Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Obama Touches the Third Rail, Sort Of.

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 6:01 AM PST

On "Meet the Press" this weekend, Barack Obama struck out at Hillary Clinton over her refusal to commit to raising the cap on payroll taxes to help keep Social Security solvent. Obama's focus on payroll taxes was refreshing after all the recent focus on the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT is the 1960s measure designed to catch a handful of super-rich tax cheats that now ensnares a lot of ordinary upper-class people and which Congress has pledged to fix.

Payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, only apply to the first $94,200 of a worker's wages. Income from investments and other passive earnings that make up a lot of the super-rich's income aren't subject to payroll taxes at all. That's why Obama was suggesting raising the income cap, a reasonable idea given that the number of people in the upper tax bracket has soared under the Bush administration. John Edwards has also said he'd support such a measure. But Clinton is on the fence.

Which is too bad, because payroll taxes are highly regressive. More than half of wage-earning Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes, and they fall heaviest on people earning less than $40,000 a year, eating up more than 15 percent of a minimum-wage workers paycheck. The AMT, though, only hits people who make more than $100,000 a year. If Obama is serious about taking on payroll taxes, he ought to consider giving them a major overhaul, not just to fix Social Security, but to relieve some of the burden on the working poor.

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Dear Hillary: Success Trumps Sisterhood Every Time

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 8:40 AM PST

Conventional wisdom suggests that Hillary Clinton has all but locked up the gender primary. She dominates the female voting bloc, a sign that women are actually energized about her historic candidacy. But there's one group of women that she hasn't yet won over: professional and executive women who make more than $75,000 a year. These women support Clinton far less than their lower-income counterparts, and they are slightly more likely to vote for Giuliani in the presidential election, reports the Wall Street Journal today.

Despite having much in common with Clinton, these women are demonstrating that old adage about how feminism's biggest achievement is allowing women to emulate the worst in men (see the rise in women's smoking and incarceration rates, for instance). Really, it's no surprise that when women achieve power and wealth, they start to care more about capital gains taxes than children's health insurance programs. Apparently, sisterhood is a casualty of climbing the corporate ladder.

HMO Pays Staffers to Drop Sick People

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 8:10 AM PST

Virtually all the Democrats running for president have endorsed health care proposals that maintain a major role for private insurance companies. Much of their rhetoric suggests that if we could just get everyone health insurance, then all will be well. But the debate continues to ignore the horror stories like the one reported in the L.A. Times Friday.

A private insurer paid $20,000 in bonuses to an underwriter for dropping coverage for sick people, including a hairdresser who was half way through chemo treatments for cancer. She was left with $200,000 in medical bills as a result. Meanwhile, the company, Health Net, saved $35 million by cutting off 1,600 people who had made a major medical claim. Built into the system were performance bonuses for employees who dropped the most and the sickest patients. The widespread practice suggests that Americans need a lot more than an insurance card to guarantee access to medical care when they most need it.

Finally, Cable a la Carte?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 7:34 AM PST

I have long suspected that my husband and I may be the only people in D.C. who don't subscribe to cable TV (sorry, David). For years we have resisted, largely because 1) cable is expensive and controlled by monopolies and 2) the only reason we want it is so that we can watch The Wire and New York Giants games that aren't broadcast in our area on regular TV. We don't want to pay hundreds of dollars a year for cable when we wouldn't watch 99 percent of its offerings.

This all might change, however, if the newly energized chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gets his way. Republican Kevin J. Martin is pushing once again to restrict the monopoly power of giant cable companies, whose rates have soared far faster than inflation in recent years. (Comcast haters take note: Martin's work would put a huge hitch in that company's expansion plans.) Among the other measures that Martin is championing, though, is what every cable consumer has long desired: the ability to pick her own channels, without having to pay for all the Home Shopping Network additions forced into the standard packages, the so called "a la carte menu."

The FCC's changes are based on a law that kicks in when 70 percent of the marketplace has cable, which it does. Naturally, the big cable companies hate the idea, but it should be a boon for consumers. Indeed, the measure might not improve my New York Giants' watching (we'd need Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket for that), but we might actually get to watch The Wire in real-time instead of waiting months for it to make its way to Netflix.

If Grover Norquist Speaks, Does Anyone Still Listen?

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:22 PM PST

new-grover-headshot.jpg So Grover Norquist thinks that Fred Thompson is the "worst" GOP candidate out there. His major sin? He has refused to sign a pledge from Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, refusing to ever raise taxes. Also, he has said that rich people might have to pay higher premiums for Medicare and is opposed to federal tort reform.

Norquist's remarks apparently came during his regular Wednesday off-the-record meeting in D.C. with the grand poobahs of the GOP, which used to be the place to be in D.C. if you wanted to know what was going on in politics. In the old days, such a pronouncement would leave a candidate shaking in his boots. But ever since the news broke that Norquist had been deeply involved in some of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Indian tribe schemes, and Democrats took over Congress, he seems to have been relegated to the sidelines, at least publicly. It will be interesting to see how much his attacks on Thompson will really matter. After all, Thompson's positions are pretty fiscally responsible, something Republicans used to care about...

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