Paul Waldman

How Both Republican and Democratic States Are Helping Obama

Last week, President Obama announced a "fix" to the problem of people in the individual health-insurance market getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies: he'd allow the insurers to offer those substandard plans for another year. Does he want the fix to work? We can't read his mind, but depending on how you define "work," it would be better for the Affordable Care Act's ultimate success if it didn't. As things have played out over the last few days, there are reasons that as a political problem this could fade. As you may know, insurance markets are governed by officials in each state. If a state's insurance commissioner doesn't want to allow the substandard plans to be sold, he or she can say no, no matter what the President might want. A few of those insurance commissioners—from Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington state—have already said they won't allow it. So what you have here are heavily Democratic states not supporting Obama. But here's the key to the story...

Liberals' Special Snowflake Syndrome

Flickr/tanakawho
When a bunch of Democrats voted last week for a Republican bill meant to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, a lot of liberal commentators, myself included, reacted with, "Ugh, here we go again." While there had been some remarkable unity on the Democratic side in recent months, particularly during the budget showdown, the default status of Democrats is not just cowardice but fractiousness (though obviously, it's easy to stay together when things are going well). This is representative of the broader liberal movement, where it's extraordinarily difficult to get ostensibly allied people and groups to act in concert. Liberals are always looking with envy at their conservative counterparts, who seem to be much more unified, both in beliefs and action. Conservatives would tell you that they spend plenty of time at each other's throats, but this broad stereotype—disconnected liberals, unified conservatives—has its origins in truth. Today I read a study that sheds some light on why this might...

Liz Cheney's Firm Ideological Consistency

Ah, family. The source of our greatest strength, and our greatest frustrations. Ask yourself: Is there anyone in the world who can more easily put you into a blinding, murderous rage than your siblings? Now what if one of those siblings was running for office, and you could stick it to them? If you had a fight—and not just a fight over something trivial like who should wash the dishes, but a real fundamental fight, like whom Mom loved best, or why he crashed your bike when you told him a hundred times that he could only ride it if he was super-careful, or whether you're worthy of equal rights under the law—would you be tempted to take that fight public? I speak, of course, about Liz Cheney, vice-presidential progeny, proud daughter of the Virginia suburbs—I mean Wyoming, wonderful Wyoming, which has always been home!—and contender for the U.S. Senate from the aforementioned state. According to at least one poll , Cheney is trailing badly in her attempt to unseat conservative...

Obamacare Panic to Enter Even Stupider New Phase

Jason Eppink
I want to follow up on what I wrote Friday about those who are deciding that because of a) web site problems and b) the largely manufactured controversy over people who have one private insurance plan but now face the unfathomable horror of moving to a different private insurance plan, the Affordable Care Act is an unrecoverable disaster that has destroyed Barack Obama's second term. I'm sensing that this is about to move into a new phase of inane speculation that we should think about before it starts. I'll just use one article as an example. This morning, under the headline "Why Obamacare Is On Life Support," Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal all but declares that the law is about to be repealed. "Unless the HealthCare.gov website miraculously gets fixed by next month," he writes, "there's a growing likelihood that over time, enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise." That's so blindingly stupid I'm almost...

Conservative Billionaires Selflessly Provide Economic Stimulus

Don't worry - they still have plenty left.
It's sometimes said that you can stimulate the economy by burying a bunch of money, then paying people to go dig it up. It may not be all that productive or useful in the long run, but it'll get the job done. You might think that's what the conservative billionaires who funded the outside campaigns to defeat Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012 were up to when they poured millions upon millions of dollars into an ultimately futile campaign. And now we're finally getting an idea of just how much money there was. First, there's this report from the Center for Public Integrity: Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado. That's more than the total amount the group had previously spent from its formation...

Memo to Democratic Chicken Littles: The Sky Is Not Falling

White House photo by Pete Souza.
Ah, now this is what politics is supposed to be like: Ruthless Republicans, gleeful at the prospect that they might increase the net total of human suffering. Timorous Democrats, panicking at the first hint of political difficulty and rushing to assemble a circular firing squad. And the news media bringing out the "Dems In Disarray!" headlines they keep in storage for just this purpose. The problems of the last couple weeks "could threaten Democratic priorities for years," says Ron Brownstein. It's just like Hurricane Katrina, says The New York Times (minus the 1,500 dead people, I guess they mean, though they don't say so). "On the broader question of whether Obama can rebuild an effective presidency after this debacle," says Dana Milbank, "it's starting to look as if it may be game over." Ruth Marcus also declares this presidency all but dead: "Can he recover? I'm sorry to say: I'm not at all confident." Oh please. Everyone just chill out. It's incredible how often reporters and...

Judging Obama's ACA Fix

President Obama at a press conference today.
So today, trying to stem the tide of hand-waving and panic that reminded us all of how Democrats have traditionally acted, Barack Obama announced that people who have health-insurance plans they bought in the individual market but don't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act may get to keep those plans. So how should we feel about this? On the most basic level, it's not a good thing. Any time someone stays on a junk insurance plan instead of entering the larger risk pool of the exchanges, that pool is weakened. Having said that, the specifics of what Obama proposed do seem designed to minimize the damage. The first thing to understand about Obama's proposal is that it allows insurance companies to continue offering substandard plans for another year. There's a crucial distinction here between allowing them to offer these plans and requiring them to. The bill sponsored by Democratic senator Mary Landrieu would require it, which would push people toward keeping their crappy...

Obamacare's Critical Moment

And to think, we actually thought the hard part was over.
At times like this, with the Obama administration weathering yet another controversy regarding the stumbling beginnings of the Affordable Care Act, it's useful to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. I've been plenty critical of how Healthcare.gov has been handled (see here , or here , or here ), but eventually it will get fixed, at least to the point at which it works well enough. Likewise, the fears now being experienced by people with individual insurance policies will, by and large, turn out to be unfounded. There will be some who have to pay more than they've been paying, but in almost all cases they'll be getting more too. But there's no doubt that this is an escalating problem for the administration. The person who got sold a cheap insurance policy on the individual market because the insurer was confident that either a) they probably wouldn't get sick any time soon, or b) the policy was so stingy (whether the customer knew it or not) that the insurer wouldn't have to pay...

Shocker: Health-Exchange Websites Can Be Done Right

That sure seems easy.
In the last few days, you might have seen a news story about something called Thehealthsherpa.com . The story usually goes like this: "The federal government may have screwed up when it tried to create the Obamacare website, despite spending hundreds of millions on contractors. That's why three tech geeks thought they could do a better job. And after just a week of coding, they did it." So have these guys solved all our problems? Is it now a piece of cake for everyone to find out what their insurance options are on the individual market? That would sure be a good thing, especially since nearly everyone complaining that their plans are being cancelled—the folks whose fate has suddenly become the most important moral and practical crisis facing America—seems to be taking their insurers at their word when they get those threatening letters instead of trying to find out what their choices actually are. The answer is ... sort of, maybe. Thehealthsherpa.com isn't actually the only site that...

Darrell Issa, the Obama Administration's Best Friend

Darrell Issa smiles uncomfortably upon realizing he's posing with Judy Collins, whom he's pretty sure is some kind of hippie. (Flickr/Music First Coalition)
When Darrell Issa filled the chairmanship of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after Republicans took back the House in the 2010 election, he promised that he was going to be a dogged pursuer of the Obama administration. But at this point, I'm genuinely curious about how Republicans feel about Issa. Conservatives sincerely believe that the Obama administration is riddled with corruption, starting with the villainous president and going all the way down to the intern who makes copies in the basement of the Commerce Department. Yet Issa has turned out to be a strikingly incompetent clown, screwing things up spectacularly every time he tries to embarrass the administration and being so transparently sleazy in the way he goes about his work that he never succeeds in pinning anything on Obama. Think about all the times Republicans thought they had Obama dead to rights and Issa couldn't deliver the goods. There was Solyndra, "Fast and Furious," the IRS scandal, and of...

Will Amazon Swallow the Postal Service?

Don't worry, they only do this in Japan. (Flickr/Fugu Tabetai)
For a while now, the Postal Service has been telling us that they'd like to end Saturday mail delivery as a way to cut costs and deal with their ongoing financial difficulties. Congress isn't about to let that happen, so now they've gone the other way: they're going to start delivering on Sunday. But only packages. And only from Amazon. The natural response to this is, "Wait, what?" Since when does a single corporation get to commandeer an enormous government agency to use for its own profit-making purposes? What's next, are we going to just rename it the Lockheed Martin Department of Defense? Sell the naming rights to national parks? ("Welcome to the Doritos Locos Tacos Grand Canyon!") OK, it isn't as bad as all that. In fact, as long as they do this in a fair way—essentially for any company that wants it—it could be good for everyone. According to news reports, they're exploring similar arrangements with other companies. And the Postal Service does sometimes negotiate special...

Why Lara Logan Won't Lose Her Job

In case you haven't heard, CBS News is in a bit (but only a bit) of hot water over a story 60 Minutes recently aired about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. It centered on a breathless account from a security contractor, who just happened to have written a book about it being published by a conservative imprint of a publishing house owned by CBS (that's synergy, baby). He told of the harrowing events of that night, including his own heroism and the spinelessness of the big shots who sit in their cushy offices while men of action like him do what must be done and get hung out to dry. The only problem was, he appears to be a liar who fabricated much of what 60 Minutes relayed in the story, which was reported by Lara Logan. After insisting for weeks that everything in its story checked out, CBS finally conceded that the contractor, one Dylan Davies, was lying to them and through them to their audience. On Sunday night, Logan delivered an extraordinarily half-assed on-air...

When Robots Take Over, What Happens to Us?

Artificial intelligence has a long way to go before computers are as intelligent as humans. But progress is happening rapidly, in everything from logical reasoning to facial and speech recognition. With steady improvements in memory, processing power, and programming, the question isn't if a computer will ever be as smart as a human, but only how long it will take. And once computers are as smart as people, they'll keep getting smarter, in short order become much, much smarter than people. When artificial intelligence (AI) becomes artificial superintelligence (ASI), the real problems begin. In his new book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era , James Barrat argues that we need to begin thinking now about how artificial intelligences will treat their creators when they can think faster, reason better, and understand more than any human. These questions were long the province of thrilling (if not always realistic) science fiction, but Barrat warns...

Why Isn't Everyone More Worried about Me?

Click to reassure me that my troubles outweigh the suffering of millions.
Apparently, there was a meeting of the editors at The New York Times op-ed page in which someone said, "You know how every time someone does a story about one of these Obamacare 'victims' whose insurance companies are cancelling their plans, it turns out they could do really well on the exchange, but no one bothers to check? We should get one of them to write an op-ed, but not bother to ask what options they'll have." And then someone else responded, "Right, don't bother with the fact-checking. But we need a new twist. What if we find someone who'll complain that the problem with Obamacare is that other people care too much about poor people and the uninsured, while what they ought to be doing is spending more time liking her Facebook post about her possibly increased premiums?" The editors looked at each other and said, "That's gold. Gold!" And this was the result. Written by Lori Gottlieb, a Los Angeles psychotherapist and author, it relates how she got a cancellation letter from...

Obamacare Expansion in the Offing?

Flick/urbanbohemian
Every few days, a new poster child for the horror of Obamacare comes along, the person who just loves their insurance plan but has been told it's being cancelled. Pretty much every time, their story turns out to be full of holes—the plan they're on is junk insurance, they'd be able to get better and cheaper coverage through the exchanges, and so on ( here's the latest). But without a doubt, this small group of people (and not, say, the millions who are getting free or low-cost coverage for the first time) have become the momentary face of the Affordable Care Act, at least in the mainstream news media's eyes. So now the administration is scrambling to deal with this political problem, and here's the latest twist : The most popular idea for a fix on the Hill is legislation that would entitle someone who purchases health insurance coverage through the end of this year to keep that coverage. Other legislative responses may include extending the health exchange enrollment deadline or or...

Pages