It was two years ago today that President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, after months of heated political conflict and decades of attempts to build a health care system that ensured everyone had access to care.
Two years later, health care reform has had real and profound effects on some Americans. Insurance companies can’t deny coverage to sick children, young adults can stay on parents’ workplace plans until they turn 26, people with pre-existing medical conditions now have a fallback plan when they can’t find insurance anywhere else, and senior citizens are paying less for prescription drugs.
In a long, comprehensive piece, Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff points out that there’s another aspect to the Affordable Care Act that’s already underway: a major reform in how health care gets delivered so that costs are lower and quality is higher.
It includes 45 changes to how doctors deliver health care — and how patients pay for it. These reforms, if successful, will move the country’s health system away from one that pays for volume and toward one that pays for value. The White House wants to see providers behave more like Baptist Health Systems, rewarding health care that is both less costly and more effective.
Over the next two years, we’ll see even more benefits of the Affordable Care Act kick in.
Working America members have long pointed to access to health care as one of their top priorities, and they worked hard across the country to get the Affordable Care Act passed. Through phone calls, rallies, letters, and Congressional visits, we managed to overcome the multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns and get the Affordable Care Act passed. It’s important to keep up the effort to make sure politicians don’t neglect or undermine our health care.
Next week, the Supreme Court will consider challenges to the law. For millions of uninsured people, this will be a decision of historic importance. We’ll be watching closely, too see if the major progress we’ve made in the past two years gets reversed—or whether we can move forward with the promise of making affordable, quality health care available to everyone.
There’s a bigger question at play here than who wins the prettier headline on a Beltway paper tomorrow, and it’s a question we’re sure to keep fighting about all year. It’s “what is the economy for, anyway?”
It’s a good question, because how you measure the answer says a lot about what you think we need to do to fix it. Do we measure the economy purely by whether a line on a chart is pointing up or down? Do we measure it by whether the very wealthiest people are able to make themselves endlessly wealthier? Or is the health of “the economy” measured by something a little more tangible, a little broader?
You don’t have to pretend President Obama has been perfect on every issue facing working people to notice that there’s a difference in how he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney talk about the auto rescue program—a program that, largely, has worked to keep the industry alive and make it profitable again. While Romney used his time in Michigan to bash the auto rescue as a “bailout” for unions and push an economic agenda that would shift money away from Medicaid into upper-class tax cuts, Obama defended the auto rescue as part of an economy where we all have a stake in each other’s success.
You know why the “bailout for unions” storyline completely collapses under examination? Because union members—the people who, after all, built these companies—gave up a lot to save them. They made concessions on wages, benefits and retiree pensions. They offered to lose things that they had fought and bargained for because they wanted to protect the industry not just for them but for workers after them. It will not be easy to win back the things that were promised them, things they let go at personal cost. As the president said, that’s actual sacrifice. That’s not the action of a greedy special interest looking to loot the taxpayer, that’s the action of a group of people who understand what “the economy” really means.
If you think “the economy” is purely about the bank accounts of the 1%, maybe a program like the auto rescue doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if—like our members do—you think of the “the economy” as meaning how we’re all doing, then saving those jobs, for the past three years and for the future, is vital.
When the people we talk to talk about the economy, they mean something simple. Can I get a job? Can I stay out of debt, feed my family, and not go bankrupt if I get sick? Will I and my neighbors be able to stay in our homes? Will my kids be able to get a decent education and build a life for themselves? After a lifetime of hard work, will I be able to retire? Candidates of both parties need to look at what they’re saying about “the economy” and figure out how it answers those questions.
In case you couldn’t tell from the 20 debates, constant news coverage and firehose-like flow of ads, there’s a Republican presidential primary underway. But to listen to the candidates—particularly on the economy—you’d think they were running for president of a different planet, one eerily like ours but facing totally different problems.
Let us count the ways that the Republicans’ economic conversation is totally out of touch with actual reality here on Earth.
Clap louder, Mitt.
Jobs. At Wednesday’s debate, the word “jobs” was uttered hardly at all, and zero times by candidate Rick Santorum. In a larger sense, when these candidates talk about “creating jobs” they mean one thing: directing more money to the very wealthiest and to big corporations—through tax cuts or through removing regulations designed to protect consumers and workers. This might make a little bit of sense if the biggest problem facing the economy were corporations not having enough money. It’s not. The problem is a lack of consumer demand, because too few people have jobs and wages are falling behind.
Debt and Deficits. These aren’t the most important economic issue we face—continued too-high unemployment is. But by the standards of the Republicans’ own rhetoric, they’re important enough to serve as the basis for attacks and talking points. So it seems strange that the plans proposed by Romney, Santorum and Gingrich would increase the debt—and, more specifically, increase the debt by more than Obama’s proposals would. And they don’t build up this debt by investing in long-term needs: they do it by demolishing revenue through massive tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthiest. Which brings us to…
Taxes. The public consensus is overwhelmingly clear—to afford the things we need, we should be able to ask a little bit more from the very richest than the current historic low rates. All of the Republican plans do exactly the opposite. For example, Romney’s plan would deliver a $264,000 tax cut to the top 0.1%. As economist Justin Wolfers noted, “Romney’s new tax plan is massively regressive relative to current code. Most of the spoils are going to the rich” – and the same is true of the other Republican candidates. And even as they propose these massive tax cuts for the wealthy, they propose devastating cuts to Medicaid and other programs that working-class people rely on. It’s redistribution, upwards.
Housing. In many ways this is the most baffling omission of all. In recent days, Republican candidates have been avoiding the subject entirely even as it’s clearly one of the most important factors in the financial crisis. A few months back in Nevada, Romney offered up “let it run its course and hit the bottom” as his solution to the foreclosure crisis (the housing version of “let Detroit go bankrupt”), though he softened how he talked about it in Florida a few weeks later. But mostly it’s been crickets and tumbleweeds. Forgive me if I’ve missed this, but has any Republican candidate, or even any Republican in Congress, weighed in on the mortgage-fraud settlement or the underlying issue of mass abuse of the foreclosure process?
Let’s not get into issues like the minimum wage, rebuilding infrastructure, keeping teachers in classrooms or protecting the freedom to form a union and collectively bargain—all issues that matter to our economy. We’d be naïve to expect this batch of Republican candidates to say anything constructive.
During Republican primaries, the candidates are pitching to a small audience, and their proposals are kept in line by harshly ideological enforcement mechanisms like talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street-funded Club for Growth. But with their pledges and proposals now, they’re committing themselves to a totally fictional vision of the economy in the fall.
Out in the real world, Working America staff talk to around 20,000 people every week in neighborhoods across the country and stay in close contact with our members, so we have a pretty good sense of what a broad group of working- and middle-class people care about in this critical year. They want to make sure they can get and keep a good job, be covered if they get sick, send their kids to good schools, stay in their homes and retire with some security. I don’t know what world the Republican primary is taking place in, but it’s not the one where our members live.
This morning, President Obama signed into law a deal that extends the payroll tax holiday for the rest of the year. With the economic recovery still fragile, it’s good to keep this payroll tax cut in place to help keep a little extra money in working families’ pockets. But the flaws of today’s deal—flaws forced through by Republicans in the House, but passed with big numbers from both parties—really illustrate the cluelessness and callousness of policy-making.
Unemployment Insurance: The compromise does, indeed, renew unemployment insurance, but dramatically cuts back the number of weeks that the jobless can draw on it, to 73 weeks or even fewer in some states. The problem of long-term unemployment is still a serious one, with about 40% of the unemployed out of work for six months or more, so pulling away this lifeline is silly. In addition, the deal imposes humiliating conditions on the jobless before they can draw on the benefits they paid into. The net result will be that far too many people who depend on UI will lose it.
Health Care: Another way that the bill is paid for is with a sizable cut to a fund meant to pay for preventative care services under the Affordable Care Act. Preventative care for those who can’t otherwise afford it helps them stay healthier and lowers their longer-term medical costs. Cutting this fund isn’t just morally loathsome; it’s economically short-sighted.
With cuts and new conditions on unemployment benefits, a major hit to the Affordable Care Act and an attack on public-sector workers, it seems like the details of this bill are a big ideological win for the hard-right Tea Party caucus of congressional Republicans. That they’d demand this kind of ransom as the price for passing the payroll tax holiday is infuriating; that so many ostensibly pro-worker members of Congress would let them is just depressing.
When President Obama first offered up the American Jobs Act, it was funded in a popular, common-sense way—with a small surcharge on income over $1 million. It also included a broader set of job-creation components, including investment in infrastructure and support to state budgets for keeping teachers and firefighters on the job. Provisions of this bill were blocked by Senate Republicans because they were not willing to exchange a tiny tax increase on millionaires for literally hundreds of thousands of jobs for working people.
Politics is about priorities. The people we talk to across the country have their priorities: they want to see the very richest pay their fair share and use that money to create jobs and support communities. In Washington—particularly among congressional Republicans—they have their priorities exactly backwards. It’s sick people, retirees and the jobless who have to sacrifice, not those who are already doing well.
“Have we become so dysfunctional that even when we agree on things we can’t do it?” President Barack Obama asked today. It’s a good question.
We’re still not really close to an agreement on an extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut that will expire in ten days. The easy answer is for the House to pass the short-term extension passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin in the Senate—but the Tea Party radicals who keep Speaker John Boehner on a short leash are preventing that. The President is pushing hard to try and break the deadlock this week.
The consequences of failing to pass an extension? Millions of people cut off from the lifeline of unemployment insurance, and 160 million people facing a payroll tax hike. “”So many of these debates get reduced to which party is winning and which party is losing,” Obama said in a statement today, “but we should remind ourselves this is about the American people.”
Obama said that more than 30,000 people have written in to explain what the end of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits would means to them. For working-class and middle-class families, those dollars represent heating oil, food, gas for your car to get you to and from work, or school supplies. For the economy as a whole, it’s fewer dollars that van flow to local businesses.
“This is exactly why people get so frustrated with Washington,” Obama said. He’s right. It’s time for Boehner to get it together and pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and then get to work on an extension for the rest of 2012.
The Obama Administration has proposed some new regulations to protect home care workers. From the New York Times:
Labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for the changes, contending that the 37-year-old exemption improperly swept these workers, who care for many elderly and disabled Americans, into the same “companion” category as baby sitters. The administration’s move calls for home care aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.
These workers, according to industry figures, generally earn $8.50 to $12 an hour, compared with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The White House said 92 percent of these workers were women, nearly 30 percent were African-American and 12 percent Hispanic. Nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.
While industry experts say an overwhelming majority are paid at least the minimum wage, many do not receive a time-and-a-half premium when they work more than 40 hours a week. Twenty-two states do not include home health care workers under their wage and hour laws.
Home care workers assist elderly people with all aspects of their lives, including bathing, exercise, and remembering to take medications. They may also prepare meals, and do housework. They may be dealing with clients in varying stages of dementia. There’s a great deal of skill required to do this kind of work.
These are also workers who don’t get sick days, any sort of benefits, and if their client dies – well, that’s just too bad. No more paychecks for them.
Predictably, the opposition is gearing up:
“The president’s goal is commendable, but the likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home care workers and higher costs for taxpayers,” said John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Work Force Committee, and Tim Walberg, a Minnesota Republican who heads the panel’s subcommittee on work force protections. “Moreover, our nation’s elderly may pay the greatest price in the form of more costly services and fewer opportunities to obtain the care they need in the comfort of their own homes.”
In other words: Caregivers are good enough to take care of the elderly, but what they do isn’t real work, therefore they don’t deserve the sort of protections that other workers are entitled to.
This shouldn’t be particularly complicated. Two key policies keeping working families afloat—a temporary cut in the payroll tax and an extension of the time people out of work can draw unemployment insurance—are set to expire in a matter of days, pulling money out of the pockets of millions.
Congress had an easy choice available. Since our economy continues to struggle with high joblessness and low consumer demand, our elected leaders should have simply renewed these policies. But never underestimate the hostility of the House Republican majority to simple governance and their indifference to the economic condition of working-class people.
On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed—after a lot of negotiation—a bipartisan compromise that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance in the short term. It’s not perfect, but it would at least avoid pulling the rug out from under 160 million workers and millions of unemployed people. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, asked Senators of both parties to come to a compromise, which passed 89-10, on the assumption that the House would vote on the same bill today.
But since nothing can be simple with this Congress, not even the most no-brainer extension of basic economic relief, House Republicans may very well defeat the compromise bill tonight. The political-journalism term of art for this might be “playing hardball,” but the more accurate term is “throwing a tantrum.”
It’s worth noting that the House Republicans’ strategy here is to bundle together the important payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance extensions with unrelated riders aimed at scoring political points. This is sure to upset people who signed this pledge, right?
We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with “must-pass” legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent nails it: the caucus that controls the U.S. House is “extreme, intransigent, self-indulgent and hostile to basic norms of governing.” To that I’d only add “clearly completely uninterested in the real-world effects of their decisions.”
“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3630. With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families. H.R. 3630 breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that was reached just a few months ago and would inevitably lead to pressure to cut investments in areas like education and clean energy. Furthermore, H.R. 3630 seeks to put the burden of paying for the bill on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and to big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies,” the administration said in a statement of policy.
Added Carney definitively: “If the president were presented with H.R. 3630, he would veto the bill.”
Cue the feigned shock and anger from Speaker John Boehner, whose office said the veto threat was “legislative malpractice,” based on “fictitious reasoning.”
We’re going to once again disagree with the Speaker: there’s nothing “fictitious” about the economic pain and suffering that will result if H.R. 3630 becomes law.
With the average length of unemployment at a record high, it is cruel and selfish to cut 40 weeks off of federal unemployment benefits.
With millions of Americans out of work through no fault of their own, it is cruel and selfish to require applicants to be tested for drugs just to get the funds to buy groceries and fill their gas tanks.
With the unemployment rate in states like Michigan still over 10 percent, it is cruel and selfish to end Tier IV unemployment compensation and cut aid from states that need it most.
With state governments faced with impossible budget choices, it is cruel and selfish to override their ability to make decisions on unemployment benefits – and from the same Congressmen who were elected on the promise of “smaller government.”
With 80 percent of Americans begging the two parties to work together for solutions, it is cruel and selfish to treat unemployed Americans as pawns in the Speaker’s political chess match with the President.
Memo to House Republicans: It’s not a game to those outside the Beltway. It’s not a game to the people at home having to decide between food and medicine. We aren’t fooled or amused by Rep. Dave Camp writing a bill that insults our dignity and hurts our wallets, and then putting a bow on top and calling it “The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.”
Why don’t they get it? Why do they think less money in the pockets of Americans translates into “job creation?” Why do they think the inability to pay for food and housing is good for the economy?
We’re far from agreeing with everything the Obama Administration does. But if this bill gets to the President’s desk in its current form, a veto is the least he could do. If I was President, I might rip it up, or set it on fire.
Despite the talk of “recovery,” companies are still shedding jobs all over the country.
[Merck], with about 12,000 workers in the Philadelphia area, said July 29 that it planned to cut 12 percent to 13 percent of its workforce of about 100,000 by 2015 as it adjusts to market conditions and its 2009 acquisition of Schering Plough.
Twelve to thirteen percent of the workforce at a giant corporation like Merck is a big reduction. Thousands of jobs will be eliminated:
Pharma-industry watchers have suggested that about 5,200 of the total cuts could be U.S. jobs, with from 3,000 to 4,000 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A Merck spokesman would not comment on the state-by-state plans. The cuts through October won’t be the end of the process, though.
Even the tech sector isn’t immune. HP is eliminating tablets and PCs – and positions. From zdnet.com:
Following HP’s decision earlier in the summer to wind down the PC and tablet group, and spin or sell off the Palm division, the company has confirmed it will lay off employees, particularly in the webOS section of operations.
Reports suggest that sources close to the company say that HP has plans to lay off over 500 employees, and that the redundancies could begin as early as this week.
Defense companies, many of which receive loads of taxpayer money in the form of government contracts, are still cutting American positions. In Orlando, FL, Northrop Grumman is laying off 200 workers. From the Orlando Sentinel:
For the second time this year, Northrop Grumman Corp. plans to shed at least 200 jobs at its once-expanding laser-weaponry factory in Apopka — a move that will eliminate 24 percent of the remaining work force, the company confirmed Tuesday.
Once the layoffs take effect, Northrop Grumman Laser Systems will have eliminated more than 40 percent of its work force, or 465 jobs, so far this year. The first round of layoffs, in March, were the first job losses in about two decades at the unit, where employment peaked at nearly 1,100 workers early this year. No further cuts are expected, the company said.
Same with the defense giant Lockheed Martin: From Syracuse.com:
Eighty-five Lockheed Martin production workers are being notified of layoffs, a company spokesman said.
The layoffs affect unionized hourly workers as well as non-union salaried employees in the Salina plant. The last day of work for those affected will be Oct. 7 or Oct. 14, he said.
The greatest job losses would be felt by larger sites in Fort Worth, Texas, where about 370 jobs are being cut; Marietta, Georgia and Palmdale, California. Lockheed has cut jobs and held down discretionary spending in response to a flattening of U.S. defense spending.
Middlebury-based Pace American Enterprises Inc. plans to eliminate 106 jobs at its plant in northeastern Indiana as part of company-wide layoffs.
The manufacturer of cargo trailers notified the Indiana Department of Workforce Development about the job cuts in a letter posted Wednesday.
In Chicago, two hundred public school jobs are being cut, and more layoffs could be coming. From the Chicago Tribune:
Chicago Public Schools officials announced Thursday they have trimmed the Chief Education Office and network offices by 200 positions at a cost savings of $16 million, part of a district-wide re-organization plan under CPS’ new leadership team.
Those 200 jobs represent a 25 percent reduction in staff for those departments. The CPS budget approved in August called for $107 million in cuts across all departments. District officials say they have just $44 million of that total left to cut, expected to come through a combination of layoffs, closing vacant jobs, program reductions, streamlining curriculum, and eliminating other duplications. Officials declined to say how many more layoffs are anticipated.
In Wisconsin, where Scott Walker’s boosters are claiming miracles from his anti-union efforts, another 213 jobs lost. From the The Business Journal serving Milwaukee:
Frontier Airlines plans to slash 213 jobs in Milwaukee, according to a mass layoff notice filed Friday afternoon with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
The layoffs effect Frontier workers at General Mitchell International Airport, the airport commissary and the airport maintenance facility, according to the notice.
AnMed Health in Anderson, S.C., is preparing to eliminate 185 positions, which is projected to save $5.2 million in its upcoming fiscal year…
As thousands more American workers lose their jobs, Congress is still dithering, and no action is being taken on the American Jobs Act. The conservatives have been serving up the same solution for over a decade now: cut taxes. It’s time to stop clinging to foolish dreams and bad policies. It’s time to pick up the pace, and jump-start the workforce and our economy.
At nearly every door of the thousands Working America canvassers knock on every week, there’s one issue that comes first, last and in between: jobs.
In states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Mexico, the crisis of joblessness is the most important issue from everyone we talk to. They want more support for the unemployed and more opportunities to put people back to work. The message from the neighborhoods we visit: before we can tackle any other issue facing us, we have to put paychecks back in people’s pockets. These folks are particularly interested in President Obama’s recently-proposed American Jobs Act.
The consensus among economists is that, if passed, the American Jobs Act could pull us away from continued recession and help put people back to work. That’s according to a new survey from Bloomberg News.
The bill is, as we’ve said, a good start—not a magic wand, just a few simple, common-sense proposals to help businesses create jobs, prevent state layoffs and put a little extra money in working people’s pockets.
Of course, the optimism people have when they talk about the President’s jobs plan is tempered by frustration and skepticism over whether Congress will actually listen to voters and bother to pass it. After the new House majority won on a promise to focus on jobs, they set the issue aside to focus on ideological and economically-illiterate crusades over spending and regulation. Passage of the American Jobs Act is in doubt, even as our members and the people we talk to are looking for action.
“The important thing to consider is: What happens if we don’t do anything?” asked Scott Brown, one of the economists surveyed by Bloomberg. It’s a good question, and one that people across the country are wondering even as Congress fails to act.