Archives: April, 2013

WSJ: ‘Roofer Union Calls for Repeal of Obama Health Law’

Take it, Janet Adamy:

A labor union representing roofers is reversing course and calling for repeal of the federal health law, citing concerns the law will raise its cost for insuring members.

Organized labor was instrumental in getting the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, but more recently has voiced concerns that the law could lead members to lose their existing health plans. The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers is believed to be the first union to initially support the law and later call for its repeal.

“After the law was passed, I had great hope…that maybe the rough spots would be worked out and we’d have a great law,” said Kinsey Robinson, international president of the union, which represents 22,000 commercial and industrial roofers…

Mr. Robinson says the union’s concerns about the law began to pile up in recent months after speaking with employers.

The roofers’ union’s current insurance plan caps lifetime medical bill payouts at $2 million for active members and $50,000 for retirees. Next year, the plan has to remove those caps in order to comply with the health law. Other aspects of the retiree plan must become more generous in order to meet the law’s minimum essential coverage requirements next year. All that will increase the cost of insuring members, Mr. Robinson said, and has prompted the union to weigh eliminating the retiree plan.

Adding to those cost concerns is a new $63-per-enrollee fee on health plans that pays insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions next year. Looking ahead to 2018, when the law levies an excise tax on high-value insurance plans, Mr. Robinson predicts that at least some of the union’s plans will get hit by it…

Over time, Mr. Robinson says, his optimism that regulators or lawmakers would address the union’s concerns diminished. “I don’t think they are going to get fixed,” he said. On Tuesday, the union called for a repeal of the health law or a complete reform of it.

Will the last ObamaCare supporter please turn off the lights?

Will the Last ObamaCare Supporter Please Turn off the Lights?

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) was the primary author of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially and affectionately as ObamaCare. Today, he predicted his own law would cause a “huge train wreck” when the federal government begins implementing it fully later this year. He’s not the only one who’s worried. Other Democratic senators have expressed concerns. An Obama administration official recently offered this vote of confidence:

We are under 200 days from open enrollment, and I’m pretty nervous…The time for debating about the size of text on the screen or the color or is it a world-class user experience, that’s what we used to talk about two years ago…Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.

How could Baucus come to fear his own bill? Maybe because he never read it, as he admitted to his Libby, Montana, constituents in 2010:

Naturally, a Baucus flack later clarified what he meant:

Senator Baucus wrote the bill that passed the Finance Committee and then worked with his colleagues to write the health care bill that is law today. He has spent years crafting this policy and hundreds of hours reading and perfecting it. There is simply no question that he understands the provisions in the health care law…

If so, perhaps Baucus could explain the law to his colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller may have spent more time studying health care than any other U.S. senator, Baucus included. For example, Rockefeller founded the Alliance for Health Reform and headed the organization for more than a decade. And yet Rockefeller finds ObamaCare to be “the most complex piece of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress” and “just beyond comprehension”:

But can we really blame Baucus if ObamaCare supporters – including himself – didn’t understand the bill they were passing? After all, he warned us that not all of them would understand it:

So to recap: Baucus wrote an early draft of the law, helped to write subsequent drafts, didn’t read the final law, totally understands it, and now fears it.

Will the last ObamaCare supporter please turn off the lights?

The Costs of Our Overseas Military Presence

The AP’s Donna Cassata is reporting today on a study commissioned by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which purports to calculate the costs of the U.S. military presence overseas. This is a hot topic, but it isn’t exactly a new one. Americans have long been frustrated by inequitable burden sharing, with many of our wealthy allies spending a fraction of what we do on defense. On Monday, Cato published a new infographic on the subject to coincide with tax day (see below).

Unfortunately, the committee’s estimate that the permanent stationing of U.S. troops overseas costs us $10 billion each year is too low–in all likelihood, much too low. I have not yet had a chance to read the entire report, but the DoD’s own estimate of overseas military costs includes the costs of personnel, and is more than twice that amount, $20.9 billion (see p. 207 in the latest budget submission). Even the DoD’s figure, however, understates the true cost of our commitments to defend other countries that can and should defend themselves, because it doesn’t fully account for the additional force structure that is required to maintain a presence many thousands of miles away from the United States. If the U.S. military operated chiefly in the Western Hemisphere, with regular expeditionary operations far afield, we could safely have fewer people on active duty, and mobilize a large and well-trained reserve for genuine emergencies. This smaller military would require ships and planes to take them where they were needed, when they were needed, but not as many planes and ships as we have today. And no report can actually assess the costs and risks when and if our security commitments compel us to become embroiled in a distant war that does not engage vital U.S. interests. 

Other studies have attempted to assess all of the costs of these various global commitments, and the estimates vary widely. Graham Fuller and Ian Lesser of the RAND Corporation, for example, estimated in 1997 that the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf cost between $30 and $60 billion per year. A more recent study by Mark Delucchi and James Murphy estimated costs between $47 and $98 billion. Several of us at Cato have been compiling these estimates, and coming up with our own, as part of a comprehensive study of the costs of our global military presence. We will publish our key findings when they become available.

In the meantime, this much is clear: our security commitments, many of them holdovers from the Cold War, induce other countries to spend less than they could on their own defense. And they compel Americans to spend more than we should.  

 

Subsidizing the security of wealthy allies

 

Paring Back Leviathan, One Case at a Time

In an email this morning, Institute for Justice President William “Chip” Mellor was crowing, and rightly so, about IJ’s latest win for economic liberty – a decision by Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Jane Carroll striking down the city’s 20-year-old taxicab law prohibiting competition in the taxi market. That adds one more city to the string: IJ’s attorneys have brought an end to similar taxi monopoly statutes in Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis.

What caught my eye here, however, was the attorney who won the case, Anthony Sanders, working out of IJ’s Minneapolis office. Back in the summer of 2002, after his first year of law school, Anthony did a bang-up job at Cato helping us put together the very first volume of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

But that’s hardly the only IJ/Cato connection. The one I’m most proud of goes back to 1989 and my very first summer intern, Scott Bullock, now an IJ senior attorney. Just last January Scott won an important civil asset forfeiture case up in Boston – that’s an obscure issue we’ve worked for years to bring to the fore. And in March, Scott won a crucial Fifth Circuit economic liberty case, resulting in a circuit split on the issue and hence a good chance that the Supreme Court will at last revisit its jurisprudence concerning this “second-class” right.

We train ’em, Chip sends ’em out to do battle in the courts, and little by little we pare back Leviathan.

Reason.com: ‘6 Reasons Why States Should Continue to Oppose ObamaCare’

Drawing from my white paper “50 Vetoes: How States Can Stop the Obama Health Law,” Reason’s Peter Suderman highlights six reasons why states should refuse to implement any part of ObamaCare. Here are two:

3. Refusing to create an exchange potentially protects a state’s businesses from the law’s employer mandate.Obamacare fines any business with 50 or more employees that does not offer health coverage of sufficient value—as determined by the federal government—$2,000 per employee (exempting the first 30 workers).  The employer penalties, however, are triggered by the existence of the law’s subsidies for private health insurance. And as Cannon notes, the text of Obamacare specifically states that those subsidies are only available in states that choose to create their own exchanges. The IRS has issued a rule allowing for subsidies in states that reject the exchanges, but a lawsuit is already under way to challenge it. 

4. States also have the power to protect as many as 12 million people from the law’s individual mandate—the “tax” it charges individuals for not carrying health insurance. Obamacare requires that nearly everyone maintain health coverage or pay a penalty—a “tax,” according to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the law last year. But Obamacare also exempts individuals who would have to pay more than 8 percent of their household income for their share of their health insurance premiums. So if states bow out of the exchanges, and as a result the law’s private insurance subsidies are no longer available, then the mandate will no longer apply to the low and middle income individuals who would have to pay more than 8 percent of their income to get health insurance. Cannon estimates that if all 50 states were to decline to create exchanges, a little more than 12 million low and middle-income individuals would be exempt from the law’s mandate.

Max Baucus, ObamaCare’s Lead Author, Sees ‘Huge Train Wreck Coming Down’

I should probably just turn this one over to Sam Baker at The Hill:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday he fears a “train wreck” as the Obama administration implements its signature healthcare law.

Baucus, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee and a key architect of the healthcare law, said he’s afraid people do not understand how the law will work.

“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” Baucus told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Wednesday hearing. “You and I have discussed this many times, and I don’t see any results yet.”

Baucus pressed Sebelius for details about how HHS will explain the law and raise awareness of its key provisions, which are supposed to take effect in just a matter of months.

“I’m very concerned that not enough is being done so far — very concerned,” Baucus said.

He pressed Sebelius to explain how her department will overcome entrenched misunderstandings about what the healthcare law does.

“Small businesses have no idea what to do, what to expect,” Baucus said.

Citing anecdotal evidence from small businesses in his home state, Baucus asked Sebelius for specifics about how it is measuring public understanding of the law.

“You need data. Do you have any data? You’ve never given me data. You only give me concepts, frankly,” Baucus told Sebelius.

Sebelius said the administration is not independently monitoring public awareness of specific provisions, but will be embarking on a substantial education campaign beginning this summer.

Baucus is facing a competitive reelection fight next year, and Republicans are sure to attack him over his role as the primary author of the healthcare law.

A messy rollout of the law’s major provisions, just months before Baucus faces voters, could feed into the GOP’s criticism.

Wednesday’s hearing wasn’t the first time Democrats — including Baucus — have raised concerns about the implementation effort. But while other lawmakers have toned down their public comments as they’ve gotten answers from Sebelius, Baucus said Sebelius has not addressed his fears.

“I’m going to keep on this until I feel a lot better about it,” Baucus told Sebelius…

Enrollment in the healthcare law’s insurance exchanges is slated to begin in October, for coverage that begins in January. Baucus, though, said he’s worried exchanges won’t be ready in time.

“For the marketplaces to work, people need to know about them,” Baucus said. “People need to know their options and how to enroll.”

Who knew that running the health care sector would be hard.

Supreme Court Wisely Rules that U.S. Law Doesn’t Apply Outside the U.S.

As Walter Olson notes below, today the Supreme Court correctly ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum that the Alien Tort Statute, like any federal law not explicitly stating otherwise, does not cover actions occurring outside the United States.  That is, you can’t bring a suit in U.S. court just because it involves a “violation of the law of nations” (the conduct that the ATS addresses).

As Chief Justice Roberts said in announcing the decision, even a claim that a foreigner committed such an international-law violation against another foreigner isn’t enough to counter the presumption that laws don’t have extra-territorial application.  Indeed, in such a case – and Kiobel’s allegations of human rights abuses by Nigerians against Nigerians in Nigeria is such a case – there is even less of a reason to invoke the jurisdiction of American courts than if some American dimension existed (e.g., the citizenship of one of the parties or the location of the conduct).  

Nothing in the text of the ATS overcomes that basic presumption against extra-territoriality and the Court’s fascinating historical exposition demonstrates why the First Congress – the ATS was enacted in 1789 as one of our first laws – wouldn’t have wanted to change that practice or make the fledgling republic a “uniquely hispitable forum for the enforcement of international norms.”

As Cato’s amicus brief argued, the Founders understood “the law of nations” to provide a methodology for defining the extraterritorial scope of ATS jurisdiction. Their understanding of jurisdiction rested on the nexus between territory and sovereignty; the law of nations as of 1789 recognized a territorial nexus between the state asserting jurisdiction and the claim asserted. That the law of nations permits jurisdiction over piracy on the high seas or in other unique circumstances doesn’t mean that a U.S. court may assert jurisdiction over conduct occurring entirely within the territory of a foreign sovereign.

Finally, the Court correctly noted that the mere fact that corporations are present in the case – the original issue was whether the ATS recognized corporate liability – doesn’t somehow change the extraterritorial-applicability calculus.  In Kiobel, even the corporations were foreign (Dutch and British oil companies), with nobody alleging that so much as a U.S. subsidiary was involved.

At the end of the day, this was an exceedingly complicated case with a relatively simple solution.  Well done, Supreme Court.