Baldfaced Lies at the Legislature

I realize I’m becoming a bit of a broken record documenting the shameless lies and propaganda that dominate the Beacon Center of Tennessee’s messaging on “Insure Tennessee.” But since our state lawmakers insist on giving Beacon a platform to spread their nonsense, someone has to call bullshit. Consider it called.

At this morning’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing on Insure Tennessee, committee members were shown this slide by the Beacon Center’s Justin Owen, who was appearing before the committee to describe the various forms of apocalypse that will ensue if the legislature approves Medicaid expansion.


Owen wants to argue that Medicaid expansion puts stresses on the system that end up harming the most vulnerable individuals already covered, and the slide was an attempt to suggest there there is evidence for this alarming prediction in the experiences other states that have expanded Medicaid. There’s just one problem with the slide: Every claim it makes is factually incorrect.

You see five claims in that slide. Let’s take ’em one by one.

Arizona – dropped coverage for transplants? It is true that Arizona made some drastic cuts that included reducing Medicaid coverage for some transplants, but this occurred in 2010, before Obamacare took effect and a full three years before Arizona actually approved Medicaid expansion in 2013. And oh by the way, Beacon doesn’t want you to know that Arizona restored funding for those organ transplants for Medicaid patients in 2011.

Arkansas – denied drugs for cystic fibrosis patients? It is the case that Arkansas’ Medicaid program last year decided to deny access to the drug Kalydeco, which costs around $300,000 per year, triggering a patient lawsuit. What the Beacon Center conveniently omits adding, however, is that a few months later a state review board comprised of doctors and pharmarcists recommended that restrictions on the use of Kalydeco be eliminated, a recommendation that the Arkansas Department of Human Services has said it intends to adopt.

Oregon – stopped coverage for cancer treatments? This claim has its roots in a bogus chain email that made the rounds in 2013. PolitiFact Oregon has thoroughly vetted this and rates it a “pants-on-fire” lie: “Older patients diagnosed with cancer need not worry that treatment will be rationed or denied under the Affordable Care Act. The claim is based on an inaccurate reading of a bill that went nowhere.”

Maine – stopped treating brain injury patients? It is preposterous to attribute any change in coverage in Maine to Medicaid expansion given the basic reality that Maine is not participating in Medicaid expansion. It’s governor Paul LePage has been an unyielding advocate of shrinking Medicaid, not expanding it.

Rhode Island – implemented premium for disabled children? This refers to a proposal floated by Rhode Island’s governor early last year that would charge a $250/month premium to parents with kids in the state’s Katie Beckett program for severely disabled children. What the Beacon Center conveniently neglects to mention is that state lawmakers scoffed, the premium proposal was scrapped, and if you visit the Rhode Island Katie Beckett eligibility page you learn that “There is no cost to families.”

That Beacon slide on display for Tennessee lawmakers this morning had no title. It need one: “Things in other states that didn’t happen but if I can fool you into thinking they did maybe I can scare you into opposing health insurance for the working poor.”

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

What Democracy Looks Like

Republicans around the country have put a lot of effort in recent years into enacting laws that limit voter access to the polls, with the GOP accelerating these vote suppression efforts in swing states in time for year’s midterm elections. So in other words, for the modern Republican Party, making it harder for people to vote (especially those who aren’t likely to vote for you) is what democracy looks like.

I stumbled onto a different view of what democracy looks like as I was ambling through Terminal 3 at Perth Airport in Western Australia last week. I happened upon Gate 22 — which had been temporarily converted into a polling place for early voting in upcoming state elections. Voting at the airport!


It is worth noting that Australia has a system of compulsory voting (if you don’t have an acceptable documented excuse for failing to vote you pay a fine), and that arguably obliges the government to make voting as readily available as possible. Also, Western Australia’s economy with its reliance on mining and energy spread over a large territory has a lot of so-called “fly-in, fly-out” workers who come and go to work by air for lengthy intervals. The opportunity for these workers to meet their voting obligation at the airport makes good sense, as Perth discovered in last fall’s Australian federal election.

It turns out, though, that airport voting isn’t unique to that western side of Australia with its mining economy; in the most recent federal election early voting sites were set up at major airports (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and others) in every Australian state.

In the U.S. right now, democracy (in the view of one major political party) means rigging public policy to keep people away from the polls. In Australia, democracy means creating opportunities to vote that reach people where and when they are. Making it hard to vote vs. making it easier to vote … hich smells more like real, functioning democracy?

[Plus in Australia you get to choose on the ballot among all these groovy political parties!]


A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Lamar Filibusters Reality

lamarupSeeking to fend off a tea-party primary challenger, Sen. Lamar Alexander has been warming up for 2014 by rebranding himself as hostile to the kind of pragmatic moderation that once framed his centrist political persona. With an op-ed in the Washington Post late last week assailing the move by Senate Democrats to do away with the filbuster on executive and judicial nominations, Alexander demonstrates he is also working hard to rebrand himself as hostile to facts and reality.

The Post piece is a model of intellectual dishonesty. Alexander says Democrats built the change in Senate rules on “filmsy excuses, many of which are untrue.” Let’s look at two of them. Lamar writes:

Excuse No. 1: President Obama’s appointees have been unfairly denied seats by failed cloture votes, or filibusters. According to the Congressional Research Service, no Supreme Court nominee has been defeated by filibuster in the Senate … The number of federal district judge and Cabinet nominees defeated by filibuster? Zero. Regarding sub-Cabinet nominees, there were two for President Obama, three for George W. Bush and two for Bill Clinton. That’s it. … As for appeals court judges, Republican filibusters have blocked five, but that happened only after Democrats first blocked five.

The dishonesty here is in the phrase “denied seats by failed cloture votes, or filibusters.” A cloture vote is a vote to limit debate, which effectively ends a filibuster. But filibusters don’t always (or even usually) end in cloture votes one way or the other. By measuring filibusters as a count of failed cloture votes, Alexander is not only dissembling, he is doing exactly what the very Congressional Research Service report (pdf) he cites tells him not to do. According to the CRS, it is “erroneous” to equate cloture motion outcomes with filibusters:

Filibusters can occur without cloture being attempted, and cloture can be attempted when no filibuster is evident. Often today, moreover, it appears that Senate leaders generally avoid bringing to the floor nominations on which a filibuster seems likely. In such cases there are no means by which to identify the merely threatened filibuster.

Cloture votes don’t tally filibusters, the CRS goes on to say, because “a filibuster is a matter of intent; any proceedings on the floor might constitute part of a filibuster if they are undertaken with the purpose of blocking or delaying a vote.” So a better measure of GOP obstructionism regarding Obama’s nominees is found in delay – the amount of time nominees wait for confirmation.

Alexander takes up this angle … and once again mangles reality:

Excuse No. 2: President Obama’s nominees have waited too long for confirmation. According to the Congressional Research Service, Obama’s second-term Cabinet nominees have been confirmed at about the same pace as those of Presidents Clinton and Bush. This year, the Senate has confirmed 36 of Obama’s second-term nominees to circuit and district courts, compared with 14 for Bush at this point in 2005.

The distortion here is really basic. Exploring whether nominees “have waited too long for confirmation” by comparing the raw number of confirmed second-term Obama appointments with the number for Bush at same point in his term is nonsensical since it fails to account for differences in numbers of vacancies and says nothing about actual time nominees have waited for Senate action. Actual data on confirmation delays tell the story Lamar doesn’t want you to hear:


Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of a filibuster rule that empowers legislative minorities to slow confirmations of executive appointments. Unreasonable people (like Lamar Alexander) can torture the facts to invent a false argument about the effects of such a rule.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

My Last Marsha Post. Promise.

"I demand to be taken seriously."

“I demand to be taken seriously.”

I recently promised myself no more posts about the festival of witlessness that is Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s cognition. But alas, I just can’t help myself after her latest public work of self-parodying performance art: the Kathleen Sebelius hearing in the House Energy and Comerce Committee this week.

Asserting that “some people like to drive a Ford and not a Ferrari, and some people like to drink out of a red solo cup and not a crystal stem,” Blackburn argued that people should be free to keep the cut rate insurance they have rather than be compelled to buy some of that highfallutin’ Marxist-Leninist Obamacare coverage. Sally Kohn at Salon captures it well, summing up Blackburn’s argument as a brief for the principle that “Americans should be free to hold onto their inadequate, costly and reckless insurance policies that throw them off at the slightest sign of illness while forcing costs up for the rest of us.”

Without question, this is to a significant extent a self-inflicted wound at the White House, which willfully enabled this latest tactical conservative assault on the Affordable Care Act through Obama’s repeated assertions going back three years that under ACA people could keep their existing health insurance if they wished. Although NBC News would have us be stunned by the revelation that the Obama administration knew this claim to be exaggerated, it was actually pretty obvious to anyone paying attention from the outset that ACA would compel many to encounter significant changes in health insurance coverage. A lot of us were cringing at Obama’s repeated assertions on this when he first started making them.

But that doesn’t impeach the imbecility of Blackburn’s way of “thinking” — that no health insurance policy exists that is too flimsy to meet the needs of her fine constituents. Look, she has every right to believe that health insurance should be a wholly unregulated market, but she needs to make the case for that, not just rail against regulatory standards merely because they are regulatory standards. Would she do away with all regulation of all insurance? Does she have even a clue as to the implications of doing so? If you want to use your Congressional perch to shout down administration officials with nostrums of free market liberatarian orthodoxy, it might behoove you and your staff to spent at least a few minutes understanding how these markets and regulatory schemes work, and what the actual policy consequences of doing away with them might look like.

Ok, for real this time: No more Marsha posts.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Hatred for ACA: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

whiteflagIt’s no surprise that Republicans are spinning their strategic retreat on the shutdown and debt ceiling (“strategic retreat” being, of course, a polite euphemism for “abject surrender”) as something else. Who wouldn’t? It is curious, though, that in crafting the spin many on the right think that doubling down on hatred for Obamacare is the way to go.

Yes, ACAphobia was the spark that lit the fire, as the Wall Street Journal’s Jerry Seib aptly summarizes:

To the conservative rebels who brought on a government crisis their party’s elders never wanted, the point is simple: They wanted to demonstrate that they don’t simply oppose President Barack Obama’s signature health-care program, but find it so philosophically objectionable that they will fight it at every turn. To them, it isn’t merely a health program but the very symbol of a big-government philosophy that they find threatening.

These “rebels” now find themselves in the role of victims of the law of unintended consequences: not only did the effort to defund ACA fail entirely; as Seib points out it also “demonstrated definitively that the GOP today simply lacks the votes in Congress under any scenario to force meaningful changes to it.”

Undeterred by this new reality (or perhaps just impossibly optimistic), the spin on the right now holds that it’s only a matter of time before people really come to really see how really disastrous Obamacare really is. The dimwitted likes of Rep. Marsha Blackburn have been misreading polls on the public’s mind on this along. Now, with this month’s crisis averted, Erick Erickson at RedState advances the delusional ball:

The fight was always about Obamacare. Today we know we must keep fighting and fight harder against even our own supposed side … As more Americans watch Obamacare fail them through the Republican primary season, conservatives will be able to put the focus on Republicans who funded Obamacare instead of fighting it.

There’s a problem with this, a rather obvious one: people simply don’t dislike Obamacare as much as Marsha and Erick do, not nearly as much. A new Democracy Corps poll makes this clear yet again (pdf with toplines here).

This new poll does reveal, yes, that equal numbers favor and oppose ACA when asked that straight out (45-45 in this survey). But as in past polls, when you ask whether opponents think the law goes too far vs. not far enough, you end up with not much more than a third of respondents opposed to the law in the way that Marsha and Erick are. Even more telling: Asked whether “we should implement and fix the health care reform law,” or whether “we should repeal and replace the health care reform law” voters prefer “implement and fix” by a whopping 58-38% margin.

The ACA deadenders on the right are clinging to the belief that it’s just a matter of time before Americans wise up to the expensive and complex morass which is Obamacare. What they miss is that most people already understand that our dysfunctional system of health insurance is an expensive and complex nightmare that requires an expensive and complex remedy. Marsha needs to learn the difference between a feature and a bug.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Poll Dancing on Obamacare

marshabI get it: they really hate Obamacare. It’s worse than Stalinism and kidney stones combined. But how do they look themselves in the mirror after spinning such bullshit in print — nonsense that is so readily checked and so easily debunked? That’s what I wondered when I saw Marsha Blackburn’s op-ed in The Tennessean yesterday. In Marshaworld, one look at the polls and it’s clear the thing won’t work and everyone knows it:

It has become very clear that this law is unworkable. A recent CNN poll shows support for the president’s health care law waning, with only 39 percent of Americans now in favor of it, down from 51 percent in January. With the Obama administration’s decisions to delay several parts of the health care law, including the employer mandate, it is clear that even the White House now recognizes what the rest of America already knows: “Obamacare” is a train wreck.

The problem with Blackburn’s position is that while poll results may find that Americans are skeptical about on the Affordable Care Act, the polls also show that Americans want Congress to make it work, not kill it. Yes, the CNN poll she mentions does find only 39 percent of respondents favoring most or all of Obamacare, and a Pew poll completed around the same time (early September) locates approval at just 42 percent, with 53 percent expressing disapproval.

But the Pew poll goes on to ask a crucial question: What should elected officials who oppose the law (that’s you, Marsha) do now? Among the 53 percent in the poll who disapprove of Obamacare, 27 percent say lawmakers should “do what they can to make the law work as well as possible,” while just 23 percent say “do what they can to make the law fail.”

In other words, more than two-thirds of Americans (42% who like the law + 27% who don’t) want to see Congress make Obamacare work. Blackburn writes that “we have seen just how frustrated people are with the impact ACA is having on their lives.” Yes we have, and the answer is “not very.” Asked in the Pew poll how the health care law “has affected you and your family,” a whopping 20 percent said “mostly negative”; the rest were neutral or positive, and just 38 percent think Obamacare has had a negative effect on the country as a whole.

Poll numbers, one can readily concede, do not reveal Obamacare to be wildly popular. Even so, it is nonsense pure and simple to assert as Blackburn does that “the rest of America” sees a train wreck. People may not fully understand health care reform (only 25% told Pew they grasp its impact “very well”), and may be apprehensive about their own health security (hell, who isn’t?). But it is sophistry of the semi-unhinged variety to hold out public opinion as the basis for an argument that the thing is “unworkable.” To the contrary, it’s actually something that most of us want to see work.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

As Goes Mississippi So Goes Tennessee?

dempubThe Atlantic over the weekend ran a piece by Molly Ball, its staff writer covering national politics, enticingly titled Can Democrats Win Back the Deep South? “Less far-fetched than you think” is the answer featured in the subhed and developed in the piece, which takes as its starting point a handful of elections in Mississippi earlier this month in which Democrats won mayoral victories in Republican strongholds. Dem wins in Meridian, Ocean Springs, Starkville and Tupelo had state Democratic Party Chair Rickey Cole trumpeting gains in fund-raising, technology, and ground game, and optimistically concluding that “we are seeing the healthy maturation in Mississippi to a two-party system.” The acid retort from one Republican partisan quoted by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: “If I was a member of a party that only held one of our eight statewide offices, I would look for victory wherever I can, too.”

Ball’s Atlantic piece ponders the implications of Mississippi’s recent “Blue Tuesday” for the broader possibility of a de-crimsoned South:

A handful of local elections in Mississippi is hardly a blue wave. But Democrats across the South hope what just happened there is the start of something big — the first ripple of a Democratic comeback in the Deep South….A Democratic comeback will be a tall order, to say the least, in a region whose political story in recent decades has been a steady march toward the GOP. “It’s hard to conceive we could go any farther down,” chuckled Don Fowler, the South Carolinian who chaired the Democratic National Committee in the 1990s and is now chairman of South Forward. “But where can you find a place where a new Democratic thrust would be more welcome and could do more good?”

Ultimately Ball settles on the popular theme of demographic destiny as the basis for optimism that a blue South might rise again. As the map below illustrates, southern states are among those with the nation’s fastest-growing Latino populations. Combine that with growth in African-American numbers as well and you have some southern states headed for majority-minority status in the not-too-distant future (Georgia and Mississippi within a decade at current rates of growth, according to the Atlantic piece).


But growth is one thing; actual population is another. Although the map above puts us right there with other southern states in Latino population growth, Tennessee’s markedly lighter blue profile in map below (compared to the Carolinas and Georgia) suggests that Tennessee may be slower than some other southern states to reap the political effects of these demographic developments.


Ball points to newly organized groups pushing a trans-regional strategy aimed at electoral gains for southern Democrats. One is South Forward, a PAC that describes its mission as fostering “an integrated, multifaceted approach to revitalizing and growing the Democratic South.” By multifaceted they mean not just raising money for federal office seekers, but also doing candidate and campaign-management training, as well as providing direct support for down-ballot races.

Another is The Southern Project, an effort launched at last year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte that sums up its mission this way:

Driven by changes in demographics, [the South] has over the past few election cycles shown increasingly Progressive tendencies. Accordingly, Project New America — which was formed five years ago as Project New West by Western leaders, thinkers, and strategists as a tool to interpret and exploit the values and attitudes driving two decades of dramatic growth in the West — has now turned its resources and expertise to the South.

These kinds of organized efforts are important. Changing demographics may open opportunities for Democrats across the South, but as the Clarion-Ledger‘s analysis of what made Mississippi’s Blue Tuesday possible reveals, the things that win elections are, as ever, good candidates, lots of money, tactics, data, social media, and ground game. For that you need serious organization, not just favorable trends in census data.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


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