The Medicare-for-all mess.
Perhaps Democrats were celebrating too loudly to notice. Republican partisans almost certainly missed it over the sound of their blaring recriminations. In July, the GOP ran face-first into the iron law of entitlements: Once implemented, they’re impossible to confiscate. But even as they shuffled off into the August recess, festooned with failure and licking their wounds from the botched effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the GOP rigged ObamaCare with a dead man’s switch.
Amid an overly complex process designed to compel Republicans to make good on seven years of campaign promises, the Senate GOP conference cleverly forced their Democratic colleagues to share some of the pain. Republican Senator Steve Daines put to the floor an amendment to implement a Medicare-for-all system in the United States, using the same language as a bill sponsored in the House by Democratic Rep. John Conyers. The amendment drew precisely zero votes in its favor. Fifty-seven Senators voted against it, including Democrat-caucusing Senators Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Jon Tester, Heidi Heitkamp, and Angus King.
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Daines’s maneuver “pure cynicism” and accused him of wanting only “to get Democrats on the record,” which he achieved. “I suspect that what Senator Daines is doing is nothing more than an old political trick,” said self-described socialist and nationalized health-care proponent Bernie Sanders, “trying to embarrass Democrats.” How would voting for Conyers’s language “embarrass Democrats,” you ask? For the answer, we look to Senate novice and 2020 presidential prospect, California Senator Kamala Harris.
“I intend to co-sponsor the Medicare-for-all bill because it’s just the right thing to do,” Harris told Democrats at a town hall this week. She insisted that her support for Senator Sanders’s radical bill was rooted in prudence and frugality. “Taxpayers,” she insisted, “are paying huge amounts of money” for emergency-room care. A Medicare-for-all system would generate “a return on investment for taxpayers.” This is, to be gentle, nonsense.
When Vermont’s favorite collectivist was hawking the dream of the 20th-century left, he estimated that his single-payer plan would cost the country $13.8 trillion dollars—with a “T”—over ten years. This was exceedingly charitable. The nonpartisan Urban Institute pegged the cost of a Medicare-for-all system in America at $32 trillion in the same period, requiring an average tax hike on all Americans of $24,000 annually (to say nothing of the billions in lost economic activity as Americans tighten their belts).
ObamaCare also had to lie its way into becoming law, but the lie was an order of magnitude more modest. When Democrats pitched the public on the ACA, the “cost” estimated to taxpayers was supposedly just $848 billion over ten years after implementation, but the Congressional Budget Office insisted that the actual figure was just over $2 trillion. That’s an incredible strain on the nation’s budget, but it pales in comparison to the galactic numbers Senator Harris and her ilk heave about recklessly. She is playing to the cheap seats, but it’s telling that her instinct is to pitch a single-payer plan by insisting it is an attack on, not an endorsement of, profligacy.
Even in Harris’s home state, the Democratic Party’s infatuation with the idea of socialized health care was crushed against the immovable object of fiscal realities. In June, the state legislature tried and failed to pass a state-level single-payer system. As Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon wrote, a peek under the hood revealed that, under all the gauzy rhetoric about access to taxpayer-funded health-care coverage representing a human right, there is no feasible way to make that a reality. The bill could not address the hurdles associated with cost control, delivery of care, and how to finance the thing. The Assembly bill was estimated to cost the state approximately $400 billion every year, more than double California’s total annual budget.
While Harris may advance her own political prospects in the long-term, the immediate future now looks confused for Democrats. The opposition party has spent the last month cheering ObamaCare’s resurrection. Republicans have laid siege to the law for the better part of a decade and their every assault has been repulsed. They are in retreat. Moreover, the myriad gaps in the law are, we’re told, filled at last. Every county that lacked an ObamaCare insurer will have one in 2018 (even it if it’s only one).
So as Democrats are celebrating the success and even permanence of the Affordable Care Act, Harris is insisting that the system is broken. Whether the press demands it of Democrats or not, the party’s liberal grassroots activists will ensure that every Democrat seeking office in 2018 and 2020 will say whether they agree with this assertion or not. Is Barack Obama’s health-care reform law a triumph of progressive public policy? Or is it, as Republicans have long insisted, a poorly-conceived measure with more adverse than positive effects?
That’s where Senator Daines’s gimmick becomes a trap. Republicans don’t want to be ObamaCare’s defenders, and conservative reformers are right to resent the party’s ignoble retreat on health care. But Republicans may soon have to defend a suboptimal status quo from an unpopular liberal campaign to nationalize the health-care system. A defensive crouch is a comfortable and familiar position for the GOP.
Democrats have convinced themselves that the rising popularity of Medicare-for-all among Democrats amounts to a national wellspring of new faith in progressivism and, by extension, themselves. They’re welcome to test that proposition at the ballot box. But, first, Democrats may want to rethink their messenger.
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Kamala Harris’s Single-Payer Subterfuge
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Will the reverence Trump inspires outlast his presidency?
Approximately once every quarter for the last two years, we’ve been bombarded by declarations that Donald Trump’s takeover of the GOP is complete. The frequency with which the verdict is rendered would suggest the thesis is flawed.
Trump’s takeover of the GOP was complete after he secured the party’s presidential nomination, but it was also complete after he won the presidency. It wasn’t Trump’s GOP until his first address to a joint session of Congress, or maybe when threw congressional Republicans under the bus to accept a deal offered by “Chuck and Nancy,” or when Trump-skeptical Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker ran for the exit. Most recently, this week’s primary contests in South Carolina and Virginia indicate that, at long last, the GOP’s resistance to Trump is in its death throes.
Trump’s “takeover” of the GOP requires constant affirmation because the president is still regarded with suspicion by some of his party’s most prominent federal and state-level elected officials. Of course, Trump as both the president and the titular head of his party commands the fealty of the party’s base voters, its enforcers in media, and elected officials who do not dare offend the party’s core constituents. For them, the “Trump’s takeover of the GOP” theme needs repeating because the condition might be uniquely ephemeral.
Trump’s occasional clashes with Republican lawmakers receive levels of attention disproportionate to their relevance because Trump himself and his followers elevate those conflicts into dramatic contests. It is a satisfying opportunity to relive 2016—a protracted battle Trump and his acolytes decisively won. But those fights are rarely about policy. They are usually about personality.
For example, why did Rep. Mark Sanford lose his primary fight? The Beltway analysis holds it was his frequent criticisms of Trump that did him in. And while there were certainly other issues in the campaign (Sanford lost the support of his state’s Republican establishment and took hits for failing to spend sufficiently on infrastructure as governor), his opponent successfully transformed the race into which of the two loved Trump more. Sanford’s sins consisted of scolding the president for defending white nationalists in Charlottesville and promising to pay the legal fees for his most violent supporters. Policy disagreements took a back seat.
Sanford’s loss came as a surprise to the Freedom Caucus, of which he is a member in good standing. This conservative body of lawmakers, many of whom are staunchly supportive of the president and serve as a bulwark in defense of his agenda in the House, has been critical of Trump’s decision to register his opposition to Sanford on Election Day just in time to get some credit for his loss. Their consternation is understandable The Freedom Caucus has served as the vanguard for Trump. They have held firm to a hardline approach to immigration, and they are leading the effort to force the Justice Department to disclose information related to its ongoing investigations into Trump and his associates. But Donald Trump cannot suffer personal effrontery, and so one of the Caucus’s leading members had to go.
In Virginia, a truly noxious candidate has managed to secure the Republican nomination to face Senator Tim Kaine in the fall. A transplant from the Upper Midwest, Corey Stewart has leaned heavily into his adopted Southern roots and sought out some questionable associations. He’s draped himself in the Confederate flag, compared the removal of Confederate statuary with the actions of ISIS, associated himself with the “alt-right,” accused Democrats of forging Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and openly supported the virulent anti-Semite and failed congressional candidate Paul Nehlen. Virginia’s Republican figures have attacked Stewart, and the GOP’s Senate committee has withheld its endorsement.
Stewart is playing the part he thinks is most effective in the age of Trump. In 2015, Stewart was, like every other Republican ladder-climber, touting his “relationship with minority voters” because that’s what the 2012 “autopsy” recommended. “That’s what Republicans need to do in order to continue to win elections in Northern Virginia,” he added. Trump demonstrated that there was another path to victory. Barring a miracle, Corey Stewart will not be the next U.S. Senator from Virginia. The satisfaction Republican voters might derive from nominating this flawed candidate is roughly equivalent to screaming into a pillow; a cathartic but fleeting thumb in the eye of “elites.” Stewart and his like will have as lasting an impact on the history of the republic as Todd Akin or Sharron Angle.
Of course, Tuesday’s election results suggest that the GOP is the Party of Trump. They also indicate that the Party of Trump is hard to define beyond association with the man himself. That is due, in part, t0 the fact that Trump’s policy preferences and ideological affinities are fluid. Six months ago, if you weren’t defending the president’s threat to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, you were a spineless appeaser. Today, if aren’t supportive of Trump’s obsequious praise for the murderous dictator, you’re a blood-soaked warmonger. Trump promised to punish China for its trade practices and currency manipulation, only to selectively abandon those positions. Where Trump stands on NATO, NAFTA, ObamaCare, Russia, Syria, the G-7, DACA, the export-import bank, and a whole range of issues depends on which side of the bed he got up on that morning.
The North Star by which voters can gauge fealty to Trump is the extent to which Republicans defer to him personally. That’s why, as Sen. Corker said, something approaching a cult of personality has sprung up around the president. Voters simply do not have consistent policies and ideological affinities to help them navigate a complex and confusing political environment. The powerful desire to enforce group solidarity around Trump is creating the appearance of homogeneity, but it’s cosmetic. That’s why we are privy to regular assertions that the GOP is Trump’s party now. It requires repetition because it is not self-evident.
Yes, the Republican Party is the party of Trump. But the centrifugal pull associated with the principle and ideology toward which Trump was and remains hostile continues to pull on the Republicans whose political maturation predated Trump’s inauguration. A fair reading of the political environment must concede it is still unclear which of these two competing forces will win out in the end.
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Over the weekend, the Democratic National Committee voted in favor of refusing all future donations from fossil-fuel companies. They’re so proud of the decision that it was only publicized on Tuesday, and then only by reporters who had to do some digging to learn the news.
The resolution will bar the national committee from taking any donation tied to corporate political-action committees linked to coal, oil, or gas companies. Marveling over the news, ThinkProgress quoted a variety of progressive activists who are thrilled that the DNC has finally lived up to the spirit of the Democratic Party’s platform. That platform, if you’ve never read it, calls for the elimination of tax incentives and subsidies for fossil-fuel producers, demands a “phase down” of the development and extraction of new sources of carbon fuel, and calls on the Justice Department to investigate them for misleading the public on “scientific reality of climate change.” Absent from ThinkProgress’s account of this wondrous turn of events, however, is any comment from the DNC.
The Democrats’ reluctance to trumpet their righteous decision to decline donations from the fossil-fuel industry—a sector of the economy that employed 7 million people and made up 5 percent of U.S. GDP in 2017—is, perhaps, understandable. According to ThinkProgress, the Democratic Party’s hostility toward fossil-fuel producers is so intense that 90 percent of the industry’s political donations go to the Republican Party as it is. In that sense, every time a Democrat fills up her car or takes a flight, she’s contributing to Republican candidates or causes. Hypocrisy is, after all, the tribute vice pays to virtue. Today, that tribute amounts to $2.91-per-gallon.
Maybe the most bizarre aspect of this fanatic fealty to the tenets of green absolutism is that the Democrats could make a salient point about clean energy and market economics without branding the entire fossil-fuel enterprise a bête noire. The coal industry is in decline, and it has been for years. In the last 15 years, coal has declined as a share of the energy market by one-third. Oil, too, has declined slightly after a marginal resurgence. In the same period, renewable energy sources have increased from 5 to 10 percent of the market as the costs of production have declined, but every source of energy pales in comparison to natural gas. Revolutionary new technologies like hydraulic fracturing have made gas cheap and ubiquitous, to the point now that, for the first time since 1953, the United States is projected to become a net-energy exporter by 2022.
Not only does that mean that the U.S. will benefit from a kind of energy security that seemed like a fantasy just a decade ago, it means that America can relieve the energy burden on its allies, which are dependent upon exports from states like Russia and China. Even if national and economic security arguments don’t move climate fanatics, the environmental benefits of America’s transition to reliance on natural gas should. Burning natural gas emits about 50 percent less carbon into the atmosphere than coal, and the shift to natural gas has contributed to the precipitous decline of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere over the last decade in the West.
Of course, the left’s environmentalist wing doesn’t want to hear any of this. They’d prefer to hear how fossil fuels could be relegated to history’s dustbin by force of will alone. They want Democrats to treat this vital sector of the economy like apartheid South Africa. With the DNC’s vote, it would seem like the Democratic Party agrees with its left wing on the immorality of supporting in any form fossil fuel production and exploration. It makes you wonder, then, why Democrats don’t seem to want to talk about it.
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Iran's isolation won't be reversed.
I have never been mistaken for a fan of Justin Trudeau, nor will I ever be so mistaken. On the whole, I agree with Ben Shapiro’s assessment of the Canadian prime minister (“Justin Trudeau is what would happen if the song ‘Imagine’ took human form…”). Trudeau’s commitment to full-spectrum progressivism, combined with his vanity and moral preening, make him one of the least serious figures ever to lead a major Western power. Even so, I found myself cheering Trudeau’s Liberal government on Wednesday after it backed a resolution in the House of Commons to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions” with the Iranian regime.
The resolution also designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity under Canadian criminal law, condemned the mullahs for their “ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world,” and denounced Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for “calling for genocide against the Jewish people.”
Liberal support for the resolution marked a striking about-face. Trudeau had campaigned for restoring Ottowa’s ties with Tehran, severed in 2012 by the previous, Conservative government. “I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission” in Tehran, Trudeau told an interviewer in June 2015, just as Barack Obama was concluding his nuclear diplomacy with the mullahs. “I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage.”
It turns out that even Trudeau-led Canadian Liberals have their limits when it comes to dealing with the Islamic Republic. As the Canadian broadcaster CBC reported, Ottawa dispatched two diplomatic missions in 2017 to explore a rapprochement. But there were two stumbling blocks. The Iranians insisted that Tehran should be removed from Canada’s list of terror-sponsoring nations, and the Canadians were determined to free various hostages held by the regime. The Iranians were apparently immovable on the matter of the hostages–that’s how they roll–and the Canadians were, in turn, unwilling to deny the basic truth about Iran’s role in sponsoring international terror.
Passage of the resolution doesn’t mean Canada is rethinking its support for Obama’s nuclear deal. But it underscores Iran’s growing isolation, as a new generation of Western leaders comes to learn that there are no “moderates” and “hard-liners” in Tehran–only tyrants and terrorists.
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Podcast: How bad was it?
Was the Singapore Summit nothing, or bad, or the worst thing ever? This is the question we debate. We also examine the meaning of the primary defeat of Republican anti-Trumper Mark Sanford and what this portends for the GOP. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
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A conflict of interest.
Should Al Jazeera–the broadcast organ of Qatar’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime–be required to register as a foreign agent in the United States? Alexandra Ellerbeck and Avi Asher-Schapiro of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists think the answer is no, and they have a long essay in the Columbia Journalism Review laying out their case.
Requiring Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, they argue, would have a chilling effect on its journalism and empower a “notoriously opaque unit within the Department of Justice to draw an impossible line between propaganda and journalism.” They also contend that using FARA to pressure outlets like Al Jazeera would encourage repressive governments abroad to take similar action against critical media and civil-society organizations.
The problem: Ellerbeck and Asher-Schapiro failed to disclose their own conflict of interest when it comes to Al Jazeera.
To wit, Al Jazeera program host Mhamed Krichen is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ellerbeck’s and Asher-Schapiro’s employer. The authors quote numerous Al Jazeera officials and highlight the broadcaster’s reporting “accolades.” But they eschew or only lightly touch on Al Jazeera’s less savory aspects, not least the fact that its Arabic network has long served as a platform for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood preacher.
In a 2009 speech broadcast on the network, Qaradawi praised Hitler and the Holocaust: “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them–even though they exaggerated this issue–he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”
The failure to disclose is especially to embarrassing for the Columbia Journalism Review, which trades on its association with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Pulitzer prizes. Perched on Morningside Heights, CJR regularly subjects other outlets to journalistic scrutiny, doling out “hits and misses” and “darts and laurels.” To his credit, CJR editor Kyle Pope was quick to issue a statement and amend the story when I reached out to him.
“This piece was written by two CPJ staffers, not by CJR folks, and was labeled as an analysis and not a news story,” he said in an email. “That said, you raise a fair point. While their board member is a program host, and not an executive, at Al Jazeera (and while a lot of media outlets CPJ writes about have some connection to the organization), we added a note of disclosure to the text.”
Readers can judge for themselves if the conflict of interest influenced the substance of the essay.