"The Kids Aren't Alright": Millennials Demand Economic Stability for all LBGTQ People, Now

Nov 8, 2013Erik Lampmann

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Ask any college senior today what they are most focused on and they will reply with the same phrase: a job. Today’s young people grew up during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They’ve seen their own government shut down over funding disputes, the student loan debt bubble top $1 trillion, and income inequality soar through the roof. According to reports, 41.3% of those aged 25-34 will spend at least a year earning less than 150 percent of the poverty line.

In short, young people – notably those without college degrees – understand that the fight for financial stability is an uphill battle in today’s America. Perhaps for this reason, it is downright inconceivable to even some of the most conservative Millennials that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people don’t have the same level of employment protection as other historically disadvantaged social groups.

This week, for the first time, it seems as though one of the ‘secondary’ issues of the LGBTQ movement is finally getting its time to shine. The Senate passed its version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) Thursday, voting 64 to 32 in favor of barring discrimination by “employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees ... on the basis of an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some straight Americans may mistakenly believe that LGBTQ advocates would only have agitated for marriage equality after having secured workplace nondiscrimination for queer people. They would argue that, while marriage carries a certain religious weight, the idea of protecting LGBTQ people from wrongful termination seems like common sense.  It would surprise many, then, to know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have no workplace protections in 29 states and trans* people remain vulnerable in 34 states.

Progressives are now attempting to capitalize on the Senate’s passage of ENDA to pressure House members to vote similarly when their version of the bill comes to the floor in the near future. Since 90 percent of Americans believe that LGBTQ people are already protected from discrimination, one would hope that liberals in the House would have an easy time sealing the deal on ENDA before the end of the month.

Say what you will about the movement for marriage equality in the United States, it’s at least been successful in its marketing. It seems likely that the average American could tell you that LGBTQ people are struggling for one thing: marriage. While the lion’s share of the financial, human, and media resources of the LGBTQ movement have gone towards the push for same-sex marriage at the state and federal level, it’s not accurate to say that LGBTQ Americans only care about marriage to the detriment of other pressing issues. In fact, a vocal minority of queer people have pushed the mainstream ‘gay’ establishment for years to shift their priorities toward other issues, such as workforce and housing protections, violence against queer communities, and the provision of inclusive healthcare to LGBTQ people.

It’s unfortunate that some of these organizations now find themselves up against a wall. Yes, ENDA has been passed by the Senate for the first time and seems destined for the same in the House. Yet many queer are concerned by religious exemptions negotiated into both the House and Senate drafts of the bill.  These strategic loopholes open the floodgates for religious organizations to continue to ostracize, harass, or discriminate against the queer movement family.

One of these queer organizations, GetEqual, announced its public opposition to the current drafts of ENDA. They were alarmed by the ability of these religious exemptions to undermine their goal of collective liberation for all queer people. Additionally, they were troubled by the idea that national LGBTQ religious exemptions might then be deployed against advocates working to expand women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health services. GetEqual’s Co-Director, Heather Cronk, went as far as to say that, “Conservatives believe that ‘religious liberty’ should trump all other democratic constructs – including equal protection – and we must call out that they're wrapping bigotry up in shiny packages of religious liberty and hoping no one notices.” It’s clear to me, and the young people I work alongside, that equity with conditions (as articulated in the Senate’s version of ENDA) isn’t really equity at all.

To some extent, this conversation around ENDA and ‘compromise’ has evolved into a sort of motif of the LGBTQ movement. For years, grassroots organizers have found liberal elected representatives willing to sponsor nondiscrimination ordinances to protect ‘sexual orientation’ as a suspect class. But for many officials, the term ‘gender identity’ or perhaps ‘gender identity and expression’ has carried an entirely different political, or even radical, charge. Again and again, mainstream gay organizations caved to the demands of politicians to limit the scope of their work to ‘LGB’ populations – leaving the trans* community out to dry. Perhaps due to this storied past, the pressure on progressives to concede to the demands of the Christian right’s religious exemption seems ever so familiar and frightening.

In light of the failure of previous concessions to substantially decrease rates of violence against LGBTQ people and bring all queer people under the umbrella of legal protections, I’m hesitant to endorse a pre-conditioned draft of ENDA. Instead of accepting the religious exception as a fait accompli, we ought to pressure our elected officials to protect queer people from harassment, discrimination, and persecution everywhere from anyone. We must push them to see past the façade of religious fundamentalism to the continued oppression of LGBTQ people at home and abroad.

 

Consequently, young people must say with one voice: we demand access to economic stability for all people – including LGBTQ communities – without condition. We cannot allow our elected officials to carve out spaces where queer people are protected and other spaces where it’s legal to discriminate.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

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Daily Digest - November 8: Worker Safety in Workers' Hands Isn't Enough

Nov 8, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

It’s Not Safe Out There (In These Times)

Leo Gerard writes about the serious dangers workers faced due to a perpetually understaffed Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is so shorthanded that it frequently relies on workers to report safety violations despite legitimate fears of retaliation.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

It’s Not Safe Out There (In These Times)

Leo Gerard writes about the serious dangers workers faced due to a perpetually understaffed Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is so shorthanded that it frequently relies on workers to report safety violations despite legitimate fears of retaliation.

$10 Minimum Wage Proposal Has Obama’s Backing (NYT)

Catherine Rampell and Steven Greenhouse report on the White House's announcement, which gave the President's support to a bill that would also tie the minimum wage to inflation. The House rejected that bill earlier this year, but apparently it's not over yet.

15 Under-the-Radar Progressive Wins of Election 2013 (Bill Moyers)

Moyers & Company reports on the less publicized victories for progressives this year. Highlights include mayoral races in cities beyond New York and Boston, anti-fracking ordinances in three Colorado cities, and Royal Oak, Michigan's ban on LGBT discrimination.

Blaming Conventions (Washington Monthly)

Ed Kilgore considers whether it really matters if candidates are chosen by primary or convention, since some are blaming the convention selection of Ken Cuccinelli for the GOP's loss in Virginia's gubernatorial race. He says it doesn't make a difference.

New Help for the Poor: Cash Grants, Through a Web Site (The New Yorker)

Sasha Abramsky looks at the website Benevolent, which helps people solicit funds for very specific needs. He contrasts the site's success at fundraising around stories with the often strong political opposition to cash grants.

The More Central Bankers Explain Themselves, the More Confused the Markets Get (Quartz)

Jason Karaian asks why the Federal Reserve hasn't been sticking to its philosophy of "forward guidance," meant to minimize market uncertainty. It seems that analysts are taking central bankers' statements as the word of god, even though nothing is set in stone.

New on Next New Deal

Progressivism in America: Are We Opening a New Chapter in Our Book of Self-Government?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian David Woolner suggests that this week's election results are not just a rejection of the hard right, but a return to one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ideas regarding faith in government to reach united purposes.

  • Roosevelt Take: David Woolner is one of many speakers at "Progressivism in America: Past, Present, and Future," a conference cosponsored by the Roosevelt Institute and University College Dublin's Clinton Institute, today and tomorrow. The event is being livestreamed from Dublin.

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Progressivism in America: Are We Opening a New Chapter in Our Book of Self-Government?

Nov 7, 2013David B. Woolner

As Americans reject the extreme right wing at the polls, FDR's vision of self-government may be on the rise again. Note: On Nov. 8-9, David Woolner and other leading thinkers will explore the past, present, and future of progressivism at a conference hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Click here for details and livestream.

As Americans reject the extreme right wing at the polls, FDR's vision of self-government may be on the rise again. Note: On Nov. 8-9, David Woolner and other leading thinkers will explore the past, present, and future of progressivism at a conference hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Click here for details and livestream.

The results of this week’s elections have led to a good deal of speculation in the press about the repudiation of the hard right among the American electorate. Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s victory over Tea Party-backed Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race and Republican Governor Chris Christie’s impressive reelection win in heavily Democratic New Jersey have both been interpreted as evidence of the broader appeal of moderates in both parties. If true, this would be a welcome development, particularly on the Republican side of the ledger, where the obstructionist winner-take-all attitude of the extreme right has rendered the United States virtually ungovernable and nearly brought the country to ruin on two occasions within the past two years.

President Obama and other political leaders on both sides have frequently cited the economic damage that this “crisis governing” has wrought to our economy. But equally significant—particularly for those of us who favor more activist social and economic policies—is the damage done to government itself, and by extension, to our democracy.

Indeed, the American people’s faith in government, especially Congress, is at an all-time low. Of all the issues confronting liberals or progressives today it is this issue, faith in government, that is perhaps the most important. For without the support of the broad electorate it will be impossible for Congress and the executive to move forward on a whole range of issues.

Eighty years ago, in the midst of an even worse economic crisis, Franklin Roosevelt won the support of the American people by asking them “to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization.” Moreover, he insisted that the failed non-governmental attempts to meet the crisis brought on by the financial collapse of 1929-1932 left the American people “baffled and bewildered,” without the means to fashion “practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.”

But in the wake of the many programs that Congress and the president put in place to meet the crisis from 1933 on, the people began to sense the truth “that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit”, he continued, “that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease.”

In making this argument, FDR insisted that the American people were not discovering a wholly new truth, but were simply “writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.”

Our history, then, tells us that it is possible for us to meet the challenges before us—but only if we are willing, as FDR advised, “to find through government the instrument of our united purpose."

On November 8-9, the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin will hold a major international conference entitled Progressivism in America: Past, Present and Future. Featuring such noted figures as Nobel Laureate and Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, journalists like E.J. Dionne and Jonathan Alter, and historians such as Alan Brinkley and Ellen Chesler, the conference seeks to address today’s policy challenges with solutions grounded in and inspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt—including the all-important realization, as FDR remarked years ago—that “government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people.” This event will be livestreamed. Click here for more details.

David B. Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. 

 

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Richard Nixon Knew Family Planning Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Today’s GOP Doesn’t Care

Oct 28, 2013Andrea Flynn

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

For more than 40 years, Title X has provided family planning and reproductive health services to millions of American women. More recently, conservative lawmakers have targeted Title X as part of their obsession with shrinking the social safety net and restricting access to women’s health care. Those same opponents are now likely to argue that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) focus on women’s health renders Title X unnecessary.  But as I argue in my new paper published by the Roosevelt Institute, that is simply not the case. In reality, the success of the ACA and the health of women across the country are dependent on even greater support for existing family planning programs.

Title X is the nation’s only program solely dedicated to family planning. It was passed into law in 1970 with overwhelming bipartisan support and can in fact be credited to two Republican presidents: Richard Nixon, who signed the bill into law, and then-Congressman George H.W. Bush, who led the legislative effort. It provides critical medical care to low-income, immigrant, and young women and enables clinics to pay for and maintain facilities, train and hire staff, and purchase equipment and supplies.

Despite being perennially underfunded, the program delivers incredible health results. Last year it served 4.76 million women, preventing an estimated 996,000 unintended pregnancies, 200,000 of which were among teens. Research has shown that services provided at Title X clinics save federal and state governments more than $3 billion every year.

As millions of Americans gain health coverage for the first time thanks to the ACA, clinics funded by Title X will become an even more critical building block of our nation's health system. Even when individuals obtain coverage, many will continue to choose publicly funded clinics as their main source of care. In the four years following the implementation of Massachusetts’ health care reform, which served as the model for the ACA, publicly funded health centers experienced a 31 percent increase in patients, even though the number of uninsured visiting those facilities fell by more than 15 percent.

Even women who are already fully insured will continue to rely on Title X clinics for family planning because they can do so in complete confidence. Issues like intimate partner violence and religious beliefs of employers, family, and partners, cause many women to circumvent their insurance plans when accessing family planning services and instead rely on public providers.

The fact is, despite the GOP’s relentless strategic misinformation campaigns and the technology problems that bedeviled the rollout this month, the ACA is good for women. It mandates that insurance plans fully cover all methods of contraception, prohibits gender discrimination and denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, and enables young people to stay on their parent’s plans until they are 26. It requires plans to cover pap tests, STD screening, preconception and prenatal care visits, postpartum counseling and breastfeeding support, and one well visit a year. Make no mistake: this is groundbreaking.

Despite these historic advancements, many women will remain uninsured in the years to come. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the refusal of many states to accept federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid.  

The ACA was intended to be a path to health care for all Americans, and a major pillar of the law was the expansion of Medicaid to all individuals who fall below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three), with subsidies for individuals above that level to buy insurance in the marketplaces. But last year the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not constitutionally require states to expand Medicaid, and conservative lawmakers pounced on the opportunity to block a major component of the ACA.

Today, 22 states refuse to expand Medicaid even though the federal government will foot 100 percent of the bill for the first three years and cover at least 90 percent of the cost after that. These states are denying care to more than 3.5 million low-income women who badly need it. The New York Times reported that as a result, two-thirds of poor black and single mothers and more than half of uninsured, low-wage workers will remain without coverage.

Basically, women who fall into the coverage gap are not considered poor enough for Medicaid by their states, but because the ACA originally intended for them to be covered by the expansion, they also don't qualify for subsidies. And even if they did, the cost of subsidized insurance would likely still be prohibitive given their income level. These individuals will have no choice but to rely on the social safety net – in this case, Title X-funded clinics – for care.

The very critics who have staked their political careers on sinking the ACA and preventing scores of women from accessing family planning services – and who shut down the government in an attempt to do so – would love nothing more than to do away with Title X. They have tried unsuccessfully in recent years, and the program will certainly be in their crosshairs as they continue to chip away at the host of social programs on which low-income women rely.

The ACA, while an enormous advancement for women’s health, does not eliminate the need for the Title X program. Rather, Title X will maximize the impact and reach of the ACA and ensure quality care for those who will remain uninsured.

In the forthcoming budget battles, women’s health advocates will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain Title X’s current funding level, which has already been diminished by sequestration. The program is as critical today as it was when it was created. Today’s very different breed of GOP lawmakers could use a reminder that it was their own party four decades ago that realized investing in family planning was a critical way to improve the health of women, communities, and the entire nation. Who ever thought we’d be longing for Nixon? 

Read Andrea's paper, "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

 

Woman with pregnancy test banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - October 28: Watching the Surveillance State - and its Money

Oct 28, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry (The Real News Network)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry (The Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson speaks to Jaisal Noor about his new working paper, which drew a connection between the surveillance state and campaign donations. When PRISM became public, it was hard to miss the connection in the data.

  • Roosevelt Take: "Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections," by Tom Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen, is available here.

Post-Partisan: Fixing our ideological divide (Reuters)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros argues that geographic segregation among ideological lines is causing more partisanship then gerrymandering. Changing district lines won't fix that, but some alternative election models might.

Politics and Reality Radio (Public Reality Radio)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal speaks with Joshua Holland about how the rollout of Healthcare.Gov vindicates an old-school New Deal style of liberalism. Neoliberal approaches to social insurance are causing the problems here, not progressive ideas.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike wrote about this topic for Next New Deal last week.

Making government simpler is complicated (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal considers what a "simple" regulation really means. If "simple" policies aren't easy to implement with clear and simple results, are they are simple, or just inefficient nudges?

The Republicans' War on the Poor (Rolling Stone)

Elizabeth Drew writes on the GOP's assault on food stamps, which ignores the program's decades of success. This is a prime example of the current government dysfunction, in which the Tea Party disrupts long-standing policies for its anti-Obama crusade.

Bipartisan Budget Love Suddenly in the Air (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait suggests that there may finally be space for compromise in budget negotiations. For one thing, some Republicans are finally admitting that compromise doesn't mean that the Democrats give in to all their demands.

For Some, Joblessness Is Not a Temporary Problem (NYT)

Floyd Norris looks at the international problem of long-term unemployment, which is even worse in other developed countries than in the U.S., where for the first time since World War II, more people have been unemployed for over a year then for less then four weeks.

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What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?

Oct 23, 2013Mike Konczal

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

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Block a Grand Bargain with Bold Progressive Solutions to Social Security and Medicare

Oct 21, 2013Richard Kirsch

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Going into the post-shutdown budget discussions, progressives should take the offensive with proposals that would fix problems with Social Security and Medicare without any cuts.

Republicans may not have succeeded in defunding the nations’ newest social insurance program, ObamaCare, but they now are aiming at the foundational programs, Social Security and Medicare. And this time, they’ll have the President on their side. It would be a mistake for progressives to assume that a grand budget bargain will fall apart once again, even if that remains likely. Instead, we need to turn the debate from cutting social insurance to strengthening both the finances and benefits of both big retiree programs. The best way to do that is by championing simple, bold solutions.

In his post shutdown press conference, President Obama repeated his call for changes in Social Security and Medicare. His 2014 budget included cuts to benefits for both.  That aligns him with House Speaker John Boehner, who called for savings in Social Security and Medicare during the shutdown battle. Senators from both parties have shown their willingness to support benefit cuts as part of a big budget deal.

Yes, it is likely that the next attempt to reach an overall budget deal will also collapse, as the last ones have, particularly in the beginning of an election year. The biggest barrier to a bad deal up to now has been Democratic insistence, repeated on the same day as the President’s press conference by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, that tax hikes – with revenue coming from big corporations and the wealthy –be part of the deal. But if Republicans were willing to close some corporate tax loopholes – which some of their tea party members see correctly as examples of crony capitalism – Democrats would be under tremendous pressure from the President and others in their party to go along.

Progressives must rely on more than saying “hands off Social Security and Medicare,” although that should remain central to our message. We need a strong offense, to go with that potent defense. By putting forward simple, broadly popular, progressive proposals that actually enhance benefits and add money to Social Security and Medicare, we enable Democratic allies in Congress to set the agenda and counter claims that they are not taking action to address the real solvency problems. And we also help set the agenda for the inevitable future deal to address both programs’ financing.

Here are two simple, popular, powerful proposals. On Social Security, make the richest 5% people pay into Social Security on all their earnings, just like 95% of workers now do. Use the new revenue to both boost Social Security benefits – which are too low – and extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust fund. On Medicare, slash the cost of prescription drug prices just like the Veterans Administration and all our global competitors do, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.

The Social Security proposal has been introduced in both houses of Congress, with legislation by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa (S.567) and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California (H.R.3118), which would boost benefits in two ways: changing the way benefits are calculated (designed to particularly help low-and-moderate income seniors) and changing the inflation adjuster Social Security uses to the CPI-E, which more accurately captures what seniors pay. This is exactly the opposite of the chained CPI proposed by President Obama, which undercounts what seniors typically purchase. The legislation raises the money to pay for the benefits and extends the Trust Fund by gradually removing the cap on earnings taxed by Social Security, which is $113,700 in 2013. Doing so would extend the period during which the Trust Fund has enough money to pay all benefits from 2033 to 2049.

Progressives have long talked about Medicare using its enormous purchasing power to get the same kind of low drug prices paid by the Veterans Administration or every other country on the globe. While estimates of the savings vary, they clearly would be substantial, tens of billions each year, much more than the cuts to Medicare included in the President’s budget. There are two bills in Congress that aim to do this, one sponsored by Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the other introduced by Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Senator Dick Durbin. While neither is designed to get the maximum savings – a combination of the approaches taken in each is needed – either would work to make the point that we can strengthen Medicare by stopping the drug companies from ripping off the country.

But having legislation is really window dressing to the strategy here: offering bold, popular solutions that deal with both sides of the problems facing Social Security and Medicare: benefits that are too small for the retirement security of seniors and the shortfalls in financing of both programs. While elites want to focus on the “entitlement crisis,” the public is well aware of the financial pressures most seniors now face and the looming retirement crisis, and is adamantly opposed to cuts in both programs.

It is up to progressives, inside and outside of Congress, to seize the moment. It’s a simple message: instead of making painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare we can boost benefits for seniors and make sure that the programs are there for the long term by having millionaires pay into Social Security like everyone else and stopping drug companies from ripping off Americans. 

Driving this message will turn the grand bargain debate on its head, and will start setting the terms for progressive solutions when Congress does take action on both programs in the next few years. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

 

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Watch Live: The 2013 Four Freedoms Awards in New York City

Oct 16, 2013
Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute will honor five incredible laureates whose work has carried on the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Click here to watch the livestream beginning at 6 p.m.

Tonight, the Roosevelt Institute will honor five incredible laureates whose work has carried on the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presented in alternating years in the U.S. and the Netherlands, the 2013 Four Freedoms Awards mark the U.S. ceremony's return to New York City after many years in Hyde Park, NY. This year's laureates include poet, novelist, farmer, and activist Wendell Berry (Freedom Medal); economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (Freedom of Speech and Expression); NETWORK director Sister Simone Campbell (Freedom of Worship); the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (Freedom from Want); and Violence Interrupter Ameena Matthews (Freedom from Fear). 

The free public ceremony will take place at St. James' Episcopal Church on 71st Street and Madison Avenue. If you're in the area and want to join us in person, you can click here to RSVP. If not, you can click here to watch the livestream beginning at 6 p.m.

For more on the 2013 Four Freedoms Awards, check out Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch's Q&A with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Campus Network Senior Fellow Jacqueline Van de Velde's what Sister Simone's work tells us about religious values and progressivism.

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Sister Simone Campbell Shows Us Freedom of Worship is a Bipartisan Value

Oct 10, 2013Jacqueline Van de Velde
On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony.

On Wednesday, October 16, the Roosevelt Institute will present the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards, honoring individuals and organizations whose work exemplifies FDR's vision of democracy. Click here to RSVP for the free public ceremony. Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow Jacqueline Van de Velde weighs in on the significance of awarding Sister Simone Campbell the Freedom of Worship Medal and why religious values are bipartisan.

On January 6, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered the annual State of the Union address to Congress, in which he presented an argument for American involvement in World War II. In assisting Britain, Roosevelt claimed, America was fighting to protect universal freedoms, shared by all global citizens. Roosevelt identified four freedoms that America would protect: the freedom of speech, the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, and the freedom of worship.

Today, the Roosevelt Institute recognizes these freedoms as the foundation of its own policy work through the Four Freedoms Center as well as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Pipeline, but it also honors the important work being done by others with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards. Among this year’s impressive group of laureates, the most compelling to me is Sister Simone Campbell, the recipient of the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Sister Campbell and her work with NETWORK and Nuns on the Bus remind us that the religious beliefs that individuals hold, and that influence their policy decisions and preferences, don’t belong to one side of the aisle. These values can be translated across the political spectrum. Sister Campbell’s Catholic faith motivated her decision to drive around the county to organize individuals around opposition to Paul Ryan’s budget and around support for immigration reform. She delivered remarks at the Democratic National Convention. She was interviewed multiple times on The Colbert Report. And, at the core of what she is doing, her Catholic faith informs her progressive beliefs.

Talking about “freedom of worship” in an explicitly progressive space can cause some to recoil. Many people associate religion with a more conservative agenda and assume that working to protect it is incongruous with progressive ideals. Others assume it’s an issue of the past, something our forefathers had to care about, but something that’s been long resolved. But I would argue that the freedom of – and from – belief is just as relevant today as it was when President Roosevelt identified it a freedom important enough for America to fight a terrible war to ensure its protection.

As teaching assistant for the Roosevelt Scholars class at the University of Georgia, I believe it’s important for my students to create policies that are founded on data. However, after they propose topics for research, we pause and take time to identify the values underlying their choices. The lesson that I want my students to learn is that no matter how much we attempt to separate ourselves from the policies that we are suggesting, the inherent beliefs that we hold in the core of our being will influence the kinds of policy change that we want to see in the world.

For many people, those core beliefs are influenced by their faith. In the United States, we have a Constitutional right to practice, or choose not to practice, religion as we see fit. Religion plays a huge role in American culture, politics, and society. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Forum’s Religion and Public Life Project, 83.1 percent of all American adults identify themselves as part of a religious tradition, while 16.1 percent identify themselves as unaffiliated with a specific religious tradition. According to the same study, Americans also exercise their freedom to explore religion; 28 percent of American adults have left the religion in which they were raised in favor of either another religious tradition or to no tradition at all. Thanks to the First Amendment, we are allowed to define for ourselves our core beliefs and values.

That right to define our own beliefs is also protected by international law. With assistance from Eleanor Roosevelt, religious freedom was first recognized as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, it has been reaffirmed as a human right within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as within several other agreements and declarations. However, according to the Pew Forum, one-third of states restrict their citizens’ freedoms of religion to a high or very high degree. Seventy percent of the world’s population lives within the states with the highest restrictions on religious freedom. State restrictions on freedom of religion can range from apostasy laws to restrictions on missionaries to restrictions on worship, and individuals face punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment to even death for exploring their own beliefs. 

On the other hand, when states allow for religious freedom, they also tend to improve political liberty, prosperity, and economic development. According to Brian Grim and Roger Finke in The Price of Freedom Denied, “Wherever religious freedom is high, there tends to be fewer incidents of armed conflict, better health outcomes, higher levels of earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.” Improving freedom of religion means an improvement in the global economy, increased security, and better job prospects for women. And those are issues that I think everyone – regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, regardless of whether you identify as progressive or conservative, or whether you identify as religious or not religious – can identify as important.

While the work that we do to address religious freedom abroad is construed as a protection of human rights, debates over religious freedom at home, from the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center near the World Trade Center to the requirement that religious employers provide birth control for their employees, should be viewed through the same lens. Religion and the values acquired through religion – or through a choice not to pursue religion – can inform either progressive or conservative policy.  Likewise, promoting freedom of worship should be a bipartisan issue, and it is gratifying to see an explicitly progressive organization like the Roosevelt Institute embrace that idea through the Freedom of Worship Medal.

Jacqueline Van de Velde is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy and a senior at the University of Georgia.

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McCutcheon v. FEC Could Give Rich Donors Even Greater Power Over Our Elections

Oct 7, 2013Jeffrey Raines

Cases like McCutcheon v. FEC aren't about free speech. They're about how much influence the wealthiest Americans should have over our elected officials.

Cases like McCutcheon v. FEC aren't about free speech. They're about how much influence the wealthiest Americans should have over our elected officials.

On Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This case is just the latest episode in the fight to define money as either part of the unassailable right to free speech or a corrupter of the electoral process, and its effects will determine how much money the richest of Americans can contribute to 2014 campaigns.

The case pits the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development and treasurer for the Super PAC Conservative Action Fund, against the FEC. At question is whether the individual aggregate contribution limit established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s freedom of expression clause. This is not about how much an individual can give to one specific candidate, but how much an individual contributor can give in total during a two-year campaign cycle. Currently, an individual may give an aggregate biennial total of $123,200, with a $48,600 aggregate limit to candidates and a $74,600 limit to non-candidate PACs as well as national party committees.

McCutcheon wanted to give $25,000 to each of the three Republican national committees (which is under the $32,400 contribution limit to a national party) and $1,776 to 28 congressional candidates (also under the $2,600 contribution limit to a candidate). It almost seems trivial to contest this, because his total contributions to candidates would have only been $1,128 over the $48,600 aggregate limit and $400 over the political party limit. But that’s the point:  stepping just over the line creates a case where those opposed to campaign contribution limits can fight to weaken Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court case that affirmed the need for those limits.

The whole reason aggregate limits were put in McCain-Feingold in the first place was to close a loophole left open by the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971 after Buckley. The Burger Court decided in 1976 that contribution limits “are appropriate legislative weapons against the reality of appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contribution.” Contribution limits exist to mitigate corruption as well as the appearance of corruption, the idea being that candidate feels a sense of indebtedness to donors who give them large contributions and will vote in ways favorable of those contributors. Going back to Buckley, a ceiling on contributions “serves the basic governmental interest in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process without directly impinging upon the rights of individual citizens and candidates to engage in political debate and discussion.” Coating billboards, TVs, and websites with “support Mr. Smith” ads may get a message out to the general public, but it doesn’t help voters make a more informed decision or learn about the issues.

To quote the Brennan Center for Justice’s amicus brief on McCutcheon, “ [a] system of effectively unlimited contributions would permit a tiny class of donors to wield vastly disproportionate influence over our elected representative, encouraging the control of government by faction.” There are already enough problems with giant advocacy organizations, PACs, and the richest of our nation controlling and/or influencing elections: do we really need to encourage an increase in the amount of money they pour into our electoral process by banishing aggregate contribution limits?

Some believe that a removal of these aggregate limits will allow for more responsible contributions, by giving mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson (who gave $150 million in 2012 contributions) room to give more of his money to the more-highly regulated RNC rather than to Super PACs, but the removal of aggregate limits would not increase the annual $32,400 individual contribution limit a mega-donor could give to a national party committee. For those with nearly unlimited financial resources, it will just be a continuation of their already high giving patterns. Currently, McCutcheon could contribute the $2,600 maximum to 18 candidates without going over the aggregate limit; without it, he could give that amount to 50 or 100 different candidates.

We don’t know whether ending aggregate contribution limits will steer money away from Super PACs, but that’s not the question we should be asking. The question we do need to ask ourselves is how much money we want to allow a single person to put into our electoral system. And at what point do the millions of one person outweigh the votes of an entire constituency?

For further reference, see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s opinion against McCutcheon, the amicus briefs (and arguments) submitted to the Supreme Court on McCutcheon, and information on how the Roberts Court has voted on First Amendment cases.

Jeff Raines is the Chair of the Student Board of Advisors for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

 

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