Eliminate the debt ceiling

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman ...

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Raising the debt ceiling gives the government the ability to pay its existing bills. It doesn’t create new deficits. It doesn’t create new spending.” ~ Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman

Once again, the full faith and credit of the United States was brought to the brink of default by political posturing. This most recent debacle has Americans assigning the majority of the blame to the GOP, and most especially to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is more concerned with self-promotion than doing what is in the country’s best interest. He is now one of the most unpopular men in the Congress, not to mention in the country, except for a small contingent of right-wing zealots bent on destroying American government. These folks think Cruz is just dandy. He is their hero.

This month’s showdown is guaranteed a replay after the holidays. The political theatre we witnessed over the past month will no doubt take center stage again. The same battles will be fought and the country’s financial stability will be further jeopardized.  In addition to the debt ceiling circus, the 16-day government shutdown left 800,000 federal workers furloughed, resulting in lost wages and decreased purchasing power, further hindering already tepid economic growth. The cost of the shutdown by some estimates is as high as $24 billion.

Conservatives, especially Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, were adamant about using the debt ceiling issue to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. Neither the President nor the Democrats were going to allow that to happen, nor should they. When this attempt failed, conservatives tried other bargaining chips. Congressmen Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) even said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Seriously? How old is he? That statement alone reveals how uninformed and incompetent some are in the House.

The long-term debt is a concern. It has risen significantly over the years, but paying our debts should never be used as a bargaining tool. Congress should instead work during their legislative sessions to determine the country’s budget priorities—how we raise revenue and cut spending. And yes, we must do both. We cannot only raise taxes nor can we only cut spending. Congress holds the power of the purse. It is their job to set the budget. It is irresponsible to repeatedly push America toward default just so a minority party can get its way. Moody’s put the US on credit ratings watch in 2011 because of such a stunt, while S&P actually did downgrade the rating from AAA to AA+. One would think that these supposed “free marketers” would understand that uncertainty is no friend to the economy, domestic or global.

Most Americans, even some legislators, do not understand the difference between the national debt and the budget deficit. Here is a good resource if interested. Raising the debt ceiling does not open the floodgates to new spending, it merely allows the U.S. government to pay the bills Congress has already approved. This is why the rating agencies have threatened, and a couple have, to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, which would have dire consequences for our country’s borrowing capability.  China has even suggested replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and who can blame them when they witness our governmental dysfunction?

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” Do Ted Cruz and his Tea Party buddies not realize this? They prefer to ignore it while wrapping themselves in the flag and the Constitution, claiming they are the only “real” Americans. As Norm Ornstein writes of this situation: “To begin, this is entirely an engineered crisis perpetrated by House Republicans with Senate allies, hatched, as we now know, by outside individuals and groups including Ed Meese, Heritage Action, and the Koch brothers. We know that John Boehner really did not want a shutdown, and that he had agreed to a clean continuing resolution after Senate Democrats capitulated in entirety to his party’s demands on appropriations—meaning a continuation of the sequester and the much lower overall spending numbers of the Ryan budget (including higher spending for defense.)”

In light of all this, some have suggested eliminating the debt ceiling. The United States government’s ability to pay its bills should never be held hostage by self-serving politicians bent on manufacturing a debt crisis in order to achieve their ideological goals. And yes, Democrats have voted against raising the debt ceiling too—even President Obama when he was a senator. However, in the past, whether from Democrats or Republicans, these votes were mostly taken by a few to show opposition without an actual threat of government default.

Below are several articles advocating for debt ceiling elimination. The PDF of Congressional Research Service’s report on The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases can be downloaded here. It’s not the most riveting material, but it does provide important information about the federal debt.

Related articles:

To Hell in a Handbasket

In less than 24 hours, our country could enter into a very serious situation. In addition to a partial federal government shutdown that is having far-reaching effects across the economy; by this time tomorrow our government may no longer have the authority to borrow money to meet its daily financial obligations. And all the while, Congressional Republicans are acting like a bunch of over-grown Frat Boys, drunk not on cheap beer, but on power. Very much like a recalcitrant child, they have stuck a macramé pin in the wings of our government and are content to sit back and watch it squirm. Oh, and sing “Amazing Grace.”  Really? Nero fiddled; the Republican Caucus sang. You’d think, seeing how well the Nero thing turned out, they’d think twice. But nooooo… true to form, the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

I would be an entirely different story if their arguments had any basis in truth. In true Lee Atwater style, they have framed a fiscal debate around the stereotype of blacks being fiscally irresponsible. And in true Republican style, the Base is eating it up. The fact of the matter is that most appropriations bills originate in the House of Representatives – in which Republicans have held the majority since the Great Shellacking of 2010. So, one could easily argue that the Republicans hold – at the very least – a large share of responsibility for this country’s current bills.  The raising of the Debt Ceiling does not authorize any additional spending. It allows the government the ability to take out short-term loans in order to meet daily obligations, as required by the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA). In this way, government spending actually does work very much like a household budget and checking account. Every household has certain monthly obligations. And a functional household ensures monthly expenditures do not exceed monthly income.  Sound financial theory. But how many of us have been faced with an unexpected expenditure – like a flat tire – and ended up having to replace two tires … like now? In our personal budgets, we have some flexibility. We can dip into our emergency fund, we can pay for the tires with a credit card, we can use our overdraft protection.  The only problem with that: because of the ADA, none of these options are available to the federal government. If you have two flat tires and there is not sufficient money on your Car Maintenance budget line on that day, you would not be able to buy the tires, period.  You couldn’t dip into your savings, or use your credit card, or dip into your discretionary fund. No calling up BankofMomandDad. So, while the government may forecast that they will have a certain amount of money on any given budget line on any given day, the money has to be on the correct budget line at just the right time or that obligation cannot be met.

 And then we have the other exacerbating factor:  a budget is based on forecasted receipts. Well, let’s just look at where the government stands right now. Income tax is a major source of funds for the government. But, because of the federal government shut-down, some 800,000 government employees are not receiving their regular pay, so are being taxed based not on their regular pay, but on their earned pay. Do you see where this is going?

But to me, what is most sad is how ill-conceived and short-sighted the Republican shut-down strategy is. They allege that this is all about saving the American people from the evils of the Affordable Care Act.  Okay, so let’s just say – for argument’s sake – that the ACA is Evil Incarnate and must be destroyed. Had the Republicans thought this thing through, they would have cleared the decks: passed a Continuing Resolution, raised the Debt Ceiling, and allowed all business to continue as usual. That would have left the headlines free to chronicle the daily debacles of the ACA roll-out. But, instead of being inundated with stories about software glitches, crashing websites,  under-trained and under-staffed Assistance Centers, and endless wait times on toll-free lines, we have … the House Republicans singing all three verses of Amazing Grace without the words written down!

“God bless America. And no one else.”

What’s goin’ on?

Things we’ve been reading:

First, a friend of mine shared this.

I lightly broke it down (do read it) with this response:

1. Referring to yourself and/or group of friends as “bro” seriously might as well be a sign you’re a douchcanoe.
2. “Midnight or after, if you have been talking for awhile and they’ve had a couple drinks, ask if they want to dance. If you see an untalked to group or a solo girl, go up to her and ask if she wants anything to drink. If she says yes, get her a drink and then ask if she wants to dance. If she says no, ask her to dance. DANCING IS FUN!!!!! Always try to dance. If she does not want to dance and is with friends, say “aw thats no fun” (or something like that) and then ask one of her friends.”
I thought the stereotype was that guys don’t like to dance, which made the all caps insistence DANCING IS FUN massively humorous. But is DANCING FUN with creepy guys who call each other “bro?”
He really does need to learn about the body though. There’s a lot in between “just under the boob” and “fingering her.”  Just sayin’.
3. “If she starts putting her hair over her ear, THAT MEANS SHE WANTS A KISS.”
I had no idea this was part of the mating ritual of humans. I’m sure my husband is stewing “That feminist bitch I married never puts her hair over my ear, dammit.”
WTF is he talking about? Well, he sure is fond OF ALL CAPS.
4. ” 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) ”
No, I’m sorry, I don’t follow, care to explain? Preferably in ALL CAPS, AMIRITE BROS? How many women do you think this “bro” *shudder* has so cleverly used this MASSIVELY AWESOME ADVICE ON, [name of friend]? Success rates count.

Also, why are people so stupid to think emails won’t be leaked, etc? Geez.

In other news:

No, Congress is not exempting themselves from Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act began enrollment on October 1. The site has had many hits, more than anticipated. However, as was expected, there have been glitches in the system—some not so small. The Washington Post’s Wonkblog offers an explanation of why these technical glitches are occurring and what is being done to resolve them. We shall see in the coming months how it all plays out as the kinks get worked out.

These glitches, however, serve as easy ammunition for opponents of the law looking to kill it. Another weapon being used to derail the law and raise the ire of Americans is the claim, mostly in conservative media, that the President and Congress are exempting themselves from Obamacare. This is a falsehood that has been fact checked. But as one knows, if a claim is repeated enough times people will believe it.

This Factcheck.org piece explains all of this exemption brouhaha quite well. I guess it all comes down to who you trust.

Friends referred to me these two articles:

These articles refute the above pieces:

I’ve also heard the claim that somehow these government employees are not contributing to the cost of their healthcare plans at all. That is false. Per Wikipedia:

“Premiums vary from plan to plan and are paid in part by the employer (the U. S. government agency that the employee works for or, for annuitants, OPM) and the remainder by the employee. The employer pays an amount up to 72 percent of the average plan premium for self-only or family coverage (not to exceed 75 percent of the premium for the selected plan), and the employee pays the rest.”

Now, one can make the argument that perhaps they should contribute more to their own coverage; that is legitimate. However, to state they don’t contribute at all is incorrect because they do.

This information can also be found directly from the OPM website. See their latest statement regarding this issue below.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule on Aug. 7 explaining that members of Congress and applicable congressional staff will be required to purchase health insurance coverage through the exchanges created by the law. However, according to the proposed rule, the federal government, as the employer, will still be able to make a contribution to health insurance premiums as it currently does. The contribution will be no greater than that now offered to members and their staffs under the FEHB program, and members and their staffs will not be eligible for premium tax credits made available to other persons purchasing health insurance through the exchanges.

A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

We Now Interrupt the Government Shutdown…

Since the blogosphere is filled with talk of the government shutdown, I don’t feel compelled to join the chorus. People who know me should not be surprised by this. Instead, I’d like to talk about something interesting I heard last night.

Okay, so I’m on my way home from my belly dance/flamenco night, listening – as usual – to NPR, when up came this very interesting story about our new Miss America,  Nina Davuluri (a little lengthy, but well worth a listen). No, I’m not a former or aspiring pageant girl. Sure, growing up in an all-female household, I watched all the pageants, but as a young child I never saw this as something that was possible for me, and as I got older, I failed to see the point. I still wish they would go back to the tank-style swimsuits, since it doesn’t appear that non-value-added segment of the competition will ever go away. But this year’s pageant has captured the attention of a lot of people – including me – because it wasn’t just a parade of vaselined-toothed, overly-coiffed “beauties” talking about world peace and the distribution of maps worldwide: it was about the very ugly reaction to the winner…and what that, in a larger context, means.

I did a little research on the pageant. The first Miss America pageant was held in 1921. Minus the 4 year hiatus from 1928 – 1932, we’ve had 88 years worth of Miss Americas. Of those, eight have been African American, with the first one, Vanessa Williams, being selected in 1984, fourteen years after the first African American contestant in 1970. Ms. Davuluri is only the second Asian American, along with Angela Perez Baraquio, in 2000. Rule Number Seven actually prohibited the participants of non-whites during the early years of the pageant. Into the 40s, contestants actually had to complete an ancestry questionnaire.  Clearly, this is no bellweather organization. As Nina pointed out in this interview, Miss America has always been about “the girl next door.” And, based on the reaction to her selection, it appears a fair number of people prefer to live next door to a caucasian, even a tattooed one.

I hesitate to say much more on the topic, as I feel I would become “preachy.” Instead, I invite you to listen to this piece and respond. What does the reaction to her selection really say about the state of our country in 2013? Is it simply “business as usual” in America that every minority has to have its turn in the discrimination barrel? Will this push us forward, or has it pulled us back? Is it an indicator or a manifestation?

Some say race is a social construct, and has no basis in reality. But for those have dealt and continue to deal with the kind of behavior displayed recently, it is very, very real. And – at least for me – it has become really, really tiresome.

Obamacare enrollment begins today, despite government shutdown

Despite House Republicans’ forty plus attempts to repeal and defund “Obamacare,” the six-month enrollment period starts today. House Republicans dead set on making sure this legislation fails have used the ACA as leverage to threaten a government shut-down. Mission accomplished. However, the President, Democrats, and some Senate Republicans are refusing to use the ACA as a bargaining chip. Good. The law was passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. Forbes.com reported yesterday that recent polling shows only 33% of Americans think the federal law should be repealed, delayed, or defunded, and the majority definitely don’t want a government shut-down over it.

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is essentially health insurance reform. It is a far cry from the “socialized medicine” its opponents claim it to be. While the state health insurance exchanges become effective January 1, 2014, other components of the law have been postponed until a later date and therefore full implementation will not occur until 2015 or later.

If you don’t want to read about the Affordable Care Act, watch this YouToons Video for information about the law. I urge you to check it out. It’s comprehensive and easy to understand.

Opponents who make claims about ACA’s negative impact are not being honest because until it is fully implemented an accurate assessment of the legislation cannot be made. (The same can be said about those making overly optimistic statements about the law’s benefits and cost-containment.) Some people may see higher insurance premiums, others will see their costs decrease; some health care costs will be contained, others likely will not. However, what the ACA will do is bring millions of uninsured Americans into the system. It is the first serious attempt since the Clinton administration to provide affordable quality health care to all Americans, though sadly, it is estimated that 30 million Americans will still remain uncovered, for various reasons.

Over a quarter of uninsured Americans are unaware of ACA enrollment. This is a problem. One reason for this is that the Obama administration, HHS, and supporters of the ACA have only recently begun disseminating information through advertising campaigns, social media, and community networks. Another reason is that there is much misinformation out there about the ACA. Most people cannot tell you the provisions in it or the benefits they will receive, or why they hate it so much, except for the mandate that requires they must now purchase insurance coverage.

Recent polls have found that 46% of people disapprove of Obamacare, but only 37% disapprove of the Affordable Care Act. It’s one and the same. Still, Americans are largely supportive of its main provisions. There is a major disconnect between the perception of Obamacare and what it is in reality.

So what is in it? Since March 2010, pre-existing conditions for children have been eliminated; come January 2014, that will be extended to all people. Young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old. Mammograms have been covered in full and will continue to be. You can read more about the benefits and provisions here on the timeline.

Full implementation of this legislation is further imperiled by GOP-led states or states where the legislatures are dominated by conservatives who have refused to set up their state exchanges (Nevada being one exception) but are deferring to the federal government do it. Some states have refused to expand Medicaid, which would allow more low-income Americans to have medical coverage, even though the federal government is paying for it initially, and by 2020 would still be responsible for 90% of state Medicaid funding.

To make matters worse, these states are obstructing the enrollment process and making it harder for navigators to assist residents in their states to access information and to enroll. This is reprehensible. Even in the reddest of states there are people who need health insurance that may save their lives—even conservative lives. This is not an ideological issue, it is a human issue. I expect the fact that these legislators are actively working to make it more difficult for their constituents to receive health coverage will at some point come back to bite them—hard—and it should.

Currently, we are seeing in states where implementation has been going on for months, the exchanges are not perfect, but they are ready for enrollment and these states are willing to assess where the challenges lie and address them on an ongoing basis. We also see that in many states premiums are coming in lower than expected. A Rand Corp analysis of 10 states and the United States overall predicts that there will be no widespread premium increase in the individual health insurance market. However, in states like FL, TX, LA where they are not expanding Medicaid under the ACA, premiums could increase 8-10%.

Arguments against the ACA include: the mandate is too coercive, it goes against our idea of “freedom,” that Obamacare is already causing insurance premiums to increase, or it is the biggest job-killer right now. First of all, the fine for foregoing insurance coverage is not highly punitive. In the first year, it is $95 or 1% of  income, whichever is higher. Furthermore, if you are too poor and still cannot afford coverage, the fine will be waived.

The penalty for not purchasing coverage should be high enough to at least make people stop for a moment and ask if it is worth the cost to not be insured. The idea of the mandate, is to increase the risk pool, including old and young and sick and healthy. Spreading the risk this way brings down/contains the cost of coverage. Right now, those of us with insurance, subsidize those who do not have it when they need medical care. That’s unfair. Furthermore, it’s the freeloader issue that conservatives are always bemoaning, so one would think this would be an element of the law they would like: everyone taking personal responsibility for their medical coverage.

Providers will offer four plan-levels in the exchanges: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Anyone with income up to 400% of the poverty level—$45,960 for an individual, $94,200 for a family of four—will get subsidies to help cover the cost. Disclosure: I am not eligible for subsidies. I make too much money, which isn’t a lot for the NY/NJ area, but even though I do not qualify for them, I do not begrudge those who do. I know how important it is to have decent coverage. I am a leukemia survivor and my healthcare story is a cautionary tale. I was one of the lucky ones.

The second criticism above about increased premiums that people want to assign to solely to Obamacare is also false. Think about it, health care costs have been increasing steadily over the past decades, much higher than wages. This is nothing new. From 2003 to 2011, family premiums for employer-based coverage increased 62% while average median incomes grew only 10%. Some insurers, guaranteed, are setting huge premium increases to fatten their bottom line and blaming it on Obamacare because it’s a great excuse, and most people won’t look for information to refute this subterfuge.

Not only have healthcare costs gone up over the years, but employers have also made employees share more  of those costs. Employers have also decreased pensions as well as their contributions to employee 401K plans. All these costs placed on the American worker have been happening for years, not only in healthcare. The entire system is pushing more costs onto workers.

As for the ACA being the number one job-killer in America—not so much. Read it here, here and here.

No matter what you think of Obamacare the one thing you should remember is that it gives American people choices. If you are fired, or laid off, or want to leave your job, you can do so without the fear of having no affordable health care options for you and your family. That’s liberating. People stay in jobs they hate because they need health insurance. That is ridiculous. Healthcare should not be tied to employment. Furthermore, if businesses did not have this expense they would be much more competitive, globally and domestically. Getting healthcare out of the employment equation is a positive goal because it makes American businesses more competitive and provides Americans the choice and freedom to move to a different job or to start their own business.

The ACA is far from perfect; it is not what I would have designed. However, it is a start to providing universal healthcare to the people of this country. Its implementation will not be complete until all elements of it are in place. And as stated previously, some components have been postponed. The initial enrollment period is for six months (October 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014). In subsequent years, it will be three months (October 1 – December 31).

Furthermore, if Obamacare is delayed for a year, as House Republicans want, it will never get implemented. That is their goal because they are hoping that in the near future there will be a Republican President and a Republican Congress then they can obliterate the law. Our current system is broken, it’s costly to American taxpayers, there are already “death panels” and “rationing” going on in the insurance industry, and have been for years. It’s time to try a different approach, and if that doesn’t work, try another one. The status quo is not an option; our healthcare system is unsustainable.

0006_health-care-oecd-full

SOURCE: Data from OECD, Health Data 2013, June 2013. Compiled by PGPF.

Once we see what is working and what isn’t then we can put policies in place to improve it. But trying to prevent people from accessing a system that though imperfect may help them, possibly even save their lives, is a bad strategy.

There will be obstacles and glitches initially with Obamacare, but perhaps many will be minor. We will never know how a different health care system will work if we don’t try, and even if there are problems, we can improve upon it. We’re Americans. We can meet these challenges. The Affordable Care Act will not affect the majority of Americans or their current coverage. However, if you are uninsured, enroll. The exchanges are open.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal