," political scientist Elisabeth Jacobs showed this was an overwhelmingly southern transformation.

    On average, Democratic presidential candidates prospects with self-identified white working class voters have diminished somewhat over time. (See Figure 4.) Yet, the downward trend in Democratic presidential vote choice between 1956 and 2008 is concentrated amongst the Southern white working class. (See Figure 5.) White working class presidential party vote choice for non-Southerners is remarkably stable over time; if anything, the period between 1984 and 2008 has been one of improvement for the Democrats amongst this group. The opposite is true in the South. Prior to the 1960s rights revolutions (including, most notably for the South, the major upheavals of the Civil Rights Movement), a strong majority of the Southern white working class voted for Democratic candidates. Southern white working class voting appears to have settled into a basic equilibrium with Reagan's 1984 election, with the notable exception of an uptick for Clinton's first election in 1992, and again for Obama's 2008 election gambit.

    ...The defection of the white South from the Democratic Party plays a central role in driving the overarching story of white working class politics. As Bartels succinctly summarizes: "Democratic presidential vote share has declined by almost 20 percentage points among [S]outhern whites without college degrees. Among non-southern whites without college degrees, it has declined by one percentage point. That's it. Fourteen elections, 52 years, one percentage point." The same basic relationship holds across all income groups of non-college educated whites: a 20-point-gap between the South and the rest of the country. This is Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy come to life, not a widespread national defection of white working class voters from the Democratic Party. Case in point: in 2008, Obama won 54 percent of whites with incomes under $50,000 outside of the South, while he secured just 35 percent of this group in the South.

    But this and other pictures of "the rise of the southern GOP since the Civil Rights Act" have flip-side. While Republicans have enjoyed a solid and growing edge among white voters over in recent decades, Democrats are running up ever larger margins among minority populations which are growing much faster. African-Americans consistently vote for Democratic presidential candidates by 90 percent or more. And after narrowing the gap among Hispanic voters to 53 to 44 percent for President Bush's reelection, Republicans got clobbered in 2012 by 71 to 27 percent. These two charts from Chris Cillizza and Ezra Klein tell the grim tale for the GOP:

    That's why RNC chairman Reince Priebus ordered a post-mortem after Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012. And it's also why, among other steps, the Republicans plan a "$10 million outreach effort to includes hiring national political directors for Hispanic, Asian-Pacific and African American voters and elevating minorities within the party."

    But none of that will matter if voters grasp the GOP's transparent insincerity. After all, House Republicans have blocked comprehensive immigration reform. GOP leaders like Paul Ryan continue to traffic in dog whistle language like "makers and takers" and lazy "inner city men" who are transforming "the safety net into a hammock." And rather than reach out to minority voters, Republicans in state across the country have instead advanced a wave of harsh voter identification laws and other vote suppression efforts designed to keep those very groups from the ballot box, all despite numerous studies confirming that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

    That's why the likes of John Fund and his Republican allies engineering the GOP's 21st century voter suppression campaign badly need a sleight of hand. Apparently, they believe they've found it by reminding Americans that once upon a time Democrats were the party of racists and Jim Crow. But no one should be misled. As Jamelle Bouie explained, "If black voters reject Republicans, it's not because they've been fooled by Democrats, but because they've been alienated by 50 years of revanchist right-wing populism."

    Which is exactly right. The Great Trade commenced 50 years ago. The GOP got the racism, xenophobia and dog whistle politics from the dark side of America's past. In exchange, Democrats got King and Lincoln, human dignity and social equality, and the claim highest ideals from the nation's founding documents for the future of all Americans.

    Perrspective 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    July 28, 2014
    Global Confidence in President Obama Much Higher Than Bush

    With the overlapping crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, Republicans trying to pin the blame on President Obama are singing the same sound bite in unison. As Mitt Romney put it earlier this year:

    Our esteem around the world has fallen. I can't think of a major country, it's hard to think of a single country that has greater respect and admiration for America today than it did five years ago when Barack Obama became president. And that's a very sad, unfortunate state of affairs.

    Of course, what's really sad (sadder even than candidate Romney's inability to tell CNN's Donna Brazile and PBS's Gwen Ifill apart) is that Obama's would-have-been replacement has reality exactly backwards. As it turns out, polls have shown that almost every major country has more respect for Barack Obama now than for his predecessor, George W. Bush.

    As the New York Times reported this week, even with the revelations about U.S. eavesdropping that has soured relations with Germany and Brazil, America's image has not been harmed.

    It almost seems as if President Obama has run into nothing but trouble overseas, facing criticism over electronic eavesdropping, drone strikes and his handling of regional conflicts. Yet the image of the president, and of the United States, have suffered little harm, according to a Pew Global Attitudes survey...

    Attitudes toward Mr. Obama's handling of foreign policy are generally positive in the Western European, Asian and African countries surveyed, but opinion is divided in Latin America. Other than Israelis, few in the Middle East have confidence in his leadership...

    In most countries, Mr. Obama is no longer held in the same high regard as he was just after his inauguration in January 2009. But his standing is still in sharp contrast with views of the American president eight years ago, when George W. Bush received relatively low marks. The overall image of the United States during that time was also fairly negative, as there was broad opposition to the war in Iraq.

    To see just how negative, check out the results of Pew's Global Attitudes Survey in 2008. The change in confidence each nation had in the U.S. President in six years is staggering. By 2014, France jumped from 13 percent under to Bush to 83 percent under Obama. The UK leaped from 16 to 74 percent, Germany from 14 to 71 percent and Japan to 60 percent from 25.

    Barack Obama may have 99 problems right now, but a lack of respect from the international community isn't one of them.

    Perrspective 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    July 27, 2014
    CBO: Obamacare Subsidies Apply to Both State and Federal Exchanges

    Earlier this week, two federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions as to whether Congress intended for the Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance subsidies to Americans purchasing coverage through both state and federally-run exchanges. While Romneycare architect and Obamacare consultant Jonathan Gruber seemed to create some confusion with remarks from 2012, for the drafters of the ACA there is no ambiguity at all. Whether a state elected to create its own exchange or instead defer to federal management of its marketplace, the number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer (D-MD) explained, "Clearly the subsidies would apply." As Vox reported:

    "The clear intent of the tax credits is to make insurance more affordable, especially when you're mandating its purchase," says Topher Spiro, who worked as deputy staff director for health policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. "It's crazy to think of a mandate without subsidies. It just doesn't make any sense."

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has always agreed. After all, for five years Congress' budgetary referee has been "scoring" versions of what ultimately became the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Each and every time, CBO forecast the number of enrollees, the cost for the subsidies and the revenue raised from mandate penalties for all 50 states, regardless of their type of exchange. (Just as important, Congress' scorekeeper did take into account the number of states accepting or rejecting the expansion of Medicaid in revising its estimates for the number of people) to be newly covered by that program for low-income and disabled Americans. ) And while Republicans complained that CBO had used "budget gimmickry" in repeatedly projecting Obamacare would reduce the national debt, at no time did GOP leaders in Congress protest the agency's forecasts for ACA tax credits in all 50 states.

    Remember that throughout 2009 and 2010, elements of the ACA were in flux. For example, in reviewing proposals from both the House and the Senate, Director Douglas Elmendorf's agency had to account for addition and removal of a "public option" for insurance and the idea of state co-ops and regional purchasing alliances. For example, on November 18, 2009, Elmendorf informed Congress that a version of the ACA including a public option would reduce the debt by $130 billion over 10 years, while ensuring 25 million Americans through the exchanges by 2019. Another 15 million would gain coverage through Medicaid. CBO's one-paragraph summary of the PPACA read this way:

    Among other things, the legislation would establish a mandate for most legal residents of the United States to obtain health insurance; set up insurance "exchanges" through which certain individuals and families could receive federal subsidies to substantially reduce the cost of purchasing that coverage; significantly expand eligibility for Medicaid; substantially reduce the growth of Medicare's payment rates for most services (relative to the growth rates projected under current law); impose an excise tax on insurance plans with relatively high premiums; and make various other changes to the federal tax code, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs.

    Remember, CBO's job is to model the budgetary impact of legislation as directed by Congress. And on March 30, 2011, the Congressional Budget Office updated its 10-year forecast for the Affordable Care Act passed the previous year. This time, CBO projected 32 to 34 million nonelderly Americans would gain coverage by 2021, with 17 million receiving benefits from Medicaid/CHIP and another 24 million through insurance purchased through the exchanges. Elmendorf's March 2011 analysis forecast savings to the U.S. Treasury of $210 billion over the ensuing decade. His summary of the law mentioned nothing about tax credits only being available to residents of states running their own exchanges:

    Among other things, PPACA and the Reconciliation Act will do the following: establish a mandate for nearly all legal residents of the United States to obtain health insurance; create insurance exchanges through which certain individuals and families will receive federal subsidies to substantially reduce the cost of purchasing health insurance coverage; significantly expand eligibility for Medicaid; permanently reduce the growth of Medicare's payment rates for most services (relative to the growth rates projected to occur under prior law); impose an excise tax on health insurance plans with relatively high premiums; impose certain taxes on individuals and families with relatively high income; and make various other changes to the federal tax code, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs.

    If Republicans were upset that CBO was assuming Americans in all states would be eligible for subsidies, they never said so. What they were furious about, however, was CBO's unshakeable conclusion that Obamacare would reduce Uncle Sam's national debt.

    In January, 2011, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan asked CBO to score H.R. 2, the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." At that time, the agency forecast that repealing Obamacare would increase the national debt by $230 billion over 10 years. Once again, CBO found that the revenues raised and money saved by the Affordable Care Act exceeded the outlays on expanded Medicaid coverage and subsidies in all 50 states. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was livid about that inconvenient truth:

    "I think what we do know is the health care bill costs over $1 trillion," Cantor told Hill. "And we know it was full of budget gimmickry. And it spends money we don't have in this country."

    CBO has been doing forecasts for Obamacare ever since. The numbers of enrollees, the cost of the subsidies and the impact on the national debt change as conditions (improving economy, state acceptance of Medicaid expansion, availability of new data, etc.) dictate. Those changing conditions included the Supreme Court's June 2012 decision upholding the ACA's individual mandate while making state Medicaid expansion optional. Coming just a month after the Internal Revenue Service announced that tax credits would indeed be available through both state and federally managed marketplaces, CBO updated its forecast again. And once again, CBO did not differentiate between state which opted to run their own exchanges and those that did not. As the Congressional Budget Office put it in its April 14, 2014 analysis:

    The ACA allows many individuals and families to purchase subsidized insurance through the exchanges (or marketplaces) operated either by the federal government or by a state government.

    That hasn't changed since 2009. And as the agency's mission states, "Since its founding in 1974, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process...CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency's assumptions and methodologies." Which means that for five years of forecasting tax credits for Obamacare insurance purchases for both state and federal exchanges, the CBO has reflected the intent of Congress.

    Perrspective 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    July 23, 2014
    Ryan Budget Depends on Obamacare Subsidies GOP Wants Courts to Strike Down

    When two appeals courts issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether Obamacare's health insurance subsidies apply to the 34 states that chose to let the federal government run their exchanges, Republicans were quick to pounce on the one decision they liked. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the DC Circuit's decision a "repudiation of Obamacare" which "should shield citizens from Obamacare's insidious penalties, mandates, and subsidies." House Speaker John Boehner concurred, insisting that the ruling constituted "further proof that President Obama's health care law is completely unworkable."

    Of course, what is completely unworkable is any Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act. After four years of failing to put forward their own plan, Boehner's pledge Tuesday that "Republicans remain committed to repealing the law and replacing it with solutions that will lower health care costs" is laughable on its face. And as it turns out, the Paul Ryan budget that 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for three years in a row depends on every single dollar Uncle Sam now raises to fund subsidies in all 50 states.

    In June 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate, arguing that Internal Revenue Service under the government's taxation power could collect penalties from Americans in all 50 states who failed to obtain health insurance as required by the ACA. For the Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare's coverage provisions as part of the Ryan House GOP budget, it's a good thing he did. As I explained when Ted Crux and his allies sought to shut down the federal government last fall if Obamacare wasn't repealed and defunded:

    While repealing Obamacare, slashing Medicaid funding by a third and leaving roughly 38 million more people uninsured, the Ryan budget still runs up trillions in new red ink thanks to its massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy. Paul Ryan's blueprint does not, as Republicans claim, balance in 10 year because it does not identify a single tax break it will close to fill the gaping hole left by almost $5 trillion in tax cuts. And yet, the Ryan plan still assumes every single dollar in revenue generated to fund the Affordable Care Act. The $716 billion in savings from Medicare providers, the capital gains and Medicare payroll tax surcharges for households earning over $250,000 a year and other new revenue raisers are all still in there.

    In the spring of 2013, Ezra Klein summed up" Paul Ryan's love-hate relationship with Obamacare" this way:

    Every Ryan budget since the passage of Obamacare has assumed the repeal of Obamacare. Kinda. Ryan's version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.

    Not difficult, but impossible. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office repeatedly forecast, Obamacare reduces the U.S. national debt precisely because its savings and new revenues exceed the cost of the Medicaid expansion and health insurance subsidies that the New England Journal of Medicine found enabled 20 million Americans to get coverage. And without those revenues, the budget Paul Ryan and his math-challenged Republican colleagues in the House and Senate backed utterly falls apart. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, called out his Republicans for precisely that hoax:

    [House Republicans] have to explain to the American people how they voted for a budget that includes all of the Medicare savings from ObamaCare, that includes the same level of revenue generated from ObamaCare and, in fact, would not even balance in 10 years, if not for the Affordable Care Act.

    For its part, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the IRS tax credits paid to 4.7 million residents of the 34 states which chose to use the federal exchange, saying that a rule issued by the Internal Revenue Service was "a permissible exercise of the agency's discretion." Most observers believe the full DC Circuit will ultimately reach the same conclusion that "it is therefore clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act's primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill."

    If the Supreme Court were to ultimately rule otherwise, Chief Justice Roberts would have to argue that residents in states with a federally-run exchange still must purchase insurance or pay penalties if they do not. That won't go down well with the millions of newly and very happily insured (including Republican voters) who would lose their subsidies and likely their coverage. And Republicans like Ted Cruz succeeded in repealing Obamacare "root and branch," they'd have to come up with a trillion dollars in new revenue over the next decade.

    To quote John Boehner, that sounds completely unworkable.

    Perrspective 6:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

    July 22, 2014
    CUFI Summit Shows Why Jewish Americans Vote Democratic

    Last week, the Pew Research Center released the largely predictable findings of a survey measuring how Americans feel about the nation's various religious faiths. While adherents unsurprisingly gave their co-religionists high marks, one factoid stood out. White evangelical Protestants love the Jews, giving them an impressive 69 on Pew's 100 degree thermometer. Alas, that love goes unrequited: "Despite evangelicals' warm feelings toward Jews, Jews tend to give evangelicals a much cooler rating (34 on average)."

    If you're looking for answers why, the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit now underway in Washington is a good place to start. There, religious right extremists whose domestic policies Jewish Americans overwhelmingly oppose are rallying in support of the proposition that God gave all of the land of Israel to the Jews, a position that a majority of Jewish Americans reject.

    Founded by Pastor John Hagee, CUFI for years has featured American politicians, leaders of major American Jewish organizations and Israeli ambassadors only too eager to mobilize evangelical's backing and cash for Eretz Israel. Their mission? According to the organization's "Israel Pledge:"

    We believe that the Jewish people have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel, and that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of this historic right.

    That historic right was God's gift to the Jews, His Chosen people.

    Unfortunately for John Hagee, Gary Bauer, Senator Lindsey Graham, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and the rest of the crowd gathered in Washington this week, most Jewish Americans do not share that belief.

    After all, surveys show that while 44 percent of Americans--and only 40 percent of American Jews--believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people, among Israeli Jews the share identifying themselves as God's Chosen People reaches 70 percent. As it turns out, far and away the group most dedicated to the proposition that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is American white evangelical Protestants. And their End Times story doesn't end well for Jews anywhere.

    In its October 2013 analysis, the Pew Research Center reported that at a whopping 82 percent, "A majority of white evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, compared with 40 percent of American Jews who believe the same." But just as jaw-dropping as the fact that white evangelical are twice as likely as American Jews (40 percent), and five times more like than "Jews of no religion" (16 percent) are the implication for U.S. policy:

    White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Jewish state is "about right," while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).

    White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.

    Not possible and for many evangelicals, not desirable. After all, in their eschatology, the conversion of some Jews--and the slaughter of the rest--at Armageddon is part and parcel to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the Second Coming of Christ.

    For Christian Zionists like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ("Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist"), Gov. Rick Perry ("As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel") and Mike Huckabee ("no such thing as a Palestinian"), Israel serves merely as a means to an end. In that telling, it is a divinely required stepping-stone to the End Times conversion (and much larger slaughter) of the Jews that will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. And that has a real impact on foreign policy. As the controversial head of the Christians United for Israel, Pastor John Hagee, explained in 2006:

    "The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West ... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."

    With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies. And with Republicans like that, it's no wonder American Jews continue to overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

    Other recent surveys of American Jews confirm what the exit polls tell us every four years: the Jewish electorate that is perhaps the single most liberal voting bloc in the United States. A poll conducted two years ago by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University revealed why the Jewish community continues to reliably vote for Democrats, "election cycle after election cycle":

    The poll, which has a four percent margin of error, also found high support among Jews not just for social causes they have long championed including gay marriage (68 percent support) and access to legal abortion (63 percent favor), but on economic issues such as taxation. Sixty-five percent said they support raising income tax for those who earn above $200,000 a year and 62 percent said they thought the power of financial institutions pose a threat to the United States.

    The survey also found that 73 percent of those polled favored the government requiring private health insurance to cover birth control.

    As Haaretz noted in reporting on the survey, "Israel related issues seem to have little effect on Jewish voters' decision in choosing between Obama and Romney." That finding echoed the results of an April 2012 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization:

    A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel was the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.

    The data would suggest that the Republicans' focus on attacking both Obama's record on Israel and his troubled relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having little, if any, traction.

    Which turned out to be exactly right. In 2012, Mitt Romney as predicted won evangelicals by a staggering 59 points. Yet despite the campaign of right-wing demagoguery, Barack Obama crushed Romney by 69 to 30 percent among Jewish voters. (Four years earlier, Obama swamped McCain by 78 to 21.) Even with President Obama's slumping poll numbers, 55 percent of Jewish Americans approve of his performance, a figure virtually unchanged since 2010. And with the recent primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, this fall's midterm elections could bring the number of Jewish Republicans in the House to--wait for it--zero.

    That dismal reality has led some of the GOP faithful to lash out. Breitbart columnist Ben Shapiro called the Obama administration "obviously anti-Israel" and, despite its large number of Jewish staff and advisors, "borderline Jew-hating." In March, Michele Bachmann lamented to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that the American Jewish community "sold out Israel."

    Of course, Jewish voters did no such thing. Looking at the likes of Michele Bachmann and Christians United for Israel, they couldn't help be reminded that with friends like these, American Jews don't need enemies.

    Perrspective 7:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | Share

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