Landing in my inbox just now is a grim new report from Health Affairs, noting that by 2013, 56 million Americans will be uninsured. One-fourth of all workers. Most of this, by the way, will be due to strained budgets and unaffordable health care costs for low- and middle-income people.

The interesting thing in the report—well, interesting to health care wonks, depressing to everyone else—is that the researchers found a "remarkably tight relationship" between affordability and coverage. It doesn't matter whether workers are covered by their employers or pay out-of-pocket. When premiums go up, fewer Americans get coverage, period. As one would expect.

So there are two things to conclude here. One, covering the uninsured is going to cost both employers and taxpayers a lot of money—a good rule of thumb is about $200 billion per year, which is relative peanuts in the cost of total health care spending (roughly $29 trillion over the next decade), but a lot of money all the same. There's no way of getting around this, and it does no good to pretend, as the president does, that spending just a little bit of money will solve the problem. Second, universal coverage, so long as it involves the private insurance industry, simply isn't going to work without serious cost containment measures that keep premiums from rising faster than income. Unfortunately there seem to be far more calls to do this sort of thing—usually involving completely unrelated cuts for Medicare or Medicaid—than there are actual solutions. Still, before anyone proposes anything, it never hurts to understand the problem, so for a good primer on why health care costs are so high in America, I suggest another old Health Affairs report (pdf) on the matter.

Social Security solved?

Call off the Minutemen! Those illegal immigrants could be keeping Social Security and Medicare afloat.

Oh marvelous. I see it's now in vogue for Republican Senators to support violence against judges. Here's a quote from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on the Senate floor earlier today:

I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.

Lovely. So, if a judge gets murdered—like, say Rowland Barnes, who was shot by a convicted rapist two weeks ago—it's his own damn fault. That seems to be the opinion of one standing Senator of the United States. Now let's count up GOP threats against judges. First there was Tom DeLay saying, "The time will come for the men responsible for [ruling on the Schiavo case] to answer for their behavior." Now Cornyn. Who's next? Vice-president Dick Cheney has said he might "have problems" with retribution against judges, but apparently hasn't quite taken a firm stance on the matter. Where do the other Republicans stand? Who's pro-judge-killing and who's anti-judge-killing? Are there any other Republicans still in favor of the rule of law?

From the Houston Chronicle:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's footing among his constituents has slipped drastically during the past year and a majority of his district disapproves of how he handled the Terri Schiavo case, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.

Nearly 40 percent of the 501 voters questioned Wednesday through Friday said their opinion of the powerful Sugar Land Republican is less favorable than last year, compared with 11 percent who said their view of him has improved.

Half of the respondents gave DeLay a somewhat or very favorable rating.

Yet 45 percent said they would vote for someone other than DeLay if a congressional election in the 22nd District were at hand; 38 percent said they would stick with him.

"There seems to be no question that there has been an erosion in support for the congressman," said John Zogby, whose polling company, Zogby International, performed the survey. "He is posting numbers that one would have to consider in the dangerous territory for an incumbent. And he isn't just an incumbent, he is a longtime incumbent."

Win or lose ...

There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservatism ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody. The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with the biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican Party is unstable.

New York Times Magazine
How to Reinvent the G.O.P.
August 29, 2004

Republicans and conservatives are quarreling over Congress's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, and the rising influence of Christian conservatives. Some Republicans in Washington and statehouses are balking at federal tax cuts in the face of deficits or spending cuts, while a few are worried that the war in Iraq will lead to more foreign entanglements. Republicans are beginning to whisper in the past tense as they discuss Mr. Bush's signature second-term measure, the revamping of Social Security.

Conservative commentators and blogs are even warning that Republican divisions could turn into turmoil once President Bush begins his fade from power. "The American right is splintering," the sometimes-conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote in a column for The Sunday Times of London headlined, "Bush's Triumph Conceals the Great Conservative Crack-Up."

New York Times
Squabbles Under the Big Tent
April 2, 2005

After reading through the WMD Commission's recent report on intelligence failures in Iraq, Larry Johnson of the Counterterrorism Blog asks a good question: Why haven't more administration officials been held accountable for their screw-ups?

It is astonishing at this juncture that there has not been a major shake up at the [National Intelligence Council]. In fact, those responsible for the sections with the most errors are still on the job and, in one instance, given more authority. The principal drafters of the October 2002 NIE were Robert Walpole, National Intelligence Officer for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation; Lawrence K. Gershwin, the National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology; retired Army Maj. Gen. John R. Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Conventional Military Issues, and Paul R. Pillar, NIO for the Near East and South Asia. Walpole oversaw the entire effort but had specific responsibility for nuclear issues. Gershwin handled issues related to biological weapons, Gordon focused on chemical weapons, and Pillar dealt with the issues pertaining to international terrorism.

Of the four, the one who got it right in the estimate was Paul Pillar. Yet, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to insist that Pillar's judgments on terrorism were wrong.

Ah yes, the old "promote the folks who screwed up" trick. How familiar this is all becoming.

One other note: The commission's report lay blame almost entirely at the CIA's feet; quite predictably, given that the commission wasn't authorized to look at how the Bush administration handled those intelligence reports. Now on the one hand, yes, the CIA screwed up and overestimated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But on the other hand, at the time the CIA had been far more reluctant to push this line than many in the administration, as neoconservatives like Jim Hoagland were whining back in October 2002. Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith set up their own intelligence shop, the Office of Special Plans, because they thought the CIA was downplaying the Iraqi threat. As Josh Marshall wrote last fall: "Sometimes the intel folks were wrong… but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong."

Nevertheless, if the administration is going to foist the blame on intelligence officials, it would be nice if they actually held those intelligence officials responsible.

Good news in contracting fraud

As it turns out, contractors in Iraq who worked for the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) may not, in fact, be above the law after all. That was the outcome of a Friday ruling against Custer Battles, a private contractor that has been accused of fraud by former employees. Lawyers for the company had claimed that the U.S. had no jurisdiction over the fraud case because the CPA was akin to a sovereign entity. But under that logic, contractors would also have been exempt from Iraqi law, meaning that country would have the legal means to battle contractor corruption.

The ruling sets an important precedent, and aids the Justice Department's efforts to sue CPA contractors in US courts under anti-war profiteering laws. It's also an important win for attorneys like Alan Grayson, who is currently representing former Custer Battles employees. But even though the ruling is a positive step towards enforcing accountability among contractors, another lawyer, Victor Kubli "the [Justice Department's] brief raises the 'pregnant question' of why U.S. officials originally said CPA contracts were not covered by the U.S. anti-fraud law." Why, indeed.

Nathan Newman has an interesting take on the GOP effort to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate. Noting that some conservative groups like the NRA are actually opposed to Bill Frist's "nuclear option," Nathan argues that in the long run, the filibuster is far, far more useful to conservatives than liberals. That seems about right. Many progressive policies—expanding health care, progressive tax reform, environmental protections—are, almost by definition, fairly expansive, and can be easily stopped up in Congress. The current conservative agenda, by contrast, is essentially a dismantling project, and can be done more or less incrementally: erode labor laws here, strike down a few abortion provisions there, slash revenue and create a deficit, chip away at health care spending, etc. etc. It's pretty clear that Republicans have a structural advantage in the sluggish and veto-heavy Senate. (Indeed, Social Security privatization proves the exception to the rule.)

It's no coincidence that the only two big eras of progressive gains—the New Deal and the Great Society—came when Democrats had juggernaut-sized and mostly filibuster-proof majorities in Congress. It's simply impossible to pass drastic reform otherwise, as Bill Clinton discovered in 1994 with his attempt at health care reform, which was indirectly shot down by a Senate filibuster. Meanwhile, as Nathan points out, liberals lose longer-term ideological battle by relying too heavily on obstructionism: "Blocking conservative action through filibusters has short-term gains, but it feeds the long-term cynicism of voters that government cannot accomplish anything."

Of course, the big catch here is that if Frist does succeed in going nuclear, the GOP will be able to stack the judiciary with a new generation of radical activist judges, most of whom will spend their time rolling back the New Deal economic consensus and returning us to the glory days of Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover. That would be a very high price indeed for the loss of the filibuster.

Henry Farrell relays the latest attack on organized labor:

The [Financial Times] reports (sub required) that the US administration is planning to "toughen its regulation of organised labour, in what critics see as the latest in a series of pro-business policies sweeping Washington." It's invoking powers that haven't been used in decades to force unions to file detailed financial statements and increase "accountability and transparency." This isn't an effort to further the interests of union members; it's the beginning of a quite deliberate attempt to cripple unions as political actors.

Unfortunately, I don't have a FT subscription, but reading through Henry's summary, the specific measures listed here don't necessarily seem objectionable on the merits. Detailed financial statements sound like a good thing. So does increased accountability and transparency. What's troubling, however, is that the administration seems to be focusing solely on unions, with senior officials expressing "concern" that "some [labor] campaigns against big business were not always in the interests of members." Meanwhile, is anyone in the White House planning to crack down on "accountability and transparency" at the Chamber of Commerce, or the NRA? Doesn't seem like it. So there's no reason to think the White House is pursuing these moves out of a sudden interest in promoting good governance—especially coming from a party whose spiritual leaders were openly bragging about dismantling organized labor before the 2004 election.

UPDATE: David Sirota nicely recounts the long history of the administration's attacks on labor unions.

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists got his hands on a new National Security Council organizational chart (pdf), which establishes "five deputy National Security Advisers to focus on the president's priorities" for the second term. Those priorities:

  1. Winning the war on terror
  2. Succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan
  3. Advancing the President's freedom agenda, particularly in the Middle East
  4. Advancing the President's prosperity agenda; and
  5. Explaining the President's strategy at home and abroad.

Nothing too shocking, I suppose—though I'd like to know what this "prosperity agenda" is, exactly—but there seems to be at least one notable and rather scary omission. Can't find it? Just hark back to the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry:

LEHRER: If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?

KERRY: Nuclear proliferation...

BUSH: ...first of all, I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network.

Right. So, um, any chance we might get a deputy National Security Adviser to work on nuclear proliferation?