New Congress So Far (Be Afraid)

This is just the stuff that happened yesterday.

The House passed its “dynamic scoring” bill directing the Congressional Budget Office to lie about the real effects of legislation on the budget. See also Jonathan Chait, “Why the Republican Congress’s First Act Was to Declare War on Math.”

This story provides a clue why the Republicans are determined to take the CBO in hand and dictate what conclusions it will reach:

One of the House Republican leadership’s first bills of the new Congress will add some $53 billion to the deficit and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans health insurance, according to a new report by Congress’ non-partisan budget office.

The bill, the Save American Workers Act, aims to redefine the number of hours that people work each week before their employers fall under the Affordable Care Act, raising the threshold from 30 hours to 40. Under current law, larger firms that don’t provide health insurance for people who work more than 30 hours will be fined. The bill would raise the fine threshold to 40 hours.

Republicans argue that by requiring companies to provide health benefits to anyone who works more than 30 hours, the Affordable Care Act creates an incentive for employers to cut hours to less than 30. Analysts say there is no evidence of that alleged trend, however, and a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that involuntary part-time work has actually fallen since the peak of the recession and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The Congressional Budget Office “score” of the bill released Wednesday suggested the shift proposed by the bill could actually worsen the healthcare situation, even as it raises costs to taxpayers.

Republicans can’t have the CBO saying things like that, can they?

Two House Republicans introduced a national 20-week abortion ban. Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that 20 weeks is “very late term.” Huh? A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Even I can calculate that 20 weeks is the mid point, not “very late.”  Also, too:

Franks compared late abortions to torture in a statement released with the bill.

“More than 18,000 ‘very late term’ abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America,” Franks said Tuesday.

“These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”

I don’t know about the number of abortions at 20 weeks or later in the U.S., but at this time it’s the broad consensus of medical science that a fetus at 20 weeks gestation lacks the nervous system apparatus required to feel pain (see “Navigating the Junk Science of Fetal Pain“).  And no infant born at 20 weeks gestation has ever survived outside the womb in recorded history. The threshold of viability currently is between 22 and 25 weeks, and at the very early end of that a fetus is so impaired that most of the time palliative care only is recommended.

But I haven’t gotten to the best part yet. See Teresa Tritch in the New York Times: “Uh Oh, Republicans Are Trying to ‘Protect’ Social Security Again.”

Buried in the new rules being adopted by the House Republican majority for the current session of Congress is one that the drafters say will “protect” Social Security retirement benefits from being raided to pay for Social Security disability benefits. What this boils down to is using a misleading argument to tee up benefit cuts.

You can read the article for details, but basically the GOP is “fixing” something that ain’t broke. Michael Hiltzik writes at the Los Angeles Times that their “fix” prohibits reallocating money from the retirement fund into the disability fund without  “benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of the combined trust funds.” But there was no reason to do that; the disability allocations were not putting the retirement fund in jeopardy. But if this goes through, Hiltzik says, the most likely outcome will be that disability benefits will be cut by 20 percent sometime next year.

It begins.

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The Massacre in Paris

[Republished from Rethinking Religion blog.] Gunmen killed 12 people in the offices of a Paris satire magazine today. It’s widely assumed — and probably true — that the attacks were in retaliation for the magazine’s lampooning of militant Islam, although so far the “perps” have not been identified officially. In response, rightie blogs are having an insufferable self-righteousness orgy, and Richard Dawkins blames Islam. All of it.

Here is a page of cartoonists’ tributes to the magazine, Charlie Hebdo. I thought this one got closest to the truth of it.


Assuming the gunmen are fanatical Islamists seeking to “punish” the magazine — Yes, they assumed their righteousness trumped other peoples’ lives. Right now a lot of not-Islamic people are going to the same place. It ain’t the religion, folks, or at least not the religion by itself — see “Religious Violence Isn’t Just Religious.”

Read more about religious violence in Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World.

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More on Keystone XL

Following up yesterday’s post — the White House press secretary says the President will veto any legislation from Congress approving construction of the pipeline. Also, “A coalition of landowners, tribal leaders, and activists are protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s route through South Dakota this week.”

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