Uninsured Rate Falls to Record Low Level

Gallup: “The uninsured rate among U.S. adults aged 18 and older was 11.4% in the second quarter of 2015, down from 11.9% in the first quarter. The uninsured rate has dropped nearly six percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013, just before the requirement for Americans to carry health insurance took effect. The latest quarterly uninsured rate is the lowest Gallup and Healthways have recorded since daily tracking of this metric began in 2008.”

Percentage Uninsured in U.S. by Quarter



How Much More Do American Workers Need to Work?

Jonathan Chait comments on the division between conservatives and liberals over how to define and address worker productivity.

“Conservatives like to contrast American-style capitalism with Western European sloth. But the difference does not lie in how many Americans work. As Paul Krugman has pointed out, among people ages 25 to 54, a higher percentage of French than Americans work full-time:”

“Output per working hour is also similar. The main difference is that Americans work many more hours than French workers, or workers anywhere in the advanced world except South Korea and Japan.”

“Conservatives embrace that distinction, and seek to extend it further still. A major economic rationale for tax cuts, aside from the underlying moral desire to allow the winners of the market economy to keep their money, is to coax more labor out of the workforce. When faced with the choice of working more hours or enjoying more leisure time, a higher tax rate tends to encourage more leisure. (If you get to keep three quarters of the extra dollar you earn, you might work that extra shift. If you only keep half, you might not.) Liberals have less interest in coaxing those additional hours out of the labor force.”

“Much of the dispute centers not on incentives but on whether workers should have the freedom to choose more leisure time.”

Republicans Shocked That DHS Includes Climate Change as ‘Top Priority’

The Hill: “House Republicans lambasted the Obama administration Wednesday for making climate change a high priority at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

“The GOP argued at a hearing that the emphasis comes at the expense of other, more important, activities at DHS, and puts the country at greater risk from terrorists, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”

“’I am shocked that the department continues to make climate change a top, top priority,’ said subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.), citing the risks from terrorist groups, cyberattacks, incompetent airport screeners and other threats.”

“Obama’s recent focus on climate change in terms of national and international security has angered many Republicans. He declared in January that climate change is the greatest threat to future generations and that it threatens more people than terrorism.”

We Need a Broken Windows Policy for Wall Street

Chris Arnade, writing in the Atlantic, contends that the banking industry needs more than new regulation. It needs a new culture.

“The Dodd-Frank Act was a well-intentioned attempt to address the fundamental problems that contributed to the financial crisis [but] it was like building a sprawling glass house in a neighborhood filled with broken windows.”

“Since its passing in 2010, regulators have watched as the shiny new bill has been surrounded by the financial industries lawyers, lobbyists, and sympathetic politicians, and much of it either amended, reinterpreted, or whole parts rewritten to favor banks.”

“Frustrated, regulators have started to shift their focus, realizing that maybe the only way to regulate someone who thrives on ducking regulations is to bring something like broken-windows policing to Wall Street in hopes of changing its culture.”

“What is the financial equivalent of rounding up the squeegee men, graffiti artists, and those smoking joints in front of the police station? It means going after the easy targets, the transparent businesses where the abuses were well documented.”

Regulators “want to change the culture of permissiveness and to finally tend to long untended behavior, in the hope of affecting serious fundamental change.”

Does More Money in Politics Mean Less Polarization?

Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner, writing in the Washington Post, argue that states that allow parties to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money tend to have less polarized legislatures.

“Why would enabling parties to raise and spend more money help to reduce polarization? … We find clear evidence that parties do tend to privilege moderate incumbents over those at the extremes. For example, the figure below uses contribution data and ideology data from Shor and McCarty to show how parties distribute their funds based on candidate ideology, comparing them to other contributors like individuals and issue groups. This pattern is even more pronounced when parties can give unlimited amounts to candidates.”

“Partisan politics is characterized by policy struggles among organized groups. It is precisely this dynamic – the party ‘pragmatists’ pushing toward the median voter versus the ‘purist’ groups in the coalition pushing for policies – that helps drive the direction of partisan politics. We conclude that giving pragmatists in party committees greater financial clout through campaign finance laws would likely dampen—but not solve—the shrillness and power of the purists in the party who give money to candidates or sponsor ‘dark money’ ads.”

“The current approach of trying to keep money out of politics with unrealistically low contribution limits is distorting politics in fundamental ways.”

What’s Next in the Obamacare Battle?

Drew Altman: “The Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell defused a political and policy crisis over the Affordable Care Act, but how long any cooling-off period lasts, or whether one exists at all, could affect efforts to address remaining implementation challenges.”

“Political attacks can take a toll on the law and sour the policy environment. Consider a shift that occurred during the Republican presidential primaries in 2011. The gap between favorable and unfavorable opinion on the law was dead even that April. In October, after GOP candidates had railed against the law for months on the campaign trail and in televised debates, the gap had widened to 51% against the ACA and 34% for it.”

Dylan Scott in the National Journal: “Congressional Republicans are not going to leave the law alone. They will keep trying to chip away at it and pick off unpopular or controversial pieces of the Affordable Care Act. For the White House, that means at some point it will have to decide whether its renewed swagger means it can reject anything and everything the GOP comes up with, whatever the circumstances.”

“Coming off their legal triumph, Obama and top administration officials are saying all the right things: We’re willing to consider changes—if they make sense to us.”

Alan Fram in the Associated Press: Republicans could “try sending Obama veto-bait legislation designed to show voters how they’d reshape the nation’s health care system — if only Republicans could agree on what to do.”

Only 5 States Limit Police Seizure of Personal Property

Vox: “Only five states prevent police from taking and keeping your stuff without charging you for a crime: Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina.”

“The rest fully allow what’s known as ‘civil forfeiture’: Police officers can seize someone’s property without proving the person was guilty of a crime; they just need probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking. Police can then absorb the value of this property — be it cash, cars, guns, or something else — as profit, either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing that lets local and state police get up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments.”

civil forfeiture map

“Critics have long argued that civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to essentially police for profit, since many of the proceeds from seizures can go back to police departments.”

Which Side is Winning in the War on Coal?

Brad Plumer: “If you only focused on the United States, you might think coal’s days are numbered … But that’s not true globally. Far from it. According to data from BP’s Statistical Review of Energy, coal consumption has actually been accelerating worldwide since the end of the 1990s:”

“According to an important new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we’re in the midst of a global ‘renaissance of coal’ that’s not confined to just a few countries like China or India. Rather, coal is becoming the energy source of choice for a vast array of poorer and fast-growing countries around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. ‘This renaissance of coal,’ the authors write, ‘has even accelerated in the last decade.'”

“Suffice to say, this has huge implications for global warming. Coal now supplies roughly 30 percent of the world’s primary energy use.”

Voting Access Worst in Southern States

Greg Sargent comments on a a new report from the Center for American Progress that “rates all the states in terms of how well their voting systems are faring … One interesting factoid from the report is that the states that rate worst on ballot accessibility — with an ‘F’ rating — are overwhelmingly concentrated in the south:”

“As you can see, some of the states that are rated the worst in terms of ballot accessibility — with ‘F’ ratings — will also be key in 2016: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina. Other swing states, such as Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Mexico, get ‘C’ ratings.”

Are Americans Really Trending Democratic?

Philip Bump: “Gallup polling shortly before the holiday weekend showed more Americans leaned toward the Democratic Party than the Republican Party in the second quarter of the year.”

“The good news for that party, though, is that this party identification probably doesn’t mean much. New York University political scientist Patrick Egan tweeted a chart showing that there wasn’t much of a link between prior-year party identification and presidential results, using data from Pew Research. We recreated it below, comparing election results (Republican vs. Democratic vote) with party identification (Republican vs. Democratic party identification). As Egan showed, there’s no apparent pattern — even in party ID the same year as the election.”

Interestingly, “party identification the same year was a better indicator of House results than any of the other combinations looked at.”

Healthcare Costs Not Predicted to Skyrocket

The Hill: “Out-of-pocket healthcare costs have increased modestly over the last year, according to a new study – a sign that prices are not skyrocketing under ObamaCare as some critics had predicted. “

“The total amount of money that a patient spent per visit increased 3.5 percent over the last year, according to data from a study published Health Affairs on Tuesday. That amounts to about $1 per visit, including copayments and deductibles.”

“The study, completed by the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation, included data from about 15,000 physicians.”

“Kathy Hempstead, who directs coverage issues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, described it as a ‘moderate increase.’ It is likely a result of the focus on preventative care under the healthcare law and of the insurers’ strategy to encourage primary care over more costly specialty care, according to the study.”