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Benny

$600 Is Not Enough, And It Won’t Get Easier (from the Daily Poster)

Congressional leaders announced an agreement on a new $900 billion stimulus bill that will deliver a boost in unemployment benefits and provide $600 checks to some families. Democratic leaders are depicting this as a big win and are promising that these kinds of emergency spending bills will become “much easier” in a new Congress under Joe Biden. Both of those arguments are ridiculous.

Here’s the truth: Democrats had a rare opportunity to win on a wildly popular proposal for much bigger survival checks, but they chose to lose. Here’s some more truth: one-time means-tested checks of $600 is not a big victory, and not even the bare minimum that should be considered acceptable during an economic meltdown that has been punctuated by mass starvation and intensifying poverty.

Though the legislative language of the final package has not yet been released, it appears the meager checks come in a bill that will give new tax benefits to corporate executives to write off their meals and provide other tax breaks to businesses that used the Paycheck Protection Program — which will be a windfall for the wealthy. Will the bill change the law to similarly exempt emergency unemployment benefits from tax levies? We don’t yet know, but there’s no indication it will.

According to a bill summary circulating on Capitol Hill, the legislation provides a mere $286 billion for the survival checks and unemployment benefits, and an additional $51 billion for food aid and rental assistance. That’s not nothing, but it’s obviously inadequate. For comparison, only three years ago, Republicans passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut that enriched the wealthiest one percent of households.

Much of the blame for this debacle certainly goes to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who seems absolutely determined to starve the country. But much of it also goes to Democratic leaders who had one of the easiest political opportunities to forge a bipartisan coalition or a much bigger lifeline to Americans — and then decided to squander it.

Let’s remember: Back in March, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton proposed giving low- and middle-income Americans between $1,000 and $4,000 of aid per month. More recently, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders to push for $1,200 checks.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump reportedly told allies he wanted at least $1,200 and up to $2,000 — and he made a general demand for more money public in a Fox News interview last week.

“Right now, I want to see checks – for more money than they’re talking about – going to people,” he said. “I’m pushing it very hard, and to be honest with you, if the Democrats really wanted to do the deal, they’d do the deal.”

He tweeted on Sunday that Congress should give people “more money in direct payments.”

You can try to argue that the words of a handful of maverick Republicans and Trump cannot be fully trusted — maybe that’s true, but it’s moot. The point here is that there was a huge opportunity for Democrats to triangulate a group of Republican senators and a Republican president against McConnell — and Democrats refused to do it.

Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer followed Sen. Joe Manchin, Mark Warner and other Democratic corporatists into budget negotiations that kept producing smaller and smaller stimulus proposals, and now they are trying to portray a meager $600 one-time payment as some sort of enormous victory.

“Democrats should not take a victory lap on this bill,” tweeted Adam Jentleson, who was an adviser to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “It provides less than a third of the aid economists say is necessary and McConnell is getting all the credit — after blocking aid for months. Instead we should explain why this bill is inadequate and how Dems will deliver more.”

A summary from Democrats about the relief package says that party lawmakers secured $25 billion as they “fought to establish the first-ever emergency federal rental assistance program to be distributed by state and local governments. These funds will be targeted to families impacted by COVID that are struggling to make the rent and may have past due rent compounding on itself. These families will be able to utilize this assistance for past due rent, future rent payments, as well as to pay utility and energy bills and prevent shutoffs.”

Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told the Washington Post earlier this month that there will be as much as $70 billion in unpaid rental and utility debt by January.

Pelosi insisted at a press conference on Sunday that when it comes to future spending bills, “We’re going to have a much easier time than we’ve had with the Republican Senate and a Republican President.”

But if Democrats don’t win the Georgia Senate races and gain control of the upper chamber, that assertion makes no sense.

Democrats had a Republican president and at least some Republican lawmakers on record supporting bigger stimulus checks. That dynamic offers the best chance to actually pass something big — but it is likely to instantly change once Biden is sworn in.

Indeed, history tells us that once Democrats are in the White House, Republicans will suddenly pretend they are deficit hawks in order to try to block their opponents from spending money on basic necessities and then blame them for economic pain and suffering. That means it will almost certainly become far harder to pass emergency relief bills through Congress when Republicans have an even bigger incentive to try to starve the country for their own political gain.

Democrats are trying to put their best spin on the legislation, insisting that halting Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s sinister attempt to shut down still-underutilized Federal Reserve programs is an enormous win. The legislative language hasn’t yet been released and Toomey is actually claiming victory on that, so it’s not even yet clear it is a win. But even if the provisions were taken out, that’s not much to brag about.

Yeah, sure, it’s probably better that those programs survived, so that there’s still a chance for them to be reformed to actually help human beings and not just enrich BlackRock and other Wall Street firms. But it’s not clear those programs are going to actually deliver on their original promise to help people — and the fact that Democrats mustered far more enthusiasm to protect these programs than they did to provide $1,200 checks to starving people says everything about who party leaders think they actually work for.

Taken together, when you account for the comparatively small-but-good things in this bill, on net it is not a victory for ordinary people — it is a victory for an austerity ideology that somehow still reigns supreme in Washington, even among Democratic leaders, and even amid an economic emergency.

If this ideology is not confronted and defeated soon, there will be even more financial pain and suffering — and no amount of Biden platitudes appealing to the soul of the nation will stop the political and economic nightmare that will follow.

polarbear4

yes. Bernie could have done more to explain MMT and exhalt Stephanie Kelton. sooooooo many people buy into the austerity “deficit!” chicken little theory. bums me out. lol

Benny

Undercutting Trump, Barr says there’s no basis for seizing voting machines, using special counsels for election fraud, Hunter Biden

Outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr said Monday he saw no basis for the federal government seizing voting machines and that he did not intend to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations of voter fraud — again breaking with President Trump as the commander in chief entertains increasingly desperate measures to overturn the election.

At a news conference to announce charges in a decade old terror case, Barr — who has just two days left in office — was peppered with questions about whether he would consider steps proposed by allies of the president to advance Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud.

Barr said that while he was “sure there was fraud in this election,” he had not seen evidence that it was so “systemic or broad-based” that it would change the result. He asserted he saw “no basis right now for seizing machines by the federal government,” and he would not name a special counsel to explore the allegations of Trump and his allies.

“If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one, but I haven’t, and I’m not going to,” Barr said.

Similarly, Barr said he would not name a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, President-election Joe Biden’s son who revealed earlier this month he was under investigation for possible tax crimes. Barr said the investigation was “being handled responsibly and professionally” by regular Justice Department prosecutors, and he hoped that would continue in the next administration.

“To this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel, and I have no plan to do so before I leave,” Barr said.

The comments are likely to further erode what is already a significantly damaged relationship between Barr and Trump.

Earlier this month, Barr broke with President Trump on his unfounded allegations of voter fraud, telling the Associated Press he had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Tension already had been simmering between the two men for months because Barr did not on the eve of the election release results from Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the FBI’s probe of Trump’s 2016 campaign, which Trump thought might be a political windfall. And after Barr’s comments, the president’s frustration was compounded when Hunter Biden revealed he was under federal investigation for possible tax crimes, and Barr had apparently kept that probe a relative secret, too.

Trump told Fox News recently that Barr “should have stepped up” and publicized the case — which would have violated Justice Department policy.

“All he had to do is say an investigation’s going on,” Trump said, adding later, “When you affect an election, Bill Barr, frankly, did the wrong thing.

After a meeting with Trump last week, Barr handed in his resignation, saying he intended to leave this coming Wednesday.

Since then, Trump has intensified his effort to overturn the results of the election. On Sunday, he said in a radio interview that he had spoken with Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) about challenging the electoral vote count when the House and Senate convene on Jan. 6 to formally affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

And at a frenetic Oval Office meeting days earlier, he seemed to entertain other steps that some advisers warned are baseless exceed the bounds of his power.

He suggested, for example, naming lawyer Sidney Powell — who has promoted the wild, false claim that Venezuelan communists programmed U.S. voting machines to flip votes for Biden — as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud, though the idea appeared to be a non-starter, people familiar with the meeting have said.

Barr had previously seemed to throw cold water on Powell’s allegation of a grand conspiracy, telling the Associated Press, “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,”

Trump also suggested that homeland security officials should seize state voting machines and investigate alleged fraud, though acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and other homeland security officials have previously told the White House they have no authority to do so unless states ask for inspections or investigations.

Powell was present at the meeting, as was Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s disgraced national security adviser who has said publicly Trump could use the military to “basically rerun an election.” Flynn came to the Oval Office to discuss that idea, people familiar with the matter said, though Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone pushed back “strenuously.” Trump later tweeted, “Martial law = Fake News.

Trump and his political allies had in recent weeks been pressuring the Justice Department, in particular, to appoint special counsel to explore his unfounded claims of voter fraud. On Dec. 9, 27 House Republicans wrote to Trump urging him to direct Barr to make such a move, and Trump retweeted a post from Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) that contained an image of the letter and appealed to the Justice Department to act immediately. “The DOJ needs to listen to #WeThePeople and address their election concerns NOW,” Budd wrote.

After Barr departs on Wednesday, leadership of the department will fall to his deputy, Jeff Rosen, who declined to answer questions in a recent interview with Reuters about whether he would name special counsels to investigate voter fraud or Hunter Biden. Rosen did not appear at Monday’s news conference.

polarbear4

yeah, that would cause pain for both parties. idt Barr’s motives are pure here. in a real investigation, it would open up to both major manufacturers. i’d like to see it happen under a Dem, but doubt that either party would let it happen, much less publish real results.

Benny

Surprise Medical Bills: Congress is Interested in Banning Most of Them

Academic researchers have found that millions of Americans receive these types of surprise bills each year, with as many as one in five emergency room visits resulting in such a charge. The bills most commonly come from health providers that patients are not able to select, such as emergency room physicians, anesthesiologists and ambulances. The average surprise charge for an emergency room visit is just above $600, but patients have received bills larger than $100,000 from out-of-network providers they did not select.

Some private-equity firms have turned this kind of billing into a robust business model, buying emergency room doctor groups and moving the providers out of network so they could bill larger fees.

Among the major consumer problems in the fiendishly complex health system, surprise billing was the rare Washington issue that both parties could get behind. Health committee leaders have been engaged on the issue for years, as has the White House. President-elect Joe Biden included the proposal in his campaign health care agenda. It had the backing of many prominent and powerful legislators, including Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the retiring chairman of the Senate health committee.

A survey published Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 80 percent of adults want the practice banned. More than a dozen states, including Texas and California, have passed bans of their own on surprise billing.

Even so, the issue struggled to move through Congress as each policy proposal faced an outcry from some faction of the health care industry.

“There were a lot of things working in the legislation’s favor — it’s a relatively targeted problem, it resonates very well with voters, and it’s not a hyperpartisan issue among voters or Congress — and it was still tough,” said Benedic Ippolito, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who helped explain the issue to lawmakers early in the process. “It has almost everything going for it, and yet it was still this complete slog.”

Hospitals and doctors, who tend to benefit from the current system, fought to defeat solutions that would lower their pay. Insurance companies and large employer groups, on the other hand, have wanted a stronger ability to negotiate lower payments to the types of medical providers who can currently send patients surprise bills.

Legislation nearly passed last December, but was scuttled at the 11th hour after health providers lobbied aggressively against the deal. Private-equity firms, which own many of the medical providers that deliver surprise bills, poured tens of millions into advertisements opposing the plan. Committee chairs squabbled over jurisdictional issues and postponed the issue.

This year, many of the same legislators behind last year’s failed effort tried again, softening several provisions that had been most objectionable to influential doctor and hospital lobbies. The current version will probably not do as much to lower health care spending as the previous version, but will still protect patients.

After years of defeats, consumer advocacy groups cheered the new legislation.

“This was a real victory for American people against moneyed interests,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “This really was about Congress recognizing in a bipartisan way the obscenity of families who were paying insurance still having financial bombs going off.”

The final compromise would require insurers and medical providers who cannot agree on a payment rate to use an outside arbiter to decide. The arbiter would determine a fair amount based, in part, on what other doctors and hospitals are typically paid for similar services. Patients could be charged the kind of cost sharing they would pay for in-network services, but nothing more.

This type of policy is generally seen as more advantageous to health care providers than the other proposal Congress considered, which would have minimized the role of arbiters and instead set benchmark reimbursement rates. Several states have set up their own arbitration systems, and have found that most price disputes are negotiated before an arbiter is involved.

“If this bill will force them to come to the table and negotiate a solution, it will be a definite win for everybody,” said Christopher Garmon, an assistant professor of health administration at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who has measured the scope of the problem.

NYCVG

Right you are, Andrew!

orlbucfan

T and R, jcb!! 🎄☮️😊👍

humphrey

humphrey

orlbucfan

Well, well, well, Mr. Ornery is back. @humphrey: great to read your comments! 😊👍

humphrey

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humphrey

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humphrey