Michigan is about to become a right-to-work state and according to Republicans, labor brought it on itself. That’s because on the November ballot, labor groups put a measure to enshrine collective-bargaining rights into the state Constitution. The measure failed, but for daring to wage the campaign, the unions need to be punished, it seems.
When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, it also gave Republican states a gift by saying they could opt out of what may be the ACA's most important part, the dramatic expansion of Medicaid that will give insurance to millions of people who don't now have it. While right now each state decides on eligibility rules—meaning that if you live in a state governed by Republicans, if you make enough to have a roof over your head and give your kids one or two meals a day, you're probably considered too rich for Medicaid and are ineligible—starting in 2014 anyone at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible. That means an individual earning up to $14,856 or a family of four earning up to $30,657 could get Medicaid.
Republican governors and legislatures don't like the Medicaid expansion, which is why nine states—South Dakota, plus the Southern states running from South Carolina through Texas—have said they'll refuse to expand Medicaid (many other states have not yet said whether they'll do it). But some states asked the Obama administration whether they could expand Medicaid a bit—maybe not cover everyone up to 133 percent like the law says, but add a few people to the rolls. And yesterday, the administration said no. It's all or nothing: either you expand Medicaid up to 133 percent, or you get none of the new money. Was that the right thing to do? Well first, let's talk about that money.
Washington has a way of focusing the nation’s attention on tactical games. We almost never get to debate or even discuss the big problems because the tactical games overwhelm everything else. The debate over the fiscal cliff, for example, is really about tactical maneuvers preceding a negotiation about how best to reduce the federal budget deficit. This, in turn, is a fragment of a bigger debate over whether we should be embracing austerity economics and reducing the budget deficit in the next few years or, alternatively, using public spending and investing to grow the economy and increase the number of jobs.
A fiscal cliff deal hasn't even begun to take shape and John Boehner's speakership already might be in jeopardy over capitulations to Democrats. Conservatives were initially disquieted last week when a string of right-wing ideologues in the House who had voted against the party line during the last session were purged from plum committee assignments by the current speaker. Now they're also warning against potential deals to avert the fiscal cliff. National Review's Robert Costa interviewed Georgia Representative Tom Price, who unloaded scorn on Boehner's leadership of the Republican caucus.
This isn't as radical sounding as it looks—Bill Clinton is only expressing regret about a particular set of operations run by his administration—but it's still a noteworthy change of sentiment from a president who greatly expanded the war on drugs.
President Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965.
After a campaign in which Republicans attempted to pillory Barack Obama for finding $716 billion in savings from Medicare (via cuts in payments to insurance companies and providers but not cuts to benefits), those same Republicans now seem to be demanding that Obama agree to cuts in Medicare benefits as the price of saving the country from the Austerity Trap, aka fiscal cliff. Oh, the irony! You'd almost think that they weren't really the stalwart defenders of Medicare they pretended to be.
And there are some hints that the Obama administration is seriously considering agreeing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as part of this deal. It's a dreadful idea, and as we discuss this possibility, there's one really important thing to keep in mind: Medicare is the least expensive way to insure these people. Or anybody, for that matter. In all this talk of the bloated entitlement system, you'd be forgiven for thinking Medicare was some kind of inefficient, overpriced big government program. But the opposite is true, and that's why raising the eligibility age is such a dreadful idea.
Two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York City, one of many desperate pleas across the city went out: "We have over 50 seniors located at 80 Rutgers Street who are without electricity, cannot go down stairs, and are running low on food supplies."
Within an hour, volunteers were rushing over with supplies. But it was not a 911 dispatcher or a FEMA representative who had heeded the call for help. It was members of the Lower East Side community responding to a message on recovers.org, an online hub that helps communities direct resources and volunteers where they're needed in an emergency. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, four microsites sprung up on the system for the Lower East Side, Astoria, Red Hook, and Staten Island to connect victims in New York City neighborhoods with volunteers and supplies. A fifth sprung up for Hoboken, New Jersey.
Conservatives might think otherwise, but the liberal focus on repealing the upper-income Bush tax cuts has less to do with higher taxes for their own sake, and more to do with revenue—we need it—and basic distributional concerns: The rich have been extremely well-served by the economy, taking a huge percentage of all income produced since 1979.
A shrinking violet the Roberts Court is not. Since the chief justice was confirmed in 2005 promising to call “balls and strikes,” the Court unleashed super PACs in its 2010 Citizens United decision, injected itself into the middle of a presidential campaign by taking on Obamacare earlier this year, and recently heard a case giving it the chance to cut back or end affirmative action. Under Roberts, the Court has a bit of a swagger. Bill Clinton might say they have some brass.
Let’s clear one thing up. “Right to work” laws, which permit employees working at a unionized workplace to refuse to join the union or to pay the union the cost of representing the worker, are designed to weaken the economic and political power of organized labor and, by extension, wage workers. Full stop. They allow workers to “free ride” all the benefits of a collective-bargaining agreement (increased wages, benefits, rights to adjudicate a dispute with a supervisor, safety and health requirement beyond those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.) negotiated by the union without paying any of the union dues their fellow employees pay.
Tonight, you’ll hear on the news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the "gay marriage cases.” Much of the mainstream (i.e., straight) media will be treating the two cases they’ve taken—a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and a challenge to DOMA, the federal law that prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states—as essentially the same. Don’t be fooled. The cases are very different. The fact that SCOTUS has taken both has a lot of us very worried.
The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election.
The Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing both of the major gay-rights cases it was considering this term. Facing constitutional scrutiny are key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. When combined with the major affirmative-action and voting-rights cases the court will also be handing down this term, this could be the most consequential Supreme Court term in decades.