Threading the Needle (Updated)

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

It’s instructive in a “compare and contrast” sense to read today’s NYT columns from David Brooks and Paul Krugman. Brooks is contemplating the Trumpocalypse and what it all means for professional plutocracy apologists like himself. He warns us to gird ourselves for more Applebees salad bar stories, as Doug points out downstairs, dog help us.

Brooks attributes Trump’s rise — and Sanders’ too — to a broad sense of American decline:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

In the morning thread, sharp-eyed commenter Jeffro noticed Brooks’ rhetorical switcheroo there, speaking of Sanders and Trump voters and then citing a poll result exclusive to the Trumpenproletariat, as if Sanders voters share the exact same concerns. And it is a sly form of both-sides-do-it-ism.

Krugman has a different take on why the Trumpites are angry as well as an explanation for why the GOP establishment candidates went down to humiliating defeat while Clinton is prevailing on the Dem side:

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-­and-­switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

Krugman is right. But Brooks isn’t 100% wrong when he says there is pain on both sides of the political divide, even if he is dishonest in how he frames it. There is real pain out there, and it’s not all attributable to aggrieved white men who are finally getting a taste of the economic insecurity the rest of the world has been swallowing for decades.

Ostensibly middle-class families are one outpatient surgery deductible away from financial catastrophe. Students are graduating with crushing debt. Parents have no idea how they’ll ever retire. The unemployment rate is at a 40-year low, but try finding a decent job if you’re a 50-something woman or a 17-year-old black kid.

These things are real. And what Hillary Clinton is going to have to do is thread that needle – highlighting, protecting and expanding what President Obama and his Democratic predecessors have accomplished on the one hand while at the same time communicating that she understands how much further we have to go. It won’t be an easy task.

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders gave a speech in which he allegedly dialed back the criticism of Hillary Clinton a bit but lambasted the Democratic Party instead:

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-­money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”

When I heard that, my first thought was, gosh, that’s not particularly helpful. How about at least acknowledging that there’s exactly one party that recently expanded healthcare coverage to 20 million people, passed Medicare, Social Security and CHIP and imposed any regulation at all on Wall Street and Big Pharma? And over the screaming intransigence of the only other party that is relevant in US elections?

But aren’t Sanders’ remarks a perfect segue for Clinton to deliver the message she must communicate? I still think Sanders will come around to endorsing Clinton and urging his supporters to support her and elect the Democratic Congressional majority she’ll need to get shit done. But in the meantime, maybe starting this conversation will do. If Hillary is going to sew it up, it’s time to thread that needle.

ETA: A piping hot new version of Cleek’s pie filter has just come out of the oven. Lay claim to your slice here.



Late Night Chew Toy Open Thread: “Normal Americans (You Know — White Men)”

Jim VandeHei, co-founder & former CEO of Politico, is very disappointed by the current Presidential choices on offer. And rather than use his own outlet, he turned to the (very sympathetic) Wall Street Journal to publish a sterling exemplar of why modern American “centrism” always seems to reduce to white men of means having a temper tantrum about no longer getting first place at the head of the table by right. Try Googling the title for a whole range of reactions to “Bring on A Third Party Candidate”:

I have spent the past two decades in the Washington, D.C., bubble—the heart of Establishment America—covering politics and building a company, Politico, focused solely on politics. But I’ve also spent a lot of time in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wis., and my adopted hometown of Lincoln, Maine, two blue-collar towns in the heart of Normal America.

Here are my two big takeaways: Normal America is right that Establishment America has grown fat, lazy, conventional and deserving of radical disruption. And the best, perhaps only way to disrupt the establishment is by stealing a lot of Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s tricks and electing a third-party candidate.

Mr. Trump’s vulgar approach to politics is a terrific middle finger to the establishment but a terrible political and governing paradigm. Same goes for Sanders-style socialism. But if someone turned the critique, passion and disdain shared by the two movements into a new one, they could change the system in meaningful ways. Only an outside force can knock Washington out of its governing rut—and the presidency is the only place with the power to do it…

The candidate has to come from outside the political system. Voters are beaten down or bubbling with anger. They watched as the two parties chose selfish spats and rarely dared to do the right thing, or hard things or often anything. Mr. Trump has shown they want a true outsider, even a deeply flawed one. The way to win is to rail against Big—Big Business, Big Media, Big Government, Big Establishment…

…[F]orce the wealthy to forfeit their entitlement benefits. And everyone loves socking it to Congress. Mandate that lawmakers go home after serving instead of profiting off their service. Also force them to get outside of the D.C. bubble by holding months-long sessions in different sections of Normal America.

The ideal candidate would write a very specific agenda in normal, conversational language, not whatever nonsensical language today’s political class was taught to speak. He or she would engage voters daily on social media, with fun and flare. (Think Trump with impulse control and better spelling.) The candidate would inundate voters with transparency and specificity, even when it hurts. And exploit cable TV’s addiction to whatever is hot and new. Mr. Trump has shown how technology has made money less important in modern politics.

Exploit the fear factor. The candidate should be from the military or immediately announce someone with modern-warfare expertise or experience as running mate. People are scared. Terrorism is today’s World War and Americans want a theory for dealing with it. President Obama has established an intriguing precedent of using drone technology and intelligence to assassinate terrorists before they strike. A third-party candidate could build on death-by-drones by outlining the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power. Do it with very muscular language—there is no market for nuance in the terror debate…

I will even throw out a possible name for the movement: The Innovation Party. Who is against innovation, especially when winning campaigns are almost always about the future?…

He wants a brave man, he wants a cave man… He wants a strong man on a white horse. Or a white man who’s a horse’s arse. As long as it’s not some “Establishment” fella who’ll go all flaccid when it comes to gutting Social Security and bombing filthy foreigners. Someone like Donald Trump (rich old white guy) or Bernie Sanders (shouty old white guy), but more… polished.

Being as this is a Politico founder, it’s quite possible he honestly doesn’t intend to dismiss the majority of Americans/American voters as mere lazy puppets of the “Establishment”. He just wants a more entertaining horse race, for the clicks! But when you start talking about hard choices and disenfranchising normal Americans, you’re gonna end up sounding a lot like, well…



The Company He Keeps

Look who Ted Cruz has recruited as his economic advisor:

If it’s true that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, what are we to make of the appointment of former Sen. Phil Gramm as economic advisor to the Presidential campaign of Ted Cruz?

Cruz made the appointment Friday, when he collected Gramm’s endorsement of his quest for the Presidency.

As Micheal Hiltzik points out in his coverage of this — what’s the word?– curious appointment, Gramm is exactly whom you’d choose if one global financial meltdown just wasn’t delicious enough:

Gramm left a long record as a dedicated financial deregulator on Capitol Hill, with much of his effort aimed at freeing up trading in derivatives. That’s why he’s often identified as one of the godfathers of the 2008 financial crisis, which was spurred in part by banks’ imprudent trading and investing in these extremely complex financial instruments.

JMWTurner_Sunrise_with_Sea_Monsters

Gramm himself is undeterred by his own disastrous record, and clearly Cruz is equally unbothered.  That would be why both men are ignoring Gramm’s last appearance as a campaign surrogate:

Gramm’s previous stint as a Presidential campaign advisor ended inauspiciously. That was in 2008, when he served as co-chairman of John McCain’s Presidential run.

Gramm’s most notable moment in that position came on July 10, 2008, when he dismissed the developing economic crisis as “a mental recession” in an interview–and video–released by the conservative Washington Times. “We’ve never been more dominant,” he said. “We’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today. We’ve sort of become a nation of whiners.” McCain immediately disavowed the remarks, and a few days later Gramm stepped down as his campaign co-chairman.

I’m assuming that Ted Cruz does actually hope to become president, and thus makes his choices in the belief that they will advance him to that end.  So I can only see two possible interpretations for this exhuming of one of the most egregious poster children for GOP economic failure.

One is that this is what epistemic closure looks like when it’s at home.  It takes a hermetic seal between you and reality to think the “nation of whiners” trope is a winner this year (or ever, really, but especially now).

The other is that this is just trolling, or rather yet one more instance of believing an action is simply good in itself, transcendently so, if it pisses liberals off.  Which lands Cruz — and the GOP — in exactly the same place as option one: doubling down on the crazy for reasons extremely clear only to those with the correct implants in their upper left second molar.

All of which is to say that I remain firm in my belief that the entity identifying itself as Senator Cruz is in fact one of these guys.

“Where are we going?”

“Galt’s Gulch”

“When?”

“Real soon!”

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Sunrise With Sea Monsters, 1845



Centrist Dalek Horror Theater Presents: The Schoening

As the New Hampshire primaries get underway today, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirms this week that he is considering entering the 2016 presidential race as an independent, something that made the rounds as a trial balloon two weeks ago.  Now however Bloomberg himself is saying he’s considering making the jump.

The billionaire media mogul and three-time former New York mayor told Financial Times in an interview published Monday that he is “looking at all the options.”

Fellow New York billionaire Donald Trump has been leading polls on the Republican side for months, and Hillary Clinton only narrowly escaped Iowa with a victory over a self-described “democratic socialist.” Bloomberg, who is considering running as an independent, said Americans deserve “a lot better.”

Bloomberg has set a March deadline to determine whether he will run, and should he decide yes, he told the FT he would have to begin getting his name on ballots next month. He has signaled he could spend at least a billion dollars of his own money to sustain a campaign, according to a New York Times report citing anonymous sources briefed on his deliberations.

That’s not the funny part.  The funny part is who’s advising him.

Bloomberg’s pollster, Douglas Schoen, outlined the case for his boss’s potential White House bid in an op-ed last week for the Wall Street Journal.

Pundits are missing a large group of centrist voters who opt out of partisan primaries, Schoen argued, pointing to the low turnout in Iowa.

“That’s the new silent majority: the millions of Americans who don’t participate in Democratic or Republican primaries. They are equally as fed up with the status quo, but they have a different approach to problem-solving and different policy prescriptions than those on the ideological extremes,” Schoen wrote.

That has created an opportunity for someone to mount an independent run, he argued:

“Who fits the bill? Michael Bloomberg, a centrist with a clear (and arguably unique) record in business as an entrepreneur and in politics as a three-term mayor of New York. Mr. Bloomberg is a fiscally prudent conciliator who advances pro-growth policies and takes tough stands.”

That’s right, the guy running Bloomberg’s numbers is none other than our old friend pollster Doug Schoen, who along with his partner in crime Pat Caddell is the obnoxious No Labels/Americans Elect centrist grifter that warned Obama could never win re-election in 2012 and that Hillary had to primary him, that Obama had to champion the Simpson/Bowles Catfood Commission, that the Democrats were the real extremists, that Obama had to become a right-wing Democrat in order to attract Tea Party votes, that Trump should have gotten into the race in 2012 as in independent, and my personal favorite, that Barack Obama should have dropped out of the 2012 race completely for the good of America.

It looks like Doug has found his Trojan Horse to sink the Democrats and get his massive austerity cuts by splitting votes in favor of the GOP in Bloomberg, so if there was any doubt that a Bloomberg run is more Nader than Perot, the fact that Doug Schoen is involved should have you running for the exits.

The Centrist Daleks are back to TRIANGULAAAAAAAATE it seems, and should Bloomberg actually run, keep in mind it only takes ruining one swing state with a third party bid to throw the presidency.



Bevin Makes His Move

As promised, newly elected Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin announced today that the plan is to scrap Medicaid expansion for 400,000 Kentuckians and to replace it with…something…in 2017.

Bevin, who campaigned on a pledge to reshape Medicaid and the expansion under the Affordable Care Act, said it will take time to change the program but he expects to succeed.

“We are going to transform the way Medicaid is delivered in Kentucky,” Bevin said.

Bevin has enlisted the help of Mark Birdwhistell, a former secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services under former Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Birdwhistell, vice president for health services at the University of Kentucky, said he’s ready for the challenge.

“The people of Kentucky need a Medicaid system that is affordable and sustainable,” he said.

Bevin and Birdwhistell said Kentucky will begin work on a waiver they will ask the federal government to approve to let Kentucky establish its own Medicaid plan, as Indiana and some other states have done.

They expect to introduce the plan in 2017.

Bevin Wednesday morning voiced support for a Medicaid waiver system similar to the one used by Indiana to hold down costs and said an effort during the coming six months will show “whether this will work or not.”

Bevin went on to blame former Gov. Steve Beshear for getting Kentucky into an “unsustainable” Medicaid expansion which he called a “lie”, and mentioned Indiana’s Healthy Insurance Plan program as the model, which of course leaves the question “If Indiana’s Medicaid expansion replacement plan is working so well, why is GOP Gov. Mike Pence so upset about it being evaluated?”

Richard Mayhew can probably answer way more about this than I can, but so far to me it looks like Bevin is trying to set up Steve Beshear (and of course President Obama) to blame when a “workable alternative” to the current expansion magically fails to materialize six months down the road.

 

Richard Mayhew here: I am even more cynical than Zandar but more optimistic.  Bevin looks like he is setting up a committee to set up a committee.  It is a bureaucratic dodge as every hospital executive in the state has talked to Bevin’s people by now and told them they need Medicaid expansion to balance their books.  What will happen is the alternative plan will be more punitive, more confusing and more expensive than a straight up expansion but it will still cover 400,000 or more people in the summer of 2017.  It just won’t be called Medicaid Expansion, it will be Bevin AwesomeCare with Health Savings Accounts and Personal Responsibility Initiative Points.



Dispatches From Bevinstan

The Kaiser Family Foundation discovers the problem with Kentucky and Medicaid expansion here now that Matt Bevin has taken office.

Majorities of Democrats (89%), Independents (75%), and even Republicans (54%) want to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion as is.

Of the people who voted for Matt Bevin last month, 50% want him to cut Medicaid.

My problem is with the 42% of Bevin voters who expect Bevin to keep Medicaid as is.  “Bevin won’t take coverage away from me“, they said. “Just, you know, those people.”  And Bevin may in fact figure out a way to do it.

But my guess is there’s going to be a substantial chunk of Bevin voters who are going to find out the hard way that when politicians tell you exactly who they are, you should believe them…



Risk Corridors, asset valuation and favoring incumbents

Nicholas Bagley at the Incidental Economist  argues that insurers will eventually be made whole on risk corridor payments even if the money is never appropriated by Congress.

At Rubio’s insistence, Congress in 2014 passed a budget bill prohibiting the administration from using other funding streams—the budgetary equivalent of looking under the couch cushions for change—to make up for any shortfall.

Rubio’s bill has now come back to bite the administration. On October 1, HHS announcedthat, for 2014, health plans were owed substantially more under the risk corridor program than they paid in. Unprofitable plans will thus receive just 12.6% of what they were supposed to….

there’s another option, one that hasn’t received much attention. When Congress creates an entitlement directly in legislation, the person who’s supposed to get the entitlement can file a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims to recover what she’s owed.  That’s why plans should still be able to get their cost-sharing reductions, even if the House of Representatives prevails in its case over whether an appropriation exists to cover the cost-sharing reductions.

The same principle holds (1) where Congress vests a federal agency with the power to obligate the United States to make certain payments and (2) the agency welches on those obligations. Here, the ACA instructs HHS to create a risk corridor program requiring the government to pay health plans a given amount of money. If the past is any guide, plans should be able to sue if HHS doesn’t pay them in accordance with the program. That’s so whether or not Congress has appropriated money to fund the program.

If I am understanding the argument correctly, PPACA tells HHS to pay, money is not appropriated, but the money is still owed, so the full faith and credit of the United States government comes into question if the government does not pay. Therefore, once insurers start suing when it is obvious that they will not be made whole for 2014 risk corridor payments, they’ll win easily in court and the government will pay.

That is good news in the long run for well capitalized insurers.   It is bad news for everyone else. Read more