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Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

Response to “Conscience of a Liberal”

December 6th, 2013

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In a recent blog post, Paul Krugman writes of Third Way’s “fact-free denunciations of progressives for not being willing to cut entitlements.” In response, I offer three points.

First, Mr. Krugman says the “[Social Security] system might possibly have to pay lower benefits in the future.” If you believe the Congressional Budget Office or the Social Security Actuaries, there is no “might possibly” about it. Without changes to either benefits or revenue, the Social Security Trust Fund will be insolvent. The only question is whether that occurs in 2031 (CBO) or 2033 (the actuaries).

Second, our support for balanced fixes to Social Security and Medicare is not to reach some magic budget number, but based on the fact that over the past five decades the balance of federal spending has shifted. At the dawn of the Great Society in the 1960s, federal investments (as defined by the Office of Management and Budget) outstripped federal entitlement spending three-to-one. While that balance obviously needed to change to address poverty and elderly health care, by last year the ratio flipped to one-to-three. In ten years, the ratio will be five dollars for the three major entitlement programs for every one dollar in federal investments. As we’ve seen with the recent budget deals and sequestration, investment programs are the first on the chopping block and entitlements are treated as sacrosanct.

Third, Mr. Krugman says that it is his “strong guess” that Third Way means “raising the retirement age” to address Medicare cost containment. That is incorrect. We do not support raising the retirement age for Medicare eligibility. He also says that we do not offer any ideas to reduce Medicare spending, but on our website are several ideas to do so. They include means testing Medicare premiums for high income seniors, dealing with end of life care, bundled payments to improve care and reduce duplicative treatment, and medical homes. And of course, we fought alongside other progressive groups in Washington to pass the Affordable Care Act.

To be sure, Republicans have been intransigent in their refusal to consider new taxes and their opposition to the Medicare cost saving measures in the ACA. But we believe that Democrats must also be willing to take on some sacred cows if we are going to be able to invest in the future and meet our obligations to our seniors and our poor.

Can States’ Rights Work for Liberals?

December 5th, 2013

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Can states’ rights work for liberals? It has always been a conservative cause. Conservatives use states’ rights to resist federal policies that protect civil rights, voting rights, and abortion rights. Today, however, federal action is often blocked. So progressive states are passing laws that bypass gridlocked Washington and advance the liberal agenda on their own.

In his famous keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, Barack Obama criticized pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” His rejoinder: “I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.”

Obama was wrong. Americans have become more and more politically segregated over the past 50 years. Since the 1960s, politics has come to reflect lifestyle and values, and people often choose to live among others who share their lifestyle and values. And therefore their politics.

Read the rest of this entry »

GOP on Obamacare: Divide and Conquer

December 2nd, 2013

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“Remember the strategy for stopping Obamacare we laid out to you back in July,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) told the House Republican conference last week. “Targeted legislative strikes aimed at shattering the legislative coalition the president has used to force his law on the nation.”

Thirty-nine House Democrats – one in five — voted for the measure. Democratic leaders breathed a cautious sigh of relief. Earlier last week, they feared that 100 or more anxious Democrats might defect. President Barack Obama’s “fix” for the Affordable Care Act, announced on Thursday, held back what might have been a tidal wave of defections.

Republicans want the old Democratic Party back.

That was the deeply divided party that fought over everything — wars, civil rights, spending, taxes. What happened during Obama’s first two years was something of a miracle. The Democratic Party held its majority together. They governed. We experienced something that is routine in a parliamentary system but rare in the United States — party government.

Democrats held similar majorities in Congress during President Bill Clinton’s first two years, 1993-94. Back then, however, the party could not hold together to pass healthcare reform.

By the time Obama took office 15 years later, however, everything had changed. In 2010, Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act on a strictly partisan vote. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for it.

Republicans are determined to kill it. They can’t do that as long as Obama is in the White House. So their new strategy is to make the law unworkable.

That was what the House vote was all about on Friday. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called it “another vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act” — something House Republicans have already voted to do 46 times.

What held Democrats together in 2010 — unlike 1994 — was indignation. The Tea Party had taken control of the GOP and driven it to extremes. The last straw came in September 2009, when Representative Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” at the president while he was addressing a joint session of Congress.

In politics as in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In 2010, Republican contempt produced Democratic solidarity.

If Democrats are becoming the nation’s new majority party — as last year’s election suggested they are — Republicans want them to be a divided and ineffective majority.

Last week, Republicans managed to peel off more than three dozen House Democrats. What split them off was terror. Most of those Democrats represent congressional districts where Republicans pose a real threat in next year’s midterm. They are terrified that they will have to defend Obama’s pledge that Americans who like their insurance policies will be able to keep them.

If the House bill isn’t going anywhere, where’s the threat to Obamacare coming from? From the one defection that matters: Obama himself. He, too, is threatened. Not by Republicans — Obama never has to face the voters again — but by the prospect of congressional Democrats abandoning him. That’s why he had to reverse course and offer the “fix.” It’s supposed to give Democrats political cover.

Congressional Democrats don’t seem especially happy with the president’s fix. They are trying to put together their own legislative remedy. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is proposing a bill that would allow people to keep their old health insurance plans — not for one year as Obama has proposed, but indefinitely. Several other Democratic senators have signed on, including some, like Landrieu, who face difficult re-election prospects next year.

The threat to Obamacare is clear. Allowing people to keep cut-rate, shoddy policies that do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act will create two separate risk pools. A lot of young, healthy Americans will stay with their old, cheap policies, while older and sicker people, desperate for coverage, will enroll in Obamacare.

That will cause insurance premiums to skyrocket next year. “Cancellation today, sticker shock tomorrow,” Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chief sponsor of the House Republican bill, predicted.

Obama is trying to limit the risk by allowing people to keep their old policies for one more year. The president’s expectation is that the old plans will simply die out and everyone will end up in Obamacare. But the old plans won’t die if people are allowed to keep them or if companies are allowed to keep selling them.

Angry liberals see what’s going on — and are furious. They are furious with the president for going wobbly. And with Republicans for trying to kill Obamacare piece by piece.

Liberals “don’t want to see this law eviscerated by death by a thousand cuts,” the executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action told Politico. “The answer is not to undo Obamacare or to undo major provisions of it like allowing those junk plans to continue.”

But that is precisely the game plan Boehner described to his party. So far, everything is going according to plan.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.

Opposing Obamacare: GOP’s Defining Issue

October 28th, 2013

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After the French Revolution, the statesman and diplomat Talleyrand said of the Bourbon kings, “They learned nothing and they forgot nothing.” The same might be said of congressional Republicans after their disastrous government shutdown adventure.

Obamacare survives. That itself is something of a miracle. Look at how many near-death experiences it has been through. The loss of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2009 deprived Democrats of the majority they needed to end a Senate filibuster. They managed to circumvent the filibuster by applying a controversial rule that allowed the bill to pass with a simple majority.

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm election by promising to repeal Obamacare. The House has now voted 46 times — 46 times! — to repeal Obamacare, only to see the votes ignored by the Democratic Senate.

In 2012, the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court by a vote of five-to-four — but only after Chief Justice John Roberts defined healthcare not as a constitutional right, but as a benefit that can be taken away at any time. The court described the Affordable Care Act as a decision “entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”

This month, Republicans shut down the federal government rather than pass a budget that included funding for Obamacare. The result? A wave of public anger over Republican tactics, plus damage to the economy. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still the law.

So what have Republicans learned? Nothing. “We fought the fight. We didn’t win,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) said. “We lived to fight another day.”

For Republicans, opposition to Obamacare has become a defining issue,  like antiwar sentiment was for Democrats during the war in Iraq. Of course, people were being killed in Iraq. But look at what Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said about Obamacare: “Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the message to seniors is, “You’re going to die sooner. When you restrict the ability of primary caregivers in this country to do what is best for their senior patients, what you’re doing is limiting their life expectancy.”

The antiwar movement had an explicit and feasible objective: End the war. President Barack Obama got elected on a promise to do just that. And he did.

Do Republicans have any reasonable prospect of ending Obamacare? They think so — even after all those near-death experiences. They take hope from all the problems this month with the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website.

Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, put it this way to the New York Times: “If the website glitches are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s only a matter of time before the law sinks and takes with it those Democrats who wrote it, voted for it and are proud of it.”

What Republicans are trying to do is create a wave of public anger against Obamacare that will sweep the GOP into office, starting with next year’s midterm election. They want 2014 to be the reverse of 2006. In 2006, a wave of public anger over the war in Iraq swept Republicans out of power in Congress, presaged Obama’s presidential election win two years later — and ended the war. In 2014, Republicans expect a wave of public anger over Obamacare to sweep Democrats out of power in Congress, presage the election of a Republican President in 2016 — and end Obamacare.

Right now, Republicans are getting their wave of public anger, but it’s aimed largely at them. Public support for Obamacare has actually been increasing in the post-shutdown polls.

Yes, there are serious problems with the federal website, but they don’t affect most Americans. A majority of people still get health insurance from their employers, and another third get it from the government (through Medicare and Medicaid). This will not change, though Republicans warn that employers may try to avoid paying healthcare premiums by reducing workers’ hours. And 40 percent of the uninsured live in states like California, which have their own healthcare exchanges — that have been working pretty well.

Nonetheless, public awareness of problems with the federal website has been growing. Time magazine reports that 46 percent of Americans believe the exchanges are working “not too well” or “not well at all.” The administration has hired a new contractor who promises to have the federal website fixed by the end of November.

Nervous Democrats also have been pressuring the Obama administration to extend the penalty-free deadline for enrollment. The administration has now agreed to extend it for six weeks, until the end of March. Some Democrats are calling for a yearlong extension. They are clearly worried about the November 2014 midterm.

Meanwhile, Republicans are doing everything they can to publicize the problems and discourage people from signing up. The administration is aiming to have seven million people signed up by the end of 2014. The Obama administration estimates that 700,000 people have applied for private insurance plans using the federal and state exchanges, although many of them have enrolled in Medicaid, which is a public program. Republicans have started their own website where frustrated applicants can report problems with Obamacare.

Republicans in Congress have shifted strategies from trying to kill Obamacare outright to investigating problems with the new law. Does anyone really think those investigations are aimed at saving or improving the law? More likely, they are aimed at driving down public confidence.

The GOP’s political strategy here is pretty simple: Do everything possible to discourage young and healthy people from signing up for Obamacare. If the new insurance plans are dominated by the old and the sick — people who are desperate to get coverage — then insurance premiums will skyrocket. And a wave of public anger is certain to follow.

There is a name for such a strategy. It’s called sabotage.

This piece originally published via Reuters.

Third Way Accepts North American Think Tank of the Year Award

July 8th, 2013

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Only 8 1/2 years after opening our doors, Third Way was honored by  Prospect Magazine—Britain’s leading monthly current affairs magazine—as the 2013 North American Think Tank of the Year for our, “original, influential, and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments, and businesses.” Below you will find Third Way President Jon Cowan’s acceptance speech. You can also view photos of the ceremony or read Mike Allen’s write up in POLITICO.

On behalf of everyone at Third Way, I want to thank you for this incredible honor.

As an American, it’s always humbling to speak in London.  After all, the Royal Society has been an organization longer than we’ve been a country. But this is the perfect setting for these awards.  The Royal Society has always had subversion at its heart.  This is the native home of rebels, misfits, and revolutionaries.

As you know well, it is from this Society’s lectern that Ben Franklin first told the world about his kite.  That Watson and Crick told the world about DNA.  That houses, a few floors from here, a piece of the tree from which Sir Isaac Newton’s apple fell. These are people who were willing to challenge the established order of everything.  Who had the daring to see beyond conventional wisdom—to imagine, to question, and to create—all in the name of moving the human race forward.

The only part of science where this impulse has been rare is political science—especially as it is practiced today.  It makes all of us susceptible to heroes from the past. For me, the names I can’t get out of my head are not American, but British:  Harold Macmillan…Anthony Eden…Duff Cooper…Bob Boothby…”Bobbety” Cranbourne…Ronald Cartland…Harold Nicolson…and Leo Amery.

In the best history book I have read in a decade, author Lynne Olson calls them what Macmillan called them: Troublesome Young Men. For years, I was led to believe that Winston Churchill was a lone voice crying out against appeasement in the late 1930s. Instead, it was this group of young Tories—all members of the old boys society—who came together to oppose men they had gone to school with . . . to push Churchill forward . . . and bring down a prime minister of their own party. They were called traitors—to their friends, their government, their class and their country. The Lord Chancellor said they should be shot and hanged.  But in the end, they were right.  Their subversion helped save Britain—and all the world. Read the rest of this entry »

GOP: Blame message not the messenger

November 26th, 2012

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This piece was originally featured on Reuters.

Here’s what’s supposed to be happening: After losing two presidential elections, Republicans are supposed to be re-evaluating what their party stands for. Are they out of line with mainstream America? Does the party need to change?

The answer is yes. So the party moves to the center and searches for candidates with broader appeal. Republicans don’t need another spectacle like the 2012 primaries, where the contenders ran the gamut from a panderer to the right (Mitt Romney), to the far right (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum), to the extreme right (Representative Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry), to the lunatic fringe (Herman Cain, Representative Ron Paul). Read the rest of this entry »