Saturday, May 17, 2014
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, statistically tied with his Democratic opponent in one of the most closely watched Senate races in America, never misses an opportunity to blast “Obamacare”: on the hustings in his home state of Kentucky and on the floor of the US Senate, where he serves as the minority leader.
But Obamacare may not turn out to be the campaign issue that Senator McConnell hopes it will be. True, Kentuckians – like most Americans – disapprove of the Affordable Care Act. But they also live in a state where implementation of the ACA has been held up as a national model for its smooth rollout and easy interface with users. More than 1 in 10 residents is now covered by "kynect," the state-run exchange under the ACA.
Obamacare as a political issue will probably be "a wash," says Stephen Voss, associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Voters in the Bluegrass State sense that Obamacare is broken, he says, but they're open to the help that it represents – specifically through kynect.
This year, as McConnell urged the “repeal and replace” of Obamacare, Kentuckians flocked to the program that grew from it. More than 413,400 people were enrolled in kynect by mid-April. Surveys of enrollees show that 75 percent had no health insurance prior to kynect. And more than half of those signed up are under age 35 – far above the national average for this crucial age bracket.
While some GOP-led states shunned the ACA’s provision to expand Medicaid – health care for the poor – Kentucky’s popular Democratic governor, Steven Beshear, embraced it. Statewide, about 80 percent of kynect customers are covered by the Medicaid expansion, and the other 20 percent have chosen the exchange’s private plans.
Coverage for the poor is especially welcome here in Hazard, a town nestled in a region devastated by the recent collapse of the coal industry. In the past year, more than 10,000 jobs have been lost in eastern Kentucky, where unemployment now stands at 14.5 percent.
“I’m very appreciative” of kynect, says Stephen Kelly, who recently moved to Hazard on the promise of a job that then fizzled. The young man has a wife and two sons and a master’s degree in Christian ministry. After signing up in person for Medicaid under kynect, which he found to be a “convenient, simple” process, he underwent a physical and lab tests, which he had not had “in quite some time.” This is the first time he has had health insurance.
Mr. Kelly, who has since found a job in the local health-care industry, has mixed feelings about the ACA. While it is helping him and his family, he doesn’t like what it’s doing to others who already had insurance – such as his parents. His father, who lives in Harlan, Ky., is seeing his insurance costs skyrocket, Kelly says.
“Someone has to pay for this insurance; I’m not paying for it,” he reasons. “But I don’t want it to affect my country. I don’t want it to bankrupt us. I’m glad it’s there, though. I’m glad it’s there for people who need it.”
Some enrollees reacted emotionally to kynect, according to Charla Napier, chief operating officer of Primary Care Centers of Eastern Kentucky, which is administering the program in the area. During sign-up, she says, it wasn’t unusual to see people shed tears. For some, they were tears of relief for a health-care safety net. For others, they were tears of humiliation, as self-sufficient workers who used to have well-paying jobs and generous health insurance suddenly found themselves dependent on government assistance.
This helps explain the ambivalence of Kentuckians toward the ACA, seen in an April poll by The New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation. People don’t like it, but they don’t want to scrap it, either. A majority – 55 percent – disapprove of the health-care law. But a majority also say their representative in Congress should work to improve the law, not repeal it and replace it with something else.
The poll had similar results in two other states with hotly contested Senate seats, Louisiana and North Carolina. And in Arkansas, another state with a close Senate race, a plurality – 48 percent – want Congress to fix, rather than repeal, the ACA.
Meanwhile, McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who favors the keep-and-fix approach, has avoided talking about the health-care law. Her supporters call kynect “Beshearcare,” after the governor.
But just wait until October, says state Sen. Robert Stivers (R). That’s just before the election – and when health insurance enrollment notices go out for the new year. People “are going to get sticker shock,” predicts Senator Stivers, president of the GOP-controlled Senate in the State Capitol.
If that comes to pass, McConnell may well benefit from his anti-ACA message. But until then, says Professor Voss, the new law “loses its power as an issue” because of the ambivalence about it.
USDA Looking To Buy Submachine Guns
Saturday, 17 May 2014 02:12 PM
By Sandy Fitzgerald
According to a solicitation filed on May 7, the department has a detailed list of specifications for its "commercial acquisition of submachine guns."
The department is seeking .40 caliber submachine guns complete with flashlights, optics, burst fire capability, and 30-round magazines.
The guns, the department says, should have an "semi-automatic or 2 shot burst trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsible or folding, magazine - 30 rd. capacity, sling, lightweight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation."
There are no solicitation documents for the gun buy, but "responsible and/or interested sources may submit their company name, point of contact, and telephone," and if the information is received in a timely manner, the sellers will be considered by the agency to contact and determine "weapon suitability."
Dan Cannon, a writer for the blog Guns Save Lives, notes that the U.S. Forest Service and its law enforcement division are under the USDA's control, and could be a likely place for the firearms to be used.
The two contacts on the solicitation document, Linda Josey, chief of the USDA's Procurement Management branch and Desiree Clayton, USDA Contracting Officer, could not be immediately reached Saturday for comment on the order.
The USDA isn't the only federal agency to seek weapons or ammunition in recent months.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service joined the list of federal agencies seeking to purchase what some Second Amendment activists say are alarmingly large quantities of ammunition.
The Postal Service listed a notice on its website, under the heading "Assorted Small Arms Ammunition," that said: "The United States Postal Service intends to solicit proposals for assorted small arms ammunition. If your organization wishes to participate, you must pre-register. This message is only a notification of our intent to solicit proposals."
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said in April that his organization is seeing a highly unusual amount of ammunition being bought by the federal agencies over a fairly short period of time. To be honest, I don't understand why the federal government is buying so much at this time."
A little more than a year ago, the Social Security Administration put in a request for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow-point" bullets, shortly after the USDA requested 320,000 rounds.
And more recently, the Department of Homeland Security requested 450 million rounds — around the same time the FBI sought 100 million hollow-point rounds.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Weather Service, has also requested 46,000 rounds.
ObamaCrapCare Was Never Intended To Work Right. Issue 3,064,708--Wrong Subsidies And Immigration Status.
Report: 1 Million Americans Getting Wrong Obamacare Subsidies
Saturday, 17 May 2014 11:25 AM
By Sandy Fitzgerald
According to internal documents and people familiar with the situation, Americans who listed incomes on their insurance applications that differ significantly with what is on file with the Internal Revenue Service are likely receiving too much money, reports The Washington Post.
"I have this sick feeling that there are these people out there who have made unintentional errors, and in a few years will be subject to massive tax bills,” said Jessica Waltman, senior vice president for government affairs at the National Association of Health Underwriters, a lobbying group for health insurance brokers.
Normally, customers are notified if there is a problem with their applications and told to upload or mail in their proof of income. But only a few have done that, say IRS documents, and even for those who have, the federal computer system for the marketplace isn't able to match the proof with the application because the capability to do that hasn't been built.
The unprocessed documents are being stored at federal contractor Serco's Kentucky office as the improper subsidies keep being paid, and under current rules, people who get the subsidies will be required to return the extra money next year.
Federal health officials and Serco, facing pressure from the White House, are starting this weekend to resolve the inconsistencies. Serco, however, is facing its own issues, with dozens of workers complaining this past week that they're sitting idle, playing games, or looking busy punching a computer button every 10 minutes because they're not being given enough work to fill their days.
The subsidy issue is one of the computer problems that have been going on since the Obamacare marketplace website, HealthCare.gov, floundered when it was launched last October.
And although contractors have corrected many of the problems that made it difficult for Americans to choose a health plan, many parts of the website are still defective or not finished.
Since the operational system isn't complete, it is impossible for federal officials to know how many of the 8 million people who have signed up for healthcare coverage have paid their premiums, or how many enrollments were attempted but never completed.
Members of the Obama administration, however, promised congressional Republicans last year that an income-verification system would be in place.
Since the computer system isn't capable of doing the income comparisons, Serco workers will have to do the work by hand. But at first, sources told The Post, the work will focus on the approximately one million cases in which people enrolled or tried to enroll faced questions about their citizenship status.
Immigration documents, like the income information, are also caught in the backlog, meaning that sorting out the income issue and the improper subsidies will not start until summer, likely causing recipients to receive even higher tax repayment bills next year.
“The marketplace has successfully processed tens of millions of pieces of data — everything from Social Security numbers to tribal status to annual income," said Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Obamacare. "While most data matched up right away during the application process, we take seriously the cases that require more work and have a system in place to expeditiously resolve these data inconsistencies, We’re working every day to make sure individuals and families get the tax credits they deserve and that no one is receiving a tax credit they shouldn’t.”
But about 5.5 million of the 8 million people who signed up for insurance coverage this year did so through the federal insurance exchange, and the internal documents examined by The Post shows that about 3 million of those applications contained at least one inconsistency.
Income discrepancies amount for the most frequent inconsistencies, the report said, showing up on 1.1 million to 1.5 million out of nearly 4 million inconsistencies, and customers have mailed in about 650,000 examples of proof of income.
“The longer it takes and the more months . . . go by, the more serious the consequences of any error that may have occurred,” said Judy Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
- Payments to Insurers Delayed in Latest Obamacare Setback
- Obamacare Turns Health Insurers Into Fannie and Freddie
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Boehner: No 'Commitment' on Immigration Reform Timetable
Friday, 16 May 2014 05:45 PM
By Todd Beamon
"Republicans are committed to reforming our immigration system, but as the speaker has said repeatedly, it’s difficult to see how we make progress until the American people have faith that President Obama will enforce the law as written," spokesman Michael Steel told Newsmax in a statement.
In remarks at the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas, Jarrett said that Boehner's support comes amid strong opposition from other GOP representatives, particularly those backed by the tea party.
Boehner may opt for multiple bills rather than a single, Jarrett said, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, adding that the White House supported either approach.
Jarrett characterized Boehner as expressing that he’s "very frustrated with his caucus." The event is an annual gathering of hedge fund managers, executives, and political leaders.
"There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat," Jarrett said, according to the Review-Journal. "I feel very encouraged about immigration reform. I think you’re going to see mounting pressure."
But on Friday, Jarrett herself backed off her comments, saying on Twitter:
The New York Times reported late last month that Boehner might seek to pass immigration reform in the House, but cautioned that Obama must work to win back the trust of a wary Congress and American public.
"The biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass," Boehner said at the time.
Last year, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.
Boehner said shortly thereafter that the House would not take an "Obamacare-like" approach to immigration reform.
"House Republicans affirmed that rather than take up the flawed legislation rushed through the Senate, House committees will continue their work on a step-by-step, common-sense approach to fixing what has long been a broken system," Boehner saidin a statement that was endorsed by other Republican leaders.
"The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy," the statement said. "But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington — and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem."
- Boehner Rolls Back Immigration Remark as Advocates See Potential
- Biden Urges Immigration Reform: 'They Are Americans'
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Sarah Palin Blasts Obama Administration's 'Diplomacy by Twitter'
Friday, 16 May 2014 06:56 PM
By Todd Beamon
"Diplomacy via Twitter is the lazy, ineffectual, naïve, and insulting way for America’s leaders to deal with major national and international issues," the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate said on her Facebook page. "It’s embarrassing.
"Under Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton’s State Department repeatedly refused to recognize Boko Haram as terrorists despite their conventional, predictable Islamic terrorist rants, training, and mission," she added. "Now, in a life-or-death situation, nearly 300 kidnapped Nigerian girls are in the hands of these terrorists awaiting rescue."
Boko Haram is the Islamic militant group that abducted the girls from their boarding school as they slept in Chibok, Nigeria, a month ago. While President Barack Obama has offered assistance to Nigeria, the government there has long been wary of accepting U.S. aid.
Republican Sen. John McCain has called on the White House to send in U.S. Special Forces to rescue the girls, whose whereabouts are not known. The group's name translates as "Western education is sinful."
The effort has attracted worldwide attention, with posts on Twitter last week by first lady Michelle Obama and several female celebrities.
Palin, apparently referencing the Michelle Obama tweet, said: "What is the Obama administration’s weapon of choice in this battle for these young girls’ lives? Hashtagging tweets on social media! I kinda-sorta doubt a tweet will intimidate the kidnappers much.
"If you’re going to jump in and do something about these Islamic terrorists at all, then do it right, do it firmly, and kick their ass," Palin said.
"Winning takes warriors. If you intend to rescue these innocent girls, whose only 'crime' was seeking an education despite the threats of insane Islamic terrorists who drag women back to the stone age ... then you need to send a message to the world that our United States military is the strongest force to protect the good guys, and the most deadly against the bad guys.
"The world needs to know America is still on the side of the good guys."
She added that "victory is only brought to you 'courtesy of the red, white and blue.' It’s certainly not won by your mere 'unfriending' the bad guys on Facebook.
"Leading from behind is not the American way," Palin said.
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