Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Surprise! Do-Nothing Ex-Senator Fails to Break Debt Impasse

| Tue Oct. 15, 2013 3:48 PM PDT

As a US senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) was liked, but not well liked. "He was a popular Democrat in a red state, and most of his efforts seemed to be devoted to keeping it that way," as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein put it upon Bayh's retirement in 2011. Bayh talked a lot about the deficit without doing much to lower it and talked about Washington dysfunction without doing much to ease it.

After retiring, Bayh became a partner at a Washington lobbying firm. His first issue: something called the medical-device tax, a provision of the Affordable Care designed to pay for the bill's expanded coverage provisions by extracting more revenue from companies that manufacture things like pacemakers. "As a result of the looming device tax, production is moving overseas, good jobs are going to Europe and Asia, and cutting-edge medical devices will now be produced elsewhere for import into the U.S," he wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last year. "Meanwhile, the impact on the quality of care is incalculable but no less real. Thirty billion dollars must be taken out of operations or R&D. Who knows what lifesaving devices that might have been developed will fall victim to this tax?"

That wasn't really true. As an editorial in Bloomberg View put it, "Just about everything the medical-device industry says about the tax is either untrue or exaggerated." Bayh's claim was based on an industry-funded study that in turn offered no support for its fearful claims; repealing the tax would mean the law no longer paid for itself; and because more people would have access to health care under the law, demand for medical devices was guaranteed to increase.

But the industry's argument took hold. Flash-forward to Tuesday morning, with the nation teetering on the brink of default and the federal government into its third week of a shutdown. After raging against the Affordable Care Act since 2009 as a tyrannical expansion of government, House Republicans appeared to have settled on a final proposal that settled for a far short of repealing or defunding Obamacare: a repeal of the medical device tax. As the Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs pointed out, it was hardly the sweeping victory conservative activists hoped for when they packed the House with true believers in 2010. The push for the device tax repeal made for strange alliances—even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose state is home to a number of major medical device firms, supported it.

Tuesday afternoon, after some conservative Republicans raised concerns that the repeal amounted to "crony capitalism," GOP leaders stripped the device tax repeal from the proposed deal. If it had become law, Evan Bayh's change to the Affordable Care Act would have added $30 billion to the deficit he used to care so much about.

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Here's the House GOP's Final Debt Ceiling Offer (Update: Or Not)

| Tue Oct. 15, 2013 2:55 PM PDT
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)

Update: Heritage Action, the political action arm of the right's top think tank and a leader in the anti-Obamacare crusade, is urging members to vote against House Speaker John Boehner's latest proposal to end the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. After the tea partyish organization declared its opposition, the House Rules Committee postponed a Tuesday night hearing on the bill, an indication Boehner's plan might be dead even before arrival within his own caucus. So...buy gold.

Update II: It's official: No vote on Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled his final offer to end the shutdown and stave off a catastrophic federal default. The GOP's proposal would fund the federal government through December 15 (setting up a possible Christmas shutdown; hooray!), raise the debt ceiling through February 7, and incorporate what's known as the "Vitter amendment"—language prohibiting congressional staffers from receiving subsidies for the purchase of health insurance. It would also prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from taking "extraordinary measures" to prevent the default—which some Republicans have previously suggested might help stave off the crisis—due to fears among GOP congressmen that Secretary Jack Lew was using his powers to fudge the deadline.

Not included in the bill are several provisions that had been discussed previously, such as a "conscience clause" to exempt employers from having to include birth control as part of their insurance plans, and a delay of repeal of the Affordable Care Act's tax on medical device manufacturers—a proposal supported by donors but rejected by some conservative members. Boehner is set to bring the bill to a vote Tuesday night, leaving it up to the Senate, where Democrats have previously opposed all efforts to include the Vitter amendment in impasse-ending legislation. Some House Republicans had considered ditching town after the vote, in the hopes of forcing the point.

We'll keep you updated. In the meantime, you can read the bill:

 

House GOPers Pushing for Anti-Birth-Control Measure in Debt Ceiling Deal

| Tue Oct. 15, 2013 9:51 AM PDT
"Really, guys?"

On Tuesday morning, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a meeting to brief House GOP members on his new plan to stave off a US government default and end the government shutdown. The proposed package would include a two-year delay of the Affordable Care Act's tax on medical devices, eliminate the health insurance employer subsidy for members of Congress, and require income verification for people who qualify for federal subsidies under Obamacare. It would also prohibit the Department of the Treasury from taking "extraordinary measures" to postpone a debt crisis. The measure would fund the government until mid-January and raise the debt ceiling until early February.

Immediately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Boehner's plan would be DOA if it ever reaches the Senate. And initial reports noted that it did not have the full backing of Boehner's caucus—partly because tea partiers were upset that this plan would still allow employer subsidies for the health insurance of congressional staffers. Many members who left the meeting declined to say how they'd vote. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) pried open an elevator door to escape reporters hurling questions at him. But several Republican legislators said there was another provision they wanted included in the legislation: a so-called "conscience clause" that would exempt employers (citing religious objections) from having to provide coverage for birth control as part of the health care plans they offer employees. This idea has been on the Republican wish list for years—Obamacare already has this sort of exemption for churches, mosques, and other places of worship—and with Washington in full-on crisis mode, GOPers are looking to exploit current circumstances to win this long-running fight.

"There are a lot of people, and I'm one of those, who are really pushing for a conscience clause to be included," said Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a former consultant and End-Times novelist who was elected last fall. "They want to have some principle that they could go home and say, 'we fought for this, and we got this.'"

Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), who came out of the meeting undecided on the Boehner proposal ("We were in there for two hours and I don't think I know" what's in the package), said he'd "love to see" a conscience clause added to the legislation. Asked if he could support a final bill that didn't include such a measure, Long paused: "I wanna wait and see what the final thing looks like." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an influential leader among House conservatives and the chair of the Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) each said that the birth control provision was among the extra items being discussed by his colleagues during Boehner's latest last-ditch effort. "That's something that's very important," Jordan remarked.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) noted that he was supportive of the idea—he specifically cited the Catholic charitable organization Little Sisters of the Poor—but he discounted the odds: "That's not an issue that would cause it to succeed or fail in the conference and the president or the majority leader in the Senate have not mentioned it as a possibility." Yet given the current House GOP chaos, there's no telling what lines the die-hard tea partiers will be drawing as default nears. Many of them are still clinging to their anti-Obamacare crusade—which means Boehner may still be far from crafting a plan that can win support in the House, let alone the Senate.

Unpacking the Dumbest Thing Said by a GOP Congressman About the Debt Ceiling

| Mon Oct. 14, 2013 10:08 AM PDT

Make way for liberty!

Congratulations, Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.): You just said the most ridiculous thing anyone in the House of Representatives has uttered about the debt ceiling in…at least a few days. Griffith, asked by the Capitol Hill daily The Hill about the urgency of raising the debt ceiling, suggested the nation might be better off if it defaulted—even if that triggered a new recession and perhaps a global economic crisis—than if it continued to spend money at the current rate. He's not the only Republican congressman to make this claim (Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) suggested a default would calm global markets). But Griffith's spin was, to put it charitably, unique:

We have to make a decision that's right long-term for the United States, and what may be distasteful, unpleasant and not appropriate in the short run may be something that has to be done. I will remind you that this group of renegades that decided that they wanted to break from the crown in 1776 did great damage to the economy of the colonies. They created the greatest nation and the best form of government, but they did damage to the economy in the short run.

This is an absolutely backward understanding of US history. Breaking away from Great Britain was indeed a hugely disruptive economic event—so much so that it almost proved to be the nation's undoing. States were swimming in debt and unable to pay soldiers, who in turn staged open rebellions, which, in turn, prompted politicians to get together to come up with a better governing document.

The central problem was that the nation had basically no access to credit, because it was $77 million in debt with no real means to pay it back. (It owed about $12 million of that to foreign creditors.) The solution, as outlined in Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's First Report on the Public Credit, was to absorb all state-level debts (totaling about $25 million), issue new bonds to fund the federal government and allow it to start borrowing money again, and then raise tariffs to pay off the debt.

Griffith's right that the revolution caused an economic mess, but he should've read the next chapter in his history book—America didn't get out of that economic mess until it had demonstrated to foreign creditors it was good on its word. Whether that's still the case is up to Griffith and his colleagues.

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