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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his L.A. Times column, “Medical bankruptcy is an American scandal — and that’s not debatable,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzik” probes the data on medical bankruptsies and shares his observations, including, “In a civilized country, public appeals for help with medical bills shouldn’t exist. Yet GoFundMe reports that it hosts more than 250,000 medical campaigns per year, raising more than $650 million a year…Even households seemingly well-covered by employer health plans can face financial trouble. A survey conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Los Angeles Times found this year that among those consumers, “four in 10 report that their family has had either problems paying medical bills or difficulty affording premiums or out-of-pocket medical costs, and about half say someone in their household skipped or postponed some type of medical care or prescription drugs in the past year because of the cost. Seventeen percent say they’ve had to make what they feel are difficult sacrifices in order to pay health care or insurance costs; for some, the sacrifices they report making are extreme…Unquestionably, the individual burden of medical costs in the U.S. can be unsupportable and, in the richest country in the world, should be unnecessary. Sanders and Warren are right to point the finger at a dysfunctional healthcare financing system. Those who say things aren’t that bad are wrong; it’s worse. Debating whether the number of Americans forced into bankruptcy by medical debt is 500,000 or some other figure is nitpicking, and woefully beside the point. What everyone knows is that the threat is bad enough, and it can strike at anyone.”

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains why “L.A.’s Health-Care Reform Is a Lesson for Democrats,” and notes one of the most difficult challenges in the implementation of the public option feature of the plan: “The experience of L.A. Care shows the possibility of the public option to leverage change, but also the tough choices that loom in implementing the idea. The plan has created a sturdy competitor to private insurers, but it hasn’t had a transformative effect on cost. L.A. Care “ended up being a good and lower-cost option, but it’s not the revolution,” Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California, a consumer-advocacy organization, told me. “It shows both the potential and the limits of a public option.”…L.A. Care can hold down costs because it doesn’t have to turn a profit and it has been innovative in trying to restrain expenses. But its ability to squeeze costs is limited by the fact that it is negotiating reimbursement rates with the same medical providers the private plans are using…That dynamic points to what could be the most contentious issues for Democrats in any future attempt to create a nationwide public option. Many health reformers want a public option to reimburse doctors and hospitals at the rates paid by Medicare, which are much lower than what private insurers pay. Lucia told me that doing so would offer the best chance of significantly reducing national health-care costs…L.A. Care’s growing web of services for the families most in need may look like modest change compared with the calls from Sanders and others for a “revolution” in health care. But the steady gains evident in Lynwood may offer a more revealing preview of what the next Democratic president and Congress could likely achieve.”

Writing at vox.com, Alexia Fernandez Campbell provides a detailed analysis of every frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate’s policy proposals for for labor reform, and she observes, “Reading the labor platforms for each of the 10 candidates who qualified for the third Democratic primary debate next week, two groups emerged: the labor reformers and the labor supporters. Most of the frontrunners fall into the first category — Beto O’Rourke, Buttigieg, and Sanders have all put out astonishingly detailed proposals that would shift the balance of power from businesses to workers. Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang are in the second group. They seem to see themselves more as allies to workers and labor unions than true change-makers.” Campbell notes that nearly all of the candidates support: The Protecting the Right to Organize Act; The Schedules That Work Act; The Paycheck Fairness Act; The Family Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers; The Healthy Families Act; The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act; and The Raise the Wage Act. “Without a doubt,” Campbell asserts, “Democrats would need to control both chambers of Congress to make most of these promises a reality.”

CNN Politics writer Maeve Reston shares some revealing data regarding climate crisis views of voters: “The growing alarm is most pronounced among younger voters. John Della Volpe, who directs the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics poll, noted that climate change “is now viewed as a top area of concern within both a domestic and foreign policy framework” for those within the 18-29 year-old age group, though it generally still ranks behind health care, the economy and immigration…In the Institute’s spring poll, protecting the environment ranked third (33%) among foreign policy priorities, behind protecting human rights and preventing the rise of terrorist groups…Jon Krosnick, a political science and communications professor at Stanford University who directs the Political Psychology Research Group, notes that while no single issue dominates the psyche of American voters, his research shows that climate change is becoming a bigger motivator for a larger group of people…The growing alarm about climate change has showed up in poll after poll.

Reston adds, “A Quinnipiac University poll in late August found that 56% of registered voters nationwide believe climate change is an emergency, and those numbers were much higher among Democrats (84%) and independents (63%). By contrast, 81% of Republicans said they did not believe climate change is an emergency…In a new high since Quinnipiac began asking the question in 2015, 67% of voters said the US is not doing enough to address climate change…The alarm among younger voters is particularly pronounced: 79% of adults 18 to 34 said they worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming, compared with 62% of those 55 and older…There is still a strong partisan divide on the issue, which has lined up with Trump’s continual tweeting about the issue and his assertion that the press is dramatizing the issue. Gallup found that 12% of Republicans said they were “a great deal” concerned about global warming, compared with more than two-thirds of Democrats (69%)…There are also regional differences in attitudes toward climate change. Gallup found that 67% of people in both the Northeast and the West, for example, believe that global warming has already begun, compared to 60% in the Midwest and 53% in the South.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2019’s Rucho v. Common Cause was a painful setback for voting rights advocates,” Mark Joseph Stern writes in his article, “Elena Kagan’s Blueprint to End Partisan Gerrymandering: North Carolina paid attention” at slate.com. “By a 5–4 vote, SCOTUS slammed the federal courthouse door on partisan gerrymandering claims, ruling that they cannot be brought under the U.S. Constitution. But Rucho had a silver lining in Justice Elena Kagan’s powerful dissent, which showed statejudges how to kill off the practice under their own constitutions. Her dissent served as a blueprint for the North Carolina court that invalidated the state’s legislative gerrymander on Tuesday. That decision charts a path forward for opponents of political redistricting. Every state constitution protects the right to vote or participate equally in elections, and state courts can take up Kagan’s call to arms to enforce those protections under state law…In his Rucho opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts insisted that federal courts were unable to determine when a partisan gerrymander goes “too far.” Kagan pointed out that, in fact, plenty of lower courts have already done exactly that. These courts deployed a three-part test. First, they ask whether mapmakers intended to entrench their party’s power by diluting votes for their opponents. Second, they ask whether the scheme succeeded. Third, they ask if mapmakers have any legitimate, nonpartisan explanation for their machinations. If they do not, the gerrymander must be tossed out…“If you are a lawyer,” Kagan wrote, “you know that this test looks utterly ordinary. It is the sort of thing courts work with every day.” In practice, the most important part of the test—its evaluation of a gerrymander’s severity—often boils down to a cold, hard look at the data. Take, for instance, North Carolina’s congressional map, which contained 10 Republican seats and 3 Democratic ones. Experts ran 24,518 simulations of the map that used traditional, nonpartisan redistricting criteria. More than 99 percent of them produced at least one more Democratic seat. The exercise verified that North Carolina’s map isn’t just an outlier but “an out-out-out-outlier.”

“Explicit protections against partisan gerrymandering,” Stern continues, “are extremely common in state constitutions. Thirteen state constitutions, including Pennsylvania’s, require elections to be “free and equal,” while an additional 13 demand that elections be “free and open.” Moreover, 49 state constitutions expressly safeguard the right to vote, which can be interpreted as the right to cast an equal vote undiluted by gerrymandering. Finally, most state constitutions guarantee freedom of speech and equal protection in some capacity. As Kagan noted, any basic conception of free expression and equality should limit politicians’ ability to punish voters on the basis of their political association. And none of these courts is bound by SCOTUS’ cramped view of constitutional liberties; they are free to interpret their state constitutions much more broadly…Not every state judiciary is as progressive as Pennsylvania’s or North Carolina’s. (Republicans declined to appeal Tuesday’s decision, probably because the North Carolina Supreme Court has a 6–1 Democratic majority.) Other states with terrible gerrymanders—like Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—have much more conservative judiciaries. But in each of those states, supreme court justices are either chosen by the governor or elected by the people. In other words, they are selected through a process that cannot be gerrymandered…Voting rights advocates are already focused on state supreme courts as the next battleground in the war on gerrymandering, and rightly so. Rucho was a brutal blow, no doubt, but Kagan’s dissent gave state courts a step-by-step guide for tackling the problem of political redistricting. Mapmakers cannot prevent citizens in many gerrymandered states from flipping their supreme courts. As the Wake County Superior Court just proved, state judges are perfectly capable of grabbing the baton from Kagan and running with it.”

The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman has a warning for Democrats: “Three and a half years have passed since John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fell for a phishing email—granting Russian hackers, and thereby the world, access to his Gmail account and coming to embody the devastating ways foreign governments can meddle in democratic politics. In light of that trauma, the current crop of presidential campaigns has made progress in fortifying their digital operations. But according to those who have worked with the campaigns on these efforts, they nevertheless remain vulnerable to attack and lack cybersecurity best practices…“The risk is more than reasonable that another Podesta-like attack could take place,” Armen Najarian, Agari’s chief marketing officer, told me…Christopher Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which has consulted with every 2020 presidential campaign, has described the hack and leak of Democratic Party documents in 2016 as “the most impactful” element of the Kremlin’s interference in that race. “Shame on us if we’re not ready this time around,” he has said. With just over a year until the election, it’s far from clear that the candidates are.”

The moral myopia of Mitch McConnell and his equally-spineless GOP minions has never been so shameless and disgusting as their current dithering over what to do in response to the latest wave of mass shootings. At ThinkProgress, Josh Israel reports on McConnell’s clueless ruminations following the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and Gilroy, California: “In the wake of another series of mass shootings, President Donald Trump has repeatedly waffled and wavered on whether to take any action to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America. NRA-backed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long opposed any such progress, said Tuesday he will wait and see if Trump actually means any of the things he said in public before scheduling any Senate votes.” Israel quotes McConnell: “I said several weeks ago that if the president took a position on the bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor…” McConnell and his fellow Republicans apparently believe that voters are passive enough to gloss over the fact it took three mass murders in a month to get them to the point where they could even begin considering modest gun safety reforms supported by 90+ percent of the electorate. Has the Republican Party ever before been so utterly devoid of basic human decency?


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