Good news today! Nelson Mandela’s health is improving as he celebrated his 95th birthday. The Senate cobbled together a deal to keep interest rates low on student loans until the economy improves. And federal judge Willian Conley kept abortion clinics open in Wisconsin until he has more time to consider a permanent injunction against the restrictive law rushed through in nine days and signed in private by the governor on a holiday weekend. The current legal proceedings require the state of Wisconsin to prove that it has a “legitimate governmental interest” in imposing additional regulations on abortion providers of seeking admitting privileges from local hospitals, a requirement unique to these clinics.
In the Senate, the Republicans kept at least part of its promise by confirming two more of President Obama’s nominees following yesterday’s confirmation of Richard Cordray for the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau.
Tom Perez is now the next Secretary of Labor after stiff opposition because he pushed for a minimum wage for domestic workers in Montgomery, promised to “throw the book” at employers who withheld pay from immigrant workers, saved an important piece of the federal fair housing law, and collected hundreds of millions of dollars from major banks that charged minority homeowners more than whites seeking a mortgage. As head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division for the past four years, he enforced voting rights by opposing the voter ID trend across the nation and sued the infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing his office of racially profiling Latinos during a crackdown on undocumented people in his county.
Gina McCarthy’s 59-40 confirmation for director of the Environmental Protection Agency was opposed by Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) because of what he called an “over-regulatory rampage” against the coal industry. One of her positions during 25 years in the environmental policy world was leading the the EPA’s air pollution office since 2009. Although McCarthy held posts under five Republican governors, including Mitt Romney, the Senate held up her confirmation for 136 days until the Democrats threatened the GOP with removing the filibuster for executive nominees. Senators opposing McCarthy have accepted over $25 million from fossil fuel industries.
The House of Representatives will no longer use my taxpayer money to defend the unconstitutional statute DOMA, banning marriage equality. This decision may allow lesbian and gay service members and veterans to receive the same married benefits as opposite-sex couples. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans’ involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination.”
On the same day that President Obama delivered a speech on the benefits of his Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report showing that the average of the least expensive mid-level health plans are 18 percent lower than the CBO had estimated when the law was passed. One of the biggest arguments against Obamacare was that young people in the country would be forced to purchase expensive health insurance. Yet HHS expects that a plan for a 25-year-old in Los Angeles County would be $174 per month without a government subsidy and only $34 per month (with a tax credit) for someone making $17,235.
New York state regulators said yesterday that policies sold through the law’s insurance exchange would cost about 50 percent less than currently available policies. Ten other states also announced lower rates including Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, and California. Lower rates come from open competition, once something that the GOP supported.
Earlier this year millions of people in the nation received insurance rebates because of the “medical loss ratio” provision requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care instead of profits and overhead. An average rebate of $100 was sent to 8.5 million people this year, and consumers received another $3.4 billion savings because insurance companies lowered their premiums to comply with the law.
People may not hear the good news about Obamacare because today the media has focused on the 38th and 39th times that the U.S. House again voted on the health care law, passed by Congress and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. One bill agreed with President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate, and the other extended the delay to the individual mandate. Of the 147 media pieces including “Obamacare,” 120—almost all—mentioned the House vote whereas only 71—fewer than half—discussed lower premium rates.
The following will be classified as either good or bad news, depending on your perspective. After taking off almost the entire month of August, House leadership has penciled in just nine workdays during September. The farm bill stops on September 30, and other bills, such as immigration reform, voting rights, and student loans, are vital. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has objected to reports of shrinking productivity in his chamber, but the 112th Congress that ended in December 2012 was the least productive session since the 1940s when one considers the total number of bills passed. Thus far, the 113th has been less productive.
The GOP is providing great fodder for comedians. Last night Stephen Colbert addressed the House’s inaction, citing the immigration bill kerfuffle. Although the Senate bill would double border security, creating more border agents than FBI agents, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) complained that it overlooks “the need for border agents in the interior of our country.” Colbert responded, “When will we build the border wall with Florida? We can’t let those maniacs in our country. It’s legal to shoot each other down there.”
Yesterday the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee, with the help of two Democrats, reaffirmed the legal sale of guns to people suspected of terrorism to buy guns. In six years, the people on the watch list tried to buy weapons 1,228 times and were approved 91 percent of the time. To those who say that the terrorist watch list shouldn’t be used because it’s flawed, I say, “Fix it.”
The Appropriations Committee also passed an amendment “to block the ATF from continuing to require the reporting of purchases of multiple firearms in border states.” People in the United States are responsible for part of Mexico’s bloody drug war because many of the guns used are sold in U.S. stores. If the philosophy is “first, do no damage,” it’s good news that the House meets so few days.
Maybe the best news from yesterday is that at least one GOP Senator understands the dysfunctional Senate leadership. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he could have done better than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in negotiating the filibuster agreement, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) called out, “Bullshit.” Now somebody needs to do something about the House.