The Individual Mandate Is Here to Stay

The basic economics of U.S. health care makes that easier said than done. Before the ACA, the U.S. stood out from the international pack on health care in two very unpleasant ways. First, it spent a far larger share of gross domestic product on health care. Second, it was the only advanced industrial nation that left vast swaths of its population uninsured. These two doleful facts remain true, although the fraction of Americans without health insurance fell from 13.3% in 2013 to 8.8% in 2017, according to Commerce Department data.

There are several ways to get more people covered. One is to adopt a system in which the government provides or pays for universal coverage—the British or Canadian model. This won’t happen soon in the U.S., not even as Medicare for All.

A second route, advocated unsuccessfully by President Clinton in 1993, is to mandate that every employer provide health insurance to its workers. This approach might seem natural in the U.S. context because so many workers already receive health insurance that way. But the employer mandate has fatal flaws. It wouldn’t cover the nonworking population, and it would impose heavy burdens on small businesses.

For these and other reasons, many economists in the Clinton administration—including me—favored an individual mandate. But that idea was dead in the water in 1993 because it had been advocated by the Heritage Foundation starting in 1989. It was therefore a “right wing” idea.

There are problems with an individual mandate, too. For one, the high cost of U.S. health insurance means that many low- and moderate-income families cannot afford to buy policies on their own. For another, if for-profit insurance companies are made to lose money by covering people with pre-existing conditions, the government must also force young healthy people, who tend to have limited medical expenses, into the insurance pool.

Fortunately, both problems are easily solved—conceptually, that is, not politically—by mandating that everyone buy a policy and providing subsidies to the needy. Massachusetts legislators understood this in 2006. They also knew they were not writing on a blank slate; many citizens received health insurance through their jobs and didn’t want to lose it. Hence the hybrid system that became known as RomneyCare.

If this short description reminds you of the ACA, it should. The two plans are not identical twins, but there is a family resemblance. In 2010 Democrats didn’t follow in the footsteps of Romney Republicans to make them look good; they designed their plan that way because under the constraints of precedent, the underlying logic practically forces you there.

Keep that in mind: If there ever is a TrumpCare, an unlikely proposition, it’s bound to resemble RomneyCare and ObamaCare—no matter what the president claims.

Trump Lawyer Takes Communications Role Parrying Congressional Oversight

White House is assigning one of its lawyers to a new communications role to handle the stepped-up oversight coming from Democratic-led congressional committees, among other issues, a White House official said Thursday.

Steven Groves, now an assistant special counsel in the White House, will become a deputy press secretary under a broader realignment of duties in President Trump’s press and communications operations, the official said.

.. Mr. Groves had been working under Emmet Flood, the White House special counsel dealing with the Russia investigation.

Before coming to the White House, he worked at the Heritage Foundation and the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“He speaks law, which will help,” the White House official said.

Dividers, Not Uniters

In a new book, Steve Kornacki looks back at the 1990s — and finds the roots of today’s polarization in the Clintons’ ascent.

..  the 1990s was until recently an invisible decade. “The holiday from history,” it was called, a “lull” where nothing much really happened, a candy-colored coma between the Berlin Wall’s fall on 11/9 and the 9/11 attacks less than a dozen years later.

.. The Red and the Blue, is a political procedural that sets out to explain how we went from giga-landslides in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to Electoral College squeakers today, how Republicans disappeared from the coasts and Democrats died their final deaths in the South and Midwest.

.. it benefits from the context provided by Trump’s ascent, which has clarified that one big reason we’re seemingly reliving the 1930s today is because both the Left and Right spent the 1990s and early 2000s rehashing the culture wars of the 1960s and early ’70s.

.. Because cable and the Internet have so completely transformed American culture over the past two or three decades, it’s easy to forget (and younger people can’t even remember) just how norm-shattering Bill Clinton was, compared to the Greatest and Silent Generation leaders who came before him. To social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks, Clinton’s election was downright triggering, and deserved nothing less than full-on #Resistance. Historian Steven Gillon famously interviewed one who succinctly fumed that Clinton was “a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!”

.. aside from Gary Hart, whose ill-fated career was recently reexamined in the Jason Reitman movie The Front Runner, America hadn’t had a youthful, truly sexualized major-party presidential nominee since JFK — until Clinton came along.

  • .. The Federal Reserve’s preference for financialization and neoliberalism was at its very peak under the influence of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.
  • Nearly half of Americans still thought “sodomy” — never mind same-sex marriage or civil unions — should be illegal.
  • And while America was pro-choice, huge percentages of voters demanded restrictions to abortion-on-demand.

The Red and the Blue gives an excellent Gen-X-plaining of just how systemically, institutionally, and culturally impossible it would have been for Democrats to move even farther leftward than they did back then — of how much damage their “too far left” brand had done to the party in the ’80s and of the disastrous political consequences of Bill Clinton’s attempts to govern from the left in 1993–94, as epitomized by Hillary’s attempt at health-care reform. He reminds his readers with his trademark aptitude for facts and figures that America in the 1990s was still very much living in what Sean Wilentz called The Age of Reagan.

.. He manages, for example, to nail the most salient point of the abusive relationship between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich: that it was at heart a love story, and/or a co-dependency worthy of Dr. Phil. One man could simply not have managed to stay in office without the other.

.. It was Clinton hatred on the social right that gave us Gingrich, and it was Gingrich’s surefire ability to trigger the libs that protected Clinton year in and year out. “Do you want him – or me?” became the basic campaign pitch of both men.

.. his Officer Friendly approach to the media is just too naïve by half, especially for someone who is a cable-news host with considerable experience in online journalism. In Kornacki’s telling, reporters merely report, offering just the facts or serving as quickie Greek choruses and footnote sources. This might work for a tenth-grade term paper, but for a book that seeks to illuminate the decade that saw the rise of the Internet, the birth of Fox News, unprecedented media consolidation, and what Eric Alterman called “the punditocracy” at the height of its influence, it’s entirely inadequate.

From highly influential anti-Great Society “Atari Democrats” like
  • Michael Kinsley,
  • Joe Klein,
  • Sidney Blumenthal, and
  • Robert Samuelson and proudly un-PC pundits like
  • Camille Paglia,
  • Ben Wattenberg,
  • Bill Maher, and
  • Andrew Sullivan to donor-funded think tanks like
  • Heritage and
  • Cato, an entire intellectual infrastructure was shaping the national narrative for what became Third Way Clintonism well before the Clinton era began. Yet most of these people and institutions do not even appear in Kornacki’s index, or if they do, they’re curtly dispensed with in one or two lines.

.. It’s possible that with Donald Trump’s attacks on the press (and with some people using criticism of “the media” as an anti-Semitic dog whistle), Kornacki didn’t want to even go there.

.. But a book on 1990s polarization that omits Steve Jobs, Roger Ailes, and Bill Gates from its index? One that effectively ignores the O.J. trial, Maureen Dowd’s gendered, campy, sexist (certainly by today’s standards), Pulitzer-winning coverage of Monicagate, and Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill?

.. writers as far apart as Ann Coulter and Eric Alterman blamed Al Gore’s loss in 2000 on the media’s hatred of him (and his hatred of them)?

.. Limbaugh’s pioneering tactic (soon perfected by Gingrich, Coulter, and Karl Rove) of branding anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of, say, Sandra Day O’Connor or Dianne Feinstein, as a Loony Liberal, Radical Leftist, or Femi-Nazi. From Clinton and Dubya well into the Obama years, red-meat conservatives intentionally fuzzed the line between corporate social-liberals and the true hard left of Michael Moore, Pacifica Radio, and Thomas Frank, and Kornacki captures their strategy perfectly.

.. Aside from the Obamas themselves, no other politician would even remotely disrupt or challenge Clintonistas’ hold on the Democratic party for another ten or 15 years. But Clintonism could only continue as long as the true far-left remained repressed, and as long as the economy kept humming.
.. When a fist-shaking socialist senator from Vermont lined up an army of Millennials in formation behind him eight years after the dawn of the Great Recession caused in no small part by Clinton-era financial policy, it became crystal clear that Newt Gingrich had won the war.
.. When they exited the White House, the Clintons left behind a Democratic party that working class, rural, and/or religious whites had become almost allergic to, one more dependent on African-American and Latino voters than ever.
.. Donald Trump cruised to triumph in 2016 using all of the dog whistles and wedge issues that Gingrich, Rove, Buchanan, and Ross Perot had refined to perfection.
.. And just as education-conscious, socially liberal white professionals reacted against Gingrich’s and Buchanan’s reactionary rhetoric in the late ’90s, Trump’s Republican party has now been effectively evicted from places as once-synonymous with the GOP as Long Island, Maine, New Jersey, San Diego, and Orange County.

The Supreme Court’s Legitimacy Crisis

the 54 senators who voted to elevate Judge Gorsuch had received around 54 million votes, and the 45 senators who opposed him got more than 73 million. That’s 58 percent to 42 percent.

.. And if the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh soon, the vote is likely to fall along similar lines, meaning that we will soon have two Supreme Court justices who deserve to be called “minority-majority”: justices who are part of a five-vote majority on the bench but who were nominated and confirmed by a president and a Senate who represent the will of a minority of the American people.

.. Two more current members of the dominant conservative bloc, while nominated by presidents who did win the popular vote, were confirmed by senators who collectively won fewer popular votes than the senators who voted against them.

.. Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed in 1991 by 52 senators who won just 48 percent of the popular vote, and Samuel Alito, confirmed in 2006 by 58 senators who garnered, again, 48 percent of the vote.

.. If fate were to hand President Trump one more opportunity to put a justice on the court before 2021, it would almost certainly again be a bitterly contested and close vote, and it would probably leave us with a majority of Supreme Court justices, five, who were confirmed by senators who received a minority share of the vote.

.. no Democratic president has ever taken office after losing the popular vote. And second, justices nominated by Democrats have never been confirmed by such narrow margins. Of the four liberals currently on the court, all received 63 votes or more, from senators winning and representing clear majorities of their voters.

.. we’re on the verge of having a five-member majority who figure to radically rewrite our nation’s laws. And four of them will have been narrowly approved by senators representing minority will.

.. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did not nominate jurists who had left paper trails of judicial extremism or dropped other hints that their jurisprudence would be radical.

.. outsourced the judicial-selection process to right-wing groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation and twice nominated judges with an eye cast largely toward how happy they would make conservative evangelicals.

.. Republicans are doing to the Supreme Court what they have already accomplished in Congress. There, through aggressive gerrymandering, they’ve muscled their way to a majority even as their candidates have sometimes received collectively fewer votes than Democrats. And now they’re doing it to the court, by breaking the rules (Merrick Garland) and advancing nominees who are confirmed by legislators representing minority support.

The Kavanaugh hustle

While Trump is destroying the honor and reputation of the presidency, Senate Republicans are doing all they can to destroy the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

.. They want a Supreme Court that will achieve their policy objectives — on regulation, access to the ballot, social issues, the influence of money in politics and the role of corporations in our national life — no matter what citizens might prefer in the future.

.. His confirmation will be the equivalent of handing the court over to the Heritage Foundation and the legal staff of Koch Industries.

.. It is characteristic of hypocrites to be unctuous and judgmental. How else to describe the attitudes of the GOP senators rushing Kavanaugh to the bench, and their defenders in the conservative legal academy who long to undo 75 years of court precedents?

.. when Democrats on the Judiciary Committee howled about rigged hearings and did whatever they could to bring more information to light, Republicans primly accused them of lacking civility.

.. The talk of civility is laughable in light of the Republicans’ refusal to give Garland — a judge whose quality Kavanaugh himself extolled — either a hearing or a vote. That was not just incivility, it was an abuse of power reflecting the political right’s determination to seize control of the court by any means necessary.

.. But by voting to confirm Kavanaugh, they would be ratifying everything in politics they claim to be against. This is not just about their pledges to protect the right to choose on abortion. It’s also a test of whether they mean what they say about wanting politics to be less partisan and more consensual. Caving in to the power brokers and ideologues on this will follow them for the rest of their careers.

.. If the Trump era produces a backlash so strong that a Democratic president and Congress pass breakthrough economic and social policies, conservatives will count on their court majority to block, dismantle or disable progressive initiatives.

.. This is a fight about democracy itself. Right now, democracy is in danger of losing.

Why the GOP Tax Bill Is So Unpopular

The public seems to be against the plan precisely because they know what’s in it.

President Donald Trump says he doesn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. His Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he doesn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. The Democratic Party says they don’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Americans saythey don’t want to cut taxes on the rich.

The House and Senate Republican tax bills are taking a different approach: They are cutting taxes on the rich—significantly.

.. Nearly 50 percent of the benefits of the Senate tax cut would go to the top 5 percent of household earners in the first year of the law, according to the Tax Policy Center. By 2027, 98 percent of multimillionaires would still get a tax cut, compared to just 27 percent of households making less than $75,000.

.. Republican politicians, whose campaigns are often financed by wealthy conservative donors like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch family, are worried that a failure to cut taxes on corporations will have a detrimental effect on contributions from the party’s corporate-libertarian wing. “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,'” Representative Chris Collins

.. The “financial contributions will stop” if the GOP fails to deliver corporate tax cuts, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, told NBC News. “The donor class … has concluded that the inaction of this administration and Congress is totally unacceptable,” Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell, told CNN.

.. David Frum wrote this week, “the broad outline of tax reform seems obvious: Lower corporate rates to somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, the developed-world norm [and] tighten collection so that the rate is actually paid.”

.. that very idea has already been proposed by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Republicans immediately rejected it, just as they rebuffed the president’s inclusion of ideas hatched at the conservative Heritage Foundation in the Affordable Care Act.

The New Republic’s Super Buzzy, Lefty Upgrade

103-year-old magazine today is a repudiation of its stuffy, neo-liberal past.

Two months later, the “new” New Republic resurrected itself, with eminent Canadian leftist Jeet Heer in the driver’s seat and a buzzy cover story stolidly titled “Whitewash”—a sizzling takedown of the magazine’s complicated racial and social-class history under Peretz’s nearly four-decade tenure. Then the magazine went full-throttle in favor of the Sanders cult, with sometimes frankly Marxist cultural analyses, attacks on Hillary Clinton (from the left), calls for single payer, the $15 minimum wage, resistance to Trump, and opposition to military interventionism.

.. Hughes’ move was not merely a rebooting or rebranding—it was a repudiation of the magazine’s past.

.. “I bought The New Republic to take back the Democratic Party from the McGovernites,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2012.

..  If William F. Buckley Jr. sought to reform and update the conservative movement with National Review in the 1950s, Peretz was just as redoubtable in his goal to remake Democratic liberalism in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Not until Roger Ailes joined Fox would an editor exert the kind of ideological tone-policing that Peretz proudly did at TNR.

.. During the 1980s and ’90s, The New Republic’s rise mirrored that of neoliberalism (a philosophy for which it became the definitive journalistic exponent), alongside yuppie New Democrats such as Gary Hart, Joe Klein, Larry Summers, Al From, Al Gore, and an Ivy-educated Arkansas power couple named Bill and Hillary Clinton

.. Once the Vietnam War (and the Pinochet takeover of Chile) ended virtually all support on the left for “imperialist” U.S. interventions, these foreign policy hawks (with which Peretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Leon Wieseltier were very much in accord) left for Team Republican.

.. Once the Vietnam War (and the Pinochet takeover of Chile) ended virtually all support on the left for “imperialist” U.S. interventions, these foreign policy hawks (with which Peretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Leon Wieseltier were very much in accord) left for Team Republican.

..  TNR’s two signal editors—a wisecracking Jewish atheist who attacked supply-siders from the right (Kinsley never believed that tax cuts for the rich, or anyone else, paid for themselves)

.. University of Kansas grad Thomas Frank ruthlessly satirized The New Republic in Salon as a place where sheltered young Ivy know-it-alls would “exercise the prerogatives of their class” by sliding into “ready-made” positions of power where they would “pantomime seriousness” while “trolling” the real left.

.. Peretz and Kinsley transformed the stodgy Washington insider into a brash, impudent, ironic, and irreverent voice that no other “serious” journal dared to match in those pre-cable/pre-Twitter days.

.. Peretz and Kinsley transformed the stodgy Washington insider into a brash, impudent, ironic, and irreverent voice that no other “serious” journal dared to match in those pre-cable/pre-Twitter days.

.. Kinsley agreed utterly with Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, and Margaret Thatcher—three of his all-time favorites—that the stagflation of the late 1970s and early ‘80s was directly due to greedy labor unions

.. And when Andrew Sullivan, openly gay, Catholic, Thatcher Tory, took the helm in 1991, TNR doubled down on “trolling the Left,”

.. Then came the attacks by conservative writer Betsy McCaughey against Hillarycare in 1993-94, followed by the controversy over Charles Murray’s 1994 bestseller, The Bell Curve.

.. “DAY OF RECKONING” cover—bordered in blood red with a cigarette-smoking “Preciousand Mary” black welfare queen—where the editors demanded that President Clinton sign Newt Gingrich’s welfare reform bill.

.. None of this would have been particularly remarkable in the pages of National Review or The American Spectator. But what made The New Republic sui generiswas that it took these positions while proudly, even aggressively, touting itself as the arbiter of acceptable liberal Democratic dialogue. TNR was a living rebuke to other opinion-meisters such as The NationMother JonesIn These Times, and NPR’s Democracy Now!, which more-or-less stayed with New Deal liberalism and 1960s-style idealism.

..  Peretz’s best friend and former student Al Gore was humiliated in his 2000 run for the Presidency—denied victory because of Ralph Nader’s Bernie Sanders-like attack from the left

.. And when TNR offered full-throated support for Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan interventions after 9/11—while capital-L liberals stood in opposition—whatever credibility the magazine had as The Voice of Liberalism finally collapsed. As far as left-wing voices were concerned, TNR’s neoliberalism and George W. Bush-style neoconservatism had now become practically one and the same.

.. one might say that there was simply no room left on the Left anymore for “even the liberal” New Republic. The death of the Peretz TNR and the rise of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Socialists of America, Jeremy Corbyn, Chapo Trap House, The Young Turks, Mr. Robot, and Jacobinmagazine were all but simultaneous.

.. TNR alum Jonathan Chait, who has emerged as perhaps the top (white male) tone-policeman of (neo) liberals versus The Left, as he illustrated in his recent New York magazine piece, “How ‘Neoliberalism’ Became the Left’s Favorite Insult.”

.. From 1975 to 2014 (not coincidentally the era that historians Sean Wilentz and Gil Troy christened the twin “Ages” of Reagan and the Clintons), The New Republic was as indispensable an idea factory for “New Democrats” as the Heritage Foundation and Fox News were for Republicans