Saturday Reads: Austerity, Medicare, and Punishing the Baby Boomers

fiscal cliff fix

Good Morning!!

Following on Dakinikat’s post last night, The Austerity Plot, here are some more links about Jonathan Chait’s very very bad recommendation that Obama should cave on raising the Medicare enrollment age.

David Dayen’s reaction was immediate and shrill: Jon Chait’s Miserable Endorsement of Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age.

Let’s look at Chait’s reasoning. I would probably start with the fact that he’s not 64 or 65. My parents are, and until my dad reached Medicare in November, they were paying $2,500 a month on the private market for health insurance. So I’ll be happy to provide him with their phone number so he can tell them how it’s “tolerable” for them to spend two years more than they expected doing that.

But soft! Here are his actual reasons. One, Democrats have to accept concessions (that’s always a good strategic place from which to begin a negotiation!), and the scolds seem to like raising the eligibility age. So let’s give ‘em what they want. This is a bizarrely content-free assertion. The phrase “If Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles wanted you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?” springs to mind. Second, he thinks that Republicans will somehow forget that this only raises $100 billion, at most, over 10 years, and will then drop any demands to hit a particular number in the negotiations….

The one thing we know will be a side effect of increasing the Medicare eligibility age is that insurance premiums will skyrocket. It will make Medicare more expensive because they lose relatively healthy 65 and 66 year-olds from their risk pool, and it will make private insurance more expensive because they add relatively sick 65 and 66 year-olds to their risk pool. Insurers hate the idea for just this reason. As a result, everyone’s premiums will rise, and cost-shifting will ensue from the government to its citizens.

The original Shrill One, was even more shrill than usual.

…why on earth would Obama be selling Medicare away to raise top tax rates when he gets a big rate rise on January 1 just by doing nothing? And no, vague promises about closing loopholes won’t do it: a rate rise is the real deal, no questions, and should not be traded away for who knows what.

So this looks crazy to me; it looks like a deal that makes no sense either substantively or in terms of the actual bargaining strength of the parties. And if it does happen, the disillusionment on the Democratic side would be huge. All that effort to reelect Obama, and the first thing he does is give away two years of Medicare? How’s that going to play in future attempts to get out the vote?

As Dakinikat wrote, Beltway Bob immediately accepted Chait’s assessment of the likely “deal,” even though he explained very clearly last night as host of the Rachel Maddow Show that doing this would be insane and counterproductive.

Ed Kilgore defended Chait:

I do think it’s kind of important that progressives allow each other a bit of liberty in discussions about big fiscal issues: after all, even the Right-Wing Noise Machine is in a bit of disarray on the subject at the moment. I know some people think resisting anything that affects Social Security or Medicare benefits is the ultimate Red Line that cannot be crossed. Personally, my own fear is that in defending that Red Line, congressional Democrats will wind up making concessions on Medicaid and other low-income programs that in my opinion are more morally compelling than keeping Medicare precisely the way it is today.

Maybe my fears are misguided, or maybe I just don’t share the obsession of some liberals in keeping Medicare pristine as a potential model for a universal single-payer health care system somewhere in the distant future, even if that means today’s poor folks have to suffer as a lower priority.

Apparently, Kilgore doesn’t understand that millions of poverty stricken elders are on Medicare and that millions of middle class Americans rely on Medicaid for nursing home care in addition to Medicare. It’s not an either/or thing.

Atrios gave Chait the Wanker of the Day Award, and yesterday evening, Chait issued an “acceptance speech” that doubled down on his recommendations for Medicare cuts in a post that I personally found offensive–but then I’m one of those loser 65-year-olds, so what do I know?

I, along with millions of other losers, committed the horrendous crime of being born after WWII ended and thus became part of the despised population bomb called the “baby boom.” Never mind that we didn’t ask to be born when we were and that public officials have known about our huge numbers ever since 1960 at least, the problem is all our fault. Supposedly, Ronald Reagan fixed the problem by having us pay more into the system so that Social Security and Medicare would be there when we got old, but now that is all forgotten because the superrich need more money to sock away in foreign tax havens.

WH_CARTOON_071029

Kenneth Baer and Jeffrey Liebman wrote about it in a NYT op-ed yesterday:

For decades we have known that the retirement of the baby boomers would be a monumental event for the economy. But now that it’s happening, many fiscal policy makers are acting as if the boomers are eternal teenagers and are turning a blind eye to how the boomers’ aging changes how we should approach economic policy. And this affects two of the central issues of the negotiations: how much the government should spend and how we can cut unemployment.

Consider the debate over spending. The Congressional Budget Office projects that if current policies continue, total federal spending will rise to 24 percent of gross domestic product in 2022. Republicans and Washington deficit hawks argue that this means spending is out of control, since over the past 40 years government spending has averaged 21 percent.

Their proposed solution is a cap on government spending as a percentage of the economy. Mitt Romney wanted to cap spending at 20 percent of G.D.P. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, has proposed a cap of 20.6 percent with Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri. Just this week, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a 2016 Republican presidential aspirant, suggested an 18 percent cap.

These plans ignore the simple fact that you cannot repeal the aging of the boomers. The main reason expenditures are rising this decade is that spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is increasing by a whopping 3.7 percent of G.D.P. as the baby boomers age and retire. This demographic fact also has been driving increases in disability insurance payments as more knees give way and backs give out.

In addition, policy-makers need to be looking at unemployment differently, according to Baer and Liebman, but are they capable of doing that? Not likely. Read more about it at the link.

rich xmas

In other “news,” on Thursday, Fox News’ Monica Crowley (did you know she has a Ph.D.?!) claimed that Americans committed “national suicide” by re-electing Obama, because now the rich will have to pay more taxes.

“From a conservative perspective, November 6 was a national suicide,” Crowley asserted. “There is a very thin, fine, red line between us and total destruction of the American idea. That thin, red line was the Republican Party. If this party also commits suicide, this will be catastrophic.”
Raw Story (http://s.tt/1wd0V)

Charlie Crist has officially become a Democrat.

Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist announced his official switch from independent to the Democratic Party with a beaming Twitter post Friday night after a Christmas event at the White House.

Posing in a photo with an unidentified woman holding the official Florida voter registration papers, Crist tweeted he was “proud and honored to join the Democratic Party in the home of President @BarackObama!”

I wonder if he’s going to get a job in the administration? Or will he run for governor against Rick Scott?

Finally, Susie Madrak has a must-read post at Crooks and Liars: Obama Cheaps Out On Sandy Recovery to Prop Up Austerity Sham. It’s a quick read, so please go read it at the link.

That’s all I have for today. Now it’s your turn. What’s on your reading list?


DNC Live Blog: Day 3

Here we go . . . This is the last night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. We can only hope the speeches will be as thrilling as the ones we heard last night.

Tonight Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama will accept their nominations to run for reelection. In addition, there will be a who slew of celebrity appearances, including Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, The Foo Fighters, Eva Longoria, Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, Earth Wind & Fire, Marc Anthony, and Kerry Washington. Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will lead the pledge of allegiance.

At 8:00, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist will speak. At 10:00, we’ll hear from Eva Longoria, Joe Biden, and President Obama. The rest of the night’s schedule has not been released.

Just a few headlines to get you going:

Amanda Marcotte: Sandra Fluke’s Speech Made Republicans Crazy. Which Is Just What the Democrats Want.

For a short period yesterday evening, a moment of panicked confusion broke out among those of us obsessively watching and tweeting the Democratic National Convention, when Sandra Fluke did not go on stage as scheduled. It turns out that we needn’t have worried; convention organizers made an apparently last minute decision to move Fluke’s speech to later in the night, giving her a prime-time audience. It’s a move that indicates Democrats have finally stopped freaking out at the first sign of reactionary histrionics, and instead have embraced the strategy of taking the fight to conservatives.

After decades of playing along with conservatives who dress up their hostility to female sexuality as nothing more than an interest in “life,” Democrats have finally realized that baiting the anti-choice right into showing its misogynist, sex-phobic side may just be a winning strategy.

Marcotte posts some of the rageful Republican tweets at the link.

HuffPo: Unions Hope Democratic National Convention Draws Attention To Plight Of North Carolina Workers

North Carolina passed right-to-work legislation in 1947, barring contracts that require all workers at unionized companies to pay union dues. North Carolina is now the least-unionized state in the country, with about 3 percent of workers belonging to one, according to the Labor Department. The state also bans collective bargaining for public-sector workers. Feeling snubbed, some activists skipped the convention in favor of what was billed as a “shadow convention” for organized labor in Philadelphia.

“This entire saga, from the beginning to today ­– the site selection, the state selection — the way it’s been handled is just nothing more than confirmation to me that the standing of organized labor in the eyes of the Democratic Party is lower than it’s ever been in my time,” said Chris Townsend, political director of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union, who has been in the labor movement for more than three decades.

CNN Money: Is Wall Street Being Bamboozled by Romney?

FORTUNE — Wall Street is taking quite a pounding at the Democratic National Convention this week as speakers, like Massachusetts Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren, fire populist missives so inflammatory it would cause even the most liberal banker to cringe. While the speeches are meant to fire up the Democratic base, they are also likely to induce some financiers to double their contributions to Republicans, namely, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

But is that a safe bet? Much of Wall Street’s concerns derive from the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, even though some of the most controversial aspects of the bill seem permanently lost in regulatory limbo. Going forward, there remain questions as to what, if anything, a Romney Presidency could truly deliver in the next four years that would be so different from a second term Obama presidency. Given that uncertainty, Wall Street could possibly be better off sticking with the devil they already know.

New York Observer: We Can All Breathe a Sigh of Relief: Mitt Romney Has a Plan to End the Housing Crisis

Is Mitt Romney really the man to solve the housing crisis? Well, consider this: Mr. Romney may not have ever struggled “to put food on the table” as folksy politicians are so fond of saying, but he has four houses. Four. So he knows a thing or two about home ownership. And, unlike some homeowners who took out mortgages and couldn’t pay them back, Mr. Romney is wealthy enough not to have to take out mortgages (although there’s a possibility that he did—the man does have the common touch, at times).

In any event, the Republican candidate has revealed his four-point plan while taking a few swings at Obama, like: “the dream of home ownership is out of reach for many Americans as a result of President Obama’s failed policies and stalled economy.”

Because Americans were doing so well with home ownership before Mr. Obama took the helm. Ha! Good one! As though the “stalled economy” and, well, the “economic crisis” weren’t a result of the fact that many Americans were actually really horrible when it came to assessing risk and making responsible choices about home ownership.

The consensus is that it’s not much of a “plan.”

ABC News: Paul Ryan Anticipates and Counters Obama’s Convention Speech Tonight

COLORADO SPRINGS–Just hours before the president takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention, Paul Ryan attempted to counter Obama’s speech by reminding voters in this battleground state of then candidate Obama’s promises in his 2008 speech in Denver.

“Right here in Colorado, four years ago with the Styrofoam Greek columns, the big stadium, the president gave this long speech with lots of big promises,” Ryan said. “He said … that Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress. By those very measurements, his leadership has fallen woefully short.”

Yawn. . . Lots more of Lyin’ Ryan’s psychic predictions at the link. Frankly, after the spanking he got from Bill Clinton last night, the little twerp would do better to just STFU; but I’m hoping he continues making a fool of himself. I guess he doesn’t know that he has lost all credibility with everyone but obsessive Fox watchers.

Detroit News: Conservatives Pull Ads from Michigan

Mitt Romney’s conservative allies are bypassing Michigan with their advertising while stepping up efforts in other battleground states — suggesting campaign strategists don’t believe his road to the White House leads through his native state.

The pro-Romney groups American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity are pouring nearly $13 million into advertising in key states, indicating they remain eager to lend considerable financial muscle to Romney in states viewed as truly competitive.

There are no presidential campaign ads of any kind airing in Pennsylvania and Michigan, according to information provided by media trackers to the Associated Press.

Nate Silver: The Simple Case for Why Obama Is the Favorite

…our forecast has moved toward President Obama over the past several days. It now gives him about a three-in-four chance of winning the Electoral College on Nov. 6.

I’ll explain a little bit more about how the model comes to that conclusion in a moment, but the intuition behind it is pretty simple:

1. Polls usually overrate the standing of the candidate who just held his convention.
2. Mitt Romney just held his convention. But he seems to have gotten a below-average bounce out of it. The national polls that have come out since the Republican National Convention have shown an almost exact tie in the race.
3. If the polls overrate Mr. Romney, and they show only a tie for him now, then he will eventually lose.
The first point is the simplest of all, but perhaps the most important. There is a lot of focus on the bounce that a candidate gets after his convention — that is, how the polls conducted just after the convention compare with the ones taken immediately beforehand.

Silver predicted the 2008 election results almost perfectly.

I’m looking forward to reading your comments tonight, so bring it!


Thursday Reads

Woman Reading, by Marie Fox

Good Morning!!!

You’ve probably heard about George Soros’ remarks at a meeting for big bucks progressive donors on Tuesday. Sam Stein at Huffpo:

The Hungarian-American financier was speaking to a small side gathering of donors who had convened in Washington D.C. for the annual gathering of the Democracy Alliance — a formal community of well-funded, progressive-minded individuals and activists.

According to multiple sources with knowledge of his remarks, Soros told those in attendance that he is “used to fighting losing battles but doesn’t like to lose without fighting.”

“We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line,” he said, according to several Democratic sources. “And if this president can’t do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else.”

Michael Vachon, an adviser to Soros, did not dispute the comment, though he stressed that there was no transcript of a private gathering to check. Vachon also clarified that the longtime progressive giver was not referring to a primary challenge to the president.

Really? Hmmmm…. So um, who leaked the news from the secret meeting?

And there’s more:

Dissatisfaction with the Obama administration was not limited to Soros’s private gathering with donors. On Wednesday morning, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina received several tough questions during his address to the Democracy Alliance. According to a source in the room, he was pressed multiple times as to why the administration has declined to be more combative with Republicans, both in communication and legislative strategy.

So Soros and pals are all hunky-dory with Obama? I’m not sure I buy that. Anyway this is being spun as simply a discussion about giving money to outside groups instead of directly to Obama–a change from 2008 when Obama directed his donors to funnel all money through his campaign instead of giving to groups like Move on.org.

Let’s look at some of the reactions to this political bombshell.

Dave Wiegel dismisses out of hand the notion that Soros is unhappy with Obama.

Soros isn’t actually a liberal Democrat — he has a diverse collection of interests, some of which (drug legalization) don’t move at all when Democrats win. There may be some millionaires who want to beat Obama in a primary, but there are more who want to activate the third party pro-Democrat groups that Obama wanted to evaporate in 2008-2010.

Kenneth P. Vogel at Politico:

Soros, a billionaire who has been among the most generous donors to liberal causes over the years, has recently indicated he no longer intends to fund the kind of independent political advertising campaigns he backed in 2004 and that Republican allies used to bombard Democrats in the midterm elections.

During a private session Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference of major Democratic donors organized by the Democracy Alliance, Soros reiterated the position that wealthy liberals should focus their giving on groups that will push President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats on liberal legislative initiatives, rather than groups supporting individual candidates, according to a source in the meeting.

“George was talking about how, in the context of the election, progressives are disappointed, and that they should keep (the administration) focused on certain issues that we should be promoting,” said the source, who did not want to be identified because Democracy Alliance bars attendees from discussing its conferences.

New York Magazine responded with snark:

According to some loose-lipped folks that attended a private event for the Democracy Alliance in Washington today, the hedge-fund billionaire and longtime Democratic donor George Soros is very upset about the last election, not least because his plans to grow a crop of Maui Wowie in his front yard were stymied, and he hinted darkly that the president may not have his support for much longer.

I have to say I agree with Soros on the legalization issue.

In other news, unemployment benefits will soon expire for two million Americans, and since Congress won’t be in session next week (they get whole weeks off for holidays), they will have to do something soon or face the wrath of voters when they go home for Thanksgiving.

Currently five million people are receiving aid under two federally-funded programs for the long-term unemployed.

Yet no clear path forward has emerged in Congress for reauthorizing those programs. Aides have floated the idea of coupling the benefits with a reauthorization of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for the top two percent of earners.

But it won’t happen if Ben “Scrooge” Nelson gets his way.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who sided with Republicans when they blocked the previous reauthorization for nearly two months this summer, said he doesn’t love the tax cut deal.

“That’s a mistake,” said Nelson, who has joined the GOP in opposing the extended benefits unless their deficit impact is offset with spending cuts. “Unless unemployment is paid for, I can’t support it.”

Why don’t you just switch parties, Ben, and take President teleprompter Jesus with you.

Jim Morrison

I love this story: The Charlie Crist wants to pardon Jim Morrison. For those too young to remember:

It was a classic skirmish of the 1960s culture war, pitting a nonconformist rock star and his bohemian fans against clean-cut defenders of acceptable behavior, the counterculture against the mainstream, and Jim Morrison against Anita Bryant.

Now the governor of Florida says he will seek to put an end to it by pursuing a posthumous pardon for two criminal convictions that Morrison, the frontman for the Doors, received after some very bad behavior at a 1969 concert in Miami.

I can get behind that. Why not give Morrison a posthumous Medal of Freedom too? And lets submit his name for the Nobel Peace Prize. Morrison gave me a lot more joy than I ever got from the latest Medal of Freedom winner or the Nobel Peace Prize winning War President.

“The more that I’ve read about the case and the more I get briefed on it,” Mr. Crist said in an interview on Tuesday, “the more convinced I am that maybe an injustice has been done here.”

For those on the other side, the passion has dimmed, but a sour taste lingers. The anger that once brought them to the barricades has dulled to an impatient pique at the notion that the fate of a dead rock star still commands attention 40 years later.

The fight began on March 1, 1969, when the Doors played a raucous concert at Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. An intoxicated Morrison stumbled through songs like “Light My Fire” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” taunted the crowd and threatened to expose himself before fans mobbed the stage. A newspaper review said the singer appeared to simulate masturbation during his performance, and the concert was investigated by a Miami crime commission as six arrest warrants were issued for Morrison, including one for a felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.

I’ll end with a great Morrison song with some stirring lyrics that are very relevant today.

Five to one, baby
One in five
No one here gets out alive, now
You get yours, baby
I’ll get mine
Gonna make it, baby
If we try

The old get old
And the young get stronger
May take a week
And it may take longer
They got the guns
But we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah
We’re takin’ over

Come on!

Except maybe we should change that to

“the rich get richer/ and the poor get angrier.”

So what’s on your reading list today?