Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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Democrats Jump on the 'Death Panel' Bandwagon

| Thu Aug. 8, 2013 10:47 AM EDT

In 2009, Sarah Palin claimed Obamacare would create "death panels," or bands of bureaucrats who would decide whether old or disabled Americans were worthy of medical care. That notion turned out to be a figment of her imagination. But now, a growing cohort of Democratic lawmakers is cozying up to the idea, charging that the cost-cutting board that Obama's health care law creates will indeed hurt people on Medicare, The Hill reports.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) have all signed onto bills repealing the powers of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel created by the Affordable Care Act that will make recommendations on how to reduce Medicare spending once Medicare cost growth reaches a certain level.

The lawmakers have said they oppose the board because it would limit care for Medicare patients, even though the health care law says that any cuts would have to affect doctor reimbursement rates or the prices for certain drugs, not patient care.

All five lawmakers are worried about losing their seats in 2014. Barber, Kirkpatrick, Sinema and Esty have also voted with Republicans to delay the law's individual and employer mandates—the requirements that Americans purchase insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage, respectively.

The Democratic death panel fear-mongering follows an editorial that former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July. He called for a repeal of the cost-cutting board because, he wrote, it would have the effect of rationing care by making it hard for doctors to make money from Medicare. Dean has worked as an adviser to a major DC lobbying firm that does work on behalf of the healthcare industry, which would see profits cut if the board goes into effect.

Major healthcare industry players like the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the pharmaceutical lobby have supported repeal of the board, arguing the panel would cut providers' pay arbitrarily.

Palin predicted folks would come around on death panels. "Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that ObamaCare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about healthcare funding," she wrote on Facebook in 2012.

But Republican lawmakers don't seems to appreciate the Dems' aisle-crossing. The National Republican Congressional Committee slammed the Democrats for "desperately trying to jump off the ObamaCare train."

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July Jobs Report: More Deceptively Positive Numbers

| Fri Aug. 2, 2013 10:35 AM EDT

The economy added 162,000 jobs in July and the jobless rate fell to 7.4 percent, according to new numbers released Friday by the Labor Department. But the drop in unemployment is mostly due to the fact that fewer people were seeking work last month, and thus were not officially counted as unemployed by the government; the total share of Americans with jobs actually shrunk.

As in recent months, employment rose in low-wage jobs like retail and food services. Retail added 47,000 jobs in July, and jobs in food service and at bars increased by 38,000. Employment also edged upward in the financial sector and manufacturing. July was the 34th month in a row in which the economy gained jobs.

But the labor force participation rate—the total share of Americans who are working—declined from 63.5 percent to 63.4 percent. Here is a chart that the liberal nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released recently showing how the drop in unemployment does not translate into a healthier workforce:

Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas explained why this is happening at the Washington Post Friday:

Unemployment has fallen 2.5 percent from its post-recession peak, but the share of working-age adults with jobs has barely budged….The popular (well, popular among depressed econ wonks) image of discouraged workers sighing and deleting their Monster.com account once and for all is wrong. The rate of labor force exit is actually lower than it was in the aftermath of the 2001 recession. It's labor force entry that's suffered.

In particular, it's suffered among women—and it's really suffered among young women—who are a lot less likely to enter the labor force than they were in 2002 and 2003.

That is, in certain ways, a more encouraging trend: Discouraged workers who leave the labor force typically see their skills erode. Young people who delay entry are often staying in school longer, gathering skills that will ultimately prove valuable to them (and student loan debt that will prove burdensome).

But that comforting possibility surely doesn't explain all of the drop in entry we’re seeing among younger people. And it doesn’t really explain any of the drop in entry we're seeing among older people.

If the US economy keeps adding jobs at the current rate, it will take about seven years to get back to the pre-recession jobs level, according to the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

That could be likely, given other economic indicators and expected policy. New numbers show that GDP growth was slower than expected in the second quarter of this year. Personal disposable income declined for the first quarter of the year, according to the most recent report, and average hourly earnings fell in June. Another budget impasse in Washington this fall may mean that sequestration cuts continue through this year and beyond. And the Federal Reserve could soon cut back on its economic stimulus measures given the recent superficially positive jobs numbers.

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