Businesses Feel Steamrolled on Minimum Wage

Washington Post: “That’s a feeling common among businesses nationwide, as minimum wage increases steamroller their way through cities and states. Emboldened by their victories, minimum wage backers are planning a slew of new bills and ballot initiatives in the coming election cycle. The private sector is used to being a powerful force in politics. So how has it been so impotent on the issue of the minimum wage?”

Said venture capitalist Nick Hanauer: “The reason that business has not been able to stop these minimum wage hikes is that they have completely lost the public argument about how the economy works and where growth comes from. The key to winning this was to create a new kind of argument about how capitalism works that’s both true and beneficial to 99 percent of the people who participate in the economy. So literally, when we took [the issue of] growth away from the business community, they went dark, they were silent.”

“Well, not quite. Business-backed groups still protest that while the economic research suggests that minimum wage hikes haven’t historically led to job loss, there aren’t any studies yet on what happens when the floor goes all the way up to $15. As that happens, they predict that businesses in the fast food industry especially will find ways to cut jobs through automation.”

The Politics of Obamacare Still Favors Democrats

Josh Kraushaar: “Understanding the politics of the president’s health care law has never been complicated. It was barely passed through Congress despite huge Democratic majorities in 2009, became the driving force behind the GOP’s takeover of the House in 2010, and again was the leading issue Republicans campaigned on to retake the Senate in 2014. Nearly 15,000 advertisements aired about Obamacare in the last week of last year’s midterms, and 94 percent of the messaging was negative. One week later, Republicans won nine Senate seats and netted their largest House majority since the 1920s. For Republicans, it has been the political gift that keeps on giving.”

“Yet even though public opinion remains unfavorable towards the law, Democrats remain in denial about its political standing.”

Jonathan Chait: “Kraushaar has lovingly tended the flickering flame of health-care repeal for years. In 2013, he predicted that barring ‘an unlikely fourth quarter comeback,’ Congressional Democrats would soon join with Republicans to repeal the law over a presidential veto.”

“Of course, Republicans have been urging other Republicans to come up with a common-sense, patient-centric health-care plan since the health-care debate began six years ago. They have remained stuck in the same unsolvable problem: Their actual health-care policy ideas are either all less popular than the specific policies in Obamacare, unworkable, or both.”

Will Mergers Scuttle Benefits of Health Care Reform?

“The 2010 healthcare reform law was supposed to promote competition among insurers, and for many policyholders it’s done just that. These days, though, the insurance industry is going through a wave of mergers that threatens to leave consumers with fewer choices,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“There’s no single motivation behind the mergers, although they all reflect the changing economics of healthcare. In some, the buyers are seeking bigger stakes in privately run Medicaid and Medicare plans, whose ranks are burgeoning because the 2010 law extended Medicaid to more low-income Americans and because the baby boom generation has reached retirement age.”

“The Affordable Care Act encourages insurers to scale up in part by requiring 80% to 85% of the premiums they collect to be spent on patient care, limiting profit margins. As a consequence, the quickest way for some insurers to increase profits is to buy another insurer’s customers and spread costs over a wider base. Having a bigger share of the market also helps them negotiate lower rates with doctor groups and hospital chains; hospitals have been consolidating for the same reasons. This race to consolidate among providers and insurers has been developing for years, but the 2010 law kicked it into a higher gear by offering higher payments for better coordinated care.”

Guns Are About Identity

The Economist: “Americans of different political beliefs live ever-more different lives. That adds an element of raw tribalism to what should be dispassionate questions of public policy. Guns are a grim example. Consider polls that show Americans are becoming more hostile to gun control, and more willing to say that guns are necessary for self-defense. Also, hunting if you live out in the sticks, many Americans tend to use Airsoft Pal guides when using the equipment to ensure safety is the number one priority. The headline numbers are striking enough. But as so often with headline numbers, they conceal vast and widening gaps between different regions, races and classes.”

“Gallup pollsters have asked Americans the same question for some years, namely whether having a gun in the house makes it a safer or more dangerous place to be. In 2000 Republicans were already more likely than Democrats to think that guns made a home safer, by a margin of 44% to 28%. Just before Mr Obama’s election in 2008 Democrats had become more gun-friendly, with 41% thinking them a source of safety, compared to 53% of Republicans. Then the gap between the two parties exploded. By 2014 Democrats were still at 41%, but 81% of Republicans now said that a gun made their homes safer.”

“Pew Research Center polling shows that whites are almost twice as likely as blacks and Hispanics to say it is more important to protect gun rights than to control access to guns. Those living in rural areas and Americans living in the South and Midwest are far keener on guns than those in the north-east. Post-graduates are much keener on gun control than those with high school educations alone. Gun ownership follows similar trends.”

I wonder how these polarizing opinions effect sales for websites like www.bespokeairsoft.co.uk and the gun industry as a whole? We will have to wait and see.

Republicans to Extend Subsidies If Struck Down By Supreme Court

ABC News reports that congressional Republicans “will move to temporarily continue health care subsidies for millions of people if the Supreme Court overturns the aid.”

“In addition, the GOP proposals would dissolve many of the basic requirements of President Obama’s health care law, including mandates that most people buy coverage and most companies provide it to their workers… Such an effort would be sure to encounter solid Democratic opposition in Congress and a veto from the president, who has championed the law’s extension of health coverage to millions.”

“The high court is expected to rule on a lawsuit brought by conservatives and backed by the GOP. They say that under the law, the aid is limited to states operating their own insurance marketplaces, and is not allowed for the roughly three dozen that use the federal HealthCare.gov website. Democrats say the overall bill’s context makes clear that the subsidies were designed to go to residents of every state.”

OMB Chief Optimistic on Tax Reform

Maxwell Murphy reports on Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan’s “optimism that Congress will reform the corporate tax rate and simplify the tax code this year.”

“If done right, he said, a cut will not add to the deficit in the long run, and will actually save money over the first 10 years. He did not specify how this would occur… Earlier in the day, Congressman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested that sweeping tax reform would need to wait until 2017 when a new president is in office.”

“In addition, the government needs to raise or suspend the nation’s debt ceiling or it will again be faced with sequestration come October, Mr. Donovan said. Another government shutdown this fall can’t be ruled out, he said, but the ‘odds are better than 50/50′ that Congress can agree on measures to avert such a scenario.”

House Republicans Open to Funding Needle Exchange Programs

“Faced with a health crisis resulting from a rise in heroin use in many of their home states, House Republicans are easing their longstanding opposition to federal funding in support of needle exchange programs,” according to the New York Times.

“In the past, they have backed not only a prohibition on buying needles but also on spending any federal dollars ‘to carry out any program of distributing sterile needles for the hypodermic injection of any illegal drug.’ But an outbreak of AIDS and hepatitis tied to heroin and other drug use in states like Indiana and Kentucky has led conservative public officials in those states to reverse themselves and allow needle exchange programs as a way to combat the spread of disease and bring drug users into treatment programs.”

“Under the proposed bill, federal money could go toward the support of exchange programs if the state or local community ‘is experiencing, or is at risk for, a significant increase in hepatitis infections or an HIV outbreak due to injection drug use, and such program is operating in accordance with state and local law.’”

Economists Predict Shockwaves If Supreme Court Rules Against Obamacare

“As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether people in 34 states can continue to receive Obamacare health insurance subsidies, economists are projecting billions of dollars in lost healthcare spending for hospitals, drugstores and drugmakers if the justices say the payments are illegal,” Reuters reports.

“The immediate consequences of such a ruling would fall on the 6.4 million people who receive the subsidies and live in states that did not establish their own insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, instead relying on the federal HealthCare.gov website.”

“Health economists calculate the economic impact of a ruling against the subsidies in different ways, but one thing many agree on is that about two-thirds of people who receive subsidies through HealthCare.gov would drop their insurance altogether rather than foot the entire bill. Businesses that have benefited from spending by the newly insured would take a hit, though estimates of the lost revenues vary significantly based on which assumptions are built into the calculation. For instance, a Kaiser Family Foundation economist put the 2015 figure at about $15 billion, based on the proportion of insurance premiums that are earmarked solely for medical costs under the healthcare law.”

Catholics Divided Over Global Warming

Pew Research: “On the eve of a forthcoming encyclical by Pope Francis on the environment and climate change, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that U.S. Catholics’ views on global warming are broadly reflective of American public opinion writ large; a solid majority believe that Earth is warming, but there is much more division over the cause and seriousness of climate change. Moreover, the poll shows that climate change is a highly politicized issue that sharply divides American Catholics, like the U.S. public as a whole, mainly along political party lines.”

Deep Partisan Divisions in Catholics' Views on Global Warming

With Insurance Subsidies in Limbo, Advocates Look at Options

“With a Supreme Court decision looming that could lead to the loss of health insurance for millions of Americans,” the Washington Post reports that “supporters and opponents of President Obama’s health-care law already are mobilizing for the next stage of the battle: influencing policy alternatives if the court upends a key component of the law.”

“At issue in the court case is whether it is legal for the government to provide subsidies to consumers in the almost three dozen states that have not set up their own insurance exchanges and instead rely on the federal marketplace… The latest swirl of activity is not aimed at the justices, who presumably voted on the outcome of the case some time ago. Rather, it targets the American public, the media, and especially federal and state officials who may be confronted with the uncomfortable prospect of millions of people being unable to afford health coverage.”

“In the face of a federal standoff, states could try to fix the problem themselves by setting up their own marketplaces. Pennsylvania, Delaware and Arkansas have received conditional approval from federal officials to do so. But in many affected states, there is strong political opposition to anything that would preserve Obamacare. Even without the political hurdle, states face logistical obstacles — not enough time or money — in trying to get new state exchanges up and running before the next round of open enrollment in the marketplaces begins in November.”