Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:01 am

Matt Yglesias gets shrill. And real.

We’ve heard a lot of bullshit these past several years about Social Security, so as an antitoxin, here’s Matt Yglesias:

The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it’s a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work. That’s not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It’s not a contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It’s not a dubious interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That’s the point. It’s to give people money so they can retire with dignity. “Retire” being a fancy word for “not working.” You’re never ever going to persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders) in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public policy.

And guess what we haven’t done during this era of changing projections? We haven’t cut Social Security benefits. We haven’t raised the age at which people become eligible for Medicare. We’ve done things to reduce budget deficits, in other words, but we haven’t really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don’t like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about “the deficit,” and they’re not going to stop.

The Powers that Be have had their way for way too long. I think it’s time that the rest of America slapped them and told them to shut their whore mouths.

 

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Monday, April 9, 2012 8:03 pm

Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own math

Dean Baker eviscerates both James B. Stewart of The New York Times and Rep. Paul Ryan’s massive tax cuts for rich folks disguised as a federal budget:

What Stewart tells us is reasonable is that the budget calls for cuts in entitlements and tax reform. He then asks who could disagree with this.

One has to wonder whether Stewart has looked at the Ryan budget. First, on taxes the only specifics are cuts in the tax rates paid by rich people and corporations. None of the offsetting tax increases are specified.

If this sounds like a sensible opening gambit, let’s imagine the equivalent on the opposite side. Suppose that we proposed to increase Social Security benefits for the bottom two income quintiles of retirees. Suppose that we also proposed increased spending on infrastructure, research and development, and education.

Suppose the left-wing Ryan budget wrote down that these spending increases would be offset by unspecified reductions in government waste. We then told CBO to score it accordingly. Is this a good starting point for further discussion? …

Even more to the point: Is there anyone who has been paying attention for the past 20 years who believes that if some leftist proposed such a budget as Baker hypothesizes, the mainstream media (forget Fox) wouldn’t go utterly batshit calling out the many problems, miscalculations and flawed assumptions contained therein, including but not limited to some that were not flawed or miscalculated at all (Politifact and Factcheck, I’m looking at you)?

The Ryan budget is proving to be a wonderful Rorschach test. We have people who want to be part of the inside Washington conversation who praise the budget’s courage and integrity. Then we have people who believe in arithmetic who call it what it is: a piece of trash.

Why does this matter? Because people who ought to know better are running round calling Paul Ryan a serious thinker, when in fact he is either unable or unwilling to do fifth-grade math, and because there’s a nontrivial chance he will be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 8:09 pm

That silence you hear is the sound of exploding health-care costs not exploding anymore

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: ,

and the media not covering the fact.

While our elected representatives wrangle over slicing entitlements, virtually no one seems to be paying attention to an eye-popping fact: Medicare reimbursements are no longer accelerating at a breakneck pace. The new numbers should be factored into any discussion about healthcare spending:  From 2000 through 2009, Medicare’s outlays climbed by an average of 9.7 percent a year. By contrast, since the beginning of 2010, Medicare spending has been rising by less than 4 percent a year. On this,  both Standard Poor’s Index Committee and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agree. (S&P tracks healthcare spending with the help of Milliman Inc., an independent actuarial and consulting firm.)

What explains the 18-month slow-down?  No one is entirely certain. But at the end of July David Blitzer, the chairman of Standard &Poor’s Index Committee, told me: “I’m hesitant to say that this is a clear long-term trend.  But it’s more than a blip on the screen.” …

In the S&P report on healthcare spending released on July 21, [Blitzer] wrote: “many participants [in the healthcare system] have indicated that providers are trying to address health care reform and are looking for ways to control costs. If true, this combination certainly would be a contributory factor to the moderation in cost we have witnessed since early 2010.”

Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist and former special adviser for health policy to White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, is certain that this is what is happening.  When I spoke to him last week, Emanuel, said:  “This is not mere chance: this is directly related to the initiation of health care reform.”  It is  not the result of reform, Emmanuel emphasized.  The reform measures that will rein in Medicare inflation have not yet been implemented.  But, he explained, providers are “anticipating the Affordable Care Act kicking in.”  They can’t wait until the end of 2013: “They have to act today.  Everywhere I go,” Emanuel, added, “medical schools and hospitals are asking me, ‘How can we cut our costs by 10 to 15 percent?’

“This is doable, since there is so much fat in the system” said Emanuel,  a doctor who is well aware of just how often unnecessary tests and procedures hike medical bills, while exposing patients to needless risks.  It is worth noting that Emanuel is far from cavalier about cutting Medicare benefits that could help patients.  A medical ethicist, he has recently been chosen to lead the medical ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. But Emanuel understands that patients do not benefit from waste, and that today, our medical culture encourages health care providers to “do more,” without always considering whether medical evidence justifies another test or treatment.

A couple of points to ponder here:

  • The mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act that most directly limit growth in health-care costs haven’t even kicked in yet. So we don’t know how much the act has saved or is likely to save. But the early, not-directly-probative evidence is that those savings are likely to be substantial — at least enough that the act pays for itself (which means, among other things, insuring 30 million previously uninsured Americans).
  • If, in fact, this slowing in the growth rate continues, then all of a sudden, one of the most widely used arguments for draconian cuts in federal spending gets a leg knocked out from under it. Given Washington Republicans’ imperviousness to fact in a wide range of public-policy issues, I do not expect this outcome to change the tone or substance of what they say. But, if this info gets a wider hearing, it might well change the way in which voters respond to what they say.

  

 

Monday, May 10, 2010 11:10 pm

Rumors, like mushrooms, grow where there’s no light and lots of manure

In the absence of any of the promised transparency for the Simpson-Bowles commission looking at entitlement reform (read: screwing even more wealth out of what’s left of the middle class and working class under the guise of ensuring the long-term survival of Social Security, which actually is in relatively decent shape, and Medicare, which, whoa), we are left only with quasi-informed speculation as to the motivations and likely behavior of the commission based on the records and affiliations of its members, which Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has helpfully compiled.

And what do we learn from this compilation? Short version: We are so screwed, and by “we,” I mean anyone making less than about $5 million a year.

There has been much talk over the decades about “making tough choices” with respect to entitlements. Now, from where I sit, a “tough choice” is a choice that discomfits people with real power, like, say, a substantially higher marginal income tax rate or, God forbid, a quasi-confiscatory wealth tax to try to claw back some of what has been stolen from us over the past few decades. But, trust me, with this crowd the only tough choice to be made is whether to yell “Tough t—y!” or “Tough s—!” at us proles.

Read ’em and weep:

Member Open to cutting benefits? Expressed support for privatization? Conflicts of Interest
Erskine Bowles, Chair YES – Bowles is on the record that the commission will “mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there. YES – Negotiated deal with Newt Gingrich to raise Social Security retirement age & some privatization under Clinton; deal was stopped by Lewinski scandal. Sits on the board of Morgan Stanley. Wife Candice is on the board of JP Morgan Chase. Finance, insurance & real estate sector donated over $3 million to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate bid.
Alan Simpson, R-WY-ret, Co-Chair YES – When asked about cuts he would recommend to the President and Congress on CNBC, Simpson said “We are going to stick to the big three,” meaning Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. YES – “[A]s recently as 2005, Simpson…supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.” (2/27/2010) Simpson and Peterson were appointed to Bill Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement Reform in 1994. Both voted to recommend partial privatization of Medicare, and raising Social Security age of eligibility to 70, Simpson awarded “Economic Patriot” award by Peterson’s Concord Coalition in 1996.
Ann Fudge Unknown Unknown Board member on the Council of Foreign Relations, where Peterson is Chairman Emeritus and Robert Rubin is Director/Co-Chair, fundraiser for Obama campaign, Novartis Board of Directors
Alice Rivlin YES – Co-author with OMB director Peter Orszag of a Brookings report titled “Restoring Fiscal Sanity” advocating $47 billion in entitlement cuts, including an “increase in the retirement age under Social Security” and “more accurate inflation adjustments to Social Security benefits.” Unknown Board member with Pete Peterson on Committee for a Responsible Budget, Former board member with Peterson of Public Agenda (Peterson gave them $500,000 in 2009), Advisory Council member of Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project, Senior Fellow at the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institute (position funded by Peterson Foundation/Concord Coalition donations).
John Spratt (D-SC) Yes – “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes – “Spratt favors supplementing Social Security with a private savings plan that would either be mandatory “or else so attractive that everyone would sign up for it.” He also advocates investing about 20 percent of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market.” (4/7/1998, per Lexis)
Andy Stern Unknown – Previously opposed to cuts, but said recently that entitlement programs “need to be re-examined”. Expressed support for of “the possibility of add-on universal private accounts.”
Dick Durbin (D-IL) YES – Durbin admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. Unknown
David M Cote Likely – Cote is a Republilcan. Unknown CEO of defense contractor Honeywell. The defense industry has consolidated itself into a few big players, and they see their financial futures in competition with social safety net programs for government dollars. They won big when 9/11 blew the lock off the Social Security “lockbox.”
Paul Ryan (R-WI) YES – Ryan’s recently released budget plan calls for “enormous tax cuts for the affluent and “very large benefit cuts… in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.” YES –Ryan proposes to give people under age 55 the choice of opting out of Social Security into privatized personal accounts. Ranking minority member on House budget committee.
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) YES – On Hardball, “Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) argued that to balance the budget Congress needed to consider reducing Social Security spending for yet-to-be-retired beneficiaries.” (2/2/10) Yes – In a 2005 Congressional hearing, said that “the trust fund has already been raided 59 different times,” but that “with the exception of the great depression there has never been a four year consecutive period where the stock market has declined.” If allowing people to invest in half their Social Security in a personal account will “give them greater retirement security,” he said, “why wouldn’t we choose that plan?” Second ranking minority member on House budget comittee
Dave Camp (R-MI) Likely – Says he doesn’t want to cut current retirees’ monthly checks, but Diamond-Orszag plan being pushed by the Obama administration cuts benefits for future retirees who are now under 55. Yes – “He was a strong supporter of Bush’s proposal to create private investment accounts within Social Security, despite the backlash the plan encountered,” per CQ Healthbeat, 2/2/09 (Nexix). Also a signatory to Republican Main Street Partnership 98-RMSP3. Ranking minority member, Ways & Means Committee
Xavier Becerra (D-CA) No No
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) No No
Judd Gregg (R-NH) Yes – Gregg’s plan “would reduce the traditional guaranteedretirement benefits for today’s workers.

” (USA Today, 7/27/98, Nexis)

Yes – Gregg’s solution to “Social Security’s fiscal problems” included “large-scale privatization” and raising the eligibility age to 70 by the year 2029. Ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee
Tom Coburn (R-OK) Yes –“There are only three things you can do with Social Security,” Coburn said. “You can raise taxes on Social Security, you can allow option-out into private accounts or you can delay retirement age…I’m not for raising taxes on Social Security when you fix it other ways.” (4/25/10) Yes – “Coburn called for creation of private accounts that would keep Congress from spending the money.” (Oklahoman, 11/26/04, Nexis)
Mike Crapo (R-ID) Likely – Co-sponsor of the DeMint-Crapo Amendment, which would have “made no changes to the benefits of those Americans born before January 1, 1950.” Like Dave Camp, implied benefit cuts to those born afterwards. Yes –DeMint-Crapo Amendment would have “provided a voluntary option for younger Americans to obtain legally binding ownership of a portion of their [Social Security[ benefits…I believe that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own money.”
Max Baucus (D-MT) Likely – Baucus said he was open to discussion if Bush would take privatization off the table Unknown Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, tapped by Reid to lead the battle against President Bush’s privatization of Social Security. But according to Yglesias, “the Democrats’ only real victory of the last five years–stuffing the administration on Social Security–came after Harry Reid explicitly ordered Baucus not to negotiate with the White House.”
Kent Conrad (D-ND) Yes – “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota….are promoting a “grand bargain” in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.” (2/23/2009) Yes – “I think there is a kernel of a good idea with individual accounts because we do need to find a way to get a higher rate of return on funds invested in Social Security. But I cannot support a plan that is financed by massive new debt.…This administration is not collecting the taxes that are due now. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year that are owed that are not being paid. We should do that. That would give us a new revenue stream that could be applied to individual accounts and the other parts of the budget deficits that are hurting the country.” (This Week, February 13, 2005, Nexis) Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010 6:26 pm

Why people hate Washington

Shorter Dean Baker: Because it keeps taking money from honest working people and using it to reward rich douchebags who effed up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:56 pm

Odds and ends for 12/16

Like Willie Sutton said, you rob banks because that’s where the money is: And if you want to cut the deficit, you also go where the money is:

Health-care reform: Nate Silver has 20 questions for people who want to kill the health-care bill, and Jon Walker has 20 answers. Go read this. Seriously, right now. I’ll wait. Because this might be the best combination of comprehensive and clear that you’ll find on whether or not the current Senate bill deserves to live. Kudos to both bloggers.

Glenn Greenwald says Obama is getting the health-care bill he really wanted. I find it hard to disagree.

But it isn’t the health-care bill WE wanted: 63% of Americans say they wanted Medicare expanded to cover 55- to 64-year-olds; only 33% disagree.

It isn’t the health-care bill doctors wanted, either: UC-San Francisco physicians explain, among other things, why the patents-forever provision is such as bad idea.

Indeed, health-care reform is JUST LIKE the Holocaust: Hey, if Laura Ingraham says it, it must be true, right?

Matthew Yglesias on Time magazine’s choice of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as Person of the Year, for the win: “[I]t demonstrates a very specific class skew — extraordinary intervention into the market place just long enough to fix the situation from the point of view of asset-owners while leaving wage-earners holding the bag. But the owners and managers and editors of Time Magazine and the companies that advertise in it probably don’t care so much about that.”

What could possibly go wrong?: Western military leaders are seeking additional support in Afghanistan from … wait for it … Russia.

But … but … but … Republicans believe global warming is a myth!: A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to have visited a fortuneteller or to claim to have seen ghosts or talked to the dead. (Interestingly, whites, blacks and Hispanics all reported having seen ghosts at about the same rate.)

“One more such victory and we are ruined”: The Pentagon actually wins a Gitmo detainee’s habeas-corpus case … but comes out looking like dirt.

And the fun doesn’t stop with health care: John Cole of Balloon Juice observes, “The best thing about health care reform is that it is a primer for Banking and Financial Regulation. We get to look forward to watching the House bill get neutered down by the conservadems, the GOP will be aligned in unison with industry against, and then when the final bill is not up to Howard Dean’s standards, the progressives can sink it because it isn’t good enough, and noted liberals like Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden, and Russ Feingold will be labeled sellouts to the cause just like they were with health care. Also, I’m sure this will all be Rahm’s fault.”

John Cole was right: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., indeed is getting ready to screw us over some more on bank bailouts. His 2010 re-election already is in serious jeopardy. Good.

Saturday, December 12, 2009 9:13 pm

Odds and ends for 12/12

It ain’t just me: The AARP also apparently has sussed out that this proposed bipartisan deficit-reduction committee is just a stalking horse for gutting Social Security and Medicare without Congress standing in the way.

Jackasses du jour: Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz and Summit (Colo.) Daily News Publisher Jim Morgan, Katz for defrauding his customers and Morgan for firing one of his journalists for writing about it (i.e., doing his job). May you both rot in bankruptcy early in the New Year and learn the joys of seeking a job in the Bush-league Depression.

It ain’t the climate they’re worried about: In a vacuum, an Ipsos/McClatchy poll finds, a bare majority (52%) of Americans supports cap-and-trade. But 60% support it, even if it would raise electric bills an average of $25 a month, if it also creates “green” jobs. My takeaway? Jobs are Job 1.

Quote of the day, from commenter “liam” at PlumLine: “If we go to clean renewable energy, and it turns out that the global warming claims were wrong, we still end up with cleaner air and are not dependant on foreign oil. … If we heed the skeptics, and do nothing, and they turn out to be wrong, then our planet will have become a complete disaster, and it would be too late to reverse the damage.”

Quote of the day runner-up, from David Dayen: “This is the worst possible time to put on plastic armor and go into your backyard and yell “Wolverine!” in arguing for cutting the deficit. It’s not a matter of being resolute, it’s a matter of being foolhardy.”

Friday, December 11, 2009 6:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/11

Memo to BoingBoing.net: Rick Warren has not “done the right thing.” Rick Warren has merely done the only thing that might stave off a PR disaster for himself and what he laughably passes off as a “ministry.” There’s a difference. “Doing the right thing” would have required Ranger Rick to immediately, loudly and repeatedly denounce state-sanctioned murder of gays (and imprisonment of their families/friends for not reporting them). Now study up; this will be on the final.

Why don’t we have a health-care bill yet? Here’s one reason.

Success! Because why in the world would we want to regulate the financial instrument that almost destroyed the global economy?

Aetna’s solution to Robert Steinback’s health-insurance needs: “Die, Mr. Steinback.” As the brother of two guys with Type 1 diabetes, I feel his pain, and I’m still waiting for someone to explain credibly to me why we don’t need at the least a national, robust public option, if not single-payer.

Not exactly giving us what we like: The Senate health-care proposal is less popular than the public option. How much less popular? Seventeen percentage points. That’s huge.

You want death panels? You can’t handle death panels!

And speaking of panels: Digby has a name for the panel Pete Peterson is proposing to figure out a way to balance the budget: the Bipartisan Committee To Destroy Social Security and Medicare So Wealthy People Don’t Ever Have To Pay Higher Taxes. Prolix but accurate.

Facts matter. So take that, Glenn Beck supporters.

The party of responsibility and accountability, which controls the S.C. legislature, has declined to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford.

Another way to get by without health insurance: Yitzhak Ganon just didn’t go see the doctor. For sixty-five years.

We’ve killed al-Qaeda’s No. 3 guy. Again.

The grownups of fact-checking take on “Climategate.” Their findings will surprise no one and enrage denialists.

Shorter Sarah Palin: “Correcting my (many) factual mistakes = making the issue something it’s not.”

Does Fox News want to make us laugh, or is it simply trying to bankrupt Rupert Murdoch?: Even by the rug-burn standards of online polling, this question is so loaded it is leaving big cracks in the digital asphalt.

Green? Shoot!: The number of people shifting to emergency unemployment insurance because their regular coverage had run out topped 379,000 last week, bringing the overall total to a record 4.2 million. At the current rate of increase, the number of people getting emergency payments will top the people getting regular payments (5.5 million) within a month.

Green? Shoot!, the sequel: Independent financial analyst David Rosenberg (via ZeroHedge) says that 1) because of contracting credit and asset deflation, we’re not in a recession, we’re in a depression; 2) the 20% deflation of household assets in the past 18 months — a loss of $12 trillion in value — is “a degree of trauma we have never seen before”, 3) … aw, hell, just go read the whole thing. It’s orders of magnitude more depressing than anything on CNBC, but also appears orders of magnitude more fact-based, unfortunately.

Green? Shoot! Reloaded: Paul Krugman offers some objective criteria by which we might determine exactly what constitutes “good news on the job front.”  Just remember, we’ve got to make up lost ground. A lot of lost ground.

Public pants-wetting: Why do Reps. Trent Franks, Steve King and Sue Myrick hate America?

In news that will surprise exactly zero parents, scientists now say 98% of children under the age of 10 are sociopaths.

And, finally, some good news (h/t: Fred), or, When the Germans say “Prost!”, they mean it: Beer could fight prostate cancer.

Friday, June 19, 2009 8:20 pm

Teh Stoopid is making us sicker and poorer*

Last summer, I did a piece for the N&R that talked about how as much as a third of the $2.4 trillion or so Americans spend every year on health care goes toward drugs, devices or procedures for which there is insufficient, or even no, evidence of absolute or relative effectiveness.

So this year, HR 2502 was introduced to create a Comparative Effectiveness Institute that would research and report on how well drugs/devices/procedures, some of which generate huge amounts of revenue for health-care companies, work both in absolute terms and in comparison to one another. (As I noted in my article, a similar measure was introduced in the last Congress, but it didn’t get far.) Y0u would think that a rigorous program of checking the effectiveness of these things, given its potential to put a huge dent in health-care costs, would be a popular idea.

You would be wrong:

On Monday, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the “Preserving Access to Targeted, Individualized, and Effective New Treatments and Services (PATIENTS) Act of 2009,” a new bill prohibiting Medicare or Medicaid from using “comparative effectiveness research to deny coverage.”

And why would Jon Kyl do this? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count:

Pharmaceutical representatives currently instructs doctors on the effectiveness of medications, and the industry opposes research that would lead the government to eschew coverage for ineffective or unnecessary treatments. Fewer prescriptions translate into lower profits and the industry lobbied hard to pare down the cost effectiveness language in the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill. In fact, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have donated $1,971,968 to Kyl’s career election efforts and ran ads on Kyl’s behalf in 2006. Moreover, according to recently released 2008 personal finance disclosures, Kyl invests heavily in pharmaceutical companies.

Substantively, opposition to this kind of research is awful public policy; politically, it shows breathtaking amounts of hypocrisy and chutzpah:

1. Politicians who rail against wasteful government spending are taking action to prevent the government from reining in … wasteful spending.

2. Politicians who warn that the burden of entitlements is killing the federal budget are stepping in to block … the single most painless route to reducing the growth of entitlements.

3. They’re doing it in the name of avoiding “rationing of health care” … but they’re specifically addressing taxpayer-funded care. If you want to go out and buy a medically useless treatment, Medicare won’t stop you.

4. These same politicians are, of course, opposed to efforts to expand coverage. In other words, it’s evil for government to “ration care” by only paying for things that work; it is, however, perfectly OK, indeed virtuous, to ration care by refusing to pay for any care at all.

It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether some people really want health-care reform.

*h/t to Shannon Brownlee for the title

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