Opinion: Who is Congress hearing?

September 25, 2013


“The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want Obamacare. The House has listened to the American people.”

That’s what Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said at the GOP’s victory rally Friday after the House voted to pass a spending bill that cut all funding for the president’s health-care law — and took the country one step closer to a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

The American people, alas, weren’t in the room to speak for themselves. But was Boehner right about their desires? Polls show that most Americans are, not surprisingly, divided.

Yes, a majority doesn’t like Obamacare. They’re unsure about what it will do and worried that it might make their health care worse. But do they really want to defund the law, and risk the chaos of a government shutdown to do it? Probably not, most polls suggest.

As one Republican pollster told me, though a majority of voters don’t like Obamacare, they’re not angry enough about it to risk a fiscal crisis that could hurt the economy.

Listening to the choir

So why are Republican lawmakers hearing a different message? Because most of them represent districts so conservative that they are listening only to their own choir. “It’s clear where the public in my district is,” said Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., a tea party firebrand. “They want Obamacare repealed. They want it defunded. They want it dismantled.”

Bridenstine, a Navy Reserve pilot from Tulsa, is probably right. In his solidly Republican district, Mitt Romney won two-thirds of the vote in the last presidential election.

A visit to the House side of Capitol Hill these days feels a bit like an excursion to an alternate universe, where the voters are all conservative, the will of the American people is crystal clear and the only mystery is how that Obama fellow ever got re-elected.

“This is all a result of redistricting,” a Republican strategist told me. “The only election these guys have to worry about is the Republican primary. The only danger they face is from the right.”

According to ratings compiled by Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, only 28 of the House’s 233 Republicans have even a theoretical chance of losing their seats to a Democrat next year; the other 205 are safe as long as they win their primaries. (The same is true of most House Democrats, of course.)

Obama will be winner

Outside the conservative bubble of the House GOP conference, the politics of the budget standoff look different. Karl Rove, former political adviser to George W. Bush, has warned that the only winner in a government shutdown would be Obama. “This is one thing that can rescue him,” Rove said on Fox News.

In the Senate, Republicans acknowledge there is almost no chance of passing legislation to defund Obamacare, the president’s most cherished achievement. Even Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the loudest champion of the defund Obamacare movement, agreed on that last week, landing him in hot water with the House conservatives he was urging to plunge ahead.

Strategy is a trap

The entire strategy, warned Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is “a box canyon” for Republicans — a trap with no way out but retreat.

Cruz and other tea party senators have vowed to filibuster to block the Senate from approving a spending bill that doesn’t defund Obamacare, but Senate rules make that difficult. So the Senate is expected to strip the Obamacare provision and kick the bill back to the House, where Boehner and his Republicans will consider their next move.

They might make a dignified retreat and pass the Senate version before the Sept. 30 deadline. Or, more likely, they might engage in another round of legislative pingpong, in which doomed proposals bounce between the two branches of Congress as the clock runs out. One veteran budget guru, Stan Collender of Qorvis Communications, puts the chances of a government shutdown at 70 percent.

Debt ceiling the real fight

And that’s not even the worst possible outcome. Boehner and his lieutenants have told House members that the current battle over the spending bill is only a preliminary bout. The real fight, they’ve said, will be over the debt ceiling — the government’s authority to borrow money to pay its bills, which is expected to run out in October or November,

Once again, conservatives have begun telling one another that the American people would welcome the crisis if it resulted in less federal spending and the end of Obamacare. They argue that a debt-ceiling standoff wouldn’t force the federal government to default on its debts and throw the world economy into crisis; the Treasury, they say, could keep paying bondholders and stop most of its other checks. Even if that were possible (and the Treasury Department says it isn’t), the world’s lenders would almost certainly downgrade Uncle Sam’s credit rating, imposing higher interest costs on the federal budget for years to come.

This may sound like just another round of Washington’s recurring impasse, but this time the prospects for a quick solution look worse. The Republicans have chosen to demand the one concession Obama is least likely to make: the crippling of Obamacare. And the GOP’s chief deal maker, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is battling a primary challenge on his right, which means he’s not eager to play the role of middleman this year.

When Boehner described what the American people want from Congress, he left one thing out: They also want their government to solve problems, even if that sometimes requires an uncomfortable dose of compromise. They aren’t seeing much of that from the House of Representatives this year.

— Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. His email address is doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com.


Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

Most people in the nation have no idea about Obamacare. The only negative information is coming from the rt wing GOP party, medical insurance industry and right wing think tanks such as the Chamber of Commerce.

The news media is failing to meet the needs of the people because the media does not effectively advise readers that most of what the press is putting in print is not backed by hard evidence.

BTW the Chamber of Commerce has been reduced to a PAC for the ALEC Right Wing Party. I am amazed the law allows this group to retain the name "Chamber of Commerce" since it has become nothing more than a money laundering mechanism and misinformation source.

It is simply stunning that the USA people do not demand hard evidence yet still believe politicians who receive campaign money from corporate sources.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

"Most people in the nation have no idea about Obamacare."

And yet it's supposed to open in 6 days. The ACA is a debacle that needs to be stopped before it ruins our health care system.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

The information is available.

Don't people have some responsibility to educate themselves?

How exactly is it a "debacle", in your view?

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

Actually, I don't think most Tea Party politicians have even read the law or most laws they have passed. It's just too much work. Their philosophy is simple, like their minds, if Obama supports it, they oppose it.

Keith 4 years, 8 months ago

And just like that it's disappeared again.

FarleyM 4 years, 8 months ago

Obamacare is about the money in the Insurance industry. The government wants that money. They want the control of that money. Single payer is the end game. Complete control of the money.

Obamacare is not about healthcare. Healthcare is the sell.

If it were about healthcare, why are healthcare centers like the Cleveland Clinic cutting staff? Why are doctors calling it quits? Why are nurses doing abortions in California?

Where is the focus on healthcare?

FarleyM 4 years, 8 months ago

Obama, the half Kansan, is the front man for Corportism, and spreading the wealth. He is overseer of the Corportism his handlers are directing. The masses that need the spreading of the wealth, are kept complacent. They are not climbing the castle walls, so to speak. He is doing a fine job.

asixbury 4 years, 8 months ago

Not about healthcare, are you serious? That's why the bill removes the lifetime cap on medical spending, people cannot be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions, children are covered to age 24, basic health coverages like reproductive services are required to be covered, and my personal favorite, insurance agencies have to use 80% of premium collected directly for insured's benefits (not personal profit). Single payer seems to work very well in Europe. Those countries' medical costs are lower, infant death rate lower, and people are all-around healthier in places with government sponsored health plans.

Armstrong 4 years, 8 months ago

And you voted for this - "Medical Excise Tax on Retail Receipt. This is an image of a sales receipt from Cabela's, a popular sporting goods store.The 2.3% Medical Excise Tax that began on January 1st is supposed to be "hidden" from the consumer,but it's been brought to the public's attention by hunting and fishing store Cabela's who have refused to hide it and are showing it as a separate line item tax on their receipts, the email states. I did some research and found directly from the IRS's website information that PROVES this to be true and an accurate portrayal of something hidden in "Obamacare" that I was not aware of! Now being skeptical of this I went to the IRS website and found this! Q1. What is the medical device excise tax? A1. Section 4191 of the Internal Revenue Code imposes an excise tax on the sale of certain medical devices by the manufacturer or importer of the device. Q2. When does the tax go into effect? A2. The tax applies to sales of taxable medical devices after Dec. 31, 2012. Q3. How much is the tax? A3. The tax is 2.3 percent of the sale price of the taxable medical device. See Chapter 5 of IRS Publication 510, Excise Taxes, and Notice 2012-77 for additional information on the determination of sale price. IRS.gov So being more curious I clicked on "Chapter 5 of IRS Publication 510." And what do I find under "MEDICAL DEVICES" under "MANUFACTURERS TAXES"? The following discussion of manufacturers taxes applies to the tax on: Guns and amo; Sport fishing equipment; Fishing rods and fishing poles; Electric outboard motors; Fishing tackle boxes; Bows, quivers, broadheads, and points; Arrow shafts; Coal; Taxable tires; Gas guzzler automobiles; and Vaccines. IRS.gov I think we have definitely been fooled, if we believe that the Affordable Care Act is all about health care. It truly does appear to be nothing more than a bill laden with a whole lot of taxes that we the people have yet to be aware of. Please pass this on . I am still incredulous that this can go on .Where is our press ? I guess it’s just like Nancy Pelosi said…….We have to pass it to see what is in it . What is next? What else is there we do not know about? I am sick to death about our government"

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

Try again. And Cabela's said they would refund any of the taxes they accidentally charged people. http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/medicaldevice.asp

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

I wonder exactly who is out of touch with what. On Obama Care the polls show that a majority (small) disapproves. An overwhelming percentage of Democrats favor it while an overwhelming percent of Republicans oppose. The moderates are split. Perhaps the author should check to see how diverse his friends really are.

Now on shutting down the government – a substantial number of the populace does not want to do so – that includes Republicans. As near as I can tell only a vocal few Republicans in Congress want to shut it down. They are being granted their day and then I suspect (hope) we will move on. Is this piece news or propaganda.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

The medical insurance industry does NOT provide health care yet has been allowed for many many decades to launder health care dollars for a profit.

Why are consumers forced into the medical insurance industry?

Let's Compare: Single-Payer (HR 676 and S 703) Expanded Medicare for All Vs. Proposed Healthcare “Private insurance with Public Option” http://www.healthcare-now.org/docs/spreport.pdf ( very interesting findings)

http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-resources Physicians for a National Health Program

IMPROVED Medicare Single Payer Insurance for ALL would cover every person for all necessary medical care 24/7 to include:

Wellness /prescription drugs / hospital / surgical / outpatient services / primary and preventive care / emergency services / dental / mental health / home health / physical therapy / rehabilitation (including for substance abuse) / vision care / hearing services including hearing aids / chiropractic / medical equipment / palliative care / long term care

No deductibles / No Co-pays http://www.healthcare-now.org/docs/spreport.pdf

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

I have seen you babbling on this to the point of nausea. Recently I saw a statistic that between 60 and 70 percent of those with insurance are not insured by the insurance industry. There employer pays the bills. The insurance industry is hired only to administer. The cost of that administration and the medical care beneath it is borne by the employer who is very motivated to keep it small.

Just exactly where do you get data that suggests that a large portion of the insurance industry is making excessive profits? Exactly what do you describe as excessive profits?

If we want to discuss this topic perhaps you should use facts! Papers written by advocates of a single payer system can not be considered facts. Papers written by those opposed likewise can not be considered facts. On this topic the citizen needs to go beyond 30 second sound bites to educate themselves and needs to totally disregard the advocates whatever side they are on.

Trumbull 4 years, 8 months ago

I agree with you on some points. However, I like the single payer or public option idea. I don't like the idea that business should have to provide health care. A business should concentrate on running a business. Providing insurance is placing a burden on them. In this regard Single payer is actually pro-business (except if you are in the insurance biz).

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

A bit of history. Way back when I could still remember my name the tax rates were quite high. Professionals and critical skill blue collar employees faced the dilemma that an increase in income frequently parlayed into a 50% loss in the increase. (Our marginal rate was 45% and we were no where near rich) I found that return about a year ago when responding to something JAFS published.

Surprise, businesses started to offer health care as an alternative to salary increases. It started with high value employees bur quickly spread to just about everyone that a company wanted to retain.

So the motivation for what happened was tied to taxes.

Now I do not know what national health care is as there are several versions. My experience with the military medical system reflects one such option. For specialists there were long waiting times (months) and just getting appointments was a demeaning experience. Locations were not always convenient. You could spend the better part of a day just getting to and from a dermatology appointment. I fear that model. I also fear the costs. If business does not pay - who does?

People like to compare Medicare as an example - it is another model of a national health care system. The problem is that CMS does not have the same cost basis as private insurances. Fraud prevention costs are buried in the DOJ. The cost of the agreements between providers and CMS is minimized by Congressional imposition of standard rates which can and have led to shortages. I fear that model too - unless theer is private insurance around to pick up the un funded costs of Medicare. If that aws the only option cost would go up by how much I have not a clue.

My health care works. To be sanguine about changing it I would need real assurances that we have thought through what we are doing and that the result does not make our situation (about 70% of us are in it) worse. I would prefer a positive sum game as opposed to a zero or negative sum gamne.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

Actually, if I remember right, health insurance started to be offered because of wage freezes during/after WWII.

I'm curious - what is your health insurance now that "works"? You criticize both the military and Medicare, but I thought you used both of those - is that incorrect?

Also, I'm sorry that your military health care wasn't better - we should provide good health care to those that serve in the military in my opinion.

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

You have not answered my questions. By the by who in your opinion are the vulnerable. Right now we give various benefits to people up to and including 1.5 time the average income.

My Medicare works because part of the costs are passed off to the private insurance carriers by the practices/hospitals. If you eliminate the private carriers where do those costs go??

The problem with Medicare is that it is governmental. In tight times we cut things and as you have suggested we "means test" and set the test to support further income transfer while seriously disrupting those already on the program. Now if you answered my questions we could get a handle on who you think should get cut.

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

In my opinion, the vulnerable are the poor and un/undereducated folks without much of a chance to move upward in our society.

They're the "working poor", who do low skilled boring jobs for low wages, as well as those on Medicaid, etc.

I don't understand that - what do you mean?

I have clearly answered your question about existing retirees, and that we shouldn't disrupt the program for them - any changes to SS would need to be phased in over time, so as not to harm people who didn't have time to prepare and act differently.

If you dislike governmental programs so much, why are you on Medicare? Presumably one could save/invest money over time, and not have to be on it, if you have a decent income.

Many would say that the benefit of Medicare is that it's governmental, and as such, doesn't operate on the profit motive, but as a public service.

I don't have definite answers to all of your questions, like what the income cutoff would be, etc. But, I would structure the programs so as to be means/asset tested, so that we're providing them to people that need them, rather than everybody.

That way, we should be able to spend less on them, which helps in the quest for cutting spending and a balanced budget. And, it's done without hurting anybody, since the people not getting the benefits don't actually need them. I prefer that sort of approach over causing people pain.

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

JAFS you sound like you have a good heart. That said everything we do costs somebody something. You talk soaking the rich but your numbers will - will soak the middle.

So people making 88K are part of the vulnerable populations. A few things to consider. Half the population has an IQ below average. Many have IQs in the 80 and 90s. They will never be brain surgeons. They are doomed by capability to do relatively boring and limited tasks. Our society commits about 1 trillion (state and local) a year to trying to help various combinations of this group. To survive we need to be reasonably specific as to who the vulnerable are and we need a serious discussion on what we owe them.

Right now we have a thing called a poverty level set at about 23K. That is half of what the average family makes. Increasing it will mean more taxes on the people just above that 50K break point. The ultimate end point here is we go to the "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs. I am not sure we are ready to go there.

Now being totally cynical we could argue that all of this is really about making at least half the voters dependent on the federal government for something so that they will resist cuts and favor increases since we have already made half the taxpayers exempt from paying for any of it. Now which party keeps demanding more for social programs??

You seem at time to be very narrow minded. Medicare is the program that my employer (US government) identifies as my retirement medical - unlike unions who offer an actual separate plan. Why do you stick it to the military that way? Even the civil servants have options to not go to Medicare. My wife's employer as a condition of her retirement medial program requires we take Medicare Part A & B. They then subsidize the cost of a supplement by about 10%.

We pay in excess of 10% of our income for medical care. We are not eligible for Obama Care.

Again if you take steps to means test Medicare and SS (which are already means tested) you

a. Set the bar low so you can make a bunch of money form those you charge more

b. set the bar at the "rich" who do not need Medicare or SS and you will save very little as their are so few of them.

Here is a homework assignment. Go research income distribution in this country. You will find it is not a bell curve. The high end extends a long distance but with few participants. The majority of income recipients are relatively tightly grouped about the $50K average (particularly when you add in the social safety net).

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

I looked up the SSA but did not find specific statistics on poor and rich and survival rates. Perhaps you have the reference?

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

You have some support for wage freezes leading to health insurance??

George Lippencott 4 years, 7 months ago

JAFS is quiet. Perhaps he can not support all the assertions he has made.

The reality is that the current Democratic platform will devastate (double the taxes and cut the benefits on) the upper half of the middle class if it is implemented (55K to about 170K). That is why the President is falling short in the eyes of his followers .

It is so easy to opine on the LJW blog that something should be done for somebody who is hurting. It is an entirely different thing to actual designate who is to pay for whatever largess is desired.

Hiding behind the liberal mantra of taxing the rich is serious dissembling. If we took all of their income we would still have a shortfall in our annual expenditures.

We need to focus on the truly vulnerable while accepting the judgement of nature that some people will not make it to the upper half of the middle class (about half).

Sure we can and should try to address the imbalance in income in this country but not by taking from those who are just a little ahead but from those who make obscene amounts - not because that will solve our deficit but because it is right.

We should not be subsidizing people at the mid-range of income or those at 4 times the poverty level (150% of the middle family income)

Democrats it is time you made your leaders better explain as to how they intend to do all they claim they want to do. Have you ever actually looked at the party platform? Good starting point.

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