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Nelson Mandela, R.I.P.



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From my most recent NRO article, on the passing of the South African leader: “Though the tremendous outpouring of admiration that has followed his death is certainly merited — for his generosity of spirit and immense courage throughout his imprisonment of 27 years — the great esteem in which he is held obscures and transcends some matters of legitimate controversy.

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.
 

Krauthammer’s Take: Administration Exaggerating Enrollment for Democrats’ Benefit



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Every Obamacare enrollment number is exaggerated because they are not truly measuring what they claim to, Charles Krauthammer said Wednesday evening.

“These are not enrollees, it’s people who put stuff in their shopping cart. Amazon would never call it a sale until you get a sale,” Krauthammer said on Special Report, “and they don’t even know how many have made the sale. And that’s because. . .the cash register of the whole system is not working.”

Krauthammer speculated that the administration was exaggerating numbers in order to alleviate congressional Democrats’s fears.

“I think all of this is to assuage Democrats to give them something to hang their hats on and pretend everything’s okay on the recess. But the beginning of January is going to be a trainwreck for them,” he said.

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‘Is the Universe a Hologram?’



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Fascinating article over at the Huffington Post. Scientists have discovered numerical correspondences that suggest that certain black-hole phenomena can be reproduced from universes with fewer dimensions.

As someone who is sadly innumerate but nonetheless fascinated by such matters, I welcome all intimations of the fundamental strangeness of reality. The intellectual struggle over reductionist naturalism in most of the last two centuries has revolved around the question of whether the spiritual can be reduced to — explained away by – simpler material forces. In the quantum era, we have seen that even the material cannot be reduced to simple material forces. What we are left with is the scientist Haldane’s memorable intuition that the universe is “not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

The physicists are trying to stretch the boundaries of what we can suppose, and I say good for them. In the meantime, we can reflect on the ways that poets have tried to capture glimpses of the underlying truth. My own favorite: “. . . this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind. / We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

Whoever devised all this was a much more interesting fellow than the clockmaker imagined by the Newtonians, or the Yoyodyne engineer envisioned by the Intelligent Design advocates. So interesting, in fact, so uncanny, that one might even consider worshiping him. (But that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say here that I recently figured out why I like guys like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould so much: They write glowing reviews of the author’s work, while not being personal friends of the author, and even questioning whether the author really exists. So there’s no clubby literary favoritism in their writings on the subject — just straight-up admiration for the work.)

Web Briefing: July 10, 2014

Ryan Deal Limits Senate GOP’s Power to Block Tax Increases



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Senate Republicans scrubbing the Ryan-Murray budget deal have come across a little-noticed provision that will limit the GOP’s ability to block tax increases in future years.

The bill includes language from the Senate Democrats’ budget that voids senators’ ability to raise a budget “point of order” against replacing the sequester cuts with tax increases.

The process is quite complicated, but in practice it grants Harry Reid the authority to send tax increases to the House with a bare majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold that would be required under a point of order.

The provision has angered key Republican senators. Reeling from Harry Reid’s unprecedented use of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster on executive-branch nominations, they are dismayed that Paul Ryan would have backed another limit to their power.

“This is an appalling power grab that should never have been allowed to be in a final agreement. It’s essentially the ‘nuclear option’ part two, eroding minority rights in the Senate even further. Harry Reid must be very happy,” a Senate GOP aide says.

A House aide says Reid can send tax bills to the House all he wants, since they will never fly in the lower chamber. “House Republicans would never approve a tax increase,” he says.

While that’s true, the change will likely give Reid a potent political cudgel to hit Republicans, since passage of one bill can put pressure on the other chamber to take it up.

In the Ryan-Murray bill, the change is found on pages 17 to 18 in the legislative text, where the bill sets up a “deficit neutral reserve fund” and incorporates 57 individual sections of the Senate Democrats’ budget as having “force and effect.”

These provisions are a big loophole for PAYGO rules that give senators the authority to raise a point of order on spending and tax bills, creating a 60-vote threshold. There is a detailed explanation for the process in this 2009 document from then-senator Judd Gregg’s staff when he was the ranking member on the Budget Committee. 

Although the (current) Senate rules generally require 60 votes for passage of a bill, a bill can be amended after cloture has been achieved. In the case of the fall shutdown fight, Republicans helped provide the 60 votes to obtain cloture on the CR, after which Reid took out the defund-Obamacare provision and passed the bill with a bare majority.

Under normal rules, even after cloture had been achieved, any amendment would still be subject to points of order and a 60-vote threshold if it “pays for” spending increases by raising taxes. The Ryan-Murray deal waives that point of order in many cases, prompting the fear that Reid will use it to put political pressure on the House to replace the sequester with new taxes.

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Bloy Oh Bloy



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Kathryn,  I have no particular comment on the pope’s designation as Time’s Person of the Year, although I do note that it took John Paul II sixteen years to be awarded the same ‘honor’. What could account for the difference? I was, however,  interested to read in your interview with (my old friend) Michael Coren that Michael had spotted the pope’s citation (in the course of his first homily) of the late 19th/early 20th century Catholic polemicist Leon Bloy.

This mention of Bloy was something that attracted the attention of the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley  (a Roman Catholic, incidentally) earlier this year, and, eventually, me. Homilies are not my normal reading, as you know (!), but the intersection between religion and politics, is, however, something of interest (to me, anyway), particularly the point at which the definitions of what is a religious, and what a political, creed blur, a topic on which the British historian Michael Burleigh has written extensively (and brilliantly) in recent years (following on from the likes of  Eric Voegelin).

But back to Bloy. I blogged about him over on (ahem)  Secular Right in August. Here’s one key passage I cited there from Tim Stanley’s piece:

Bloy was a radical Catholic. He was obsessed with capturing and embodying the essence of Christian doctrine, to the degree that it made him the sworn enemy of compromise. Born in 1846, he was raised in Paris in the French republican tradition – rationalist, secularist. In his twenties he underwent a dramatic conversion to Catholicism that left him craving constant encounter with the divine. Like anyone who thinks they have discovered The Truth, he was impatient with the fake consensus that others tried to force him to live by. Christ on the Cross was the only fact worth knowing, martyrdom was the only death worth experiencing. Bloy embraced poverty and gained the nickname “the ungrateful beggar” for his habit of refusing to get a job, begging for money, and then using the fresh ink he acquired to attack the lifestyles of the rich who kept him. We might today call him a hippie bum, but no bum ever wrote with this kind of passion:

And here’s some of my response:

Stanley attempts to draw a distinction between Bloy’s rhetoric and the language of Marxism by focusing on the fact that Marxism is a materialist creed. Superficially, perhaps, but Marxism is better seen as a manifestation of the old millennialist tradition of which Bloy-style Catholic radicalism is yet another expression. To read Bloy’s turn-of-the century ravings is to glimpse a shadow of the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution and the “Democratic Kampuchea” to come.

To get a very quick flavor of Bloy, read the rest of Stanley’s fascinating article and then go over to the French wikiquote. See Bloy sounding off against Protestantism, democracy and modernity, (vaccination was “un ordure”, apparently, a favorite word of this somewhat excrementally-obsessed writer, and cars and trains were not much better). Check out the repeated demonization of the rich and the bourgeois as “pigs”, dehumanization of a sort that was the prelude to so much twentieth century massacre.

Bloy’s morbid and violent prose appears to be the product of a genuinely totalitarian spirit (”Je suis pour l’intolérance parfaite”), and of a mind that recognized only one truth. God, so to speak, help anyone who disagreed.

To be sure, it’s extremely important to note (as Stanley and I did), that this was just one citation by Francis, albeit one of  a rather, to abuse the term, Manichean vein (no comfort there for those who think that Francis’s faith is of the cuddly variety). It should also not be necessary for me to say this, but,  I will go ahead and do so anyway: no, I don’t believe that the Francis is a ‘Marxist’, let alone someone with dreams of building a gulag. That said, Bloy was an interesting man for Francis  to have chosen to quote on such a high-profile occasion.

Come to think of it, Bloy was an interesting man, period.  As mad as a hatter, I reckon, but interesting. It says something that Ernst Junger, not exactly an uninteresting individual himself (Pour le Mérite, Storm of Steel, Occupied Paris, a Catholic convert at the age of 101, etc. etc.) , appears to have been a bit of a fan.

History!

Man with Critically Ill Son Gives Up on HealthCare.gov After More Than 50 Tries



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John Gisler has been trying to buy an Obamacare plan for his sick son since the federal exchange launched on October 1, but after nearly three months, three failed applications, and “maybe 50 or 100” calls to the national hotline, he’s given up. Faced with the prospect of being left without insurance on January 1, Gisler has opted to buy an individual plan from a local insurance broker.

The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff reports that Gisler and his son are two people who may fall into the “coverage gap,” comprised of up to 15 million people who saw their plans canceled and have been unable to enroll in the exchanges. In the case of Gisler’s son, who has a rare degenerative condition, the plan is ending because Utah’s high-risk pool is being shut down at the end of this year.

Rather than keep trying to enroll amid a series of problems, the family has decided to forgo the $3,000 tax credit they would receive on the exchange, because they worry they wouldn’t be covered in time.

“We cannot take any chances,” Gisler said. “Not having insurance would, in no short order, lead our family to bankruptcy.”

The family has filed an appeal with the exchange , according to Kliff, and hopes to eventually get their son covered with tax credits. “It’s a net gain for us, that preexisting conditions no longer preclude coverage,” said Gisler.

“But in terms of the government’s ability to process us through the system, they’re still working on that,” he said. “We’ve given up. We don’t even try anymore.”

Virginia GOP Drilling for McAuliffe



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The state senator from my old stomping grounds of Spotsylvania, Va., Republican up-and-comer Bryce Reeves, today announced a “straightforward plan” for restoring offshore drilling that should cause Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe some political agita.

Calling his scheme a “proactive approach to create jobs here in Virginia,” and noting that “both our U.S. senators and Congress have passed bills in a bipartisan effort to lift the ban,” Reeves called on McAuliffe to “utilize his relationship with the Obama administration to fight for Virginia” and re-open the drilling process. “This critical step will boost our nation’s capacity for domestic energy production while strengthening our national security by reducing our over-reliance on imported oil and gas,” he said. “It will also bring jobs to Virginia.”

Reeves will introduce legislation next year that will use some of the drilling revenues to support energy-exploration curricula at Virginia’s community colleges.

So the dilemma for McAuliffe will be to veto a jobs/education/revenue bill out of the box, or risk ticking off his environmentalist base (including lefty moneybags Tom Steyer, who spent $8 million bankrolling McAuliffe’s election effort).

Sounds like fun!

By the way, Reeves says the “proposed sale of the ‘220 Area’ off the shore of Virginia” could produce “more than half a billion barrels of oil and 2.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. . . . The current oil-and-natural-gas industry supports over 143,000 jobs within the Commonwealth, and this expansion would continue to add to the already $12 billion–earning industry.”

Michigan Approves Law Restricting Abortion Insurance Coverage



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After a state-wide ballot-initiative drive from pro-life groups, the Michigan state legislature has passed legislation that would exclude abortion from being offered as a covered benefit in public and private health-insurance plans. The senate voted 27 to 11 in favor of the bill and the House 62 to 47, both largely on party lines. Republican governor Rick Snyder had previously vetoed a similar bill last December.

Michigan is now the 24th state to ban abortion coverage in standard health insurance provided via the exchanges and the ninth state to prohibit abortion coverage in both public and private insurance plans. Consumers will still be able to purchase a separate rider for abortion coverage; however, this eliminates the potential use of taxpayer funded subsidies to buy insurance plans that cover abortion.

The Michigan state constitution allows citizens to gather signatures and propose a ballot initiative. If sufficient signatures are gathered (amounting to at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates in the last gubernatorial election) the legislature has 40 days to vote on the petition before the measure is put on the ballot at the next election. Whether the legislature or the people pass the initiative, the initiative does not need the signature of the governor to become law.

Michigan’s Right to Life collected 315,477 signatures, 299,941 of which were deemed valid by the Michigan secretary of state’s elections division on Monday, December 2. (It is common in petition drives for many signatures to be invalidated.) Right to Life needed only 258,088 valid signatures to put the initiative to the legislature.

Snyder said in his veto statement last year that the similar proposed legislation, “treats situations that involve rape, incest, and health of the mother as elective abortions” and the changes in the bill “interfere in the current private marketplace for insurance.”

Michigan’s Right to Life says people should not be forced to subsidize abortion. “The Affordable Care Act is upon us and because of the intrusion into the private market, tax subsidies will be used to subsidize health care plans purchased on the health-care exchanges,” said Genevieve Marnon, a spokeswoman for Michigan Right to Life. “Unless we opt abortion out of those plans, tax-subsidized dollars will be going toward abortion coverage.”

Re: Time’s Person of the Year



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A possibility for reset and three proposed lessons extracted from that long exhortation from Pope Francis that actually did mention (and exude) the Gospels and joy.

I’ll be chatting with Arthur Brooks shortly on the Hugh Hewitt Show on this topic. 

Landrieu Releases ‘Keeping the Promise’ Reelection Ad



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Democratic senator Mary Landrieu’s first reelection campaign ad portrays her as holding President Obama accountable for failing to keep his “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it” promise.

The 30-second advertisement, which was unveiled today, features television and newspaper clips in which the senator presses the president to keep his promise.

“This is a promise you made. This is a promise you should keep,” the three-term Louisiana Democrat says in the $250,000 ad-buy, which does not mention that she also had made the same claim.

The final portion of the ad ends with a newspaper headline that reads, “The Result: People now allowed to keep health care plans.”

Louisiana’s insurance commissioner, Jim Donelon, announced that he would implement the Obama administration’s “fix” and allow insurance companies to offer plans they had canceled for another year.

Landrieu also introduced a bill in early November that would have required insurance companies to offer the canceled plans, while informing consumers that they didn’t meet Obamacare’s requirements. 

Cover Oregon Still Not in Triple-Digits for Obamacare Sign-ups



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Cover Oregon, a state health-care exchange that has seen no shortage of setbacks, has succeeded in signing up only 44 people in private insurance plans, the lowest number of sign-ups in the nation.

As the Washington Examiner notes, Oregon wholeheartedly embraced Obamacare: The state has spent more than $300 million in federal grant money to create its own exchange, more money than all but two other states: New York and California. That works out to nearly $7 million per enrollment.

The Match.com Theory of GOP Marketing



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We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how Republicans need to improve their appeal to women, especially unmarried ones. Commentators offer various advice; a longtime Republican strategist says “GOP congressional leaders should unveil a comprehensive women’s agenda” and “legislation that has a positive [message] that will help female voters in an attempt to soften their image.” The RNC’s much-hyped Growth and Opportunity Project cautions that:

Republicans need to talk about people and families, not just numbers and statistics. . . . Women need to hear what our motive is . . . Those are things that cannot be communicated well in graphs and charts — and we need to do a better job communicating why our policies are better, while using female spokespeople to do it.

And pollsters agree that single women are the key segment.

Although I’m no political consultant, I may be able to help with this, because before my recent marriage, I spent several decades trying to appeal to single women, with a distinct lack of success. I wouldn’t exactly say I learned a lot about them; if I had, it wouldn’t have taken so long to get married (or at least it wouldn’t have seemed so long). But I did learn a lot about what doesn’t work, and one thing I figured out pretty quick is that unmarried women know when someone is trying to feed them a line. They may know and not care, but they know.

And a lot of the ideas being offered for how the GOP can appeal to women make the party sound like an eager but clumsy bachelor: “Oh, you’re female? Well, you must be interested in stuffed animals — and wait till I tell you about Senator Graham’s Stuffed Animal Subsidy Initiative . . .” That level of sincerity gets you the nice-try smile and the suddenly remembered morning appointment.

On the other hand, I’ve heard reports of guys getting good results by appealing to a woman’s intelligence. For some reason, this never worked very well for me (perhaps it was the bowtie), but I’m told it can be quite successful if you at least sound sincere.

Keep reading this post . . .

The Paranoid Style of American Feminism



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I got this email from Emily’s List yesterday:

Jonah,

If the House Republicans had their way, women would have to ask permission to leave their homes, speak out of turn, or take an aspirin.

(Sadly, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.)

Right now, the only thing that’s keeping the Republican Party out of your doctor’s office and out of your bedroom is the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Electing more pro-choice Democratic women in the Senate is the key to stopping the anti-choice, anti-woman agenda from reaching the president’s desk. 2014 is just three weeks away — contribute now to the EMILY’s List Senate Emergency Fund.

Jess McIntosh 
Communications Director, EMILY’s List

 

Help us fight back!
 
 
 

Senate Staff Alerted D.C. Exchange May Be Wrongly Telling Them They’ve Enrolled



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Some senators and their staff are experiencing at least one Obamacare-related hardship: confusion over whether they have been enrolled and will receive coverage on January 1. Earlier today, Senate staffers received an e-mail saying that even if they received confirmation from DC Health Link, the district’s exchange, that they’ve enrolled in a plan, they shouldn’t assume they’re actually enrolled unless they’ve also gotten a letter from the Senate’s Disbursing Office saying they are.

The Disbursing Office told staffers it was “essential” to contact them in order to verify that they had successfully enrolled.

“Do NOT rely on your ‘My Account’ page or other correspondence from DCHL,” the e-mail reads. “Please DO NOT ASSUME you are covered unless you have seen the Confirmation Letter from the Disbursing Office!”

Staffers who thought they were enrolled but haven’t heard from the Disbursement Office are instructed to send an e-mail to the office — not the Washington exchange — with personal information and a sentence explaining they haven’t heard from the office. They’ll be given a “Special Enrollment Period” that will still allow them to be covered by January 1.

Via AEI’s Marc Thiessen.

Ryan-Murray: A Sensible Step on Federal Pensions



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As expected from a compromise in which neither side makes any real sacrifices, the Ryan-Murray plan contains a number of budgetary gimmicks. It even trots out the old “waste, fraud, and abuse” savings. (Why do we need a “compromise” to get rid of waste?) I’ll leave it to NRO’s health-care experts to hash this out, but I suspect that the extension of cuts to Medicare providers into 2022 and 2023 — apparently the main offset to the new spending – is unrealistic and probably will never materialize. So we have a familiar situation in which Congress wants to spend more money today in exchange for a flimsy promise that it might spend less money a decade from now.

Ryan-Murray does, however, contain some genuine cuts to federal-employee pensions. Workers in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) receive both 401(k)-style benefits and the “FERS annuity,” which is a small traditional pension. Most federal employees contribute 0.8 percent of their pay toward the pension. However, Congress recently created the “revised FERS annuity,” which requires workers hired after 2012 to make a 3.1 percent contribution. Ryan-Murray would now require employees hired after 2013 to pay 4.4 percent — toward what I guess we should call the “revised revised FERS annuity.”

Are the cuts good policy? The answer depends entirely on how federal-employee compensation compares with fair market levels. If federal workers are currently paid below what comparably skilled private-sector workers receive, then further cuts could jeopardize the quality of the future civil service. But if federal workers are paid above market levels, then a small reduction in compensation could save money with minimal pain.

Public-employee unions don’t want us to think about the question in such rational terms. For them, cuts of any kind indicate a “war on public employees” meant to “demonize” and “discredit” them, as one breathless Huffington Post writer recently opined.

But the truth is that federal compensation is above market levels, and much of the premium is due to the existence of the FERS annuity. That’s why I argue it should be completely phased out. Ending the FERS annuity would save around $150 billion over ten years and still leave federal employees with a generous 401(k)-type plan. Convoluted as it is, the portion of Ryan-Murray that reduces pension generosity is a tiny step in the right direction.

Paying Tomorrow for Hamburgers Today



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The new budget deal is disappointing to conservatives and believers in a limited government that manages its finances. Earlier during the negotiations, my colleagues and I at the Heritage Foundation warned that sacrificing short-term budget constraint for savings that would occur in the long-term future is a dubious proposition. 

Budget historians know that previous agreements of more spending today and budget cuts tomorrow have resulted in more spending today and more spending tomorrow as well. Blowing through the sequester caps today doesn’t make us confident that future Congresses will abide by these caps in the next decade. 

While the agreement does take some positive steps — having federal workers fund more of their own retirement plans instead of relying on taxpayer funding — the deal will put additional pressure on Medicare providers. To finance Obamacare, President Obama took hundreds of billions from Medicare providers and Medicare Advantage plans, and the sequester also reduced payment to Medicare providers. Policymakers go to future Medicare spending, because they know CBO will score these as big savings on paper, no questions asked.

There are better ways to reduce Medicare’s burden on the government and most of these provider cuts are simply price controls. The results are budget agreements that result in billions of paper savings, but much higher deficits in reality as politicians blow through these caps when Medicare doctors, hospitals, and, of course, beneficiaries are threatened. We believe that there can be a good trade using the sequester for entitlement reform, but this deal is not it. 

Finally, conservatives should favor user fees in place of broader tax increases because fees are more closely tied to the government service delivered and thus more efficient and fair than income taxes. However, the higher fees in this case are simply a placeholder for tax increases since the fees are used as cover for higher spending. This defeats the purpose of fees, which should not serve as a vehicle for higher government spending.

— Rea S. Hederman is the director of the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation. 

137,000 People Have Selected Plans on HealthCare.gov, Most of Them Can’t Get Subsidies



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Just before Secretary Sebelius testified before Congress this morning, HHS released its Obamacare enrollment numbers for November, and they’re better, but not great: 137,000 people have picked plans on the federal exchange, and 264,000 people have picked plans on the state-run exchanges, for a total of 364,000 enrollees, up from 106,000 in October. All of these customers picked their plans (which HHS defines as an enrollment; one doesn’t have to have committed to buy the plan or paid for it) before the apparently significant upgrades made to the federal-exchange website on December 1, after which the site’s traffic and capacity jumped noticeably.

At the beginning of November, CMS official Marilyn Tavenner said HHS’s goal was to have 800,000 enrollments by the end of the month, so they’re certainly well behind pace. Overall, the federal government expected 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges. Though that number isn’t necessary to make the exchanges work properly (avoid being composed of mostly sick and older people, etc.), more enrollments are obviously better, since each additional customer convinced to sign up is probably healthier and younger. November saw almost twice as many enrollments as October, allowing HHS to produce the mildly encouraging chart below, but the numbers of federal enrollments — whether because of lack of interest, the website’s issues, or because people won’t bother until the last minute — remain basically insignificant.

Approximately 800,000 people were determined eligible for Medicaid, as well, meaning that, technology issues notwithstanding, they’ll be added to the program in January.

About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 2.3 million [see update below]), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 60–40 [see update below]). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.

Perhaps more worrisome, Charles Ornstein of ProPublica reports that very few of the people who’ve enrolled with insurers have paid up – two consultants he talked to said clients have seen 5 to 15 percent of enrollees pay for their plans so far. Note that this “slippage” (between the transmitting of data to insurers and paying for the plan) is happening with people who’ve actually had their choice of plan sent to the insurers, a subset of the 364,000 “enrollments,” and not the same thing as another risk with the progress so far. People just have to have selected a plan — it can be in their “shopping cart” — and don’t have to have committed to buy it or transferred their information to the insurers to count as an enrollee, and plenty of them, also, may not pay for plans eventually.

It still sounds pretty bad, and suggests some people may be deciding to remain uninsured or to drop coverage because it’s gone up too much in price, but there are innocent explanations for it, too: People of modest means don’t have any reason to pony up several hundred dollars in November to pay their January insurance premium if it can be paid on December 23, and especially if they have an existing health-insurance bill to pay that month. Most customers have to make their first premium payment by December 23 for their coverage to begin January 1. Insurers would normally set that date around December 15, but the Obama administration pushed it back to December 23 — and some state exchanges told Ornstein that they have pushed it back even further (it’s January 6 in California).

People can still enroll after the deadline, of course — they can sign up for a plan until March 31 — but it looks like the millions of Americans who’ve seen their insurance policies canceled this fall may not have coverage January 1. That said, not all individual insurance plans begin and end January 1, and some of the cancellees likely will re-enroll in the coverage offered to them by the companies that just terminated their existing plan. That kind of “churn” happens every year in the individual market as insurers change up their plans. But this year, it will be a much more expensive experience for many people, because of the cost of the ACA’s new insurance regulations, meaning they may go uninsured — either until they can get a cheaper or subsidized exchange plan, or for the entire year.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat points out a stupid mistake I made in calculating the share of exchange applications eligible for subsidies: It’s 900,000 people out of 2.3 million, not out of 3.6 million, meaning 40 percent of them are eligible for subsidies, not 25 percent (the 3.6 million number I used as the denominator includes people who turned out to be eligible for Medicaid, who can’t buy exchange insurance). This is still striking versus the CBO’s expectation that the vast majority of enrollees in the exchanges will be subsidized. Of course, completed applications are not enrollees — and that’s an important distinction. Ross has some more thoughts on the matter worth reading.

This Christmas Season, Consider Becoming a ‘Santa Truther’



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In her weekly column at Rare, my wife outed our family as “Santa Truthers,” those killjoys who don’t teach their kids that Santa is real, leaving Christmas to the story of Christ’s birth and the gift-giving to Mom, Dad, and legions of over-generous family members. 

The reason why we’re the commissioners of the No Fun League (at least to hear some critics tell it), is the true story is the better story:

The Christmas story is this: God gave us the perfect gift even when we did nothing to deserve it. (And, in fact, deserved a lot worse than a lump of coal.) Instead of looking at us in our sin and putting us away, God was overcome with love for us. He didn’t hold our wrongdoing against us. Instead, at great cost, He gave us a way to be forgiven and reenter into communion with Him. That gift was His son, in the form of a baby.

The Santa story — other than the tales associated with the historical St. Nick, who’s simply a footnote in this commercial age — is this:

There’s a jolly, wonderful, magical being called “Santa” who is watching you. If you do something wrong, your name will be crossed off the “nice list” and put on the “naughty list.” Want good presents? You had better behave.

Which story is actually better and more comforting? The one that has the added benefit of being true. 

The story of God’s grace is at the very heart of the Gospel. Why muck that up with fake stories of magical works-based theology?

To be clear, our kids don’t ruin anyone else’s fun (at least they haven’t yet), and I spend exactly zero hours fretting over the different choices other families make, but for those who worry that the true message of Christmas is lost in the holiday shuffle, being a “truther” is worth a try. 

National Park Service Stonewalls FOIA Request on Mount Vernon Barricades, Cites Potential ‘Chilling Effect on the Agency’s Deliberative Process’



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The National Park Service’s wide-ranging, unnecessary closings were an embarrassment during the government shutdown — and apparently the Park Service agrees.

At least that’s what I’m concluding as I review the Park Service’s response to a request I filed under the Freedom of Information Act, looking for e-mails discussing the shutting, closure, or barricading of Mount Vernon.

According to documents obtained, the day before the shutdown, the National Park Service looked into the legality of closing down the parking lots at Mount Vernon, which is owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and does not receive federal funding.

“I’ve spoken to some representatives from Mount Vernon and they believe that the parking lots are Under [sic] their ownership and we don’t have the legal right to close the parking lot,” wrote Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, in a September 30 e-mail. He added that “we need to make a decision fairly quickly if there is a government shutdown midnight today in order to barricade those areas to visitors.”

Unfortunately, much of the ensuing discussion has been redacted by the National Park Service:


The Department of the Interior justified its redactions by claiming that portions of the records:

. . . are both predecisional and deliberative. They do not contain or represent formal or informal agency policies or decisions. They are the result of frank and open discussions among employees of the Department of the Interior. Therefore, their content has been held confidential by all parties. Public dissemination of this information would have a chilling effect on the agency’s deliberative processes; it would expose the agency’s decision-making processes in such a way as to discourage candid discussion within the agency and thereby undermine its ability to perform its mandated functions.

But the National Park Service failed to explain how this discussion about barricading a very specific location during a very specific time period would affect Official Agency Policy in the long term.

A better explanation, of course, is that the Department of Interior is embarrassed by what its National Park Service employees said. Unfortunately for them, even President Obama has stated in his 2009 directive to all federal agencies that “the government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”

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