Morning Action: Farm Bill, Budget, Unemployment Insurance, and Obamacare

BUDGET.  Lawmakers not intimately involved with budget negotiations are getting concerned about the details of the potential agreement, specifically increases in spending on government services and unemployment insurance:

Senate Republicans and House Democrats are learning the details of a possible deal largely through the media. For Republicans, their unease is caused by news that domestic spending may surpass existing caps, fueled by an increase in fees on government services. House Democrats are growing angry over the increased likelihood that federal workers’ benefits are going to be cut and the possible exclusion of unemployment insurance.

Despite their worries, there may be little that Senate Republicans and House Democrats can do to stop a budget deal being crafted by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House and Senate Budget committee chairmen want to reach a deal before the Dec. 13 deadline, when the House is expected to recess for the year.

In order for a deal to pass, Senate Democrats will need to win over only five Republicans, which aides in both parties predict is a strong possibility. And most House Democrats would likely join Republicans in passing a deal, fearful of being tagged with an obstructionist label often pinned on the GOP.

FARM BILL.  Some lawmakers are concerned about potential cuts being made to food stamps in the farm bill and about reaching an agreement on subsidies and crop insurance for farmers (sub. req’d):

Top farm bill negotiators have kept mum about how close they are to finding common ground on potential policy changes and spending cuts for domestic food assistance. But advocates tracking the closed-door discussions say they have heard a figure of $8 billion in nutrition cuts over 10 years is under consideration — double the proposed reductions in a farm bill passed by the Senate with the support of the Obama administration.

On a separate issue, members of the farm bill conference committee believe they are on track to resolve regional differences on the fine details of new revenue and price plans that will form a financial safety net for major crops.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to deliver by Monday scoring on the commodity title and possibly other compromise proposals representing contentious areas in the wide-ranging legislation.

With regard to food stamp cuts, the Heritage Foundation reminds us:

Food stamp spending is spiraling out of control. In 2012, food stamp costs were roughly $80 billion. This is quadruple the cost in 2000 ($18 billion) and double the cost in 2008 ($39 billion).

Despite this massive growth, the Senate would cut one-half of 1 percent from the projected costs, or 10 times less than the House’s modest 5 percent reduction.  Even under the House bill, food stamp spending would remain at or near record highs into the foreseeable future.

STICKER SHOCK.  Many Americans trying to sign up for health care plans under Obamacare are not only experiencing sticker shock with the higher premiums but with higher deductibles as well (sub. req’d):

As enrollment picks up on the website, many people with modest incomes are encountering a troubling element of the federal health law: deductibles so steep they may not be able to afford the portion of medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover.

The average individual deductible for what is called a bronze plan on the exchange—the lowest-priced coverage—is $5,081 a year, according to a new report on insurance offerings in 34 of the 36 states that rely on the federally run online marketplace.

That is 42% higher than the average deductible of $3,589 for an individually purchased plan in 2013 before much of the federal law took effect, according to HealthPocket Inc., a company that compares health-insurance plans for consumers. A deductible is the annual amount people must spend on health care before their insurer starts making payments.

BLAME GAME.  President Obama explained in a discussion with MSNBC host Chris Matthews that Obamacare’s botched rollout is not his fault, or the White House’s fault, but big government’s fault – it’s the fault of “big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly.” (sub. req’d):

So after five years, Mr. Obama has discovered government is inefficient and wasteful, or at least it is when he needs a political alibi.

Built-in incompetence and bureaucratic inertia are two of the reasons that some of us opposed handing the feds power over, oh, say, one-seventh of the economy. But there’s a special irony here for Mr. Obama, given that the cardinal political project of his Presidency is to rehabilitate the public’s confidence in large activist government.

As recently as Wednesday, Mr. Obama riffed that “government is us” in his inequality speech that liberals toasted as one of his best. He devoted his second Inaugural Address to the practical and moral virtues of what he called “collective action” and tried to convert we the people into we the government.

As for Mr. Obama’s “personal management style,” he conceded at a November press conference that “I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.” Mr. Obama will never hold anyone specific accountable for the ObamaCarefiasco because that would mean indicting himself and his governing philosophy.

PREEXISTING CONDITIONS.  President Obama has tried to convince us that Obamacare is the only way to help people with preexisting conditions, but the Heritage Foundation refutes his claim.  They note that most Americans are covered by an employer based health care plan or by a government program.  And of the people on the private market, 10 percent need protection.  They add:

How should we help our fellow Americans having trouble with pre-existing conditions?

First, extend the same protections to the individual market that people with employer-sponsored health insurance enjoy. As Heritage’s Alyene Senger explains, “This small reform would ensure protection against unjust pre-existing condition exclusions.”

For those who have not had insurance coverage, states have already led the way. Thirty-five states have high-risk pools that ensure access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Another state-based solution is to have insurance companies share the costs of treating high-risk individuals.


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